Last year, a guy moved in across the hall from me to teach physics (everyone’s favorite). He didn’t have a license. He had been rejected from Teach for America years before. He came in on a community expert license, but really, he came in at the last minute because we needed someone, anyone, to fill space. The year before, we had resorted to having a sub with an English license sit in the room while the kids did online physics (because the only thing that could make physics more awesome was making sure you could only do computer-simulation labs).Shortly after meeting that guy, I met another teacher, a guy who was in his 50th year of teaching. Seriously. Fifty. He teaches Latin (everyone’s other favorite), and has been doing so since 1965. He is fully licensed (in a few different subjects, actually), and widely recognized as one of the best teachers in his state. He is a master of master teachers.
Physics and Latin, What's the Difference?
Aside from both staying up way later than I do, these two guys have very very little in common.But you know what? Both of these teachers are awesome. That physics guy, he’s incredible. He turned his physics room into one of the strongest places of authentic learning in our entire building. He built a social justice physics curriculum, from scratch, because he really wanted to, and it was fantastic. That Latin guy? You don’t even know, you don’t even need to know. He’s Yoda, he’s a magician, he’s a champion. They are both awesome because they care hard about teaching, they focus on students, they grow, and they accept help and friendship and support from other teachers openly.
They are who I want to be.It’s teachers like them that rarely bother with microphones and message boards. They are not out to win anything, not out to beat anyone, not out to mock, to slander, to attack anyone else. They love to teach, they love teachers.
Teaching Is the Best, and the Worst
Teaching is impossibly hard. Teachers stand on the front lines of the best and worst of us. It’s hard enough without making people into enemies, it is hard enough without slapping down hands extended in help. Teaching is hard enough, complicated enough, that it’s just impossible that any of us are entirely right or entirely wrong.Teaching is full of dumb. Teaching is full of mess and frustration. It’s full of humans, and humans are ridiculously ridiculous. I understand why it makes us tired, and why it can make us angry.But teaching is an act of love, and I’ll never understand why it produces so much needless hate, so much exclusion, so much us and them, so much you or they are not enough, not the right kind.
So, let me say: I don’t care if you’re in your first year or your 50th. I don’t care if you are in Teach For America, were in Teach for America, like or don’t like Teach for America. I don’t care if you’re a pin-covered-lanyard-wearing unionista or if you delete every union email on sight. I don’t care if you teach in a charter or did or will teach in a charter, or if you send your kids to private school or public school. I don’t care if you’re traditionally licensed or alternatively licensed or unlicensed, and I don’t care if you are a normal person or someone who teaches kindergarten.If you care about kids I am with you. If you work for schools and learning and joy and love in schools, I am for you.We can disagree and stick together. We can come together on the things that make us teachers, and respect the differences of everything else.I will assume you have no hidden agenda. I will assume you are not evil or stupid or misled for believing what you believe. I will help you if you need help, and I will accept help if you’re willing to give it. I will try to see what you see if you try to see what I see.If you care about kids, if you care about teaching, there is nothing that will make you less of a teacher to me.If you teach, if you care about teachers, if you care about students and schools, however you care about them, you are not my enemy. Let’s go to work.
Tom Rademacher (Mr. Rad to his students) is an English teacher in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In May of 2014 he was named Minnesota Teacher of the Year. An earlier version of this post appeared on his blog, Mr Rad's Neighborhood, as No Enemies.
Tom Rademacher (Mr. Rad to his students) is an English teacher in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In 2014 he was named Minnesota Teacher of the Year. He teaches writing and writes about teaching on his blog. His book, published by University of Minnesota Press, is called "IT WON’T BE EASY: An Exceedingly Honest (and Slightly Unprofessional) Love Letter to Teaching."