Yet my fears persisted. The kind of teacher I wanted to become was fairly clear in my mind. But it seemed to have nothing to do with the reality I experienced every day.
I knew I wanted to build a classroom community in which students feel safe, both emotionally and physically. I wanted each student to be able to bring his or her cultural background and experiences into the classroom and to feel important and valued. I hoped to create an atmosphere of respect and cooperation. I wanted students to "behave themselves" without feeling threatened or burdened by punishments. I was also committed to high academic expectations, and helping each student learn and progress. I wanted to infuse an anti-racist, social justice perspective into my classroom and hoped to share my own activist background with my students. I wanted to encourage my students to think critically and to learn to take action to create a more just world.
I taught in a two-way bilingual classroom (with both English-dominant and Spanish-dominant students) and I knew it was going to be a challenge to meet my students' diverse cultural and academic needs, especially in reading and language proficiency. I knew that as an Anglo teacher in a classroom of Latino and African-American students, I would have to examine my actions and interactions through a critical lens. I knew I would have to listen to parents and to other teachers, especially parents and teachers of color.
Reality soon set in. I struggled with discipline, organization, and curriculum. I felt disillusioned when my students seemed more comfortable with an authoritarian style rather than one which emphasized self-discipline. I found little support for teaching about social justice and anti-racism. Administrators, colleagues, and classmates in my certification program were willing to listen to my ideas, but did not respond as enthusiastically as I had hoped.