Room 313 at St. Theresa Visitation School

Today was the first day of the Policy, Organization, and Leadership Studies (POLS) Program Seminar -- basically the first day of class with our full cohort all together, all 33 of us. I already love my cohort, but that's a post for another day.

Our fearless leader is Professor David Brazer. David is the faculty director of the POLS Program; he played a big role in selecting us for the program and will teach one seminar every quarter and advise us on our POLS project (our yearlong capstone project). He's also teaching a course called Leading US Schools this term that I'm taking. 

Before class started, we all got a mug (with OJ or coffee) and some homemade baked goods -- and if you have to start at 8:30am every Friday, that's a great way to do it. 

David opened the POLS Seminar this morning by telling a story. Each member of the cohort will have 5 minutes at some point in the term to tell a story -- personal, professional, whatever we choose.

David's story started with his undergraduate experience at the University of Michigan. He told us he didn't care too much for the academic part of school, but was driven when it came to preparing for what was next. He wanted to be a teacher and he knew it. 

He graduated in an awful economic time in America, when almost no schools were hiring new social studies teachers. So, when he was called with an offer to teach at a school in Detroit, with predominantly low income students of color, he jumped at the opportunity. He packed his bags and traded Ann Arbor for Detroit. 

He was assigned to Room 313 at St. Theresa Visitation School, a K-8 school. He arrived in January. He was the class' tenth teacher since school began in September. Their tenth teacher in four months.

He quickly discovered that his undergraduate education was woefully insufficient in preparing him to lead this classroom. He said something to the effect of: "I didn't know much to begin with, let alone much to prepare to succeed in this specific circumstance." The cultural and socio-economic context of Detroit was a lot different than Ann Arbor. The kids just assumed he wouldn't make it to the end of the year, and they told him that to his face. 

David Brazer did stay until the end of the year. He also took students on the first field trip they had ever been on in their entire education careers. His idea -- something his administrators warned him against. That says a lot about David Brazer.

After he told the story, he deconstructed it a bit and gave us some advice.

"Don't blame yourself for the naiveté and ignorance that you walked in with," he said.

He told us it will hit us, eventually, that we have these massive blindspots, and it will probably hurt. But, he said, we shouldn't be afraid to admit it, own it. That's part of the reason why we're here. To learn. To become less naive and less ignorant. To become competent. 

One of the things that has been most surprising in my first few weeks at Stanford is how unbelievably supportive and encouraging everyone is. There's not cutthroat competition or lectures on effort or focus. It's implied that if you're here, you care and you're willing to work hard. All of my professors have worked to create an environment where failure is not only acceptable but expected. This stuff -- educating people -- is really hard, and the only way you can successfully begin a career in this field is with humility.