Teachers Act Up!

Thoughts on Teaching, Language, and Social Change from Melisa "Misha" Cahnmann-Taylor

Dear Friend in her first semester as a pre-service Spanish teacher who thinks she might like to “run screaming away from this ridiculous hampster-wheel of a life.”

I hear you girl! Just know that you serve an important purpose, beginning such an important career–so vital to cultivating the next generation of American youth who have a healthy honor, respect, and knowledge of languages other than English.  You can use all your wiggle room and creativity  to find tiny crevices for humanity to enter its sunshine and light into the hectic classroom (and home life) day-to-day activity.  You are NEEDED and you are doing good service. And yes, you may also be transitioning to a teaching career because of economic impetus and not solely a passion for teaching.  However, from my experience, economic impetus can never be the sole reason one choose to go into teaching! There are too many other ways to make money! Add your interest in the Spanish language, in working with youth, in inspiring deeply meaningful communication across languages and cultures to the economic stimulus and this may just  lead to great, unexpected accomplishments, contributions to society and self and unexpected surprises in the paths that lie ahead.  Hold on tight, draw on all the good food and energy that your body has absorbed/stored until now to help you conquer the hardest moments.  Continue to cook good food on the weekends, make healthy lunches, fortify your mind by reading books you care about, find creative spaces to make learning a joy for you and your lucky new students. You say you miss being in your body–how can you bring embodied knowledge into classroom spaces? How can language learning incorporate the physical? What reasons might there be to go outdoors and talk about the weather, observations of the soil, or engage in the Spanish language of farming and agriculture which you so love?

Try to resist “running away” just now–things are only getting started and yes it will get easier (though people tell me that about parenting and I can’t really see that forest through the trees). At the same time, honor those feelings of struggle and allow yourself to flirt with the real wish to quit  just long enough to honor what is real and human.  Take pride in the great accomplishment of showing up and doing your best, observing your progress and that of your students, of being a part of one of the greatest social projects of all time: public schooling.

You write with dismay: “But this is what we have created as an educational system.” Upon this institution rests our fundamental foundations for democracy.  This democratic institution does indeed need to change with good change-agents like  yourself at the helm–but it is also endangered right now and needs, I believe, continued improvement rather than ‘throwing the baby out with the bathwater’ (I refer here to the loud critics who propose to undermine public funding for K-12 education and move to private models for all schooling.  I fear for the results of such short-sightedness which may abolish all that is good and possible because of free and public liberal arts education).

Do your best to have patience with the public system you/we are in.  Whatever “best” is today, that “best” can and will change tomorrow. As long as doing one’s best is the goal, we can all take great pride in our work in public schools, and great care and reflection when things don’t go as planned. If there were one thing I would change for public schooling would be to incorporate more paid time for teachers to plan and reflect on their practice.  May you find ways to cultivate critical reflection for yourself–a blog like this one! An actual or virtual journal; a quick “phone a friend” moment at the end of each week or two.  Teachers need places to refuel and a network of support to grapple with all the many complex social challenges our students (and colleagues) carry with them in their daily backpack.   Teaching can be the most challenging profession; I think you chose it because you also know it can be the most rewarding.  Strength and love my dear friend!

2 responses to “Dear Friend in her first semester as a pre-service Spanish teacher who thinks she might like to “run screaming away from this ridiculous hampster-wheel of a life.”

  1. Kristina Hanewald September 22, 2011 at 12:03 am

    Misha really couldn’t have said it better. Always keep in mind that these feelings are normal and that one’s love for a profession has its ups and downs…always. One of the most important pieces of advice is not to lose yourself in the process. The first few years at any new job (not necessarily the first teaching job, but whenever one changes to a new school) are always a challenge and I have seen too many teachers overwork themselves to the point where they neglect their own hobbies. One teachers stop taking care of themselves outside of the classroom, it shows inside the classroom. Don’t give up!


  2. lgriffspan October 23, 2011 at 6:10 pm

    Such true words! I too, in a similar place, share your instinct to “run screaming away . . .” Thank you for voicing your frustration so that I can share in it. At the same moment I feel hopeless for our ‘educational system,’ I sigh with relief that I am not alone in feeling this. Misha is so right, teachers need places to refuel and garner support and advice. Thanks to this blog for being that place for me right now!


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