At 7 am on November 9th, I sat in bed wondering how I was going to make a 9 am appointment with a student. My 2.5 hours of sleep were consumed by the first of recurring nightmares about the U.S. in the age of Trump, and I had woken up to the reality that our long national nightmare was only beginning. Just as I was weighing the merits of postponing my meeting, one of my deans sent me a message with the reminder that the work we do with pre-service and in-service high school English teachers is crucial now more than ever.
I got out of bed. I met with my student.
Later that morning, I found myself in a meeting with friends and colleagues, all as horrified, terrified, and broken as I was. We spent the first half hour struggling with what to say and how we move forward when facing a bleak future – for the country, for higher education, for our students, and for ourselves. But another one of my deans told us, with quiet firmness, that our path forward is clear: we will teach and lead.
While I love literature, I never so clearly feel a sense of purpose in my work as when I’m preparing teacher licensure candidates and teaching teachers. Despite my previous act as a high school English teacher, I received a Ph.D. in English, so I never imagined I would end up working in teacher preparation. But it was, without a doubt, the best professional decision that I made.
And I feel this more than ever now. In the Trump era, the contribution I have to make won’t come from my research, as social justice-oriented as it is, but from my work preparing teachers for their careers. In the face of an immense feeling of hopelessness, I can see the possibility of exponential influence – on my students, on their students, ad infinitum. It’s both a comfort to see a way forward and a humbling responsibility. We must get this right. The future depends on it.
So, on November 9th, though I didn’t recognize it at the time, I made my commitment: I will teach and lead. And I will do it by modeling what I tell my own students: look at who is in front of you, identify their needs, teach accordingly. That night, it meant giving a seminar of student teachers 20 minutes to vent about their day and two hours of business as usual, sorting out the intricacies of life as a student teacher. For another class, a literature pedagogy course filled with teachers of record, it meant putting aside our previous plans and creating space for sitting with each other in silence and shock, processing their day with young people who were expressing fears of deportation and violence, and asking them the question that has redefined not only our semester but also my teaching career: how do we teach and lead in the face of injustice?
A week later, on November 16th, we met again, ready for our regularly scheduled programming, but with a twist: none of us were under the illusion that we could discuss the week’s theme – teaching about gender and sexuality through literature – without asking how we can do this effectively in an autocracy. It seems inevitable and education will be an indispensable tool to fight it.
So, this is what I’ll do: I’ll fight it. And the primary way I will do this is through my work in teacher preparation: by reminding myself why I teach and lead, by using my modicum of influence to create change through the teachers I send into the world, by preparing my students not only to teach but to teach with integrity and courage. Moreover, I will document this work periodically, here on my blog, to share my thoughts and resources for anyone who needs a reminder, in teacher prep or otherwise, of the value of the work we do in our classrooms.