By having married into the academic world (my husband is a college professor) I have had opportunities many elementary school teachers don’t have. I think most elementary school teachers get to learn from their colleagues and friends and I have definitely gotten to do so over the years. I’ve also gotten to learn from my husband’s colleagues and friends.
My first year of full time teaching happened while my husband was completing his PhD and adjunct teaching. We were both surprised at how often one of us would say, “My students are doing…” or “My students need more support with…” and the other would reply, “Mine too.” We hadn’t expected to find so many connections between fourth graders and undergrads. That probably helped prepare me for the learning I could do from his colleagues in the history department as well as friends in political science, sociology, chemistry, geography, and more. I know very little about most of those subjects but I do believe that strong teaching strategies are useful no matter who or where you teach. Obviously I am not going to walk into my 3rd grade classroom and behave exactly as my husband would do in his college classroom, but there is much we do that aligns.
When I reflect on what I have learned and am still learning from the world of higher education (even more crucial for me as I am adjunct teaching currently) there are three folks who come to mind at once. Three people who I rarely get to see in person (even pre-pandemic) but still use what they’ve taught me and I still turn to them and read what they share.
The first one brings me so much joy not only for all she’s taught me in recent years but because I actually knew her when we were both in high school (she was friends with my sister) and meeting her again as an adult was such a treat. Martha Burtis is one of the most thoughtful, reflective, brilliant people I’ve been lucky enough to know. Part of my feelings, I’m sure, are related to how many interests we share. We are both parenting kids of similar ages. We both love the theater. We share a fascination with and some hesitancy about technology. Not only have I learned from Martha’s blog posts and tweets, but she has always been willing to answer my questions and help me think through things when I’m stuck.
Ryan Brazell is another higher ed person who has helped me, whether he realizes it or not, as both a teacher and as a human being. Ryan’s compassion for others and ability to see from multiple perspectives has helped me step outside of my lived experiences a bit more and begin to recognize the immense width and breadth of lives that I have not known. I have immense respect for people who live their lives genuinely and without artifice. I think that’s a huge challenge in our world and Ryan is a wonderful model for me in doing this. Ryan is another whose tweets continue to educate me as he shares ideas, information, and writing from many people I would not otherwise see. It is an absolute gift for me to have such a wealth of perspectives and thinking coming my way.
Finally, Jesse Stommel continually reminds me to keep the focus on my students and on their learning. His tweets and his writing are all centered on students as people and learners. That shouldn’t be revolutionary, but somehow it still is. We’ve been trained to see students as scores and grades and compliant beings rather than as full people, worthy of respect and care and trust in their own rights. Jesse helps me keep that at the center of what I do.
Martha, Ryan, and Jesse all serve (as all the people I’ve written Virtual Appreciation Notes to do) as small voices in my head or little angels on my shoulder pushing me in the right direction when I need that reminder. This may come in ways they don’t recognize at all as a tweet or blog post or article will cross my path at just the right moment. Or it may come, as it has time and time again, deliberately from them as they reach out, publicly or privately, to encourage or nudge or shove me as needed.