When I think of my place in a school, I always try to refer to myself as a guest (that famous song sings in my head)-no matter how many years I have worked in a particular district or building. I have been very lucky in my career to have worked in schools that have very much gone out of their way to make me feel part of the community (This is not going to be a complaint fest of all the places that do not have space for me to work or don’t have a welcome mat. Keeping it honest and positive). I think no matter how much or how little inclusion-just being included helps me be a better teacher.
Do you need to be included?
When I first started being an itinerant teacher I wasn’t sure how to navigate my role in a building. Those first years were very hard at times. Learning where to work, how to schedule, learning to read all the new faces was often overwhelming. Even after all these years I still stop and reflect, check myself and remind myself I am a guest.
I was very blessed to have worked in some great places my first handful of years. I got comfortable. I made friends. I was attached to my students. I think all of those things made me a better teacher. Feeling connected was great. I built relationships with staff, which had a very positive trickle down effect for my students. I find that when a building sees me as part of their community it makes me seem less like this stranger who pops in and takes a student-leaving my student’s classmates wondering. After a couple of years I started to in- service the kids and the staff. I want my student’s peers and friends to see me as a normal part of the school. It is very true I work in random spots and am not necessarily there everyday, but I don’t want to be a question mark, that leaves my student vulnerable to questions. Now if I have a student that is not comfortable with their disability I am stealthy with the classroom. Kids meet me in our spot. I find this is the case with older students or students that get my services even in 4th or 5th grade. For the students I get when they are little,”my littles”, I try to teach them, their peers and the staff that I am just part of the daily routine. This may not work for every itinerant teacher, but I want my students to feel proud of who they are and rock hot pink sparkle ear molds, if that’s what they love.
With this level of blending in I got too comfortable years ago. I was happy and I think those I was serving were happy too, but numbers changed and situations changed and I was relocated. I always new this could happen, so when it did I shouldn’t have been surprised. It was devastating-I forgot I was a guest. I was loosing my tribe, my students, my routine and was going back to being the newbie. I hated not having my students the following year, but that I could make peace with. Teachers see kids move on every June. That is the norm. We itinerants are lucky, we get to follow kids. It is a total privilege. I get to see them really grow and become amazing humans. Even students that are a challenge-it is a total privilege to build that connection with them and their families.
Being a newbie, again, in a district or building was the hardest part. I lost my lunch peeps, knowing who could help me, I had to explain my role to EVERYONE again. I think having a tribe is essential. I teach better when I don’t feel like a weirdo that is begging for a quiet place to work. Starting over can be hard, but I did it….we do it right? It is the job. We move and groove. I always feel like I am that rolling stone….gathering zero moss. I need to remember I am a guest, no matter how amazing people are, no matter how much they include me, because it sucks to say goodbye.
I have been lucky again. I have been a welcomed guest for a handful of years in a great district. People know me and I know them. I have started to build a new tribe (still have connections to my old tribe) that gets me, understands my role, my students and how important they are. I am different this time around. I don’t have a lunch bunch. I know I am very welcome, but I am not sure I am strong enough to loose that daily routine again. I join in where I feel I can. I have baby walls, mini boundaries set to keep myself aware I am a guest or visiting for the year. Next year could bring an entirely new caseload.
So I guess I am questioning where is the balance in what we do? How vested do we get in a place?
Being vested in our students is not a question. That is why I get out the door every morning. In other posts I have focused on self care and recharging, which is essential, but I think if we have a tribe…. how vested we are in the adults we interact with also plays a vital role in how good we are as teachers. Maybe your tribe is the people in your buildings. Maybe the tribe you build is other TODs/itinerants you know. I am incredibly lucky to have an awesome tribe. I need these people. I couldn’t be as successful without their support, encouragement and honesty.
I think because of this tribe I know I am not alone when something happens that makes the job harder-someone is rude, I am forgotten about, equipment is lost or broken, my space gets taken over. They give me the courage to speak up for myself….never forgetting I’m a guest, keeping in my lane, but not being a doormat. I think that could be a whole conversation-how much do we take, flex or suck up?
When the school year ends I am typically happy about where I have been. I don’t foresee major changes for the next year, but I also don’t have a crystal ball, so I leave in June packing up all of my goodies and saying “I hope I am back”. I sometimes hate that part. But I have come to accept it.
I can also see the other side of the itinerant coin. Where being in a new situation every year is great. How being able to be in and out alleviates stress and pressure. I know there are people that love that new feeling. They enjoy being low key. I guess that is what makes being an itinerant teacher so unique. We get to design our job. We can shape and mold what it looks to others and ourselves.
Where do you fall in this continuum?
Do you want to be the out there flying your flag or be the quiet and almost invisible guest?
I don’t think there is a wrong answer here. There are so many factors in defining ourselves. We as itinerant teachers have a freedom and responsibility to our peers. My work bestie and I always say it takes a certain type of personality to not abuse the freedom traveling all day brings, the flexibility in how “seen” we want to be and the awesome ability we have in adjusting ourselves to all the people and places we visit everyday.
(Photos above are from my amazing spaces in my favorite schools. The photo at the top was taken in September. By June it was covered in student work-with their names and idiom posters & a growing word wall.)
I am proud of the job I do. I try to make my profession look good. I am sure you do too-being itinerant is not easy and not for everyone. I’d love to hear from you. Your perspective, feelings and stories. Let’s keep on traveling together!