Culture Shock

Now that I’m a few weeks into my new placement at a small high school in central Wisconsin, I’m ready to start doing the work of digesting the manifold thoughts and emotions associated with my role in my new teaching home. As part of the mentoring program provided for all new teachers in the district, I’m required to submit a formal reflection on my experience—struggles, successes, questions, and more—each month of the school year. I’ve decided to post them here. This has been my spot for professional reflection for a few years now, and I’m more than willing to share the process with my readers. I know many of you will be able to relate and perhaps help me in discussing some of the teaching quandaries I’ll inevitably present.

I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the now full-time position that I’ve filled in the English department at SFHS. When I think back to just a month ago, when I was still uncertain whether or not I’d even get to teach this year, the biggest thing that I feel is lucky. And relief. But quivering beneath those positive feelings, I can still feel the subtle turning of slow anger. I’m finding it hard to shake my strong indignation about the MPS layoff, feeling a faint homesickness and longing that simply won’t go away.

Urban teaching was something that was far more than a simple job to me. It was a conviction. It was a turning point in my life where I faced my own ideas about difference and privilege and justice. It shattered my views on my own sheltered suburban upbringing. It led me to strong friendships and teaching experiences that shook my heart. It expanded the spectrum of my family to include so many more colors, languages, and concepts of home. Simply, it made me a better person. When I taught in the city, I thought of teachers in the suburbs and rural areas as people on the outskirts of my cohort, unconcerned with things like racial tension, violence, and economic duress. I was proud that I could be one of the teachers contributing some positive energy to a district overwhelmed with a negative force that seemed to take more and more away… until that negative power took my own classroom away, too. Conflicted and confused, I dealt with a mission rejected, and I am now a teacher of white Suburbia. My identity is shifting, but part of this shift is painful. My commitment to social justice remains, but I feel like an unfocused lens. I’m still trying to refine the fuzzy lines of how I understand my teaching self-concept in this new environment.

Despite all this, even though it’s a culture shock, I know that I am in a good place. I feel like I am teaching in luxury—small class sizes where I can actually interact with every student on a daily basis, students who continually impress me with how respectful and polite they are, an involved local community, vibrant extracurricular activities, and a tranquil hallway free of security guards are all things that I have never experienced. Every school, all students, and all teachers should be able to claim these privileges. Not all of them do. But I am at a school where they do, and because of it I am able to be a better teacher. Every day, I feel so thankful that my students get what they need and more, and I wonder if they even realize that not every student in America does.  Both they and I are blessed to be in such a school.

I know that my acclimation to this new spot is going to take some time. It’s a new relationship, a new commitment to make. But some things remain the same. There are still eyes peering up from the desks thirsty for new ideas. Diversity, though less color-oriented, remains, as does helping students learn how to work in partnership as a diverse group. There are still new barriers to break in the ways we teach and learn. There is still work to do.  And I’m here to help do it, as best as I possibly can.

  1. Amy, Thanks for sharing this post. As your mentor, it helps me understand your perspective, and I appreciate the culture shock you’re experiencing. One thing you said resonates with me and that’s what I’d like to begin with today. You wrote, “I thought of teachers in the suburbs and rural areas as people on the outskirts of my cohort, unconcerned with things like racial tension, violence, and economic duress.” Maybe this shift in perspective is the most important aspect of your change. While our hallways are not patrolled by security guards, our seemingly tranquil environment is still a place where students have diverse needs. These needs, I want to suggest, are far harder to recognize, but just as important for us to pay attention to. I think you may start to see us, your suburban cohorts, in a different way, too. We are, just as you were and are, committed to our mission, our students and even our own growth as teachers. Under the layer of tranquility is a slow bubble of desires and conflicts that bring teachers and students together. I know I am learning from you, but I think there is something we can teach you, too. Welcome again. I look forward to this year, reflecting, learning, and seeing, as always, everything in new ways.

    • Ms. H said:

      Thank you for being so welcoming as I begin this new adventure. I agree completely with your point about diverse needs remaining even in areas where we don’t always see them at first glance–I know this from my own high school experience in a suburban area. Kids need teachers and that’s a fact. It doesn’t matter where you are. However, I also appreciate your point about difference and needs being potentially more difficult to pinpoint in such a seemingly homogenous area. I need to re-hone my radar, and continue learning, as always, the local signals, patterns, and waves that underscore our society and define who we are as students, teachers, and human beings.

      And perhaps cover a little bit of grammar as well. 😉

  2. Speaking of grammar, did you find my subject/verb agreement error, that, oops, I just noticed? How embarrassing!!!

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