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.
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!