Sunday, May 18, 2014

Student Teachers, Full Calendars & Closed Doors

I remember my very first staff meeting as the new principal at Penngrove.  We were brainstorming our "hopes and dreams" for the year and I was writing as quickly as I could smiling along the way as staff members called out various topics, scenarios, and ideas.  I remember a teacher earnestly sharing that she would really love to see student teachers return to the Penngrove campus.  This teacher shared with the group that at one point in time, there had been many student teachers at Penngrove but due to university supervisors wanting more "concentrated sites," Penngrove had lost connection with the nearby colleges.  I couldn't help but notice the many heads nodding in agreement as this teacher shared the value of having student teachers in the classroom and around campus and I thought to myself, "Easy! That's a quick fix!" Later that week, I made a couple phone calls to Sonoma State and Dominican University, took a deep breath, and hoped for the best.

Twenty-two months later, we have to practically turn student teachers away from our campus.  Currently, we have nine student teachers at Penngrove and last Tuesday, I had the privilege and honor of meeting with four new incoming student teachers for Fall 2014. Let me back up for a quick second. I have to admit that when I glanced at my Tuesday calendar and saw "meet w/ student teacher advisor from SSU" for an HOUR and a HALF, I thought that Nicole, my invaluable office manager, must have made a typo.  What could I possibly have to talk to the SSU advisor about for that length of time?!  It probably didn't help that by 10am, I was on the verge of tears due to a number of circumstances beyond my control including finding out some really heartbreaking news about several of my students. Most days, I find myself being so strong for our students, for our staff, for our community.  But there are days where I could almost crumple to the ground in a sob when certain things come to light in unfortunate ways. Back to the meeting. 

So here I was, meeting with Jane, the SSU student teacher advisor.  Jane confirmed that we were indeed meeting for an hour and a half.  15 minutes to prep, an hour to interview/get to know the new student teachers, and 15 minutes to debrief.  I tried to not look too disappointed or irritated but then I decided to just come clean with Jane.  Jane is a retired principal so she totally "gets" it.  She knows that feeling when the pull of needing to be in 10 places at once weighs you down. Jane "gets" that long meetings and returning phone calls aren't always at the top of the priority list, and she certainly "gets" that student teachers can take up a lot of time and energy that isn't always easy. I took a couple of honest moments with Jane, venting about my morning, asking her to excuse my disheveled behavior and letting her overhear me beg Nicole to order a latte and a breakfast sandwich from down the street.  

And there they were. Four bright-eyed, youthful faces with eager spirits and smiles that would light up even the darkest of rooms.  As I invited them into my office, Jane and I welcomed them one by one.  We sat around my conference table sharing and learning about one another.  I learned that Daniela enjoys creative writing.  She has worked at quite a few schools but she wants more experience with creating lesson plans and classroom management.  I discovered that Jayme is an animal lover who attended Penngrove as an elementary student! I listened intently as Jeff shared with us that teaching runs in his family and despite his attempt so curb his interests in teaching, he was finally succumbing to his strong desire to inspire curiosity in his students, which he feels is the key to happiness.  I heard Katie share about her love for music and traveling, yet admit that she needs to gain the confidence to know that she IS a real adult now.  

As I sat there listening to these student teachers, it took all of my strength to fight back the tears that had tried so hard to escape earlier that morning.  I couldn't help but to see right into their hearts. I couldn't help but to feel the honest and genuine excitement that they possessed just to be able to work with students.  I sat there feeling so incredibly fortunate to be the principal of a school where we value student teachers.  A school where we want to soak up that youthful desire to inspire and generate curiosity in students.  And how lucky am I to have SO many talented, dedicated, loving teachers who are willing to be mentor teachers to this new generation of educators? After Daniela, Jayme, Jeff, and Katie left my office, Jane and I discussed where we thought each student teacher would flourish. We placed each of them in a wonderful "home" and Jane and I parted ways.  

And then I did something I don't do often enough. I closed and locked my office door. I sat at my desk with my eyes closed, and I reflected for just a quiet minute or two.  I reminded myself that each and every meeting on my calendar has the ability to be impactful and powerful in its own way.  I allowed myself to feel guilty for having a bad attitude about the hour and a half meeting.  I forgave myself for scarfing down a breakfast sandwich in front of these young, impressionable minds.  And I let a single tear fall. A tear that represented heartache, grief, and challenge.  And then the second and final tear. The tear that represented new life, gratitude, excitement, devotion, vulnerability, and joy. 


  1. I absolutely love your honesty. I totally know the feeling of being on the verge of tears for so many different reasons at school all day. There's nothing like it. What we do is hard, and I hope you know how appreciated you are for all the work you do! Those fresh new teachers, and the ones you've worked with for a few years, and the ones in your PLN, are so lucky to have you as their fearless, compassionate, inspiring leader!

  2. Thank you for this touching window into a day as Principal Fadeji. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable in a post like this is a sign of your immense strength. It's true. Being around student teachers is a great reminder of the privilege we enjoy as teachers of our wonderful students.

    Ditto to Ashley's comments.

  3. LOVE, love this post. I agree that it is the vulnerability you show here, in addition to your "just get it done" attitude (student teachers? I'll get you student teachers) that make you the great leader you are. Rock on, sister.