being an old-new teacher

This post has been lingering in draft form since maybe November of last year. I fussed with it here and there, so there may be time shifts below. It started out just as a title placeholder: "new old teacher." I kept thinking I might split it into two posts, not sure it all gels, but I'm just gonna go with what's here.

Britt Hawthorne did an instagram live back in January in response to online chatter

on White saviorism in education. (Follow her and support her work! There is always good discussion happening. You can also support her on Patreon and she shares great resources there, too.) It was a great conversation and connected the dots between things that have felt "off" to me in my journey into the world of education. She went back to Brown v. Board and it's aftermath and how that led to the further marginalization (and erasure) of black educators and continued sentiments of White saviorism and viewing of BIPOC children as needing to be saved, rescued, and put in proximity to and be accepted by Whiteness to survive and thrive...

(books related to Whiteness and privilege if you want/need more background: White Fragility by Robin Di'Angelo, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum, "Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack" by Peggy McIntosh)

Britt mentioned how we tend to be taught that Brown v. Board was a great positive,

integrating segregated schools, how nice of us, but that actually it put Black kids into White schools without any special preparation for the White teachers (likely racist), and it closed down Black schools which were underfunded (though Black communities payed taxes, too), leaving those teachers with no place to work. I am simplifying the thread, but I've seen people argue that "it's not White teachers' fault, why don't more Black teachers go into education?" but--oh, it is not so simple! Let's not let ourselves off so easily and see so little of the picture.

She also talked about how education existed in many forms before the establishment of our current formalized and *mandatory* educational system came in to being, and that was something I haven't heard people talk much about before, apart from the fact that prior to our mandatory system and the child labor laws that came out of the Industrial Revolution many wealthy people had private tutors, etc. But communities were certainly educating children in many facets of life before we had this institutionalized system...I hope you get a chance to hear her talk on this sometime as this is a disjointed summary--I am still processing it.

Bringing this around now to the idea of coming to teaching later in life and "being an old-new teacher." I didn't go back to school officially for teacher training until I was around 37 years old. I'd worked in schools in different capacities in my 20s. I was a Special Education Paraprofessional, a substitute teacher, and an AmeriCorps volunteer doing youth work. My parents both worked in education, so it must have crossed my mind as a potential career option, but the structure of school seemed so the same from when I was in high school and not totally in love with it (pep rallies, all that same old stuff) and the early mornings and the routine of it felt unappealing to me. I enjoyed the kids but didn't feel like staying in that institutional structure I'd spent most of my young life in already. I wasn't the type of person who'd looooved school and wanted to stay in that space forever.

It wasn't until my mid-30s when I'd been displaced to the other side of the globe due to my spouse's employment that I ended up back in a school and fell in love with learning alongside students. Stepping into different teachers' shoes for day/s made me see how even the same class twice in one day isn't the same class. I had to creatively adjust to and get to know each group of students, which reminded me of the challenge I'd enjoyed in my volunteer doula work prior--meeting people in the middle of a moment and finding a way to join in their work. I got to see the world anew through students' eyes and personalities. I felt the delight and strangeness of a group of students from different cultures and places taking in the world together. I got to experience learning and stories with them and the magic just hit me, what a joy and strange privilege this work could be.

Fast forward several years and I have a license and another degree and a sad amount of new student debt and a few years of official teaching behind me. I am a new teacher, but I am also a middle-aged teacher. I have more life and work experience than a young-new teacher, but/and my ideas about teaching and curriculum and the possibilities for school spaces are often different than someone my age who's been in schools since they graduated college. Within the school itself I am new and untenured, I am considered green and so questions I have tend to be greeted with that in mind. My ideas are sometimes more easily dismissed or seen as part of the naïveté that comes with being new. Or sometimes it seems there is a rule like, "we'll listen to you in a few years." I'm not sure that response is completely wrong--I am new and idealistic, and not totally beat down by all the systems quite yet--but it puts me in a strange position. I also know that newcomers *see* things in a unique way, coming into fresh to the system and the building, and I think this is information that could be useful to school leaders.

I'm glad I didn't go into teaching right out of college. That's not where I was at, not what I wanted to do, but also I've peeled off some layers of ignorance since that time. I continue to peel them off and have so far to go, but am more aware of the ignorance than I would have been in my 20s. This is a function of age but also a function of the bigger conversations that are happening in our culture and popular cultures right now and the increased likelihood of being exposed to these conversations (outside of expensive liberal arts classes) due to social media. There are many downsides of social media, but it cannot be denied that it is a main access point to the experiences of teachers of color within our very white school systems. It allows for connection across space and time and communities.

Now that I'm old and new, sometimes I am confused about how to use my voice, when I can/should speak up, etc. I tend to be an impatient person. In a way that, probably, only a very privileged person can be, because we expect the world to largely go our way and be somewhat "fair" to us. But that impatience paired with the fact that I've had a lot of different jobs, sometimes makes me more willing to ask questions and speak up, when I see peers making choices in their classrooms due to fear of their evaluation or what a giant rubric from a district or their administrator prioritizes. I tend to think, well, I could get another job if worse comes to worse--this is maybe delusional, but also there is a teacher shortage and all that... This helps me attempt to prioritize my students' needs and not be so afraid to try something different...

But on the other hand, when I do speak up, I feel like there is this hierarchy to work against. A new teacher is seen as naive and idealistic. People often assume we don't know what a *real* hard situation is and we live in a dreamland. We aren't tenured yet and might not stick around anyhow. Or...we haven't seen the 1,001 new initiatives that have come and gone, so we are being silly to place our enthusiasm in this or that way of doing things. This is all very real. And though initiatives come and go, it seems education is slow to change, and the lack of space for these conversations must be part of it. The articles I read and am most excited about in terms of revolutionizing the experience of school (barring Montessori, which is much older) often are from the 1990s--and I always think, "but I was in middle school then! and we haven't made any of these changes!" I am surprised by this often. But I shouldn't be. But I am. And as an old-new teacher I am trying to sort out what my priorities are for my own work, what my deal-breakers are, but also how to use my voice to support students, and I am often met with patronizing smiles of veteran staff, or cautionary advice that it won't change anyhow or that I might get marked down on my evaluation or "maybe next year."

And yet...I also know that part of this is also the limited voice of teachers to begin with--so while I may be personalizing responses as being related to my newness, it may just be that teachers who've been around longer have reconciled themselves to their role in bigger conversation of a school or a district, and chosen to focus on what happens in their own room. And maybe they are just being kind and want to help me avoid an emotional roller coaster that might drain my reserves and stamina.

{Did I ever mention how Valencia Clay pointed out that moral dissonance is a huge cause of teacher stress?}

My personality often jumps to: "Let's burn it all down and start over!" And maybe in so many ways we should. But maybe we really can't, or we'd just replicate the same systems or the same people would end up being hurt. Education doesn't exist in isolation. And this is why we are told to start with ourselves. Our own biases, our own internalized harmful ideas. . .

I got to see Dr. Christopher Emdin speak today (!!!!!) and it was spectacular and a great reminder that while we hem and haw over whether and when to speak up or make some change, kids' lives are unfolding. "Restitution over rescue missions! Education is not a rescue mission," he said. "First you must recognize that something was taken...your Whiteness isn't an impediment to Culturally Relevant Pedagogy, but your commitment to White Supremacy is." "What if I told you they don't need you? Don't need you to save them, but to be a co-conspirator in freedom?"

So I finally hit publish on this post to share my thoughts and I'm also adding a talk he did a couple years ago that still gives me chills. Look for his new book coming out next spring!

Also--here's Britt's writing on Praise Manipulation, which I found really thought-provoking, too.

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