By Tom Rademacher
I just lost my job. This happens in education all the time. I was new to my district, and my district needed money, and a whole bunch of us had to go. A lot of us (me included) hoped to stay, hoped we would escape the teacher shell-game—transfers and retirements and re-hires—that happens this time of year. We hoped that in the end we would just end with a few weeks of brow-furrowing before we ultimately got the news that we could stay. I still had hope until I got the email last week that listed all the new hires, and my job was listed next to someone else’s name.
Ok. No one’s fault. Now I am officially job hunting. And I am not alone. Conventional wisdom suggests that while I seek employment, it’s a poor time to talk about what’s wrong with schools. Best to keep my head down and try to get a job, any job. But if you’ve ever heard the phrase, “Live your life with the confidence of a mediocre white man,” know that I am that man. So I’m putting this out there: my personal ad for the next job I want in teaching.
Have a racially diverse environment. This is the most important criteria for me next year. My best times as a teacher, as a learner, the best things that have ever happened in and around my room, have happened with groups who were not racially homogenous. My class studies literature and culture and media, and teaching and learning through multiple, diverse lenses is critical. As a White teacher, I can say unequivocally that having a classroom that centers the voices of People of Color is crucial to good teaching.
Maintain a commitment to social justice and racial equity. I’m all done with just talking about it, and I’m more than done with any anti-racist schoolwork that is places the greatest importance on the feelings of white adults. I want to work in a building where it is uncomfortable to stand still, impossible to perform, from a neutral position. I want to be pushed and led and inspired to push and lead.
Practice autonomy. The very worst days in my classroom (and for my students) have all had something to do with standardization of some kind. I have no interest in pre-packaged curricula, on-line reading program nonsense, or anything that imagines teaching to be a process of checking off standards as they show up in worksheets. I’m also over reading texts that are as likely to offend anyone as they are to make anyone think. I prefer to be trusted to do the job I was hired to do.
Staff turnover hurts everyone in a building, especially the students. I’m looking to land somewhere to stay. I’m looking for a staff who believes in their work and their students, who likes where they are and who they work with. I’m looking for an administration that actively recruits and retains teachers, one that takes turnover personally.
Include many two-way conversations. As much as I love to hate anyone who tells me what to do, it’s past time we get over the us vs. them mentality between teachers and administrators. It’s not that hard to understand each other’s work a little better, to remember that no one gets into education to hurt kids
and other people. We could remember better that first-year teachers and forty-year district leaders both have value to add to conversations, and they do work that benefits our students. The more energy we spend working against each other, the less we have left over for the work we’re really here to do.
These are my conditions for my next teaching job, but they are also the qualities that contribute to better teachers and better schools. If I get a little fired up when there is so much pushback against them, it’s because we don’t have time to mess around. There is work to be done.
Tom Rademacher is the 2015 Minnesota State Teacher of the Year and a member of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY). He teaches English in Minnesota. His book, It Won’t Be Easy, An Exceedingly Honest (and Slightly Unprofessional) Love Letter to Teaching, is now available.
The opinions expressed in Teacher-Leader Voices are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.