There are some crazy practices out there in schools—these days the craziest include things like hours of test prep being called “English class” and no social studies or science education. Sounds sensationalist, but that’s still a true story in schools all over the country. It is easy to lose your way in an educational landscape where people who don’t understand how kids learn are writing policies. Teachers can’t assume that what they’re being told to do necessarily makes any sense. They therefore need to be prepared to think critically about practices they are asked to adopt that seem crazy or misguided and learn how to respond to such situations.
That being said, the new teacher should not come in ready to criticize everything that doesn’t meet the utopian vision with which most of us enter teaching. We live in an imperfect world, where kids, teachers, administrators, and parents all do very important yet flawed work. As a new teacher I was extremely critical of everyone around me. We have all probably crossed paths with some individuals who should probably not be working with kids—whose practices new teachers should not copy. But I have also gained newfound respect for some of the teachers and leaders I looked upon critically in my early years. Now that I have spent more time in schools, I understand what goes into something that may look very simple to do, but is not—or the value of enforcing a silly little rule like no gum chewing (not my personal favorite, but I sure do get it by now).
Teacher preparation organizations need to prepare teachers for this double-edged reality: New teachers should be prepared to think critically and ask important questions. They should be prepared to advocate for students and themselves when necessary. There is craziness out there worth leaving a school over; and there are times to quietly rebel against harmful or unreasonable directives and do what’s right for kids. But beginning teachers should also learn to withhold judgment for a period of time. Schools are complex places where multiple stakeholders come together to educate children. This usually can’t be understood at first glance; it takes time to know what you are seeing.
Ariel Sacks teaches 8th grade English at a middle school in Brooklyn, NY, and is co-author of TEACHING 2030: What We Must Do For Our Students and Our Public Schools... Now and in the Future.
The opinions expressed in Teaching Ahead: A Roundtable 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.