“I’ve spent twenty three years on the earth searching for answers, ’til one day I realized I had to come up with my own. I’m not on the outside looking in. I’m not on the inside looking out. I’m in the dead fucking center, looking around.”
— Kendrick Lamar, Section.80
Let’s face it, learning to teach is a long and arduous road. No boot camp or “how to” guide makes a good teacher. It requires many cycles of preparation, practice, and reflection. Together, we must think deeply about our students, curricula, communities, languages, and identities, and we must do so often. That’s why this space, the Young Teachers Collective blog, exists.
In the words of Ta-Nehisi Coates, writing is “the art of thinking.” We write, sing, dance, paint, and otherwise express ourselves not because we already know all the answers, but to help us make sense of the world. Putting pen to paper makes us clarify our understanding and ask new questions. We learn about ourselves and our students by taking a second, third, and fourth look at our own experiences.
There are many names for this. Collective reflection. Communities of practice. Critical friends. La documentación narrativa. La sistematización de experiencias. Young Teachers Collective.
Teachers have a sense of place and history that policymakers and researchers neither have nor understand. Yet schools tend to isolate teachers rather than amplify their voices in debates on education reform. We do find ways to have critical conversations, even if they only last the length of a hallway or a lunch break.
Writing creates a tangible reflection that can be shared with others, and we want to publish your work for the world to see. Blog posts could be original pieces or adaptations of journal entries, class assignments, etcetera. The length could be anywhere from a few thoughtful paragraphs to a ten-part series. The goal is to name the problems, brainstorm the solutions, and support one another as we struggle for education justice.
Reflection comes in many forms, including but not limited to classroom stories, free-verse poetry, movement updates, visual art, activist interviews, pedagogical narratives, statistical analyses, learner portraits, flash memoirs, how-to articles, photo essays, open letters, children’s stories, research summaries, lesson plans, and more. If you would like guidance with your reflection, consider these lenses and prompts adapted from The Reflective Educator’s Guide to Classroom Research.
Helping an Individual Child
Create a list of all the children in one class. Think about what makes each individual unique as well as any critical incidents or recent observations. Jot down one question next to each student’s name. Respond to one.
Create a list of the topics you teach each school year that you feel uncomfortable teaching or would like to enrich in some way. For each unit, jot down a few words that describe your dissatisfaction, ideas for its enhancement, and one question. Respond to one.
Developing Content Knowledge
Evaluate the materials you currently use to teach content within each subject area and unit you teach. Do these resources represent diversity of perspectives and multiples voices? Whose voices are present or missing?
Experimenting With Teaching Strategies
Brainstorm a list of your most frequent teaching strategies or techniques you would like to try. Jot down a few phrases and a question next to the most intriguing approaches. Respond to one.
Your Beliefs and Classroom Practice
Reflect on one incident in the classroom that you wish you had the opportunity to react to in a different way. Note which of your beliefs led you to react as you did, as well as how you would react differently if able to turn back time. What beliefs are behind this alternative reaction?
The Intersection of Identities
Create a list of your identities regarding race, ethnicity, gender, class, language, sexual orientation, ability, religion, national origin, family role, and occupation as well as other relevant identities (e.g. athlete, artist, organizer). Star the ones you think about most often. Star the ones think about least. How do they intersect with your identity as a teacher?
Transforming the Teaching and Learning Context
Brainstorm a list of the contextual challenges at the student, classroom, school, and community level. Also identify the assets that could be part of a solution already present at each level. How might teachers create a change in their working conditions and students’ learning conditions?
Create a list of your students and how they self-identify. Do they all experience schooling in a similar way? How does the school system discriminate? Familiarize yourself with ongoing efforts to combat discrimination and the history of educational inequality. Write a list of questions about your role in these movements. Respond to one.
Sharing reflections can combat loneliness and empower you to advocate for your students, your community, and yourself. The time constraints of the teaching profession are real, but time dedicated to telling your story is time spent amplifying the voices of young teachers. This is key to breaking the cycle of just “getting through the day” because the policies that make our days so difficult in the first place were made without us.
Plus, on a personal level, collective reflection can help us sort through our daily doubts. Am I failing my students? Will the system ever change? What does it mean to be a good teacher? Let’s talk about it. As Audre Lorde said, “Only by learning to live in harmony with your contradictions can you keep it all afloat.”