The Struggle of "Fitting In"

This week starts with a clip from one of my favorite sitcoms of all-time, Sports Night. I think this clip highlights perfectly my feelings this week. It continues past the 2:10 mark, but you can stop it there, and I have my reflections after the video:

This is a hard post for me.  My focus on this blog has been to be as honest & reflective on my practice as a teacher and my experiences in the classroom, and that sometimes requires a degree of honesty that is scary.  

I have always struggled with this idea of “fitting in.”  I’ve never really felt comfortable in any one place as a teacher.  Even though I spent 11 years working at Turner Middle School, I’m not sure that I ever really “fit in.”  Maybe it was just a personal feeling, completely divorced from the reality of the situation, or maybe it was just a vibe received from a few colleagues.  Whatever it was, I know that it was something that did, and continues to gnaw at me. It’s something I wish I didn’t feel (or if I’m not imagining it, that it wasn’t true), but regardless, I reached a point where I became aware of it and looked for ways to combat this feeling and “fit in.” No matter what I did, I never got that sense that I was welcome, wanted, or even needed at TMS or even in the Turner district.  Administrators would reassure me that I was doing great things & having a positive impact, but ultimately they rarely came into my classroom to see those amazing things, beyond a cursory two minute walkthrough. I kept my focus on being a better teacher, reading more professional development books, making big shifts in my pedagogy & teaching style, and I slowly insulated myself from my colleagues. I stopped attending the few after school get-togethers I could have attended given my coaching schedule.  I became less visible during planning period or any time other colleagues were collaborating or just simply talking about their day. Eventually I became numb to my inability (or choice not) to “fit in”, but I still wanted to be a part of the process of making our school better and building a sense of team or family with my colleagues. When I finally had run out of ways I could “fit in” I knew that it had become the major factor in my decision to leave a place that was a second home for me after 11 years.

Now, as I approach the end the of the first quarter here at Summit Trail, I’ve noticed that same “not fitting in” feeling again. The challenges of this new district and building are immense and the intensity with which we attack those challenges is equally intimidating.  Sometimes I wonder if I am up to the task or am I an “imposter” who has somehow managed to fool everyone so far. I start think I’m not “fitting in” again. That I’m on the outside of this incredible work being done, and not a part of it. That my corner classroom is just “there” and that by a slow and steady process my efforts, while lauded publicly, continue to privately insulate me from the rest of my colleagues.  

I think sometimes, “Should I stop these innovative, different (sometimes crazy) ideas in my teaching and just go back to something more ‘traditional’?”  “Would that make me ‘fit in’ better?” I don’t have an answer to that. It may be consistent feeling that I will simply have to accept being an outsider in my work.  Regardless, I know and believe that the style and pedagogy I use works, is right for me, and that it ultimately benefits my students. So while, as Jeremy Goodwin put it in Sports Night, “Not fitting in is how good people lose jobs,” maybe “fitting in” just isn’t worth the attention I give it.
Summit Seeker(s) of the Week: This week I’m shouting out Bethany Rexroth. Bethany is an 8th grade English-Language Arts teacher at Summit Trail.  She’s been a great resource this year, as I and my other two team members are new to Olathe, and she has helped us get acclimated to the district.  This week she challenged a few of her students with a tougher project for their study of Flowers for Algernon, helping those students to “reach their peak” by setting them off to seek a more challenging summit.  You can follow her on Twitter @Rexroth_ELA