In March, I wrote about the shortage of teachers of color at a time when there is growing diversity among K-12 students, and how critical it is that our teaching ranks begin to reflect that trend.
This doesn’t mean that white educators can’t reach, teach and inspire students of color. The talented, driven, passionate educators that I know, no matter who they are or what they look like, are experts at connecting with every student. I simply mean that it’s great for all students to see the many cultures and ethnicities that comprise our great nation.
Another study just came out that underscores my point. Minority babies are now the majority in the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. (We may have to come up with a word other than “minority.”) But K-12 teachers remain overwhelmingly white.
Take a look at my original post, “The Absence of Teachers of Color isn’t Just a Problem for Non-White students; It’s a Problem for All Students,” here.
I was considering what I’d like to share with you as the 2016-17 academic year approaches, and I took a look at what I’d written in this space a year ago. I’d called us crazy—the good kind of crazy—because we actually look forward to the end of vacation. This comment from one of our members stood out:
“Getting ready for the new group of kids each year is one of the best parts of summer. Teaching means you get the chance to start over each year and do it all again but even better! Some things might be similar to last year but we are always striving for better and upping the ante! …Other jobs do not afford people that opportunity but it is what keeps teaching new and exciting and why after 31 years I still LOVE my job!”
Re-reading those optimistic words—especially when much of our nation’s public and political discourse is anything but optimistic—was incredibly uplifting and inspiring. It also gave me an “Aha!” moment. Although we talk about “going back” to school, in reality we’re really going forward to school.
“Going back” marks a return, a gearshift into reverse. That’s not for us! We’re going forward into unchartered territory, because every year is different from years past. Whether we’re teachers, school bus drivers, counselors, faculty members, financial aid administrators, or lunch ladies, we have a gift: the chance to start over every single year, to “do it all again but even better.” Is this a great profession, or what?
It really is true: “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”
No, I’m not trying to get all hippy-dippy on you. Believe me: I know there’s repetition to what we do, as there is with all jobs. Every year can appear to have a certain sameness. You’re doing a job you’ve done for a while, in the same place as last year. The day begins at the same time and ends at the same time. You leave home at the same time, take the same route to get there and once you arrive, the surroundings are … pretty much the same. As for the headaches? Despite your summertime prayers, they’re the same, too.
And … yet. We get a new crop of students every year. They may remind us of students we’ve taught, fed, transported, protected, cajoled, advised and guided before. But any similarities, as we come to realize, are superficial.
They enter our world (and we enter theirs) with personalities all their own, with gifts and challenges unique to who they are. Their perspectives reflect particular upbringings and even hardships we cannot imagine. All of what they’ve experienced up to this point—whether they are 4-year-olds in pre-K, or 22-year-olds in college, makes them who they are. And our lives intersect at this moment in time.
But wait, there’s more. As you all know, what’s happening around us lends a newness to each year, too. The dynamics in our schools and classrooms and on campuses reflect the zeitgeist around us—in good and bad ways.
In every academic year, we have the privilege of sharing something our students could end up remembering for a lifetime. We could share something that will open their minds or comfort them when they most need it or change their lives. And maybe they can change our lives, too. (OK, so maybe I am getting a little hippy-dippy.
Even if we have the same cohort of students we just said goodbye to a few months ago, they’ve changed in subtle ways. What a gift it is to start fresh – they get another chance, and so do we.
This year is different as well for a much less hippy dippy reason. A year ago, we were still wondering what reauthorization of the federal education law would look like. Today, the Every Student Succeeds Act is on the books. We’re no longer pushing for passage. We’re demanding a seat at the table to help sort out how the law is implemented.
(In fact, we just filed a detailed comment letter with the U.S. Department of Education to make sure that as ESSA is put into practice, the department listens to parents, community leaders and us so that our students get the inspiring, mind-opening education they deserve and all the support they need.)
I like the idea of approaching even what seems like the same old routine with a new attitude. Because whether we’ve been doing this for one year or (what feels like) 100, it’s always an adventure.