By: Hajra Syed, Jacob Chaffin, Melissa Katz, Molly Tansey, and Stephanie Rivera
Since the launch of Young Teachers Collective, we have received a number of negative messages, comments, and tweets. We have been called “poor bastards,” “wannabe newbies,” “naive little kids,” and the most common of them all, “foolish idealists.” We have seen comments arguing that because we are young, our voices and opinions have no substance.
This is why YTC was formed in the first place.
Many assume that we are blind to the realities of the attacks on the teaching profession. Many completely ignore the fact that we, the next generation of teachers, were the exact students who were forced to endure the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) era. We don’t know anything about the attack on education? We were the ones educated during it.
Many assume that we have blinders on and live in blissful ignorance, unaware of attacks on the profession, the education system, and most importantly, the students forced to bear the brunt of oppressive policies.Yes, we know what is happening to the profession, but we choose to do something about it. People say that our hope is idealistic and foolish. We argue otherwise. Our hope and our vision for something better comes from seeing teachers currently in the field organizing and implementing change in their schools.
It would, however, be idealistic to believe that simply leaving the profession and posting a blog about it as part of some individual protest would empower others or change the hearts and minds of policymakers. It would be naive to believe that there was a ‘Golden Age of Education’ when teachers were teachers and children were free! But we’re neither idealistic or naive. No, we scorn the idea of individual protest over collective struggle. We disregard the shortsighted, ahistorical notion that the education system is a static entity, unable to change. We reject any assertion that denies the agency of so many young people organizing to transform education. Also, you might want to take a damn philosophy course before you start calling us “idealists.” (Do you Hegel, bro?)
No, we don’t expect these battles to be easy, not for a second. We don’t expect to win every struggle. But, by creating YTC — a space and vehicle to support each other, share resources with each other, attend and host workshops on organizing, and connect with activist teachers who have offered to serve as mentors to us — we see this as providing a much better chance of improving the education system than simply just avoiding the profession altogether.
Before immediately calling us ignorant or idealist, we suggest trying to listen to what we’re saying first. Doesn’t being a teacher mean being someone who is willing to learn from others, even if they are younger? If people want to know what it’s like becoming a teacher in this day and age, ask us. We are not dismissing your experiences, so please stop dismissing ours.
The key is, there has to be an active balance between informing us of what we’re getting into and encouraging us to fight back. Letting us know what we’re getting into isn’t the same as saying “don’t go into the profession.” The former is a way to educate and organize, rather than give in. We value the experiences of current teachers. Our knowledge of what is happening comes from our very willingness to listen to those teachers–we demand the same respect. We know that it is often challenging, heartbreaking, and exhausting being a teacher in the current educational climate. As many of us are young and new teachers in the classroom, we have experienced this ourselves. However, instead of telling us not to go into teaching, we would rather have your guidance once we get to the classroom. We need to stand side by side to fight for quality public education.
We believe that if the most driven, politically conscious future teachers are discouraged from entering the profession, we stand no chance of transforming education beyond its current, oppressive state.
The conversation doesn’t end here. We invite future, new, current, and veteran teachers to join us on Wednesday, April 1, at 8:30pm for a Twitter Chat around the issue of idealism and future teachers. Please follow us at @YTCollective to be kept up to date on the chat. We will be using the hashtag #NaiveTeacher.