The teaching staff was told by the school’s IT professionals to check their laptop passwords. If the password expiration date was past 72 days, we were good to go, if not, they would need to reset our passwords so that they would not expire over the summer.
I have never broken down the number of days in my summer vacation. This lack of countdown is probably because it is rare for me not to have some type of summer job, usually in a teaching capacity.
This summer, however, I have 72 beautiful days to not be a teacher.
72 days, to be like Elsa, and “let it go.” Let go of the stress, the worry, the fatigue, the politics, and the half-truths.
72 days to sleep past 5:15 am.
72 days to not rush from waking to sleeping in a futile attempt to be everything to all people and nothing to myself.
72 days to see beaches, mountains, historical cities, and Mickey Mouse ears.
72 days to read, write, and reflect on a school year like no other.
72 days to be a wife, making lunch for my husband like June Cleaver.
72 days to be solely a mom. To give my own spawn their mother’s full energy, not just the tiny amount that is left over after I care for other people’s children.
72 days to reconnect with friends, who have also been running the treadmill that is modern American life.
72 days to walk my goofy dog.
72 days to weed a lush garden.
72 days to recover and restore.
If anyone makes a comment in my presence about how teachers have it “so good” with their summer breaks, I will just smile and nod. I know the truth. I know that those 72 days will also include 15 hours of professional development, countless ideas about lesson plans and units, and most importantly activism on July 22, 2017, when I will join education advocates to March For Public Education in Washington, D.C.
Although I will enjoy my 72 days of not being a teacher, I am confident that when a stranger inquires as to my profession, I will proudly say, “I teach.” It has been my identity, my joy, and my passion for 23 years. It is who I am first. It is one of the most important jobs in our country. And, after 72 days, I will stand in front of my classroom door and greet my new students with a smile, refreshed and ready to begin another year.
I don’t want to march for the survival of public education.
I don’t want to march against an unqualified U.S. Secretary of Education.
I don’t want to march for the right of teachers to unionize and collectively bargain in every state of our great union.
I don’t want to march against the privatization, corporatization, and monetization of education.
I don’t want to march to abolish the need for GoFundMe requests, where teachers beg for school supplies and creative teaching materials.
I don’t want to march for equitable funding between neighboring school districts, within states, and among all states in the “United” States of America.
I don’t want to march for the recruitment of young people to earnestly join the teaching profession so that my future grand babies will have a large pool of eager, fresh, and enthusiastic teachers.
I don’t want to march for the collection of box tops to fund playgrounds that are under-utilized due to the pressure of over-testing.
I don’t want to march for air conditioning in schools.
I don’t want to march for higher teacher salaries.
I don’t want to march for neglected schools facing urban blight or rural poverty.
I don’t want to march for the protection of my undocumented students.
I don’t want to march for greater respect for teachers.
I don’t want to march for quality, affordable health care for my students and their families.
I don’t want to march for factual science education.
I don’t want to march for the rights of my LGBTQ students.
I don’t want to march so that my non-white student’s lives matter.
I don’t want to march for democracy’s survival.
It is 2017, I should not feel compelled to march for basic human rights in the richest country in the free world.
So, I will spend July 4, 2017, in the “happiest place on Earth,” pretending that all is well in the world. For a week, I will be fantasizing that the marches are not necessary and that my rights are not limited by the whims of politicians.
Then, on July 22, 2017, I will proudly wear my soft, blue shirt and walk in my sensible shoes, to promote the best democratic institution this country has: PUBLIC EDUCATION!
“Here’s how it goes: I’ve been a student, therefore I can be a teacher.
Imagine if we applied that logic elsewhere. I’ve been sick, therefore I can be a doctor. I’ve been to court, therefore I can be my own lawyer. I can turn on a light, therefore I can run the electric company.”
Once the weather gets warm and school lets out, it’s no longer safe for teachers to be out in public.
You’ve got to stay indoors, get off the Internet, hide the cell phone – do whatever you can to stay away from non-educators.
Because if, like me, you happen to be out and about – let’s say standing in line at your favorite neighborhood burger joint waiting for a juicy slab of ground beef to stop sizzling on the grill – you’re bound to hear the kind of willful ignorance that sets a teacher’s nerves permanently on edge.
Imagine just two normal people – they seem nice enough – standing in line having a friendly conversation. It’s hot outside, so you might hear the usual topics discussed: the weather, the best place to buy ice cream, which public pool has the best prices – that an oh I…
Tall tales students will tell their grandchildren.
Adolescents today have Snapchat, Google Chromebooks, Instagram, and group texts, but many lack air conditioning in their 21st-century classrooms. It is like the students in the high school where I teach, and in the elementary and middle schools where my children learn in, are living in two eras, a dichotomy of technology.
Today, on the day of the administration of the New York State United States History Regents Exam, the custodians lined up desks in neat rows in the gymnasium with 100% humidity. The test, like its sister assessment, the Global History Regents exam, are part trivial pursuit, and Russian roulette, combine with the moist air create the “ultimate” testing environment.
Students were seated with a view of their peer’s head directly in front of them, anxious teachers took deep breaths while opening the thick, white test packets — both groups wondering if their essay predictions had come true. While the students struggled to remain focused in their uncomfortable positions, the teachers offered tissues, black pens, and water. The teachers adhered to the “proctor code,” which includes the ability to pace and speak to colleagues in whispers.
This hot testing dance repeats every morning and afternoon for another six days.
Yesterday, I attended my youngest daughter’s third-grade picnic. It was very nice, the teachers more than gracious when serving the large, assembled group celebration fare. The sweat was dripping off these saintly teachers. The assembled parents fully appreciated the seasonal struggle facing both teachers and students. Later that day, on social media, a few parents agreed that they would be willing to pay a few more tax dollars to pay for the luxury of better conditions.
I know that air conditioning is a” first-world problem”. I know that in the United States we have so much to be grateful, but is it too much to ask that all schools have appropriate HVAC? Why do we allow some schools to have all the comforts and others to struggle? (Sometimes schools in the same school district have air conditioning while others do not have the blessed cool air.) And why, no matter the budget, are the offices always the appropriate temperature?
Maybe, in the future, the current students will lament to their grandchildren how bad they had it: when they had to go to school without reliable Wi-Fi in overheated classrooms?
An annual challenge to my senior-level A.P. European History students.
“What will we do after the test?”
“Yeah, what do we do after we are done, Mrs. Brown?”
Ah! The perennial question: what meaningful task can I give a group of hardworking seniors who have finished their Advanced Placement European History requirements, but are still stuck in the purgatory that is the final quarter of a high school that continues for an additional six weeks after the exam?
For the past five school years, I have answered my students’ inquiry with a challenge: “So, you think you can teach?”
This year, my small, but mighty group of thirteen students lets out a collective groan as I unveiled my plan. There were many raised hands, with the following questions:
“Will our grade be tied to the grade the student earns on the Regents exam?”
“What if the student is resistant? What if they act like a punk?”
“What materials we will have? Will you give us review tools?
These were insightful questions. These were telling questions. I laughed sarcastically and told them, no, their grade, unlike my APPR score, would not be tied to how well their students performed on the Regents exam. I assured them that I would help discipline any unruly students, and I reduced their anxiety by showing them the many review materials that they would have at their disposal.
The four-week challenge commenced.
Each senior was assigned two sophomores: one motivated and another, let’s say, less eager for the tutoring experience. The sophomores earned extra credit, the seniors completed their final exam project. Every available academic advisement period was utilized for four weeks. (Academic advisement is a forty minute block of time when the entire high school stops, every day.) There were constant hurdles: sophomores did not always show up for the forty-minute block of time, the seniors had fun senior activities to attend during that time period, academic advisement was canceled due to scheduling conflicts, and both the sophomores and seniors had other academic obligations to meet. My room was chaos — loud, messy, and disorganized. Some tutors successfully convinced their students to meet at alternative times and places, often the incentive of food was offered.
Slowly, I began to notice cohesion. The sophomores began to claim the seniors as “their” tutors, proclaiming in class that: “Oh, I went over that topic with my tutor.” As the seniors helped me grade review assessments, they became deeply invested in the success of their sophomores. Rapport and trust were established. The tutoring sessions were more frequent, the previous hurdles were trampled.
And then, I looked up from the pile of grading on my desk and saw this:
The students were engaged. The seniors were telling the sophomores useful test taking strategies. The sophomores were organizing essay details. The seniors were discussing historical events and figures with mastery. The room was filled with the music of teaching and learning. It was all fleeting, and I was exhausted, but as a public school teacher, I will always embrace what positives I can get!
On the last day of class, the seniors handed in their reflections. I passed out candy as we sat in a circle. We chatted about the positives, the challenges, and their takeaways from the previous month.
One young man smiled as he recalled how his student began with a defeated attitude, but by the end of the four weeks was actually trying to complete his work and was willing to participate. Another senior stated that he was happy that he could explain the historical events in a manner that the sophomore could more easily comprehend. I commented that the seniors showed the sophomores that there was light at the end of the tunnel; the seniors modeled for the sophomores that they too would survive Mrs. Brown and global history class!
Most of the seniors cited time and motivation as their biggest challenges. One female student lamented her frustration over being asked to explain content repeatedly. Another female student commented that the many interruptions to the schedule broke the “flow” of the process. Overall, the students all agreed that teaching takes considerable knowledge, patience, and skill.
I asked the students to reflect on what they learned about public school teachers from this experience. One male student said that he felt it was very difficult to teach such diverse learners. He had learned that teachers need to meet the needs of many types of people. Another female student said: “I realized how important public school teachers are. Without you all, we might as well go back to living in caves.” We all chuckled at that image of suburban caves, but I told her that I sensed that she meant that public school teachers provide structure and guidance in an uncertain world during an often confusing time in a person’s life: childhood. Many of the students expressed that they felt proud of their school. They commented on how they have been nurtured, supported and well educated by our public school system.
To conclude the class and the year, I polled each student as to their future career plans. One student emphatically said he would never teach. He found it very boring. Three of the thirteen said they planned on being social studies teachers. The rest were a mix of business, communication, and undecided majors. All, however, will be taxpayers. Many of them will have children of their own.
Hopefully, this challenge will help them appreciate the value of public education.
Colleagues huddle over white sheets, names neatly typed, organized in order of appearance. We, the teachers, wearing our “better” clothes, with makeup freshly applied, smile. We are happy tonight as we celebrate both the foreign and the familiar names. These names belong to students who have excelled in subjects like Business, Science, History, Foreign Language, English, Geometry, and Algebra — the subjects in which we attempt to breathe life into every academic day. These names represent our collective efforts and fulfill our aspirations we hold every September — that our students will learn, grow, and flourish.
The audience is filled with parents who proudly rushed home from work, prepared dinner, and helped sons with their ties and daughters with their outfits. One son on the stage was born in Nepal, and now awaits his certificate of excellence in his freshly pressed suit. As I gaze out at the audience I see smiling faces of parents supporting their children. Some are holding flowers. Many families include parents, siblings, and grandparents. The applause is constant and sincere.
On the stage are many white kids born and raised in suburbia who have utilized the available resources to the best of their abilities. Many of these white suburban students have overcome obstacles and have benefitted from a standardized, stable system. Many of these white kid’s names include Italian, German, and Irish surnames — descendants from the immigrants who came to Syracuse to work in the salt works and dig the Erie Canal. I see black kids, some of whom transferred from local city schools, one of which will be graduating in three years — one year short of the norm. She will attend Spelman College. I see brown kids, some wearing hijabs and one donning Sikh headwear. Many of their parents are immigrants and have instilled in them a work ethic that strives for excellence. I see Latino students (often a mixture of white, brown, and black), with names like Gonzales, proudly receiving their awards. These Latino students are part of the fastest-growing population in the country. That stage contained every race and creed — the embodiment of the American dream.
I saw America tonight on a stage in an auditorium housed in a PUBLIC SCHOOL, which is located north of a city that is rusted and worn out but not defeated. It is a city, and a region, that has weathered economic blight and has suffered its children fleeing to other states for job opportunities. It is an area, however, that has remained committed to funding public education. As I look out on the diversity and the collective achievements of the crowd, I am so astonished and proud to be a public school teacher. I am so honored to see America at its best.
In one of the Facebook groups that I follow, a member posed this question: “Just out of curiosity: what’s the best state to teach in, and why?” A flurry of comments came in — 347 comments were generated from that one question! I found the responses to be both enlightening and disturbing.
Some of the comments were humorous:
“A state of bliss.”
“A state of denial.”
“A state of sobriety.”
“A state of intoxication.”
Some comments looked outside of the United States:
“Finland” (This country was written many times.)
While a few teachers commented:
“None, get out of teaching.”
“Don’t go into any state of teaching.”
Most respondents answered very strongly concerning the state they taught in. The “best” states characteristics tended to be geographically north-eastern, union-supported, secure in teacher tenure rights and included average to above-average teacher pay, including pensions.
The top state responses: Massachusetts, New York (but not always NYC), New Jersey (but there was much discussion over Governor Christie), Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maryland, and northern Virginia (not southern), Minnesota, and California.
The meh states included Ohio and Pennsylvania.
The characteristics of states to avoid included: hostile governors, anti-union sentiment, right-to-work laws, lacked teacher tenure rights, lacked pension benefits, and paid teachers unlivable wages. These “bad” states were listed as: Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Texas, Wisconsin, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico.
I was happy to see New York (my home state) cited favorably frequently among the comments. Although Governor Cuomo and the Board of Regents have caused havoc to the teacher evaluation process and continue to over-test our children, it was a bit encouraging to hear from NY teachers that they still believed in our public schools. I am sure all the New York teachers posting could easily point out huge issues in New York schools, but the negative comments are nothing close to what teachers from the “bad” states were saying.
Florida was touted as the worst of the worst.
Why is this stark inequality so significant? Because inequity is the fuel for the fire of corporate education reform. Inequity ignites the narrative of “those failing public schools” and the “need” for more choices. Inequity attracts residents and teachers to flock to certain “good” schools in certain “desirable” areas. Inequity promotes corporation’s profits recruits corporate charter school investment. Inequity increases segregation along both racial and socio-economic divides.
The “state” of public education is so disparate and the inequity in funding is so varied that we can no longer define “American Education.” Instead, each state’s education has its own meaning — creating savage inequalities in the United States.
So which schools has Betsy DeVos visited in her short tenure as the United States Secretary of Education?
Jefferson Middle School Academy, Washington, D.C. on February 10, 2017.
St. Andrew Catholic School, Orlando, Florida, on March 3, 2017 (accompanied by Trump).
Carderock Springs Elementary School, Bethesda, Maryland on March 23, 2017, where she read from Dr. Suess’ Oh The Places You Will Go.
Kimberly Hampton Primary School, Fort Bragg, North Carolina on April 3, 2017 — a school run by the Department of Defense.
Excel Academy Public Charter School, Washington, D.C., on April 5, 2017, (accompanied by the First Lady and the Queen of Jordan).
Christian Academy for Reaching Excellence (CARE) Elementary School, Miami Florida on April 6, 2017.
SLAM Charter School, Miami, Florida on April 6, 2017 (the school is supported by the rapper, Pitbull).
Royal Palm Elementary School, Miami, Florida on April 7, 2017 (this is a traditional public school).
Van Wert Elementary and Van Wert High School, Van Wert, Ohio on April 20, 2017 (accompanied by Randi Weingarten, the president of the AFT).
Ashland Elementary School, Manassas, Virginia, on April 25, 2017 (student population is largely from military families).
North Park Elementary School, Los Angelos, California, on April 28, 2017 (after a teacher and her student were killed by a gunman).
Cornerstone Christian School, Washington, D.C., on May 4, 2017 (as the name suggests, this school is Christian school).
Center City Charter School, Washington, D.C., on May 5, 2017 (first Catholic-to-charter school conversion).
Granite Technical Institute, Salt Lake City, Utah on May 9, 2017.
Overwhelmingly Betsy DeVos has visited schools that fit her perspective of “good” schools. These schools tend to be located in regions of the United States where funding for public education is abysmal and where school vouchers, educational scholarships, and white flight from public schools is typical. And, with the exception of a few schools listed above, most of these schools are located in states where professionals are urging their fellow teachers to avoid.
In war, a great strategy is divide and conquer. Public schools in the United States are already horribly divided — divided by curriculum, funding, facilities, teacher preparation, race, and socio-economic factors. The public’s opinion of schools is at all time low. Make no mistake, the war on public education is raging. Betsy DeVos and the forces of privatization and corporatization are closing in. Their victory would be a tremendous loss for the children of the United States.
It is time for battle. It is time for public school advocates to lead. It is time for teachers to find their voices, collectively. How does the resistance begin? The first step comes in sensible shoes during the upcoming March For Public Education in our nation’s capital on July 22, 2017, or in sister-city marches across the country.