Typhani Harris | August 2014

New Home, New Family

Today I become a New York teacher. Although all of the traditional first day of school emotions are present, there is an unfamiliar anxiety about being in a new home with a new family.

I have been in New York City for a little over a week now. The adventures already seem never-ending.  In the short time I have been here, I have experienced four major areas of adjustment for both of new home and work. Getting comfortable with a new physical space, getting acquainted with an overall new environment, getting used to new personalities, and familiarizing myself with new procedures and protocols.

New Space

In California I lived in a two bedroom, two bathroom new home: spacious, comfortable, and all mine – not to mention with a closet to die for. In New York, things are a little different. I moved into the East Village, Stuyvesant Town to be exact. I have 2 roommates, a 10’ x 12’ foot room, and one bathroom to share. This is a definite adjustment.  At my new school the same applies.  I went from a campus I know inside and out. One with a studio, theory classroom, dressing room, office, and two storage spaces, to a single room being deemed the studio (with no floors or mirrors) and an office to share with the entire department.

Although this change of space is exciting, it is requiring me to put things in perspective and prioritize the things that are absolutely pertinent for student success.  This space will test the mirror theory, and the question of whether or not studio mirrors help or hinder adolescent female self confidence.  The traditional classroom floors will challenge lessons, as safety must remain in the forefront.  The shared office will allow for more collaboration within the department and the proximity to core teachers will hopefully encourage some opportunities for arts integration.

New Environment

In the suburbs of California, life is quiet. But, now I am in the city that never sleeps. No matter what time I am coming home the city is bustling with people, conversations, and music, and in some odd way that is comforting. My environment at new home is an adjustment as well. I need to be mindful of having roommates, which means I need to be quiet when I get up early, watch the volume of my music, and not hog the bathroom while getting ready.

The same goes for my school environment. I went from a school that was spread wide to a school that is spread high. My California school was spread out so much that it covered three zip codes, my school in New York is spread so tall that it covers 8 floors!

In California, my school is almost entirely outdoors; in New York it is completely indoors. Here I have to swipe an ID card when I enter and exit while in California, I just waved to the office manager. Even the professional development environment has changed.  This past friday our department was encouraged to go into the city to do something artistically enriching, so we went to see 12th Night playing at a local theatre.  The environments are completely opposite!

This new environment, however, can impact my teaching in so many ways.  The inspiration that can come from looking out the window from a 4th story studio classroom is exciting.  Getting the chance to use an 8 story building as a backdrop for site specific work, or taking students into the city to see live art are experiences that can only happen in this new environment.

New Personalities

Deep down I have always felt I belonged in New York. New Yorkers are blunt, straight to the point, sarcastic, and WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get, to use a lighting design term) and I have often been ridiculed for these characteristics of my personality. Californians are polite, they euphemize to remain copacetic, they even wait for lights and wave pedestrians across the street. While there is nothing wrong with either personality they are certainly different. As I entered my first staff meeting, the principal welcomed us to the new year with a “Cruising the 4C’s” theme, complete with pastries, fruit, coffee, and Caribbean music; a fabulous welcome to the new year.

As she began her first speech of the year,  she encouraged us to really get to know each other and become a true family, and throughout the week provided opportunities for the staff to bond.  All of the staff have been so warm and welcoming and I forgot how important this is for a new teacher. But what is most important is how these relationships can empower student success.  Knowing the personalities of both the staff and the students will be a useful tool as we enter the new school year.

New Protocols & Procedures

Living with people always requires an adjustment period. It takes time to understand the ebb and flow of the relationships and acknowledge and avoid the pet peeves of each other. I have been living alone for a while so having roommates is a new adjustment, but having New York roommates whom I have just met is a whole new experience. Luckily my roommates have been welcoming and supportive of all my educational rants, and we have agreed on 1 simple house rule; don’t eat the last of something without replacing it.  At school, however, there are many new protocols and procedures.

Although I am used to completing full curriculum maps, this year I have to complete full lesson plans for each day, and turn them in. Actually, I haven’t written out complete lesson plans in years.  I have the standards memorized so I know what I am hitting, and I teach an art so I coach, facilitate, and assess every hour…I just haven’t had to write it all out and give it official titles like Hook, Aim, guided practice, or exit slips, in probably 15 years, but this will give me the opportunity to document the use of the new standards and really assess my own practice.

Procedures such as giving my photocopy requests to the assistant 3 days prior to needing them, swiping a card for entry, going down 4 flights of stairs and 2 blocks of city for evacuation drills, getting 3 periods off of which I can walk a block to a coffee shop, having an hour for lunch, and bonding with an advisory team. These are all fun and exciting new things to add to my adventure and moreover make me a better teacher.

Ready for A New Adventure

Coming into a new home and new family is so exciting and yet quite overwhelming and even a little intimidating. Although I miss the familiarity of my California new home and family, this experience has pushed me beyond my comfort zone, and that is where true learning occurs. I have been shocked, comforted, surprised, and relieved, but most importantly my new home and new family will allow me to truly fine-tune my craft and help to become the best New York teacher I can be.

Next Week: Secrets of a Dance Teacher

Creating a new dance community

After a week with new dance students, I will share the ins and outs of creating an artistic community and the building of a new program.

About the Author

Dr. Typhani Harris, author of Putting the Performance in Performance Task and Stop Teaching, brings over 2 decades of educational experience to The Institute. Originally a high school English Language Arts teacher, Dr. Harris transitioned into a dance educator who cultivated an award-winning collegiate style dance education program at a public school in California. Prior to joining the Institute, she was an educational leader and instructional coach specializing in preparing new teachers in secondary urban schools.  As the Executive Director of Academic Affairs, Dr. Harris maintains courses, conferences, and the accredited certification program at The Institute.