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Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Teaching Should Be Political by Melinda D. Anderson - The Atlantic

Review: ‘Becoming a Teacher’ by Melinda D. Anderson - The Atlantic
Teaching Should Be Political
Review: ‘Becoming a Teacher’ by Melinda D. Anderson

The first day of my first year of teaching began with a bundle of nerves and a half-eaten honey bun. At 5:30 a.m., I drove from the cheap apartment I shared with five roommates to the high school in Prince George’s County, Maryland, where, 22 years old and just a year out of college, I’d been hired to teach English. My trunk was full of colorful posters, flip charts, and laminated quotes from my favorite writers. I was hoping to make my stuffy, windowless classroom a more inviting space for my students.

As I drove, I practiced how I would present myself, searching for the sort of first impression that would make me seem authoritative yet approachable. Could I be the “cool” teacher, inviting students to share what was happening in their lives, but also a figure of authority? Could I be empathetic, sensitive to the difficulties transpiring in their lives, yet not let such circumstances create a spiral of low expectations? Could I emphasize the importance of doing well on the state exam, while also making sure my students knew I didn’t believe that learning could be measured by a multiple-choice test on a single day of the year? I am only slightly embarrassed to say that in search of insight and inspiration, I had watched several Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman movies in the weeks leading up to that day.

These memories came back to me while reading Becoming a Teacher, by Melinda D. Anderson, an education journalist based in Washington, D.C. Anderson follows LaQuisha Hall during the 2018–19 academic year, just after Hall had been named Baltimore City Public Schools Teacher of the Year, and into the following, pandemic-disrupted year. Hers was hardly a representative experience. Except that in important ways, it was.

Anderson’s profile, part of a Masters at Work series of slim volumes, reaches back to Hall’s uncertain first days in a high-school classroom, more than a decade and a half ago, to trace a transformation. A core theme of the book is a notable, and by now almost unavoidable, shift in perspective taking place among Black educators—and other teachers, too—working in places that have endured decades of systemic racism, economic disinvestment, generational poverty, crime, and violence. Starting out as a 21-year-old transplant from North Carolina, Hall hadn’t understood what became steadily clearer to her: The work of teaching, for her and for her teenage students, was most meaningful when it was part of a larger commitment to addressing the realities of the historically oppressed and underresourced communities they were growing up in.

To be ushered by Anderson into Hall’s current classroom at Carver Vocational- CONTINUE READING: Review: ‘Becoming a Teacher’ by Melinda D. Anderson - The Atlantic