My year as one of the Wisconsin Teaching Fellows is (regrettably) drawing to a close. Professionally speaking, being the Fellow has been the highlight of my year, and perhaps my entire pre-tenure time. From the amazing connections and friends I’ve made, to the depth and breadth of knowledge I’ve gained about being a reflective, inquiry-based teacher, my experience has allowed me to grow as a teacher, and expand my scholarship into new areas.
In a month and a half, I’ll present my preliminary findings on my project of feminist blogging in the Women’s Studies class, and then my official responsibilities as a fellow are over. One of our next steps, though, is to becoming mentors and cheerleaders for upcoming teacher scholars; next year’s fellow is an English Department colleague and friend, and I hope to help her any way I can. And, of course, I’ll be working on turning my research into a series of presentations and publications and spin-off projects.
At our last Fellows meeting on Friday, we were also encouraged to become leaders on campus and throughout the University system. We discussed former Fellows who have become leaders through partial and full administrative positions, both within and outside of our system. I count some of these leaders among my friends and I see how their personalities and goals mesh so well with their new roles.
I can’t wrap my head around the irony of investing so much time, focus, passion, and scholarly inquiry into becoming a better teacher only to then leave the classroom.
This year, my campus has granted me a “sabbatical” from campus service, which releases me from serving on two campus committees. I still serve in other way, both on campus, in my two departments, and for the institution as a whole. But those extra hours have been a blessing, filled with time to focus more on developing interesting, multi-media class sessions, and more time to grade all the (mostly) engaging blogs my students write each week.
And I love it: teaching as my primary focus and passion. Time to work with a research student. Time to think, to read, to tinker with my lessons, my approach, my understanding of where students are.
And so I wonder what it means to be a leader. I wonder why we emphasize service and administration as paths to development, even within the group that’s so focused on creating better, more reflective teachers. I wonder why teaching, paired with scholarship and inquiry and developing expertise in one’s discipline aren’t valued paths to leadership in and of themselves.
At the end of a class, the end of a day, the end of the semester, I know that my impact is greatest in those classroom walls and in my office hours and on the pages and screens of student writing. And increasingly, it’s there that I want to spend my time and energy, where I want to learn and grow, and…lead.