Why We Wrote This Book
When the editors of Rethinking Schools first conceived of this book, we thought back to our days as new teachers. We hoped to create the book we needed in those sometimes exhilarating, sometimes lonely, often hard first days of our teaching careers.
This book is meant as a conversation among colleagues. We hope a conversation that helps you keep your vision and values intact as you struggle in institutions that may or may not be those citadels of idealism where you imagined yourself teaching.
We wrote this book because it’s important for the profession that new teachers with social justice ideals stay in the classroom. Our communities need teachers who see the beauty and intelligence of every student who walks through their doors and who are willing to keep trying to reach those who have already been told they aren’t worthy. Our students need teachers who value students’ home language and who know how to build academic strength from those roots. We need teachers who learn how to develop curriculum that ties students’ lives, history, and academic disciplines together to demonstrate their expertise when top-down curriculum mandates explode across a district. Our school districts need teachers who can advocate against the dumbing-down of curriculum, against testing mania, and against turning our classrooms over to corporate-created curriculum. Our country needs teachers who understand the connections between race, class, and tracking. How else do we make a lasting change?
We wrote this book because we want you to hold on to those impulses that brought you to teaching: a deep caring for students, the opportunity to be the one who sparks student growth and change, as well as the desire to be involved in work that matters. We need teachers who want to work in a place where human connections matter more than profit.
We wrote this book because we have had days—many days—where our teaching aspirations did not meet the reality of the chaos we encountered. We have experienced those late afternoons crying-alone-in-the-classroom kind of days when a lesson bombed or we felt like our students hosted a party in the room and we were the uninvited guests. We wrote this book hoping it might offer solace and comfort on those long days when you wonder if you are cut out to be a teacher after all.
We also wrote this book because we understand the connection between what happens behind the classroom door and what happens outside of it. A key skill for new teachers is to see ourselves as defenders of public schools—looking for allies among parents, community groups, other unions, everyone who has a stake in fighting privatization and corporate rule. Given the full court press against public schools, we need to remind all teachers to not be so classroom-focused that we don’t pay attention to the larger political context that is shaping our lives in the classroom. The other reason to open the classroom door and peer outside is that new teachers’ survival often depends on connecting with other teachers for support and assistance for social, political, and pedagogical reasons. Isolated new teachers are bound to burn out.
There is a huge difference between having lots of book knowledge about a given area—literature, history, math, science—and knowing how to translate that knowledge into lessons that help struggling students learn. All teachers—new and veteran—need skills to develop curriculum that celebrates the delightful aspects of our students’ lives. And we need strategies that tie the tragedy of some students’ lives and the tragedy that the world delivers—hurricanes, poverty, famine, war. We need to discover ways to weave these into our curriculum. That takes time.
Rethinking Schools editors have assembled numerous books that focus on creating social justice curriculum: from Rethinking Columbus to Rethinking Mathematics to Rethinking Globalization to Teaching for Joy and Justice. We hope you will look to them for curricular help. In those books, we celebrate the lessons and units and strategies that worked for our students, that created days when we walked out of the building celebrating the joy of teaching.
And what we know from our years in the classroom is that we only get good at it when we do it year after year. So we wrote this book to tell you that you will get better as the years move on if you continue to study your classroom, hone your craft, read professional literature, and keep up with world news. Teaching is an art. Keep practicing.