The Cult of Pedagogy Podcast, Episode 156 Transcript

Jennifer Gonzalez, host

 

This page contains Amazon Affiliate links. When you make a purchase through these links, Cult of Pedagogy gets a small percentage of the sale at no extra cost to you.


 

When you hear the word “revolutionary,” what kind of person do you picture? Are they marching in the streets, fist in the air? Speaking passionately to crowds? Leading boycotts, strikes, demonstrations? 

I’m guessing that whatever you’re seeing in your mind, it’s not a teacher. Maybe you can picture a teacher’s strike, but beyond that, do you ever think of teachers as revolutionaries?  

I’m starting to. Because some of the best teachers perform revolutionary acts every day. I’m not talking about helping a child get over a difficult academic hurdle or inspiring a class to try hard on a test. I’m talking about breaking the rules to do what’s best for kids. I’m talking about subversion, and I’ve come to the conclusion that if someone wants to be a master teacher, acts of subversion are a necessary part of the job. 

I’ve always kind of known this, but the idea really crystalized for me while I was reading Melinda Anderson’s new book, Becoming a Teacher. In the book, Anderson illustrates the complexities and joys of teaching by following the career of LaQuisha Hall, an English teacher in the Baltimore public school system. Readers watch Hall struggle to find her voice as a first-year teacher, hook up with mentors who would support her growth, and work through the trial-and-error cycle of developing lessons that would reach the kids in her classes.

As her career progresses, Hall also occasionally chooses to buck the system for the sake of her students. The first instance of this was when she allowed students to opt out of reading the text required by her school’s curriculum, and instead choose something from Hall’s library of racially and culturally diverse books. The move resulted in far more students being engaged in and excited about the task of analyzIng literature.

This small but significant act of subversion is the kind of thing I’m talking about. Hall knew her decision was risky; it could get her into trouble with her superiors, and because she is a Black teacher, she was assuming a greater personal and professional risk than if she were white. 

But it worked. And this kind of thing happens in classrooms everywhere: smart, qualified, ethical teachers breaking rules, finding work-arounds, and flying under the radar to do things in a way that aligns with their expertise and experience, not the way they are told to do them. These decisions are not made to avoid work or for the sake of being defiant; they arise from a perfect storm of knowing what your students need, learning best practices from educational research, and being stuck in a system where change comes slowly, if at all.

Becoming a Teacher is not a book about subversion. It’s a book about a devoted, creative, award-winning teacher who impacted the lives of so many students. But when we planned our conversation about her book, I asked the author Melinda Anderson if we could focus on the theme of subversion, because it surfaced so many times in the book. Anderson has written prolifically about education and equity for years now, and I knew that experience would give her a unique perspective on the topic, so I was excited when she said she’d be willing to give her take on this question: Is subversion a necessary part of being a master teacher? 


Before I play the interview , I want to thank Teaching Channel for sponsoring this episode. We all know that no teacher got the professional development training they needed to deal with 2020. Teaching Channel wants to help educators get the tools they need to support students this school year with their expert-designed PD courses. All of their 20 plus courses are available to anyone with a Teaching Channel subscription. They all take under 2 hours to complete. Some of their most popular courses right now include Moving Your Instruction Online, Culturally Relevant Teaching, and Fostering Family Partnerships. Teaching Channel subscribers can also watch over 1,400 classroom videos that showcase best pedagogical practices from around the country. You can find videos of every grade level and observe top teachers in hundreds of different classrooms. And Cult of Pedagogy listeners can get 30% off a monthly or yearly subscription. Visit teachingchannel.com/cult to learn more.

Support also comes from Listenwise, an online listening curriculum, bringing NPR podcast lessons into your classroom. Whether you are hybrid or remote learning right now, you can provide equitable learning opportunities using a large listening library, full of relevant non-fiction stories for grades 2 -12. With Listenwise Premium, you can access curated lessons with built-in literacy supports, comprehension quizzes for progress monitoring, interactive transcripts so students can read along as they listen, and more. Explore podcast lessons at listenwise.com/cultofpedagogy

Now here’s my interview with Melinda Anderson.


GONZALEZ: Melinda, welcome to the podcast. 

ANDERSON: Thank you, Jenn, for having me. 

GONZALEZ: We’ve got really an interesting topic that we’re going to talk about today, but before we get into it, introduce yourself to my readers. Tell them a little bit about who you are and how your work intersects with education. 

ANDERSON: Thank you. I’m an education writer with a deep interest in how race, identity and culture intersect with teaching and learning. I’ve written on education for well over 25 years. During that time, I’ve really tried to aim and focus my work on how silences and race and racism create and uphold inequalities in education. As for my bio sketch, I started my writing career in Philadelphia as a freelance reporter for the Inquirer, which is the city’s largest newspaper. After that, I transitioned to the field of education communications. I worked for nonprofits, the school district of Philadelphia, an initiative targeted toward underrepresented youth in STEM. I later moved to the Washington, D.C., area where I now live. I provided executive speech writing and writing support to education association leaders for many years. In 2014, I returned to my roots in freelance journalism. Since then I’ve been writing on education for The Atlantic, The Washington Post, Ebony magazine, Slate, and other major news outlets. Most recently I published my first book, “Becoming a Teacher,” which profiles an award-winning Black public school teacher in Baltimore, and which sparked our conversation today. 

GONZALEZ: Yes it did, yes it did. You sent me a copy of the book, and I read it. I thought it was a very comprehensive look. I think it’s an interesting series that the company’s, Simon & Schuster that’s doing this? 

ANDERSON: Yes. 

GONZALEZ: That they’re doing on different professions because it sort of feels like a cross between almost a straight up nonfiction, like this is what it takes to become a teacher, these are some of the realities of the job and that sort of thing. Then it’s this very personal look at LaQuisha Hall, because that’s who you follow throughout the book. It really gets into some of her personal journey, really. You had said that, in the book, and you have told me this too that you chose specifically to feature a Black teacher to show some of the specific challenges that Black teachers face. 

ANDERSON: That’s true. The Masters at Work series explores different professions by profiling an exemplar master of that profession. I knew that I wanted to profile a Black teacher because I wanted to intentionally amplify voices that are seldom heard in the conversation around great teaching. 

GONZALEZ: When I’m reading it, I keep noticing that the stuff that I was highlighting and underlining had a common theme that kept coming up for me, which was this idea of subversion. Whether it was quietly breaking the rules or she was pushing back a lot of times against a pretty negative teacher culture, LaQuisha Hall regularly found herself choosing to subvert the system in order to do what was best for her students. So I thought a really interesting way for us to talk about the book would be to just really focus in on this idea of subversion as a necessary component of being a master teacher that you really can’t be a master teacher unless you’re going to subvert the system. I thought, we’ve got a couple of examples that we’re going to go through from the book. I figure maybe we could talk about those, why she did the things she did, how it impacted her students. Then also as we’re talking, maybe for the teachers listening, how could they go about doing the same thing? I’m sure a lot of people listening have already done a lot of those same subversive acts on their own. I think sometimes we don’t necessarily shine a light on it, and that’s what I want to do today is talk about how it’s not just something that we necessarily sometimes do, but it might actually be a necessary part of being an excellent teacher. 

ANDERSON: I really appreciate that. You zeroed in on that theme because it is definitely one that runs throughout the book. It’s rather subtle, but it’s also really profound. What you see in becoming a teacher is LaQuisha Hall’s path to becoming subversive in service to her students. As I said earlier, what I hope to accomplish in this book was to provide a new narrative of what great teaching looks like. It is centered on the realities of Black teachers and their educational practices, but it has informative insights for all teachers. I think this area of subversion is definitely one that all teachers can probably relate to on some level if they’re not practicing it themselves but also can learn from. What you see is that LaQuisha becomes a teacher who engages in actions that are subversive and liberating. She doesn’t start that way. She very much identifies as a rules follower. She comes into the profession, she follows the curriculum, she does everything as it’s supposed to be practiced, but you see her actively work against what she sees as restrictive policies and systems that overlay teaching. I think it’s something that a lot of teachers struggle with, because they know what works for a unique group of students, but they feel obliged to rigidly follow either the district’s curriculum or buying into conventional wisdom. One of the things that I think is interesting is that in her case, the stakes are much higher because she is a Black teacher. We know that when teachers commit to disrupting the status quo, they risk being labeled a troublemaker even more harshly they might get harassed or sometimes even fired. The evidence shows that the consequences for Black educators who dissent are more harsh yet she persists. It’s interesting too because we often hear people talk about how when a teacher goes against the norm that’s characterized as being or showing initiative or being, somehow, much more innovative. Yet in a system that really rewards conformity and obedience, this is really teachers as dissidents. This is teachers being subversive and being willing to, I would say, take risks that best serve their students. I can definitely get into some of the examples that illustrate this. 

GONZALEZ: Yeah. The book has a ton of examples of ways that she sort of was quietly bucking the system. One of them is actually super relevant right now, which is this idea of whether or not to talk about highly charged topics in class. A lot of teachers make it their policy, I don’t discuss politics, I won’t get into current events in any way because I don’t want to cause problems. She faced that same dilemma and she decided to move forward. We’re going to talk about that as the first example, and you’re going to read us a little bit from the book. 

ANDERSON: Yes, absolutely. The subversion in how she tackles difficult topics is so timely right now in this social and political moment. The excerpt that I wanted to read that explains her rationale and impact is from Chapter 7. It begins, “As the country becomes more polarized, some teachers are retreating from raising controversial issues in the classroom for fear of sparking outrage and its unpredictable outcomes. Hall exercises leadership by tackling tough subjects with her scholars despite the landmines. While teaching the story of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old Black child tortured and murdered in Mississippi in 1955 in a brutal act of racial violence, class discussion veered off into the use of the N-word within the Black community. An angry parent took her complaints to the principal demanding that Hall justify her decision. She says the episode reinforced that introducing such material only becomes a dilemma when people outside her classroom make it one. That parent’s child returned to class the next day enthusiastic, participatory and apologetic. Her students appreciate debating topics that they might not talk over at home, she says. They see it in the news, and they may not understand it. So when they come to school and hear it from an educator, now they have a better understanding.” So it’s clear that she believes that the classroom is a space not only for academic learning. It’s a place to prepare our students for the world outside the walls of our high school, and that’s a really tricky affair right now because everything is so divisive. But you also have to remember who she’s teaching. She’s teaching young Black people to go into a city and a world that doesn’t see their promise and possibility many times. She’s teaching them to question and investigate and think critically about what they’re told. I believe this is a message and a way of teaching that is definitely under the microscope right now. There are many voices, a loud chorus encouraging teachers to teach about the current moment, but the difference is you can teach politics without being partisan. What you see her doing is teaching her students, for instance, about the difference between Republicans and Democrats, their policies, their platforms. She says, “I’m not telling them who to vote for, but I want them to be informed. That’s just the crux of a civics education.” In many ways, it’s kind of mystifying why teaching like this has to be subversive, right?

GONZALEZ: Right. 

ANDERSON: It should be the standard. Again, when you think about school systems prizing conformity above all else, it does become subversive on some level for a teacher to teach this way. 

GONZALEZ: I’m starting to see more and more of that sentiment among teachers, and I’m seeing it in different spaces of teachers just starting to say, no, enough of this keep it safe, keep it neutral. Because I think a lot of people are starting to understand more and more, particularly I think more white teachers are starting to understand that there is no neutral. 

ANDERSON: Yes, and I think that there’s a quote that a Black historian, Lerone Bennett, once stated, and I use it in the book, because I think it’s just, so clearly illustrates the role of teachers in society. The quote is, “An educator in the system of oppression is either a revolutionary or an oppressor.” When you think about that, teachers have to be revolutionary to do their best work for students in a system that’s really built to oppress. It’s a system that is structured to adhere to the ideology that’s foreign to this country and that doesn’t represent a more accurate look at the history of this country, the history of its inequities, of its racism, of its prejudices and discrimination. So not to teach that, not to create this space in a classroom for students to learn this is to send students out uninformed and unable to really be critical thinkers about what they’re experiencing as they go out and they leave schools, because schools don’t exist outside society. 

GONZALEZ: Right. 

ANDERSON: I think many times we create this illusion that schools should be a safe space from the outside world as opposed to saying, once you walk into the classroom, the outside world is already there because you’re dealing with kids that are coming, human beings that are coming into your classroom are part of the outside world. 

GONZALEZ: Absolutely. You observed her quite a bit. What would you say was her approach or her way of doing this to where it ultimately went okay? Because she got this parent complaint, but then everything was fine. Do you think it had mostly to do with her audience that that was the reason she didn’t get a lot of pushback? Or was there something in the way that LaQuisha taught that generally made it go okay? 

ANDERSON: I think that her general mindset was that I need to do what’s best for my kids. So I don’t want to paint a portrait that she didn’t run into opposition, or that she was somehow immune from administrators and principals popping into her classroom and questioning her or department chairs. She experienced all of that, but she continued to come back to, what is best for my students? And how can I use an approach that meets the district’s learning requirements but find a better way to accomplish their goals? She was teaching students that often came to her begrudgingly reading or young people who came to her having failed English and believing they didn’t like to read or that they couldn’t read. These were young people who by the time they had completed the school year had read nine books a year, and they’re now reading on their own, and they’re reading for enjoyment. Since COVID, she had students last spring who were like tweeting her and on Instagram sharing the books that they were reading. They didn’t have to read. They weren’t in the classroom anymore. It’s because she had created the space for them to be able to read books that energized them, that interested them, and that’s not necessarily always books about Black kids in Baltimore. There’s this idea that culturally relevant teaching means kids are only reading about their own experiences. That’s not the case. She said to me, “If you like math, maybe you want to read about mathematicians, or maybe you’re into graphic novels.” It’s just finding material as an English teacher that sparks their interest, that makes them want to run more and to read more.

GONZALEZ: Right. 

ANDERSON: She definitely ran into obstacles, and as the book documents, she eventually leaves the classroom because of all of the requirements that are layered on her. It becomes a little bit too heavy, and she now is working as an instructional coach in her school district, but the fact remains that sense of agency that teachers deserve and that she really needed was compromised in the end. 

GONZALEZ: Yeah, yeah, yeah. You were talking about the books that she put in students’ hands. That was the second example of her subversive decision was to go against the canon and the recommended list of books that she was supposed to be teaching. And she just went ahead and used other books with students basically and created these kids who loved to read. 

ANDERSON: She did and again, she came to this over time. After teaching the district’s scripted curriculum for many years and seeing how her students responded to the assigned text, she would joke with me about how they would scoff and roll their eyes and how young people often expressed themselves. She chose to incorporate a more inclusive set of authors. It wasn’t just the selection of books, but she moved away from having the entire class read and analyze the same book. 

GONZALEZ: Yes. 

ANDERSON: And incorporated much more student choice. In the book I go into how that was structured, but quickly she would introduce the themes for that course, maybe it was character analysis or whatever the theme might be, using the assigned text. She was teaching what the standard required for that quarter, but then she would allow the students to read their own books to actually flesh that out. 

GONZALEZ: Right. 

ANDERSON: It was very effective in being able to show that there is a way for teachers to teach beyond the curriculum and still meet the district’s requirements for what students should be learning. This wasn’t some kind of rogue type of activity at all. 

GONZALEZ: Right. 

ANDERSON: I think the fact that her students continue to do well and to show through assessments that they were doing well was an indication of there are better ways for districts to accomplish their learning goals and to allow teachers to use their firsthand expertise to meet these larger goals. 

GONZALEZ: Yeah, it sounds to me like sort of the formula for succeeding with this kind of subversion is No. 1, have the kids’ best interests in mind, and then No. 2, be doing something that will ultimately produce results that can back up your decision. 

ANDERSON: Yes, absolutely. She was able to do that. I think that, in some sense, became a real frustration, because she began to see, I’m doing what you’re asking of me. I’m meeting the standards. I’m meeting the benchmarks that you’ve set. But again, this sense of compliance, the fact that she was stepping outside of this really narrowly defined script for how she should be teaching over time had a very negative impact. 

GONZALEZ: Can wear you down after a while. 

ANDERSON: Yes, yes, definitely. 

GONZALEZ: Yeah. So two other things that I noticed in the book that were other sort of different kinds of examples of subversion. One, I noticed in a few cases, she would sort of find herself in conversations with other teachers or maybe sometimes community members where the topic of, “Oh these kids. They’re so” fill in the blank negative. And she would have to keep pushing back, and she would. I remember this from my own teaching years of having that really oppressive negative feeling a lot of times among the other teachers about these kids. I feel like that’s another form of subversion of the master teacher that you’re a fan of the kids and you’re an advocate for them and you need to take active steps. She really took very active steps to almost do a different kind of PR for her students. 

ANDERSON: Yes, it’s great. It’s fascinating that you mention your experience as a teacher because one of the things that LaQuisha said often was that she tells newer teachers to stay out of the teachers’ lounge. Because that’s just this kind of black hole of negativity sometimes. 

GONZALEZ: It is. 

ANDERSON: Also the fact that she found sometimes walking in in the morning that the hardest part was dealing with the other adults. It just shouldn’t be that way in the school building, but you do find her countering these negative stereotypes and perceptions of Black students, both with her colleagues but also just with other adults in the community. She makes a very intentional stand to refute the negative portrayals of Black youth in the media and is very persistent in taking on news reports that are so negative about Black students who she knows. That’s I think what she continually returns to is that the kids that you’re describing are not the young people that I teach. They’re not the ones that I see that are sitting in my classroom writing stories, that are publishing books. She is very clear about saying over and over again to people who seek to disparage Black youth that no, I’m not going to stand for that. I think it’s mostly because at the forefront of her mind she is responding to kids in front of her. She’s not content just to go along with the notion that Black kids can’t do this, or they can’t learn this, or they should be reading this or be able to do that. She refuses to buy into society’s deficit views of Black young people because she has a firsthand perspective that says otherwise. 

GONZALEZ: Right, right. She even took to social media. You describe her Instagram account how it’s deliberate and intentionally pushing out images and narratives of the great things her students are doing. 

ANDERSON: She has. She’s used social media very effectively as almost this counter narrative on the brilliance of Black students, and it’s incredible to see her sharing from her classroom what they’re reading, what they’re doing, different activities, different lessons. It’s also interesting to see the response that she often receives from mostly white teachers saying, “How did you get your kids to do that?” Or “How did you get them to read that?” She takes that often as a challenge that I can show you how I got them to do this. I introduced it, right? 

GONZALEZ: Yeah. 

ANDERSON: But also it just speaks to, I think, largely in society the ideas that are often rooted in biased and racist assumptions about young Black students. She’s showing that there is another narrative out there and doing it in a very skillful way by not saying, “You should be doing XYZ,” but “Let me show you how to do XYZ.”

GONZALEZ: So one last thing that I remembered from the book that was, again, a different kind of subversion, and I feel like it falls in the category of why bother, which was she spent over $2,500, and we’re not necessarily advocating for teachers spending a lot of their own money. 

ANDERSON: No, not at all. 

GONZALEZ: But it’s an example of a teacher kind of doing what other people would sort of look at and say, why are you even bothering with this? She created a Scholar of the Week and Friends corner in her classroom, highly decorated, really cozy and a place for one student and chosen peers to hang out in. The way you describe her whole classroom in the book is really amazing, but she really does go that extra step to make her classroom special. This is another thing that I sort of remember from teaching too, of that attitude among other teachers sometimes of just, why would you? Clock out, man. It’s 3 o’clock. Why do that one extra thing? I feel like she’s subversive too in terms of making things a little extra special sometimes. 

ANDERSON: She not only makes them special, but she really has gone to bat on social media, or gone to bat against people who disdain what she has spent, because she posts pictures on Instagram. There are people who respond and say, “Why are you spending all of this money?” There is definitely an aspect of, “You’re making us look bad.” 

GONZALEZ: Yes, yes. 

ANDERSON: Which, you know, I think everybody has to walk to their own drummer. LaQuisha is an artist, so she sketches and she is very visual, and a lot of the designing and decorating that is in her classroom is from her own hand. There’s that piece of it. But also the spending the $2,500, it wasn’t just on the Scholar of the Week, it was on the entire classroom. She hired a painter to come in and paint the room and do some designing, and she bought a lot of bookcases and other knick knacks to create these reading nooks. I think it is true that some educators shun spending a lot of money decorating and creating this showpiece classroom. But she also knows that her classroom is a refuge for a lot of her kids who see it as kind of a beautiful tranquil space for them to learn. She rebuffs these naysayers who say that aesthetics don’t matter because she sees firsthand the difference it makes for young people living in West Baltimore. I think there’s a certain curiosity that we have to hold when we see someone else that’s doing something different as opposed to a simple judgement and saying, “Oh, this is interesting. Why are you decorating your classroom like this?” I think that she will very clearly tell you, I’m doing it because I know that many of my students when they come to school, all they pass are dilapidated buildings and people standing on the street. I want to create in my classroom a space that honors them and creates a space for learning that is appealing and makes them feel good when they’re here. I think that that shouldn’t be undermined as a learning value either. The Scholar of the Week also is interesting because originally she had a Scholar of the Month, and she was talking to a young man, and he was saying how, this was an adult, he had never had a teacher who told him that he was really smart or accomplished. Now as an adult looking back on his education, that was his memory. She pivoted from the Scholar of the Month to a Scholar of the Week, because she never wanted her students, once they come out of school, to ever say, “No teacher ever honored me or recognized me.” So that was a case of, again, I found in this book one of the threads or the elements of good teaching, teaching mastery, is being innovative but also learning and adapting almost in real time to what you’re seeing and what you’re learning. So she changed her program based on that takeaway. Her students responded to that. Every Monday they would come to school because they couldn’t wait to find out who was the scholar of the week. 

GONZALEZ: Yeah. 

ANDERSON: And this special seating area was just another way to honor not just that scholar but their friends. 

GONZALEZ: Yeah. 

ANDERSON: Now you have this scholar sitting there and it’s this special seating area, and you can bring your little crew, right? I was really taken aback by how much those kinds of what are seen as kind of small or some might say extraneous to the learning kinds of activities really make an impact and you can see really resonate with students and make them really excited and want to learn. 

GONZALEZ: Yeah. I’m so glad that you wrote this book. One of the things that I try to do with my podcast is just bring people on who I think are good people to know in education. 

ANDERSON: Oh, thank you. 

GONZALEZ: And by writing this book, yes, you’ve brought us yourself and LaQuisha Hall at the same time. I think that she provides just one model of this kind of doing what’s right by your kids, being subversive when you have to, the constantly adapting and changing. What you said I think really resonated too is just this idea of going with your own particular blend of skills and talents and interests and what’s needed by your own kids. That’s going to look very different from teacher to teacher, from state to state. 

ANDERSON: Absolutely. 

GONZALEZ: Yeah. 

ANDERSON: I think, I would hope in reading the book that rather than saying, I need to follow this formula —

GONZALEZ: Right. 

ANDERSON: — that LaQuisha lays out, that you would see how she had to pick and choose the things that worked, and she abandoned some things that didn’t work. And just to kind of see her journey and learning what worked for her kids, because I think that whether you’re coming through an alternative certification program like she did or whether you come out of a school of education as many teachers do, the fact is she was constantly learning, she was constantly adjusting, she was constantly trying and swapping out ideas. Teaching is so much trial and error, is what I found in this book, but mostly listening to what your kids are telling you, and that’s why I think it’s so important that you have to constantly stay mindful, what I observed, to the students that are in front of you, not necessarily the students that you might think what they need, but being mindful enough and open enough to adjust and adapt as you see things that aren’t working and following that to a much more productive conclusion. 

GONZALEZ: Yeah. I have one more question for you that I did not plan. 

ANDERSON: Okay. 

GONZALEZ: So I did not warn you about this. 

ANDERSON: Okay. 

GONZALEZ: But I’m just very curious about what you have to say because knowing that LaQuisha did leave the classroom eventually to become an instructional coach, and also knowing that you have covered education for a number of years, would you say, I think it would be very easy for somebody to look at even LaQuisha’s situation and say, “See? Ultimately, teaching just isn’t something that’s sustainable or isn’t worth it.” So do you think it’s, how do I even put this? Do you feel like your, if somebody were to come to you and say, “I want to become a teacher.” Would you advise them to do it? And if so, what would you say? 

ANDERSON: I would advise them to do it. I think it’s really important to go in eyes wide open. I think that it’s important to organize and almost find a way to make the changes that need to be made within the system. I have had Black teachers specifically say to me, “Why should I stay in the classroom?” I say, “Because Black kids need you.” 

GONZALEZ: Yes. 

ANDERSON: “And other kids need you.” I don’t say this to be Pollyanna-ish, because I know it’s an incredibly hard job, and it’s an incredibly challenging job, and LaQuisha was legitimately conflicted about leaving. 

GONZALEZ: Yeah. 

ANDERSON: I think that the only way that you make a change within a system is to be in the system and to be part of the fight. That doesn’t mean you fight individually, and that’s why I said, you organize and you find ways to network, and you find others who are like minded, and you work to the best of your ability to make the changes that are necessary for you to do the teaching, and the kind of teaching that you want to do. I do believe that there is space within the system to make these kinds of changes. It’s not going to happen overnight, and it requires more than teachers simply working alone. It requires school leaders, and it requires communities who elect school board members, and it has to be more of a coalition effort. I find teaching is uniquely a position that people just don’t understand so much what goes into doing the job. Teachers work in very isolated environments. You go in, you close the door, you teach. I think helping the public and helping others really understand the challenges. I myself, as a reporter, did not, and I’ve covered education for many years. 

GONZALEZ: Right. 

ANDERSON: It wasn’t until I spent days after days sitting in a classroom really seeing not just the teaching as a skill but seeing how the system interacts with her as an individual teacher that I fully understood. And so I would say, yes, become a teacher. Don’t go into it idealized, and don’t go into it thinking I’m just going to teach kindergarten and pass my children off to first grade, and it’s all candy and rainbows. Go into it knowing that it is a political position. It is a position that you have to fight for and be prepared to put in that kind of time and effort. How was that? Does that sound way too idealized?

GONZALEZ: No, no. 

ANDERSON: I mean that’s a hard question. 

GONZALEZ: I know, but it was a good answer. 

ANDERSON: Was it?

GONZALEZ: Yeah. 

ANDERSON: Because I do feel like so many times, and I think about schools of education. They don’t prepare young people to go into classrooms understanding the political aspects of teaching, right? 

GONZALEZ: Absolutely not, yeah. 

ANDERSON: And the fact that, you know, what you do in your classroom, everybody has their fingers in it, right? 

GONZALEZ: Yeah. 

ANDERSON: And whether it’s your funding or your supplies or whatever it is, everybody has something to say about what you do. If you don’t understand that, then it can be really defeating once you get in there and you think, “I’m just going to do all these great things in the classroom, but I don’t have money to do this, and now they’re telling me they’re going to change my curriculum again, and blah, blah, blah.” 

GONZALEZ: Right. 

ANDERSON: And so there’s this real sense of teaching is held up as this really heroic profession. 

GONZALEZ: Yeah. 

ANDERSON: And at the same time, it’s treated like glorified babysitters. 

GONZALEZ: Yeah. 

ANDERSON: So it’s just like, there’s so many, there’s this falsehood that surrounds the profession, and I think you just need to be a little more honest with young people that they go into it. I’d love to just see some of these young organizers that are out in the streets become teachers, right? 

GONZALEZ: Yeah, right? 

ANDERSON: Because it’s like, they’re bringing that spirit and that kind of organizing, justice-minded philosophy that really is needed in teachers. 

GONZALEZ: The thing that I keep thinking over and over again is that if we had schools full of LaQuisha Halls, we would not have a problem, so we just need more and more people with that mindset and not necessarily her specific blend of things but just that level of commitment. We’ve kind of covered it all, but just, yeah. Because I think if she had 12 colleagues with the same mindset, she never would have felt the need to leave the classroom. 

ANDERSON: Right. Yes. 

GONZALEZ: Because she’d feel bolstered by that. 

ANDERSON: That’s so true, Jenn. Exactly. And because she very much felt, that’s a sharp point. She very much felt like she was always outside the norm. 

GONZALEZ: Yeah. 

ANDERSON: Right? And so at some point, always feeling like you’re walking against the headwinds, you just get exhausted. 

GONZALEZ: Yep. 

ANDERSON: And you’re right. If there are 12 other people and all of you are walking against it, then you’re going to make so much more headway. You lock arms and you walk forward. 

GONZALEZ: Yeah. 

ANDERSON: And so yeah, but if you’re just kind of like that buoy out in the ocean bouncing around then yeah, it’s an entirely different environment. 

GONZALEZ: So we’re going to wrap this up. 

ANDERSON: Okay. 

GONZALEZ: Tell us where people can find you online. I know we’ve got, the book is called “Becoming a Teacher,” and it’s available now online. I’ll send links to it and everything, but if people just want to find you in general, where’s the best place to go? 

ANDERSON: The best way to learn more about me and to keep up with my thoughts and musings is on Twitter. My username is @mdawriter, and I’m fairly active on Twitter. I guess I should say for good or ill. I also have an extensive archive on The Atlantic’s website. 

GONZALEZ: Okay. 

ANDERSON: So if you were to search my name and The Atlantic, you’ll find dozens of articles that I’ve written. I’m really proud of it because I think that the work that I did for them brings a lot of context to issues around race, ethnicity and education. It’s a really diverse range of topics and a pretty informative selection. I’d invite listeners to check that out. 

GONZALEZ: You’ve got a very prolific body of work out there. Yeah. It’s impressive. 

ANDERSON: Thank you, thank you. 

GONZALEZ: It’s all really, really good work too. Thank you so much for coming on here. We’re already sort of making tentative plans for you to come back in the spring. 

ANDERSON: Yes. That’s [crosstalk] teaser. I can’t wait. 

GONZALEZ: May not be the last time. Yeah, thank you so much. 

ANDERSON: Thank you, Jenn. I appreciated it. Thank you.


For links to Melinda’s book and a full transcript of this interview, visit cultofpedagogy.com, click Podcast, and choose episode 156. And check out my new mini-course, Four Laws of Learning, at cultofpedagogy.com/laws. Use the code LISTENER at checkout to get $5 off the course tuition. Thanks so much for listening, and have a great day.