You have to understand, I was a 60’s Motown teenager, and becoming a teacher was nowhere in my life plans. For about 12 years, I freelanced locally. I also held several day jobs including auto factory worker, bank file clerk, hospital emergency room clerk, and secretary. Along the way, I found time for marriage, children, and activism.
One summer afternoon, my husband casually mentioned how he wished he could take our very productive youth ministry from Detroit to the youngsters in his home state of Mississippi. I thought he was joking; I remember thinking: “No one moves back to Mississippi.”
A few weeks later, in July 1987, we relocated with our four children to the Delta. We must have looked like a scene fromThe Grapes of Wrath. I can still see myself sitting in front of the bus station in Greenville, Mississippi on a footlocker with our four kids, three suitcases, and $50 to our name. The job my husband had been promised fell through. A friend of his got us into the married student housing at the local liberal arts college, after I decided to enroll and finally complete my bachelor’s degree. The college didn’t offer journalism, so I had to choose another major.
Walking out the front door, my husband shouted over his shoulder, “You like to write; you like kids; why not try teaching?”
Ta dah! This was my entry to the profession. Best move I almost didn’t make.
I’ll save my stories about teacher ed for another day, since teacher preparation is a particular interest of mine. For now, I’ll just say it was memorable: like traveling backwards into a black-and-white movie.
The combination of career change and cultural shift was seismologic to my life and to my thinking. Hence, my goal, on this blog: To shake up some thinking about education.
My teaching career has been rewarding and humbling. I was 2001 Mississippi Teacher of the Year and received the Milken Educator Award. I got foundation grants for my classroom research on teaching Standard American English to African American students (Culturally Engaged Instruction). I serve on boards, committees, and projects. Most of all, I know I’ve touched the minds and hearts of hundreds of young people and helped them lead productive and richer lives. I’ve done pretty well.
But so have thousands of other teachers, past and present. Yet for all this success, I and other successful teachers are routinely left out of policy and curriculum decisions that affect our professional lives.
Among other things, I would like to give voice to the many accomplished teachers who have been professionally silenced; teachers who will never have movies made about their classrooms, their victories, or their struggles. That includes the marvelous teachers who preceded me here in the Delta and throughout the Deep South in the pre-de-now-re-segregated schools.
Before we called some of our schools “high-needs,” the needs were there, and so were the educators who met those needs. Some of the best stuff we could do in public education has already been done…and forgotten.