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Back To School: Learning To Put Down The Duckie

Last week, during my first week at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, I went “course shopping.” This is a time when practically all the professors give 40-minute explanations or previews of their courses so that students can make decisions about their schedule. As someone who thought I had my schedule all figured out at the beginning of the week this was exciting and frustrating at the same time, as I suddenly felt doubts about all the classes I wasn’t taking. With only two semesters of coursework while I’m here, the stakes feel pretty high for each selection.

That said, the stress of figuring out which courses to take has been far outweighed by the excitement of getting to know my classmates and professors. I have been continually awestruck by the knowledge and experience my professors bring to the classroom. I am equally humbled by the breadth and depth of experience of my fellow students.

In the past few days I met Ronald Ferguson, a man who literally wrote the book on closing the achievement gap; I listened to Sarah Lawrence Lightfoot speak, and literally got chills; I sat in on shopping sessions for about a dozen other professors who have in many ways shaped the direction and discourse on education in this country.

What also struck me in the midst of this exciting and overwhelming period is the need for me to stop and prepare to totally open my mind. During orientation’s opening ceremony, one of the speakers, Joseph Blatt, mentioned the need for us to “put down the duckie.” By this he meant the need for us to shed our biases, our hang-ups and preconceived notions, and open ourselves up to the rich discussions of the year ahead.

Over the past year I have felt pressured to create an ad hoc ideology. Since the New York Post published my op-ed in favor of releasing Teacher Data Reports last October, I felt pressured to take stances, sometimes based more on gut reactions to the attacks and assumptions of others, rather than a thorough, well-researched process. This is not a process that leads to the thoughtful formation of lasting, meaningful beliefs.

I am excited then to take a deep breath and “put down the duckie” as I prepare for the year ahead. I am putting down my Educators 4 Excellence duckie. I am putting down my teacher duckie. I am shedding as much as I can about what I think I know for certain, in order to really learn from my professors and peers about the issues that really matter to me. This isn’t to say I won’t use my experiences to act as a lens to aid my studies, but I am excited to approach my studies with a fresh perspective in order to come to an understanding about what I truly believe.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.