I get asked to mentor a preservice teacher a few times a year. I tell all programs that ask me that I’m only interested in doing it for a teacher of color. I’m not making any claims that I’m great shakes, but I do think that there are simply particular things about teaching–the hidden curriculum, if you will–that I need to let them know in addition to understanding how to be a transformative educator.
- They aren’t crazy when they wonder if students and parents are questioning their comments, their grading practices, their course selections, particularly when no other nonPOC teacher in the grade is getting those same questions.
- They need reassurance that yes, actually some of those interactions with colleagues are microagressions and advice about how they might deal with them.
- They need examples of self-care that include sharing information about affinity groups, citywide meetings, grocery stores that sell food that connects them to comfort and memory and safety.
- They also need practice creating and teaching curriculum that foregrounds learning in a culturally sustaining pedagogy.
Also, I owe it to the profession to at least make myself available should a teacher of color want to work with me. I’m invested in the care and keeping of educators of color in teaching; thus, I’m intentional with how I spend my time with young teachers. The one that is working with me this year is a quick study: knowledgable, firm, intent on building respectful relationships with students. She will be a great teacher.
Her biggest worry, though: Do the kids like her?
It took me a minute to answer that question, largely because I do not think I’m the type of teacher that students immediately “like,” whatever that means. I am not easy. I am demanding. I am relentless.
Note: I’m also corny, a “mush ball” (I’ve been called by my summer boss, an assessment with which I totally agree), and I’ve been told by students who have returned that I made some kind of impact on their lives.
But that didn’t happen while they were in my class, usually. What I attempted to explain to my student teacher is that I don’t know if students recognize the importance of having a hard teacher until years down the road, when they try a task and are able to recall something they learned in my class, or read something that sparks a connection to a book they read before. Often, returning students will remark that because we wrote so much, and in so many different ways, they were able to tackle the challenges of higher education, or be courageous to try their hand at journalism, even, or walk into a bookstore and find something they want to read.
Again, though, these epiphanies were not while they were in my class. There, they complained a lot, dug in, and did the work (eventually and usually). There was lots of complaining, at times, and, most likely, even some tears.
I offered this to her as a way of helping to see that I’m not really concerned with if kids “like me.” Certainly, I respect them and we have a respectful, kind classroom, but they are not bringing me coffee or singing my praises while they’re going through the class. My name alone is enough to elicit groans and sympathetic glances when unknowing students see my name on their roster. (Another note: Funny, though, if I have these students when they are younger and then they take an upper level class that I teach a couple years after the first experience, there ARE praises and cupcakes. Crazy, I know.)
I’m okay with that. I also told her I’m okay with not having 15-year old friends. 🙂
But I can also see that, when you’re new in the classroom, and you’re not THAT much older than them, concern about being liked can be significant. My advice to her: build respectful relationships with them, let them know you care about them, design and execute effective lessons. That’s what is most important. That they like you is secondary.
If you’ve really done your job, I tell her, they’ll like you about five years down the road.
That’s when I’m most interested in being liked.
A year ago: #tbt: Getting Reconciled.
This post is part of the Slice of Life Challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers, who have created a space for writers and teachers of writers to come together. To learn more about this challenge, click here.
To learn more about the Heinemann Fellows, click here.