Savor TC—Theory, Practice, and Community // Saadia H. Khalid

| September 17, 2010

It is difficult to put into words all there is to remember, all there is to savor about the next few semesters of your educational life.  So I will begin, then, by saying that there is much to remember, much to savor, and hope that you will consider this at the start.

I began at Teachers College knowing just a few things about why I was there: I knew I wanted to teach, desperately, that I wanted to be involved in Social Justice work, that I wanted to dedicate my life to service, and to compassion, and to critical inquiry.  I knew that I wanted to work with youth, that I wanted to give something back to my community, to this city that I love so much, where I was born and raised, and thank it, in some small way, for all it has given me.  And, I knew that Teachers College was the best place for me to learn how to achieve these goals, because of its prestigious history, but also because of its future: its dedication to improving the quality of education for every generation of students that is to come.

At Teachers College, I became immersed in both the reading and examination of educational theory in my classes, and the practical realities of teaching in my student teaching classrooms.  These two facets of my education as a teacher—the theoretical and the practical—were powerful because they occurred simultaneously, linked like a pair of hands.

Paulo Freire, in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, writes, “Human beings are not built in silence, but in word, in work, in action-reflection.”[1] As a teacher, the value and balance of action and reflection—of practice and theory—resonates deeply.  Freire continues, “if one is sacrificed—even in part—the other immediately suffers.”  This action-reflection—praxis, as he calls it—is at the core of the Teachers College Teaching of English program, and is the single most important thing you will learn how to do.  It is not enough to simply know how to plan a lesson or a unit, but to know why you are planning that way, and to change it if your experience tells you it doesn’t work.  It is not enough to simply learn a new method but to know why you are learning it, why it works, and whom it works for.

During my time at TC, I often met colleagues who wondered why they were doing so much work with theory, why it was necessary.  They were anxious to learn practical techniques, skills they could use in their classrooms.

I say: savor the reading and parsing of theory, especially now, for this time will not come again.  While you are dealing with the practical concerns of your very own classroom, as soon as one year from now, you will find yourself with little time to find out those crucial whys and hows, but you will plan your lessons and deal with management.  These things will come, and there will be a community to support you.  I am not by any means diminishing the importance of learning practical techniques, but echo many of my mentors (quoting Kurt Lewin) when I say that there is nothing so practical as a good theory.  Theory is the foundation upon which we build our practice as teachers.

Read all you can; don’t just read what is required in your classes, but if you can, without going crazy, read what is not required, also.

Ask bold questions about race, and gender, and class.  While the other two topics may come up frequently in your classes, don’t forget the last—it is the most often overlooked of the three, and of immense importance.

Make yourself feel uncomfortable during these conversations—that discomfort is the first step in dealing with something you don’t know, or something that scares you.  Take the opportunity of being in a space as safe as Teachers College to figure it out.

Take copious notes; keep a journal; write everything down.  You will undoubtedly need it some day.  Don’t just write down what you’re learning about teaching, either; write down what you’re learning about yourself, too.  It will be a lot, and perhaps more important later on.

Find yourself in a teaching community: there are people to help you, mentors to be guided by, advice to be gotten.  A teacher’s community is what gets her/him by every day.  They make you smarter, they make you feel better about the myriad of mistakes you will inevitably make, and they will buy you coffee when you are on the verge of falling asleep in class on a late Thursday night.  They will nurture you, and you will nurture them.

Learn from your students—they are your best source of information, and your most powerful.  Let them tell you their stories; listening to those stories is why we are here, doing what we do.

Don’t be afraid to have a bad teaching day.  In fact, there is no such thing.  Mistakes are the best way of learning what to do next time.

Forgive yourself.  Your students will.

Remember that studying at Teachers College is an opportunity and a privilege.  Do not take it for granted, and let yourself be humbled by it.

Finally, have fun!  Really, there is so, so much to have.  Despite your late nights and your early mornings, there will always be reasons to laugh—I mean really laugh.  Those deep, belly laughs that turn achey at the end.  Let yourself laugh.  Demand it of yourself.

So, again, I say to you: savor this time.  Relish it.  Be proud of yourself, and all you’re accomplishing.  You are doing something important.  Remind yourself of that every night before you go bed, regardless of how exhausted you may be.  You’re doing something important.

Good luck, friends, and welcome to the neighborhood!

(Feel free to email me at saadia.h.khalid@gmail.com or visit my blog at saadiasays.wordpress.com)


[1] Freire, P. (1997).  Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York, NY:  Continuum. p. 69