I have been on winter break for the past month, but I’m gearing up to go back to school in another few weeks. I’ve ordered my textbooks, began communicating with professors, and mainly started preparing myself mentally to get back into a college-schedule (I have a 6-week break, which is part incredible/part problem because I rarely change out of my pajamas). While I’ve been working independently almost the whole break (because I am an adult trapped in a teenager’s body!), I have taken a lot of time to reflect on college, student-activism, and what lay ahead (reminder: I will be entering my fourth semester/ spring semester of sophomore year, of a 5-year Masters program).
I was reading through some old posts I had written, and decided I wanted to condense them into one post with some new thoughts - as I wrote these last summer, and a LOT has changed in the ed-universe since then - in reflection on last semester/in preparation for a new semester.
I love and I hate being a college student. I love it because of the freedoms I have, but I hate it because I am so ready to get into the classroom (I know, I know, college are the best years of your life, enjoy them while you can, blah blah).
But in all honesty, I want to get into the classroom now because I don’t know what my classroom is going to look like in five years - and in all honesty, I fear what my classroom is going to look like in five years. I don’t know what my student teaching classroom is going to look like in even two or three years. I don’t even know what my field placement classroom is going to look like this spring semester with the upcoming PARCC testing in March and May. I can’t imagine myself doing anything other than teaching, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not scared of becoming a teacher.
That doesn’t mean that I’m not scared of being a part of an education system morphing into something that I don’t believe in - and in many ways, already something I don’t believe in.
That doesn’t mean that I’m not scared of being let go because I’m an active student with a voice (and we all know that isn’t going to stop once I’m a teacher).
That doesn’t mean that I’m not scared of being let go because, as an aspiring urban education teacher, my students’ test scores may be lower than the state desires them to be (while continuing to ignore the outside factors that play a much greater role in the equation here). For example, read a report from Bruce Baker on Student Growth Percentiles:
“Teachers in high poverty schools are dealing with children who have initially lower performance as defined by their test scores. Based upon this measure, they will have lower SGP’s, and now we begin the reform process of telling the narrative that these teachers are failing their students and must be replaced with new Teach for America grads who will be sure to magically turn things around and get those scores up!
“There are three ways the state plans to use SGP’s: rating schools for interventions, employment decisions, and evaluating teacher preparation institutions such as colleges and universities. In all of these cases, the use of SGP’s is inappropriate. SGP’s are not designed to determine a teacher’s or a school’s effect on test scores; again, they are descriptive, not causal, measures. Further, the bias patterns found in SGP’s provide a disincentive for teachers to teach in schools with large number of low-income students.”
Pursuing a policy of dismissing or ‘detenuring’ at a higher rate, teachers in high poverty schools because of their lower growth percentiles, would be misguided. Doing so would create more instability and disruption in settings already disadvantaged, and may significantly reduce the likelihood that these schools could then recruit “better” teachers as replacements.
These fears are real, and I imagine many of my fellow-future teachers are feeling the same way. But I wouldn’t be really committed to this profession, to my students, and to teaching if I didn’t have any fears: I wouldn’t have anything to work on and work towards changing; I wouldn’t have anything to strive for; I wouldn’t have anything to better myself in; and I wouldn’t have anything pushing me to better the profession.
But I truly believe that, despite my fears, nothing can stop me. Nothing can stop me from advocating for what I believe is in the best interest of my students. Nothing can stop me from fighting for a better system that I imagine myself being a part of. And I also truly believe that if all my fellow-future teachers banded together - especially in partnership with current educators - nothing could stop us from taking back the profession we love, the vision we have for what education should and can be, and resolving our fears of what lay ahead for many of us.
To me, first and foremost, it is crucial that we (*and by “we” I mean future teachers in conjunction with our mentors and current teachers*) become familiar with what is going on - every single reform is going to impact us, from our students to our students’ parents to other teachers to the communities teach in. At the end of the day, we are in this for education, and in it for the students. But, it is impossible to *completely* close the door to the policies/politics/reforms happening in education. Though the happenings in Trenton, Washington, D.C., etc. may seem so far removed from the actual classroom, everything that happens in those places - the meetings, the laws written, the policies implemented - can be traced right back to the individual classroom and the individual student. Common Core, PARCC, changes to teacher evaluations may seem to have come from some evil monster far away in an unknown place, but at the end of the day it is our classrooms and our students being impacted by these changes. That is why it is our duty to fight back. That is why we must involve in grassroots organizing, where resistance and change happen from the bottom up - from the individual classrooms all the way to the people far away (and far removed from the classroom, in many cases) in places like Trenton and Washington, D.C. We must let go of our fears.
We must go beyond just becoming familiar - being an informed and active teacher and member of society require doing independent research on the history of American education, the history of the reform movement, the current reform movement, and reading education scholars and philosophers. There are so many amazing books out there to read, and with the internet one can research almost any topic in education history or reform that is of interest (I suggest *starting* with Diane Ravitch’s “Reign of Error” for future teachers). We must let go of our fears.
We must - and I stress must - take the opportunities we have as a college students and run with it, as being in college provides a lot of freedoms. I have always said that I am in a strange, yet amazing in-between stage in my life, having recently graduated from a public K-12 school system, involved in education, yet not teaching. We must go even farther beyond that independent research and experience all that is happening first hand by going to local board meetings, attending legislative hearings in Trenton, meeting with legislators, and getting involved in student organizations focused around education. Those policy makers that seem so far, far away really aren’t, especially for my fellow TCNJ students - they’re actually about a 15 minute drive away. We must let go of our fears.
I think it’s so important that we all take the time and reflect, as I’m trying to do here, and to think about what kind of teacher we want to be - education is political, especially in today’s environment, and there is no denying that. We are entering a profession that is under attack from all sides. I always say to my fellow education majors/future teachers, “When someone asks you why you want to teach, saying that you want to be a fun teacher isn’t good enough; saying you want to make a difference is also not enough anymore. Tell people how you want to make a difference - and then do it. I want to teach my students about social justice and equity. I want to make change within my own classroom, within the community I teach in, and work to address the deep issues in society that impact the classroom such as poverty, income inequality, and children’s home lives.” Words are no longer enough; action is required of all of us, individually and collectively. We must let go of our fears.
At the end of the day, if teaching is our calling, then it is also out calling to get involved, be active, fight for what we believe in. Most importantly, we must never let anyone convince us not to go into education - we are the next generations of teachers. The opportunity to reclaim public education from philanthropists, big businesses, and reformers is right in front of us, and it is imperative that we do so. We are the next generation. The students of the future and the classrooms future are going to be in our hands. But they are only going to be in our hands if we recognize they are being pulled out of our hands, and we do everything it takes to gain back control. We must let go of our fears.
The teachers who stay in the profession have realized that they are in the fight of their life. Teachers can no longer do what they love, what they spent years being educated to do; they have to fight for their students, their parents, their colleagues, and their selves. They have to fight against the education reformers who have never been teachers but somehow are allowed to make policies that impact other people’s children while their children go to private school. They have to fight against democrats and republicans who take money from corporations hell bent on privatizing public education and treat education like it is zero-sum game. They have to fight against a society that expects teachers to make miracles happen every day but does not respect them, value them, or pay them enough to do it. If they want to stay in the classroom and make a difference they have to fight. Because if they do not fight then they will no longer love what they do.
We - the future public school teachers - must come together and educate one another on what is going on. We must band together collectively, in partnership with current public school teachers, parents, students, and community members, and reclaim our education system and our future profession.
And beyond this collective partnership, we must fight for ourselves. We must fight for our profession. We must fight for our future students.
To those of you reading this who are yet to enter the profession, really ask yourself: why YOU want to go into education. Why do YOU want to become a teacher?
Think long and hard about this. As I've said before: when someone asks us why we want to teach, saying that we want to be a *fun teacher* (whatever that is) isn’t good enough; saying we want to make a difference is also not enough anymore. As the future, it is now our job to tell people how we want to make a difference - and then we must do it. I want to teach my students about social justice and equity. I want to make change within my own classroom, within the community I teach in, and work to address the deep issues in society that impact the classroom such as poverty, income inequality, and systematic issues, etc. Words are no longer enough; action is required of all of us, individually and collectively. We can’t afford to let our fears stop us.
Current and future teachers must, must, must get involved, be active, fight for what we believe in, and most importantly never let anyone convince us future teachers not to go into education - we are the next generations of teachers.
Because, at the end of the day, we - the future teachers - currently have a voice that no one else has - we have nothing holding us back once we let go of our fears. We are obligated to take this opportunity and voice our opposition to the attacks on our profession. We are obligated to take this opportunity and voice our opposition to the reforms we know are not in the best interest of students, but rather only for those who can line their pockets off of our students backs.
For the future of the teaching profession, we cannot afford to have future teachers who are anything less than passionate, dedicated, and ready to fight.
Our fears must be what drive us to fight for a better tomorrow, and tomorrow we must also let go of our fears to achieve what is better.
So when we're sitting in class on the first day and a professor asks, "Why do you want to go into teaching?" please do me a favor (so I don’t lose my mind!) and rethink the response I want to be a fun teacher! Our future profession is under attack. We have to take the initiative to educate ourselves regarding the attack on public education, and then do something about it. Organize with our peers. Spread the message. Stand up. Fight back. And never - ever - let fear stop us.
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