Very few professions have to defend their existence the way teachers do. There seems to be an insatiable need to critique teachers and “fix” education via “fixing” teachers. Often what this looks like is formulas and best practices compiled in a rubric meant to facilitate teacher accountability and increase effectiveness. Teachers pushback with some iteration of “teaching is an art not a science.” After more than a decade in the classroom, and now as a school leader, I can say that it is both, and that neither is going to “fix” education. After a decade of failures, of lowering expectations, of providing insufficient scaffolds, of nurturing relationships, finessing escalated behaviors I can confidently say that the most effective tool in the classroom is a political consciousness.
What I mean by this is that what mattered the most was not any specific best practice I mastered, or even how I developed and nurtured my relationships; what mattered the most in my classroom, and every classroom I’ve seen in my career, is how relevant and rigorous my classroom was.
A relevant classroom is one that frames education as a liberatory practice. That names the world and facilitates students analyzing that world. It is one that doesn’t shy away from the world’s most pressing problems but thrusts them front and center. It nurtures debate and vigorous discussion. It is always oriented towards application in the real world. It inspires young people because it empowers young people. It trusts the future to those who have to live in it.
A rigorous classroom is equally important. In fact, it is impossible to have a relevant classroom without rigor. When we remove rigor from the classroom we cheapen the trust inherent in a relevant classroom. This is especially insidious when we consider that teaching is a profession dominated by white people and whiteness in the US. Rigorous classrooms take seriously issues of race, class, and gender. A rigorous classroom demands an intersectional analysis. A rigorous classroom demands deeper thought, more clear articulations of complex ideas. It says we believe you are the future and take seriously our responsibility to prepare you to lead us into it.
Make no mistake a relevant and rigorous classroom is a politic and it is political. Not Republican vs. Democrat political. No, it’s much larger than that. It’s oppressed vs. oppressor politics. When we get teaching right classrooms become incubators of social change and movement. Nothing is more scary to established and enshrined power than that.
So, let us, as educators, agree we need best practices, we need relationships, and we also need a clear politic of critical consciousness with relevant and rigorous classrooms.