The New Teacher Book Reflections and Connections

Curriculum as Narrative – Part Two

Two of the articles from The New Teacher Book that really stood out to me were “Teaching Controversial Content” and “Teaching in the Undertow”. As a pre-service teacher there are many concerns and fears I have. These include not meeting the requirements, not being able to reach my students, and failing to inspire my classroom. When it comes to teaching with a social justice approach, it can be very intimidating for new teachers. Not only are we new to the curriculum and our students, but we are also new to our staff. Stepping on other people’s toes or unintentionally offending someone is a very real fear and it can deeply hinder our teaching development and progress. This article especially stood out for me because I know first-hand many teachers who represent this negative undertow. These teachers put in their time from 9:00 am till 4:00 pm and put zero effort into their lessons. They often photocopy worksheets and hand them out, watching the clock tick till the bell chimes. What if I become one of these teachers? What if one day I lose my drive and do minimal work to get by? These are issues that are problematic and concerning. I don’t want to be carried away by the undertow, and become negative about the impact I as a teacher can make. It is easy to say that you will not let it happen, but it is not always that way.

There are going to be many setbacks along my professional journey that will make me question my choices and abilities, but I really enjoy how Gregory Michie points out that we all make mistakes. We can either view these mistakes in a detrimental way, or flip them around and see how we have learned from them. I think this raw and honest advice is something we as first year teachers need. Teaching is not an easy profession, and our dedication and passion is tested each and every day. However, I believe that with an optimistic and realistic approach to these first years of teaching, no matter how rocky, can help us develop professionally and individually. This article additionally reminded me of a shocking statistic that we learned in our first year of Education. Around fifty percent of teachers quit their profession within the first five years. We weren’t taught this to be scared, and I’m not sharing it with you to scare you either. However, there is something to be discussed within this dilemma. It makes me wonder if there is enough support, or whether we’re properly prepared both mentally and intellectually. Perhaps what is happening to these fifty percent of teachers is that they too are being pulled out by the “undertow.” The point here is not to fear the future, but instead prepare for it. As Michie points out, finding allies and gaining support from those around us makes a huge difference in our professional journey. We need to be aware of the dangerous waters, but not be afraid to swim and discover our own teaching path.

The second article that really spoke to me was Kelly Dawson Salas’s “Teaching Controversial Content”. The quotation which speaks about who has the authority to decide what we teach was what really made me stop reading and truly think about that statement. We decide and we have the authority. There is a very fine line between have control over your classroom content and following the curriculum close enough. In my opinion this is both good and bad. The curriculum keeps us on task and teaching the right lessons; however, it is also important for us teachers to be able to personalize and adapt our lessons to the needs of our students. Sometimes I feel teachers get so caught up in following the curriculum to the tee that we miss out on many teachable moments. I believe that these teachable moments of spontaneity and lessons that connect with us on a deeper level are when true learning takes place. The lessons of a higher relevance and meaning have a lasting impression and create a learning spark within us.

I agree that all of the lessons we teach must be beneficial to the student, and we have to be able to back up our work as professionals. However, incorporating social justice in our classrooms is important to me, and making a conscious effort to do so is essential in all content. Like the teachers at the beginning of the article, I too have fears of crossing lines or pushing the limits. What content is too sensitive and where do you draw that line? Content like homophobia, racism, and sexism are all crucial lessons that our students need to be aware of to become caring and accepting people, yet so many teachers shy away from discussion because of the sensitivity associated with it. We need to discuss these social issues in order to create and anti-oppressive environment. There shouldn’t be hate or shame in the world our children live, and we as teachers have a chance to make a difference. So the question then is whether or not it is worth it for us as teachers to take that risk and work through that discomfort of a controversial topic. I believe it is worth it, and that we do need to go out on limb. We do not have to do it alone, and there are many resources available to us as teachers. We can fight for social justice in our classrooms and we can do it in a respectful way. All of our students deserve to be equal and all of our students deserve to be advocated for. I have always believed through my teaching philosophy that social change can happen right in our classrooms, and this article is telling me that it is okay to take that risk.

There are many different resources available to us for teaching diversity and controversial content in our classrooms. The article recommends www.rethinkingschools.org/newteacher as a great tool, but I would also like to recommend Danielle Moss Lee’s article, “Creating an Anti-racist Classroom” which discusses the issues of sensitivity and the importance of teaching anti-oppressive content. It also has a Top Five Power List which I found very useful.

http://www.edutopia.org/blog/anti-racist-classroom-danielle-moss-lee

Teaching social justice and controversial content can be intimidating, but if we want our students to take risks and reach their full potential, then we too must take those risks!

I hope you enjoyed my connections and reflections with the readings! If you would like to ask a question, comment, or respond please do so!

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8 thoughts on “The New Teacher Book Reflections and Connections

  1. Thanks for sharing your fears and concerns about being a teacher in their first years of teaching. I have these same fears. I think we are imparted with many great ideas and philosophies while we are in education, but it seems so easy to get washed up in the mix of of school, community and just getting students to pay attention. I have also watched others be dragged in the undertow. From watching others, do you have any ideas or plans to avoid the undertow? I think as we take this class, it is something I am realizing I need to actually plan for and come back to on a regular basis.

    • I’m sure there are many different ways to avoid the “undertow” for us new teachers but we need to find what works best for us on an individual basis. I think for me finding support will be key. When we find that there are others just like us who are teaching for social justice we realize we’re a part of something much larger and that we are not alone. Finding support through co-workers, family, friends, and social networking is a great way to learn more and avoid the negativity and undertow of being new teachers. Thanks for your question! Is there anything that works for you or you think will help?

      • I agree with your ideas about friends, family, and colleagues as support. Personally, it will be about taking risks, and being comfortable with myself, while at the same time not stepping on toes. At least for the first year!

  2. I couldn’t agree more with the connections, concerns and questions you had for the story “Teaching in the Undertow”. So my question now is, how can we try and change so that we as future teachers actually put a great deal of thought and effort into our teachings and not do as minimal as possible? This question has always concerned me considering that we will be the future new teachers and not know what to expect and the first five years are the ones that we have to try and tackle right off the bat. So from the idea of teachers putting zero effort into their lessons, how do we prepare ourselves to steer away from this way of teaching?

    • I think the best way to combat the mundane delivery of curriculum is to be passionate about what we are teaching. We need to find ways to reach our students and teach lessons that are engaging to us and our students. When we are engaged and excited about our lessons so are our students. This enthusiasm for learning makes it fun and engaging and not a chore. I feel often times teachers who are disconnected from the lesson they are giving seem to be in a very negative place and not enjoy their job. This negativity transfers over to our students and creates a vicious cycle. Being passion about learning and teaching will help us steer away from that type of teaching.

  3. Breanna – you ask: “What if I become one of these teachers? What if one day I lose my drive and do minimal work to get by? These are issues that are problematic and concerning” – I believe that asking these questions is an important first step – you are aware of the risk! Hopefully this blog can serve as a reminder as you enter the classroom!
    I’m interested in your comment: “It makes me wonder if there is enough support, or whether we’re properly prepared both mentally and intellectually. ” – I think this is a question we could think more deeply about – what does cause teachers to leave, and is leaving always a bad thing?
    Re: ” I believe that these teachable moments of spontaneity and lessons that connect with us on a deeper level are when true learning takes place.” – You should read about Ted Aoki’s idea of curriculum as lived – I think it would really resonate with you!
    I appreciate the resource you share at the end – I think that the ability to do this easily is an important affordance of blogging, so I’m happy to see you including links.
    You touch on many important resonances here. I like how you begin to touch on the moments of discomfort, but I would have like to see t=you dig even deeper into this spaces of tension.

    • Thanks for your comments Katia! You make a very good point that I had surprisingly never really considered. It is not always a bad thing that some teachers leave. In fact, if teaching is not your true passion, then it is important and a positive thing to realize that and find out what your passion is. It is important for us to make our own paths in life, including our career paths. In addition, thanks so much for passing on that resource! I will absolutely have to look that up. I’m realizing more and more as we explore blogging how resourceful it can be in terms of sharing and exchanging resources with other teachers. As for the tensions of the reflection, while I have still have far to go, I am becoming more comfortable discussing the discomforting issues that arise with my personal learning and development, and this is something I will continue to work on. I appreciate the blog response!

  4. Pingback: Part 3 (Collective Knowledge) | ecs210011ch

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