It’s a big week in Montgomery County. Over one thousand individuals will join the school system as new teachers, and their first day is Monday. The amount of information they’ll get in the next two weeks will test the elasticity of their brains, and at times I’m sure, will seem overwhelming. They’ll sit in auditoriums and classrooms and start the journey of being a teacher in our system. And people will offer advice, to folks eager and anxious for the first day of school to arrive.
So here’s mine. Remember that Simone Biles is right.
In an article this week by Megan Garber, she describes our very real interest as a culture in comparing people one to another – in describing individuals in terms of people we already know. And too many times, we look past the beauty of the moment and of the individual in front of us. After winning gold this week, Simone Biles stated, “I’m not the next Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps. I’m the first Simone Biles.”
Garber’s insights into how we often seek to define women using the men in their lives is insightful and powerful in a profession where 80% of our eduators are women. Most of the new teachers this week will be female, and each of them will have a powerful story to tell, and a powerful narrative to write. They will not be “like the teacher down the hall.” They will be be the first to ever teach our children in a way unique to their experiences and very being.
And in a county which is richly racially diverse, and impacted increasingly by poverty, these new teachers will meet our babies, each unique and filled with a narrative mostly unwritten. We often seek to categorize and characterize and generalize, but in the end, 159,000 students means 159,000 “firsts.”
Last week, Dr. Shawn Joseph (formerly with MCPS) stood outside of Maplewood High School in Nashville, Tennessee on the first day of school. The reporter asks how he’s going to make the school system one of the best in the country, and Dr. Joseph responds, “We’re going to focus on the small details, and the big details.” And while it may seem odd for a superintendent to talk about small details, when it comes to education, each of those details has the power to impact the narrative of one child. There is no education in masses, and there is no hope for transformation in systems – unless we acknowledge the power of being “first.”