So I had my orientation to the teacher preparation program yesterday. I’d spent the last month in a bit of a fugue, wondering if I was making the right choice. The program is rigorous, and because it’s designed for people who work part time already it’s mostly evenings and weekends. I’ve had my heart in my throat over the fact that I’ll be seeing less of the kids, and knowing I’ll have days to myself to work on writing and my own things has been no comfort. Yesterday morning I joked to The Husband that maybe I should drop out and just keep working in my job as a tutor until I’m really sure about what I want to do. He answered with an eye roll.
Yeah, I can be worthy of eye rolling.
So last night I walked into the teacher prep orientation and looked at all the faces of my peers shining with anticipation and I wondered if that was really what I wanted. Was it? At one point we had to share about what inspired us to become teachers. “My eighth grade teacher always looked out for us,” one girl said. “I really love being with kids,” said another one. “I really enjoy math,” said another. There I was, pointedly staying silent. I wasn’t here because someone inspired me to want to take care of kids. I was here because working as a tutor had shown me that people come into college with only a conversational grasp of language, and it dumbfounds me. I want to be in a position to lobby for better standards for how language is taught and evaluated. I want to start a national conversation about the role that language plays in poverty and economic success. Maybe I don’t belong in a classroom. This is not for me. Everyone else here is so passionate about taking care of kids and here I am, just so angry that our system is broken. Then we had to write a short statement about our goals and share it with a small group. There were people sharing about creating a loving and safe environment and other ones about modeling good behavior, and then me with my screed about Bridges Out Of Poverty and how what home a child is born into shouldn’t be the major determining factor in what kind of language they are able to use as an adult; the language of negotiation is reserved for the upper classes and poor kids grow up only knowing the language of survival and intimacy, and we are failing them, and I want to see if it’s possible to tweak the programs we HAVE to teach to involve opportunities for kids to master the kind of language they need to better their position in society.
So I was chewing on my lip as we moved into the final portion of the orientation, where we talked about the rubrics and standards for temperament, character and behavior. I’m so glad I hadn’t walked out before then, because suddenly everything changed. As we discussed the framework for the education department’s philosophy we were handed a chart. It’s one of those Venn diagrams, and the middle facet, the one that all of the other areas of professionalism overlapped in, was dedication to social justice. One of my peers asked why that was there and I felt this sudden warmth in my heart, because I knew. Because it was why I was so angry, why I changed my major in the first place. And the instructor said words I’d said earlier that evening, even though he couldn’t have known it, he said, “what home a child is born into shouldn’t determine what opportunities they have in life. Our role as teachers has to be making sure that everyone has the same chance, the same education, and the same ability to benefit society.”
I nearly screamed “AMEN.”
Then we talked about what kind of person you need to be to survive a career in education. Sure, patience and compassion and consistency, which had been so exhaustively discussed, were on the list. But it went beyond that. Are your responses appropriate to the situation at hand? Are you dedicated to self-reflection and self-improvement? Do you seek out professional support and collaboration and realize you are incapable of individual success without others? Do you seek out diverse opinions and examine all situations with multiple viewpoints in mind?
Suddenly the cry in my soul, asking what had I done and why, started to subside. I found myself saying, “yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.”
He said that we need to be ready to fight. “Teachers are held to the highest standard in society. We have to fight every day to exceed expectations and face every criticism with a smile and open heart. We guard the future.” When your students see you in the grocery store, they are watching. Their parents know if you’re in a neighborhood bar and how much you drink. What you eat, what you wear, what you do, all of those things will be under a microscope. In the world of social media you have to be careful of how and why you have a bad day, because people are watching. It’s not for everyone, he said, so don’t be embarrassed if you want to change your major. But it’s about what we’re fighting for, he said. If we want a better society we have to be that better person for the kids who are entrusted into our care, and our first and most constant thought has to be why we choose to do what we do.
Yes, yes, yes.
We have to ask ourselves, he said, if we are strong enough. “Are you strong enough?”
I was taking notes (of course), so I wrote in the margins, “perhaps I forgot to mention, I am a warrior.”
I am a warrior. I can do this. I can become a teacher. I can become politically active. I can write a doctorate thesis on uses of language in the home and television and on and on and on. I can do this. I WILL do this. Because I’m not Teacher Candidate Lindsey. No, I’m Teacher Candidate Warrior, and I have a mission. Do I know why I care so much? Why I’m crying as I’m writing this? Why I threw psychology under the bus like last year’s fashion even though it was a lifelong passion?
Yesterday morning I may have said that I was confused, but I’m not now.
This profession ISN’T for everyone. It’s for the people who have the strength, drive, and passion to never forget why we do what we do. And we don’t do it because we’re softhearted and naive and rosy-eyed and just want to spend the day with kids (although there is that, too), it’s because we’re freaking warriors. We have to be, because society doesn’t value education.
So we have to fight, and fight, and fight- in a world that thinks we don’t deserve to be paid, that we are failing as literary rates fall, that pans the profession on the evening news without a second thought, where kids come into the class more concerned with their kill rate on video games than reading a decent book, and where half of them are more distracted by thoughts of getting through the day than ever giving a second thought to their future.
A future that teachers have to fight for.
Because it’s not our fault that kids are failing. It’s our society as a whole that has failed.
But teachers take responsibility for it anyway, don’t they?
We’re warriors, and that’s what warriors do. They take up the sword and fight on.