Rebuilding Communities

I have, for the first time in 19 years of teaching, sold my planning period. I took over a class of sophomores and juniors with a little more than a week left in first quarter.

We talk about building relationships, but what about rebuilding relationships? What about repairing classroom communities after a teacher leaves before the end of the year? And how do we balance the needs of teachers with the needs of our students?

Two weeks ago I stood in our hallway discussing the situation with my next door neighbor. We knew that one of us would need to take over the class. It’s an elective that’s part of a program that we’re building at our school, and we couldn’t leave a guest teacher in charge long-term.

My neighbor and I were the logical choices. We had the necessary planning period and were part of the program’s site team; she already taught the elective to another grade level, and I knew that I was on deck for future sections.

But not in the last week of October with no warning.

It wasn’t an opportunity that either of us wanted. Our English department has a new curriculum this year, and we still haven’t even previewed the materials for second semester. We’re a department heavy in young teachers; all of their experience, my neighbor’s included, adds up to fewer years that I’ve been teaching, and that’s including our middle school colleagues. The high school teachers finally had a planning period together and were meeting weekly in our PLC. We’d already scheduled as many after school meetings as we could with our middle school colleagues; one of us losing our planning period would definitely leave us scrambling for enough time to meet.

But somebody had to do it.

I explained all of this when I sat down with the program’s director. We talked about what the class needed in a teacher and why it had to be me. My schedule is the one that’s easiest to adjust at the semester, though getting back the same planning period as my colleagues is a long shot. Even though the work that we do as an ELA PLC impacts every single student in our building, common planning time is about the teachers.

The needs of the students outweigh the needs of the teachers. Always.

And so, on the 39th day of the school year, the class became mine.

What are the needs of the students when a new teacher takes over a class, be it a planned takeover like a student teacher or a long-term sub in an emergency? How do we rebuild relationships with students who had finally started to trust the previous teacher? And how do we do this is a hurry, fast, without the leisure of the first slow weeks of school? Second quarter is upon us, we’re a quarter of the way through the year, there’s no time to stop and bond, we have curriculum to cover.

But is that the right call? Do we start on day 39 without the building blocks of all those early learning experiences? Or do we stop to take the time to rebuild, to establish community, to begin again?

What’s best for our students?

I’ll let you know when I figure it out.

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