Cobb teacher Ryan Lund Neumann sent me this wonderful essay. Enjoy.
By Ryan Lund Neumann
If I only knew then what I know now.
Sometimes the old adages are true. Even if they are fragments. Six years ago, I was a brand new teacher. Fresh out of graduate school, juiced up on rhetoric and radical ideas, not only was I convinced I would change a student’s life for the better, I was going to change the whole darn teaching profession for the better.
I would, no matter how arduous the journey, no matter how ridiculous the interruption, find a way. Somehow. Someway.
I would, no matter how arduous the journey, no matter how ridiculous the interruption, find a way. Somehow. Someway. It was going to happen.
So, I decided I needed to challenge myself.
“You’ve gotta put yourself in an uncomfortable situation, Ryan. If you really want to find out what kind of person you are, you have to venture into uncharted territory. You have to put yourself out there in ways you never have before.”
And so I did. I accepted a job at South Cobb High School in the fall of 2006 and for the first time in my life, I was the odd man out. A boyish man amongst women. A minority. An introvert.
“Me? A teacher? Really?”
I was forced to become social. Had no choice. I had to speak. I became a “yes” man. At the end of my first year, I was an Assistant Cross Country Coach (a sport which I knew nothing about), a Georgia High School Graduation Test Tutor, the newly appointed chair of the Culture Committee, which consequently meant I was also a member of the School Improvement Committee, and other unofficial things like counselor, hall monitor, exterminator, student-dropper-offer-person, and so on and so forth.
At the end of my first year, I was exhausted for sure, but I was also in love. Probably the most dysfunctional relationship I have ever been involved with.
I knew nothing about school culture when I finished my first year of teaching, but in the five years since then I know this: culture determines everything. If you don’t have a cohesive school culture, you’ve already lost. Not talking the battle either, I’m talking the war.
If I only knew that before I got to now, I would have known what to do when I was appointed chair of a Culture Committee I knew nothing about. I might have been able to stop myself from discrediting myself but more importantly, I would have known what to say.
Some teachers want power. Some want a paycheck. Some want to pay it forward. And look, it’s not even that simple. There’s about 50 grays of shade in between those three statements alone but here’s the thing, there are those who simply want to be great. And you know what, that’s the only thing you really need in education. Good people who want to be great teachers. You get some good people doing genuinely great things and you don’t have to dwell on all that other garbage. Everything else will fall into place.
Great teachers aren’t in it for the money. They’re not in it for the unions or the politricks, and they don’t care about the different verbiage of standards. At the end of the day, it’s as vague as this: great teachers want to make a difference. That’s it. They don’t need merit pay or test scores or fancy new federal agendas. They don’t conspire to alter standardized answers. Get a few great teachers and the next thing you know, their department is great and then after that, other departments are great and then before you can mark, “Proficient,” on a teacher’s annual performance evaluation, the whole school is great.
If I only knew then what I know now I’d say this, “Culture is Key.”
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog