Patrick Harris remembered always wanting to be a teacher. He viewed his very first teacher as a “magician” who built a positive relationship with students and opened the world to him in unique ways.
He wanted to be a magician like her.
But as he entered his teaching career, he experienced a disconnect in the educational system—one that did not allow him to be that magician or create a space for students to learn and thrive. Harris began sharing his experiences as an early-career teacher on a popular podcast called “Common Sense Podcast” as he continued his search for the right teaching job and school. Now, years into his career as a teacher, he has authored a book titled “The First Five: A Love Letter to Teachers.”
In an hourlong conversation this week with Education Week reporters and editors, Harris offered key points for educators to consider.
Teaching is human work
“I’m no longer a teacher,” said Harris. “Instead, I’m a human being who teaches and the distinction makes all the difference for me.”
Teachers sometimes feel pressure to have conversations about current events that they are not fully equipped to have. Harris said that to combat this, viewing himself as a human being first removes pressure to perform in the classroom and creates a more honest andemotionally and physically healthy teacher. This mindset shift helped him to see that teaching is truly human work which allows him to bring all of his identity as a human being and a Black, queer man with him into the classroom, fostering a better connection with his students.
Change in education is slow
Harris said the changes teachers want to see are required but are slow to come by. It takes intentionality and focus. For teachers to do their best work, it is important to find a school they can call home. This means finding a school where teachers can feel comfortable long enough to implement required changes.
Beginning teachers can be pickier
For Harris, it is important that teachers start their careers understanding what is important for them as a new teacher, envisioning what a dream school would look like, and then finding one that comes close to fulfilling that vision. During the interview process, he said, job-seeking teachers can ask questions about the history of the school, its mission, and vision; teacher retention rates, and the school budget, which might give insight into the school’s values. Asking these questions during the interview process can help provide a perspective about the type of experience they might have as a teacher.
He advised new teachers to think of their interviews as two-sided: “I’m going to interview you as much as you interview me.”
And now is an especially good time to be selective, he said, because teaching shortages are changing the power dynamics in the education market.
All these key points can be found in his book. But Harris did not stop with that.
He ended the conversation sharing some feedback with Education Week reporters he received from teachers about how reporting on the topic of education could be improved. He said teachers would like to see more-nuanced stories of educators’ resistance, articles that contain historical context, and information about initiatives underway at the U.S. Department of Education.