#formerstudentFriday is an occasional series during which former students and I team up on topics of their choosing. Through their voices and perspectives, we can level up in everything we do.
Liz Follis and I have known each other for a long time. As a student during my first year in the classroom, she was precocious and hard working. As a friend since then, she has become an amazing educator and student advocate. I’m proud of who she has become and fortunate to have been invited along for the ride. In this piece, Liz reflects on her realization that going home doesn’t always mean being where we belong. Her experience is both triumphant and a cautionary tale.
Since I was 5 years old, I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wanted to be a teacher; I was going to teach kindergarten, and I was going to do it in my hometown. When I graduated from college, my hometown took me off the bench and put me up to bat as a designated hitter. I was given a maternity leave position, as a HS history teacher (not kindergarten, sigh), and I was determined to prove my worth.
Let me preface this story by saying that I am not a history teacher by trade. It was my worst subject in high school and college, but I was determined to give my students a better experience: more fulfilling, extremely relevant instruction when delivering my lessons. I studied up. I asked other teachers questions. I ingested the material with a newfound hunger.
Then the “Containment Policy” incident occurred.
I taught the Policy of Containment to what I believed was the best of my ability, but I was greeted with a sea of blank stares. In response, I was blunt; I came out with it. Explain to me. What went wrong? Where is the disconnect?
A student raised her hand with trepidation. “Ms. F… what does containment mean?” Then the bell rang. I racked my brain. How can I make them understand, explain containment, and give them an experience they’ll never forget? The light bulb went on. I explained my idea to my fiancé at the time. He said, “Liz don’t do it. This is a bad idea.”
The ROGUE educator in me knew that meant this is EXACTLY what I should do.
The next day, I came to school with all my supplies. I used my prep to get ready. Teachers passed by looking quizzically in my room. I was juiced! The bell rang, the kids came in, and I asked the students a simple question.
“What do you see before you?”
A student said, “A swimming pool!”
“You’re right! What’s in the pool?”
Another student said, hesitantly, “uhm water?”
“Great! You’re correct! The water in that pool is contained.”
The looks on the kids’ faces during this “aha moment” was amazing. I have that feeling bottled up for when I have a bad day.
The next moment is when I realized that maybe this district wasn’t ready for my ROGUE teaching. I asked my classroom of historians, “What happens when I lift up the pool?” The kids clearly saw that the water would go everywhere. So I did it, I modeled the concept, and that’s when the principal walked in. His face was aghast but that wasn’t going to stop this learning experience. I didn’t miss a beat. I continued, “So, now that we know what containment means, why was it so important for the war?” You should have seen the hands go up and heard the meaningful discussion to follow.
At the end of the period I was met simply with, “Ms. Follis please see me at the end of the day.”
I met with the principal and was given strict instructions: direct instruction, worksheets, and no deviations for the rest of my time there.
The school district I once knew, the one that I thought was on the precipice of progressive instruction, had just capped my teaching. The educational system that helped mold me, served as an example for my own teaching, and challenged me to be the best version of myself did not support my teaching style.
Looking back to those days, I continue to rationalize that I was revolutionary in my teaching; however, the stronger PLN I develop, the more people I meet, and the more schools I work in, the more I realize that going home, for me, would have been going backward.
I am hopeful that my alma mater, the place I will always love, will become rejuvenated like a Phoenix from the flames. I am hopeful that my nephews will have the same experiences I had as a student. Unfortunately, until they find stronger leadership that isn’t afraid to break past their own “containment policy,” teaching, and therefore learning, will be stifled.