Becoming a Teacher Leader/Advocate:reflection

The following is a reflection on two blog posts about what it means to be a teacher leader and what it means to be a teacher advocate.

What does it mean to be a teacher leader? A teacher advocate? And how can I, as a preservice teacher not even in the classroom yet, work to become both?

It all sounds really big and far away right now, though I know it’s right around the corner. I’m just worried about how I’m going to plan so many lessons, how I’ll manage my classroom and let my students know I care and foster their interests and hold high expectations without being unfair — I hadn’t even considered what teacher life was going to be like outside my classroom. This is even mentioned in the teacher advocacy post; sometimes teachers get so caught up in making a difference in their own classrooms that they forget there’s a whole world out there.

After reading these articles, however, I agree that teacher leading and teacher advocacy is important — we as teachers must tell our own stories, or somebody else is going to try to do it for us.

As a preservice teacher, however, these seem like daunting tasks. How am I supposed to advocate for teachers everywhere, for students everywhere, when I’ve barely begun my career myself?

I guess the most important thing, like the teacher leader article states, is to take the first step. Whether that be finding a local or national association, meeting with a parent, meeting with other teachers, or just getting on twitter, taking the first step to being a teacher leader and advocate will eventually lead you to where you need to go.

The next most important thing to remember is to take myself seriously. I am a force to be reckoned with, a mighty teacher-in-the-making, and I will stand up for myself, other teachers, and students everywhere because I love what I do, and I want to make a difference.

I guess what I mean by all of this is I want to be a teacher leader and advocate, but as a preservice teacher the idea is definitely daunting. I know that my passion for the job and my commitment to making a difference, however, will see me through, and I can’t wait to start my teaching career, both in and outside the classroom.

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Weight of Waiting

I feel like I’m always waiting for the “big thing” that’s going to push me exactly where I need to be: the big break-up, the big commitment, the time I fail big, the biggest success.

I guess I’m waiting to see if all that pressure turns me to diamond or dust.

The waiting tends to weigh on me a little; it makes me feel like time is slipping through my fingers, like while I’m waiting for THE big thing, a lot of little things are passing me by.

Something I think about in the midst of all this worry and waiting is Mary Oliver’s The Fourth Sign of the Zodiac:

I know, you never intended to be in this world.
But you’re in it all the same.

so why not get started immediately.

I mean, belonging to it.
There is so much to admire, to weep over.

And to write music or poems about.

Bless the feet that take you to and fro.
Bless the eyes and the listening ears.
Bless the tongue, the marvel of taste.
Bless touching.

You could live a hundred years, it’s happened.
Or not.
I am speaking from the fortunate platform
of many years,
none of which, I think, I ever wasted.
Do you need a prod?
Do you need a little darkness to get you going?
Let me be urgent as a knife, then,
and remind you of Keats,
so single of purpose and thinking, for a while,
he had a lifetime.

So I guess my point is even though I know I’m constantly waiting for all of these things, I’m trying my best to belong to it right now.

A Letter to the Next President

The Honorable President of the United States
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, D.C.

24 March 2016

Dear Madam Or Mr. President,

I am a white, educated women living in a primarily white, educated town in the western United States. My family is lower middle class — my parents had me young — and I am a first generation college student.

My point is, I’m pretty privileged. I have a lot of things and do a lot of things that I wouldn’t have or do if I was born differently.

But I am tired of the system working only for the privileged. I’m tired of a government that is no longer of the people.

Policies like a national registry for muslims or border walls won’t directly affect me or my family — but it will affect my American brothers and sisters, this great melting pot of citizens we turn to when things get hard.

My president, first and foremost, must respect ALL of my fellow Americans, black or white, born here or across the sea, citizen or no, every person in this country deserves respect from the person who runs this country. I demand a commander in chief whose rhetoric is thoughtful, intelligent, and above all respects the people who call this place home.

My president must take education seriously, must see it as a necessity to treat teachers and students fairly with policies that make learning and teaching easier and better for everyone involved.

My president must build bridges, not walls.

Above all, my president must act as though he is of the land of the free, and the home of the brave.

Sincerely,

Kaitlyn

UGP: Final Reflection

Today I have finally finished my Unfamiliar Genre Project (with the exception of the possibility of a few small edits in the next few days). I feel incredibly accomplished, and (being honest) so relieved; this project was involved and intensive and pretty challenging.

When I began working on this project, I was excited to investigate genres I had never considered writing before. I knew it would be nonfiction, because all of the creative writing I had done up until this point was fiction, and all the nonfiction writing I had ever done was literary critique essays or formalist readings of texts; in other word, nothing even remotely similar to a memoir.

When I chose memoir, my excitement had started to transform into nerves; now that I had my genre, it became increasingly obvious that I would eventually have to actually write in it. That task became so daunting to me that I decided to begin drafting before I even read any memoirs; the purpose of this was to make the actual writing itself less terrifying rather than to come up with anything useful to include in my final draft.

This helped a lot; as predicted, none of those writings ended up in my final draft, but it did serve to calm me down quite a bit. My next task was to actually read memoirs, which was very valuable to me, not only in shaping ideas for what my own memoir would be like, but in leading me to discover that I actually love memoirs; they are so fun to read and incredibly interesting.

After reading several memoirs, I felt confident enough to begin drafting again, which I did with paper and pen; for me, it’s much easier to get ideas to flow from brain to pen to paper than from brain to fingers to keys. I filled eight or nine pages of a notebook and the better part of four hours before I had anything I felt strongly enough about to type, at which point I had two sentences staring at me from the computer screen.

At this point, I began to feel a little down; how on earth was I going to be able to do this? But I just kept writing; I tried to write every day, though it was more like every other day. As I wrote, I learned a lot more about who I was based on the memory I chose to write about, and a lot about my beliefs on education and the kind of teacher I want to be. It was a very eye opening experience, and the more I struggled with it, the more I was able to think about what I believed and what I wanted to communicate to the people who were going to read this. Eventually, I realized my ideas were flowing faster than I could write them.

At this point, I had found my flow with memoir writing. I was able to clearly communicate my ideas and find my style and voice, and I sat down the other day and easily finished and edited my piece until I felt it was exactly what I had been working toward all this time. This was an incredible feeling of accomplishment that was almost indescribable; I honestly didn’t think I was ever going to get to the point where I created something I would be this proud of.

So, overall, the UGP required a lot of wobbling; it was a struggle to even find what kind of pose I wanted to take in this memoir; student? teacher? something else? But I eventually found my pose, and (miraculously) was even able to find my flow. This project, though intensive and challenging and at times incredibly frustrating, led me to be a better writer, and hopefully will help me better take the pose of Teacher as Writer when the time comes.

UGP Drafting

I’m going to use workshop time in class today to work on free writing in the memoir genre, which means you, lucky reader, get a sneak peek at what it’s like for me to “write outside my comfort zone.”

The idea behind this snippet is “Moments” and “People,” and how both are equally important in our lives. I hope to (one day) write a memoir in a series of moments that will come together to define the bigger idea of the importance of people and kindness and the little things. I thought I’d practice with this concept a bit here, while I have the chance to write in public consequence-free.

Here goes nothing:

 

Three years ago, I sat in a soup kitchen next to a man with the last name Jagermeister, who joked that it was no wonder he was a drunk with a name like that. We had met about five minutes ago, but he was telling me about all his tattoos and the people he belonged to because of them. He had his prison number printed boldly on his forearm, right under the scar that landed him there, saying that his number was all anyone saw anymore anyway. I complained about a midterm I had the next day; he wondered aloud where he would sleep that evening; we both ate day-old mac and cheese with plastic forks and elbows on the table.

This conversation took place at Denver Rescue Mission, a program that helps men in Denver transition out of homelessness. This involves extensive work therapy, drug, alcohol, and trauma counseling, bible study, GED or vocational training, and the list goes on and on.

I didn’t know it at the time, but Mike was considering dropping out of the program that night. He’d been in for two weeks, and the withdrawals and become “unbearable” for him. I put that word in quotes because after our conversation, Mike stayed in the mission. He got his GED. He graduated the program the same time I graduated high school, and we celebrated with a cake that just said “Congrats!” in all capital letters.

We were both celebrating, we were both moving on, we had both beared the unbearable.

 

That’s about what I have so far. Definitely a work in progress! All is going well.

White Educators, Brown Students

How can I as a white educator be an effective teacher in classrooms that are mostly students of color? How does one overcome years and years of systemic privilege to be of any use to the kids who need good teachers the most?

I’ve been thinking about this question a lot lately. It’s no secret that most teachers — and by most I mean nearly 80% — are white, while nearly 40% of students in the U.S. are people of color; this lack of diversity causes problems in low income schools, like high teacher turnover rates and can often perpetuate “white savior” ideas (as seen in movies like Freedom Writers) that leave white educators feeling high-and-mighty and black students being left behind.

So what do we do? Lately I’ve been looking into resources that work to answer this question, and have found some very interesting things; the number one piece of advice I’ve gotten is to make yourself uncomfortable. Talking about race and privilege to kids who understand it better than you ever could is terrifying and uncomfortable, but necessary. In order to be an effective teacher for them, you must honor their experience, and recognize that it has been and is vastly different from your own.

As their educator, you’re also their champion, their protector, their number one fan; for all of these things to be true, they need to trust you. Mel Katz in her article Teaching While White says,

“Supporting students of color in your classroom, though, is about more than having conversations about race and privilege. It is about having high expectations for every single student that walks through your door. And when a student isn’t doing well in class or has disengaged almost entirely? It’s about working hard to figure out the root causes of the problem before ever considering discipline and punishment.”

She goes on to talk to about how white educators must actively work against furthering the school-to-prison pipeline and that it’s our responsibility to foster black excellence in ways that students’ previous teachers probably had yet to do.

The most important first step, of course, is promoting a diverse teacher force, but until that becomes a reality, it is the responsibility of white educators to #getwoke.