Sunday, September 8, 2013

I Want You! To Change the Landscape of Education

Over a week ago, I wrote about how I felt like quitting my job as a Title I middle school teacher. I was more emotionally exhausted than serious, and my little post expounded this fact. It also exemplified how frustrated I was with my week, and the particular set of circumstances that are unique to my teaching environment.
I was surprised at the number of notes the post received, but what really surprised me was the number of people who commented to say (something along the lines of), “It gets better… I work in a great/non-urban/non-Title I school now.” 
I believe, as teachers, we feel a specific set of pressures as educational bloggers to only discuss positive behaviors/experiences/outcomes, and gloss over the negative aspects of our jobs. This is, in part, because we cannot ethically write about specific students and/or circumstances, and because we fear writing specifically about the parts of our jobs that are less-than-stellar could cost us our careers.
And, you know, it could.
But, we are also the only adults who witness the real-life, everyday reality of public schooling in America.  We get frustrated when those who do not or cannot teach make epic policy decisions that change the landscape of education, but we are too afraid to share our view of the landscape in even small manners. And, that is a huge problem.
We can’t just complain; we have to campaign.
This is not the first time in my near decade of working as a middle school teacher, that I have had other teachers advise me that “there are great schools out there.”  I’ve heard many a teacher make the statement that s/he “did their time at a bad/poor/urban  school, and now work at a good/wealthy/suburban school. “  I wonder why people with these attitudes got into a career dedicated to providing equitable access educating the huddled masses (at least as a national, aspirational ideal, if not a fact). 
I made an impassioned speech at faculty meeting this past Friday (yeah, I’mthat teacher) when I realized my Title I urban school might lose resources to a wealthy, suburban school in the same district. I’ve tried to re-create it below:
“I’m so sick of my students being overlooked in favor of wealthy students.  If the powers-that-be in educational policy-making had their students sit as one in a class of forty, the circumstances in Title I schools would change immediately.  Those with the most social and cultural capital are manipulating the system through specialized charter schools, booster programs, and private schools to ensure their children get the best of everything. And, while I admire their dedication to their children, I am here to serve all the children. We need the people with the voices to take a stand and work for what is needed and right for those without voices. The students I teach are more susceptible to dropping out of high school, to not going to college, and to having lives of crime and destitution.  And, when I see that those who have all the privileges that come with being born the racial and social majority get more programs, access, and benefits than my students, I become enraged. It has to change.”
I am a passionate educator, and I take my role as someone who has the ability to be the impetus of change seriously. While I may become frustrated inside the classroom, and talk about quitting, it is little more than smoke-blowing.  I write about my emotions, because non-teachers and new-teachers need to know that this job is emotional, and it has an ebb and flow that can change yearly, monthly, daily, weekly, and in minutes.  And, while we are all-too-familiar with the change being negative, there is no reason we can’t work together to make the change positive.
As one of 7.2 million teachers in America, it often seems as if you don’t have a voice, and don’t have the ability to curate, cultivate, or participate in change. But, you do.  Your change might be a hug given, a kind word, or a special club. It might be a presentation; it could be political stand, or a movement. But, the point is, in the face of incredible inequity, doing nothing yields nothing. 
My students and I actively study and participate in social justice. One of my favorite units uses the Berlin Wall as a metaphor for all of the modern injustices in the world.  I end the unit by showing my student the image below. It reads: “Many small people, who in many small places, do many small things that can alter the face of the world.”

3 comments:

  1. I've been in art education for 4 years (just starting my journey) but I too, wanted to quit on day 4 (working in a very similar environment to yours) this year and thought ... "hey, I think working at Burger King would be a lot better than this!" - Again, the emotional drained me speaking... that said, your blog is an anchor and a diamond beacon of hope for me! I'm so impressed you even find time to blog!!! I'm cheering you on from CA! And your students! Go Equity!!

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  2. Hi Amy, I don't follow tumblr feeds, so I hadn't seen the post about the awful day until just now when I folllowed your link. I admit, while my situation wasn't always perfect and ideal, I never worked in an urban environment, and have taught in rural school districts so small that the biggest class sizes, with few exceptions, were groups of 25, and the norm is closer to 18 or 20. Of course we have our own set of problems, and I think every one of us has had one of those days where we want to toss in the towel, but your situation is definitely tougher.

    Schools like yours need people like you, willing to say what needs to be said and do what needs to be done to get for your students the resources they deserve, and still willing to love those kids unconditionally.

    Keep fighting the good fight, Amy, I'm rooting for you from my home in the Adirondacks as well!

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  3. I too teach in a low-income urban title one school and feel your passion. Great speech.

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