It’s Official: Walking into the Schoolhouse

It’s been interesting. After months and months of restless anticipation, I am no longer waiting to hear from Teaching Residents @ Teachers College or the New York City Teaching Fellows. Teachers College offered me a spot in their MA in TESOL program (which will run me about 100K) but—three weeks later—I received a generic email notifying me that I have not been accepted into the Teaching Residents program. I was devastated! Note to future applicants: Desperate emails to the program director asking “May I join the program if I foot the bill?” (even though I really cannot afford to take more loans but was willing to because I wanted so badly to complete the best training available before entering a high-needs public school as a classroom teacher) are likely to go unanswered. Well, mine did at least.

The other news is…the New York City Teaching Fellows invited me to join their program, in which I am now officially enrolled. I’m feeling a bit—as my Grandmom would say—like a chicken with its head cut off. I want to run in circles and learn as much as I can in order to prepare as much as humanly possible from now until September when I step into the classroom. After an intensive summer program (including graduate classes, co-teaching summer school classes with a mentor teacher, and professional development courses) I will be teaching full-time in a high-needs school in New York City. NYCTF has brought me into the fellowship to teach English to students who are non-native speakers…and who in some cases, have little-to-no English language proficiency. Although I’ve had lots of experience teaching English as a foreign language (in Egypt, Japan, and on Skype), I’ve never worked in a public school in the United States. Soon, I’ll be working in a public school in one of the most infamous systems in the U.S. (New York City’s) that has been designated as ‘high-needs.’

What does ‘high needs’ mean? It means—primarily—that the schools are under-resourced (in terms of supplies, “the best teachers,” and curricular diversity); the majority of the students are poor (and receive free or reduced-price lunch); and many of these schools (administrators, teachers, and students and their parents) are under intense scrutiny, and in some cases the schools themselves are on the chopping block, because their students are not passing state exams. Many people will testify that these schools are also subject to heavy-handed mayoral control and plugged into the school to prison pipeline. (Check out the last issue of Rethinking Schools.)

Everything in the above paragraph is highly contentious. Although I will dig into many of these issues in future posts (as I move from dipping my toe into the schools pool to swimming laps to the point of muscle failure), for now I’m simply recognizing that there’s a big messy conflict raging on and public schools—especially high-needs public schools in urban areas—are very much on the front line. Here, I’ll mention a powerful counter-point to the dominant narrative about the state of public education in the United States and education reform, which often focuses on the failure of teachers rather than larger structural issues: Kevin K. Kumashiro’s Bad Teacher: How Blaming Teachers Distorts the Bigger Picture. Please share any resources—books, presentations, and so on—that weigh in on this debate. I’m interested in exploring multiple perspectives. Conflict—I still uphold this very important lesson from my training in Peace Education—is an opportunity for productive and constructive collaboration and growth. Unfortunately, many of us still respond to conflict by clinging more tightly to our views and becoming increasingly rigid in our respective positions. This is not the only option. We can do better than this.

I’ve decided to become a teacher for four reasons: 1) I feel called to teach; 2) I love to learn and find working with children to be highly educational; 3) Kids are insatiably curious until they are programmed to sit-up, shut-up, and memorize and I’d like to nourish the curiosity; 4) All children—no matter how rich or poor and no matter how native or non-native (I’m talking here about citizens and undocumented residents)—deserve equal access to high-quality public education. And…the school to prison pipeline—as my Grandmom would say—really gets my Irish up. (Translation: INFURIATES me.) Oh, AND, I realized that it’s downright arrogant and foolish to take a stand on the “education issue” without having had on the ground, in the field, classroom experience. (Actually, there are many more reasons, most of which are related to a love of learning, a fascination with the process of learning and human development, and a passionate commitment to doing everything I can to support the effort to ensure that all young people acquire the skills and knowledge needed to participate actively, responsibly, and intelligently in social, political, and economic aspects of life.) Yes, I love Freire.

So, how will I prepare to teach young people who are already too-often receiving the short end of the stick? Of course, I’m going to work harder than ever. Absolutely, I’ll reach out to other educators in search of critical feedback. Yes, I’ll reflect on my practice in effort to identify my own weakness and to further understand my students’ needs. The thing is…the more I read about “becoming a teacher” the more I realize that I’m going to screw up. There’s going to be a steep learning curve for me those first few years in the classroom. I’m hoping (meditating, practicing, studying in order) that I will be a successful student and will build a strong, flexible, and reflective teaching practice. I don’t want to let down the kids.

Here it goes: I’m about to walk into the schoolhouse but I’m committed to maintaining space for reflection. PLEASE share any information, advice, tips, or resources at your disposal. It’s all much appreciated!

Interested in applying for the New York City Teaching Fellows? You can read about the NYCTF interview event here.

About kalisaddhu
"The Method is to Know the Mind."

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