Two conversations—one in person with an early-career teacher, the other through email with a pre-service teacher—can be highlighted by a sentence from the email:
Pre-service and early career teachers (although not alone) now learn and teach under the weight of “We’re terrified.”
The early-career teacher currently attempts to teach ELA in a high-poverty, majority-minority school, where she has 3 classes with about 50 students each in a team-taught experiment and must work under the incessant requirement of giving students and their parents feedback while planning and teaching in an entirely new school focus.
Again, this is not some unusual circumstance. This is the new normal of being a public school teacher—a new normal that began about thirty years ago and continues to accelerate despite no evidence any of the so-called reforms help and ample evidence those reforms harm students (except those so-called “top students” who are white and affluent but insulated from the reforms), de-professionalize teachers, and demonize schools as well as all of public education.
The pre-service teacher who emailed anticipates the exact conditions new and veteran teachers suffer under daily—conditions that mis-serve students (mostly high-poverty and black/brown students), their parents, and their communities.
I shared with the pre-service teacher by email that being a critical educator is hard—nearly impossible?—for all educators despite status or experience.
But I also offered my regret that we veteran educators have stood by and allowed this to happen to our profession—remained passive and apolitical so that pre-service and early career teachers have been reduced to “We’re terrified” like characters on The Walking Dead.
While the early-career teacher struggles with balancing health and happiness with the relentless and misguided expectations of teaching-as-accountability, the pre-service teacher added: “I’m worried about holding true to the principles that brought me to the profession.”
Today marks the passing of James Baldwin in 1987, and as I spend time with pre-service and early-career teachers, I am haunted by “We’re terrified,” inspired by Baldwin’s “the time is always now,” and disheartened how we educators continue not to heed his call.