Love is an action word. An intention. A commitment. To love is to honor both
the good and the bad, the beautiful and the unsightly. Loving necessitates some suffering, but the object of deep affection is deserving and worthy of the best we have to offer no matter how arduous the love journey. And it is a journey. Giving, pouring, and sacrificing of oneself in service to their own or someone else’s healing and well-being constitutes the highest form of impenitent benevolence. Love rewards us with countless life lessons if we allow it to, even when those lessons invite regret and lament.
What you hold in your hand (or are viewing on your screen) is the product of Patrick
Harris’ boundless love. His love of self despite coming of age in an anti-Black, racist,
Homophobic world. His love of young people and the twinkle of their inherent brilliance. His love for the embattled and woefully undervalued profession of teaching. And, most pointedly, his love for teachers. Yes! Those individuals brave enough to occupy the front lines of education, who do their jobs with deftness despite the deafening noise of an uninformed public discourse about teaching in the digital age. From the first story Patrick tells, to the questions of reflection he poses to the community of voices included in this epic love letter, it is clear that he loves teachers and teaching.
And so, in the spirit of The First Five, I will narrate a small part of my own love journey
to teaching and becoming a teacher. This book involuntarily thrust me back in time to the 1980s—to my childhood in Chicago about four hours from Detroit where Patrick grew up. Marge was our next-door neighbor and babysitter. I can remember sitting in her basement boisterously gathering the two-, three-, and four-year-olds to teach them the ABCs, exuberantly sharing what I learned just days before. Even from such a young age, I loved the project of knowledge exchange. In fifth grade, I’d create handwritten worksheets for other kids to complete based on something we’d studied the week before. In middle school and high school, I volunteered for any role that positioned me to prepare my classmates to learn a specific skill or complete a task.
I graduated from my state’s flagship institution of higher education with a degree in
elementary education in a program identical to the one Patrick completed, poised to
change the world teaching Black kids back home on Chicago’s west and south sides. But also, like Patrick, I became disheartened by the many obstacles to doing the one thing that I’ve always loved to do. The lack of expansive representations of blackness and Black people in the curriculum. The incessant focus on raising test scores no matter how much drill and (s)kill. The insistence that I place discipline in my classroom above student care, joy, and agency. It was all so unsettling. I, like Patrick, began changing schools to find the perfect set of working conditions. Five schools in five years. There were so many questions brewing in my mind about if I could retire from a career as a K–12 educator. I wondered what it would take to change teaching for the better. I pondered what role I might play to effect real change for kids, families, and colleagues.
To answer many of the questions bumping up against long-held beliefs about teaching
in my head, I went to graduate school. Patrick went to Twitter. Two of us on parallel
journeys across time and space with a few twists and turns that led our paths to intersect at Michigan State University (MSU). Here I am, a first-year assistant professor of teacher education, encountering a young Black man from “the city” like me doing the same exact thing I was doing a decade before him. I did not know, however, that the undergraduate student speaker at my first MSU commencement would go on to craft such an extraordinary set of professional experiences—pivotal moments, incidences, and interactions that would lead to publication of this must-read extended playlist of chapters melodically narrating Patrick’s first five years in our beloved profession.
I could not stop smiling as I read The First Five, and you won’t either. Patrick uses every
page of this book to articulate wisdoms that I have long struggled to comprehend, even with my decade of expertise as an education researcher. Doing and being are not in opposition. In other words, doing the work of teaching and being a teacher, while symbiotic, are indeed mutually exclusive exercises. I loved teaching, but I grew to lament being a teacher. My discontent with being a teacher was in many ways because I was too often distracted from remembering my why. I did not have enough reminders of the love of teaching that brought me to the profession in the first place. It is this love that indeed sustains me in my present role as a university faculty member.
The First Five is an unabashed offering of solidarity to teachers, and a reminder to love themselves enough to tell the truth about what it takes to do this vital work with youth and young people. This book names the complexities of the job with clarity and candor. Patrick uses his experience as a witty case study through which to discern how we might build an education ecosystem that foremost appreciates the difficulty of teaching. This book is both a retrospective and a road map. Patrick is still in the classroom. In a voice
all his own, Patrick also uses The First Five to emphasize the pride in being a teacher. This book is the intervention I needed as a young teacher to help me know I was not alone. I needed to be reminded that what I was feeling was valid, and that this journey would take me to heights (and depths) unknown if I just remembered to lean into the love above and against everything else.
The First Five is, in Patrick’s words, a “love letter to teachers.” It evokes all the emotions and titillates the senses. You have a front row seat to Patrick’s journey of love, which also means you get the privilege of witnessing both his grief and his joy. Behold his revelation and his confusion as he navigates six schools in five years. The beautiful images and storytelling style are icing on the cake, making for a lavish adventure into Patrick’s inner self. There are no dull moments. I hope Patrick’s journey of love points you toward the healing and wholeness we all deserve—teacher or not. This his love letter. A gift to pass along for many years to come, from him to all of us.
— Chezare A. Warren, Vanderbilt University
To learn more about The First Five visit Heinemann.com.