From the NCTE Middle Level Section Steering Committee
This post was written by NCTE member Sarah Bonner, a member of the NCTE Middle Level Section Steering Committee.
The Day the Doors Closed
On March 13, 2020, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker shut the doors to all of our schools and never reopened them for the remainder of the 2019–2020 school year. As a veteran middle school teacher, I felt paralyzed by the thought of not seeing students again. Longing for hugs, high-fives, and yearbook signings, making a transition to remote teaching seemed to be a drastic change for all of us.
Prior to the shutdown last year, I started my dissertation research with a few teacher colleagues in a focus group study. We met a handful of times to discuss their practice and the ideas we co-constructed as we envisioned the near future of integrating our classrooms together. Our plans immediately changed when we realized we wouldn’t be able to achieve these goals with our students.
And, while being sent home to work remotely meant a great loss to many of us who thrive from our teams, our colleagues, our school family, what started as a simple research group of educators became so much more. At that point, we understood that this focus group had the potential to become MORE to all of us.
Time to Go to “Church”
The group decided to meet regularly every Sunday morning. In fact, it became lovingly known as “Teacher Church,” so dubbed by one of the group members’ partners. Every Sunday morning, this motley group of badass teachers would come together to talk about anything and everything. As a group, we laughed, we cried, we examined our values and beliefs, we protested together in support of our local Black Lives Matter chapter—we moved forward together.
Sharing this lived experience with others who seek to process the world around them in connection to education became (and continues to be) priceless. Our first instincts as humans during this trying time might have been to stay removed from our surroundings and feel secluded from others, but going to “Teacher Church” made me feel less alone and, maybe for a sliver of time, a little more normal.
As our “congregation” grew, we wanted to make this experience something meaningful and important to all of us as educators. Deep down, I felt like we were pulled together in this shared space to transform. From book studies to podcasts to designing units for our students, we moved forward together.
So, How Can YOU Move Forward Together?
- Start a text study. One of the reasons why “Teacher Church” continued to last as long as it did is because we had common texts that we shared with one another and a reading experience that connected us as humans. Often, these conversations would include moments not only of professional growth but of personal growth, too. Texts that we chose as a group to read together included: Heather McGhee’s The Sum of Us; the “Sounds Like Hate” podcast; Matthew Kay’s “Not Light But Fire;” and the “Teaching While White” podcast.
- Be open to giving and receiving feedback. While seeking feedback can be a very vulnerable action, it can also be a direct way to push through the comforts of your professional practice. Having a group of professionals thinking deeply and critically about your work with students can be such a rewarding experience.
- Take risks. The age-old saying “there’s power in numbers” certainly holds true when it comes to teaching. As you move forward with others, you feel empowered by their thinking, their practices, and their encouragement. We have the power to change if we know we have those in our corner who support these changes. Change is the result of collaboration and strength—something that can’t be cultivated well when you’re alone.
- Seek care and comfort with people who share your lived experiences. I love my partner deeply, but he isn’t an educator. And, while he continues to be a patient ear when I talk about my work with students, his connection to this world is still limited. When I go to “Teacher Church” every week, I’m comforted by the fact that I can share my stories and ideas with a group of people who understand my thinking. I’m thankful for my teacher friends everytime we log in because I know that I never feel alone as I start a new week.
As we continue to see learning in new ways and stretch our profession into new areas of innovation, I know that I wouldn’t be the educator that I am today without the love and support of my “Teacher Church.” In thinking about the end of this school year and wondering about the next, I know that I will continue to stay strong all because we moved forward together.
Sarah Bonner is a veteran language arts teacher at Heyworth Junior High School in Heyworth, Illinois, as well as a current doctoral candidate in the School of Teaching and Learning at Illinois State University. Her work focuses on inquiry-based learning in the middle grades. You can learn more about her work with students at www.languagearts301.wixsite.com/hjhs or follow her on Twitter @MrsBonner301.
It is the policy of NCTE in all publications, including the Literacy & NCTE blog, to provide a forum for the open discussion of ideas concerning the content and the teaching of English and the language arts. Publicity accorded to any particular point of view does not imply endorsement by the Executive Committee, the Board of Directors, the staff, or the membership at large, except in announcements of policy, where such endorsement is clearly specified.