As Teaching Fellows, we have all had front row seats to the imperfect system of education. Entering my second year as a Teaching Fellow, I encountered a slew of challenges: schedule changes, class reassignments; curve balls were constantly thrown at me. I was feeling frustrated and worn down.
At that time, a friend sent me a quote from the philosopher Epictetus, who wrote, “happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principal: Some things are within our control, and some things are not. It is only after you have faced up to this fundamental rule and learned to distinguish between what you can and can’t control that inner tranquility and outer effectiveness becomes possible.”
Although it sounds simple, this one idea of control redirected my entire second year. I stopped focusing on the negatives and became determined to define what I could control. I decided to focus on three things that I knew I could control.
First, I realized I had control over how to be a leader on my staff. Rather than being disappointed about the school culture, I realized I was on a team with the power to develop lessons about effort, bullying, and kindness, a team that could create award ceremonies, and incentive trips to celebrate student successes.
I also realized I had control over my role as a Citizen Teacher Lead. I could work with incredible volunteers, speak to them about our mission, and bring hundreds of families into the school to again celebrate student work and successes.
Most importantly, I realized I had control over the culture in my classroom. No, I could not always control crazy student questions or frustrating behaviors, but I could do everything in my power to build relationships and let my students know I cared about them every single day. I made this year about my students. This work is exhausting and we all need a clear goal at all times—this goal must include the students we serve. For many, we are the best chance for our students to feel successful, joyful, and supported.
For incoming and returning Teaching Fellows, I have 3 major pieces of advice.
First, make everything next year about your students.
Second, inspire the people you work with. This organization is fueled by twenty something year-olds that depend on one another. You must use your peers to find inspiration, demand the best from the people you work with, and provide the support you can to reach the goal of serving our students.
Third, recognize you are part of an imperfect system and think about what you can control and what you cannot. Learn from my mistakes and do not dwell on the negatives or make excuses.
For my graduating class, do not forget about the challenges you have faced over the past two years—bring them with you. That is how we progress and how we make greater change. Whether you are staying in education or not, please carry with you the skills developed here through your leadership, humility, and service. We are here because we are driven by helping others—this is unique and I hope you feel proud of the work you have done.