I live in a white world.

It has taken me 44 years to realize how limited my world view is — and how that impacts my teaching.


I went to Disney World this summer and stayed at the Boardwalk Inn — I saw a sea of white faces.

I went to Myrtle Beach, SC and frolicked on the beach with other white tourists.

I went to a national gymnastics competition in Savannah, GA and cheered on white kids in pretty unis.

I volunteered at the Auburn Great Race and counted how many non-white faces I saw run, bike, or paddled by — three.

I send my children to a school where they see 99% faces that are white, just like them.

I frequent an urban YMCA in Auburn, NY and see very few non-white participants.

I have one non-white uncle married to my aunt, and one non-white Godfather (a Mohawk).

I have no non-white close friends.

I have worked with only 3–4 non-white educators in my twenty-three-year teaching career.

I teach in a school that is 79% white.

I am educated and hold very democratic egalitarian views, but I do not know what the hell I am even talking about because I live in a white world. Membership in this white world makes my life drastically different than 21% of the student body that I teach. Is it no wonder that the Tatianas and the DeShawns have challenged me over the years? I have no concept of how my non-white students adapt, learn, strive, struggle or exist in my white world. When I teach them about civil rights do they see me as a fraud? Do they see me as another well-meaning white female teacher telling them fairy-tales of democracy, freedom, and justice? Do my non-white students gather together at lunch tables during the refuge of their only free period where they choose to sit with whom they are most comfortable chatting about how their white teachers don’t “get” them? Or, are my non-white students silent because the racism is subtle? Do they accept the reality of the world they live in or does their anger simmer?

When my non-white students see images of Charlottesville, VA does it confirm or surprise? Do they wonder if their teachers hold such beliefs?


When I Googled “white teachers,” the search revealed:

The search results demonstrate the disconnect between white teachers and students of color. I feel the need to educate myself further. My teacher training and professional development have never discussed the racial and cultural divide that is growing in classrooms across our nation. I am sure my lack of training in this topic is due to many factors, including the predominance of white teachers, the systemic racism, de facto segregation of neighborhoods, and the naive belief of white teachers that we have no bias.

I wish I could finish this post with some nice conclusion, but the truth is that my colleagues and I have a lot of work to do. We have been ignorant and removed from the pain of discrimination based on race.  We have comfortably lived in our white world far too long.

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Why I must teach about the KKK and North Korea

How current events shape each school year.

I teach Global History to tenth graders in New York State. That means that my tenth graders are mandated to take (and pass) the New York State Global History exam every June. That also means that my teaching is judged based on how well they do on that exam.

Global history is a survey class covering from 1750 to present day. I am not mandated to teach current events, but by omitting pressing concerns and happenings the content becomes disconnected, irrelevant, and static. The study of the social sciences is really the analysis of cause and effect, a thousand times over. If it was a neat time line one could plot on on a college-ruled loose-leaf paper, I would not want my job.

Although stopping to discuss current events is often draining and time-consuming, I continue to begin each school year with current world topics. As the year progresses, I continually engage my students to learn about the world in which they inherit.

I naively began the 2016–2017 school year with the discussion of Syria, Iraq, India and the 2016 presidential election. I did not anticipate that current topics would permeate my teaching more than any other year previous in my twenty-three-year tenure. I could not predict that I would discuss things like executive orders, walls along our borders, and inappropriate sexual discussions made by political candidates. I would never have guessed that I would have immigrant students crying in my suburban classroom about fears of deportation. Nor, would I have told you that I was remotely considering that a student would place a Confederate flag on his truck and taunt other students. Never in a million years, would I have suspected that two students would discuss how they saw Hitler’s nationalism and exclusion as a positive, or that one of those children would go on to inform another student, who was born in Nepal, that foreigners should get out of America. No, I was flabbergasted–that is not how my school or my classroom operates. I was unprepared for the blatant extreme nationalism, racism, xenophobia, victim accusing, Islamophobia, and sexism that the students exhibited.

For the most part, however, I ended 2016–2017 feeling like I was on an extremely important journey with my students. It was my responsibility to give them forums in which they could speak their minds, disagree, fact check and digest this brave new world we are living in. I had to call out a few students, give others safe spaces to discuss unpopular ideas (even when I personally disagreed), and ultimately model integrity, inclusion, and pluralism. I felt lost in a big ocean of civil discourse with adolescents that looked to me for instruction. It was exhausting, compelling, maddening, and inspiring. Mostly, I was tired.

I have three weeks until I begin my journey with a new crop of sophomores. I feel better prepared. However, discussion of current events in living rooms or classrooms opens up cans and cans of worms. Obviously, I am hesitant to digest big issues like racism and threats of nuclear war, but if not me then who will lead my students? Who will give them space and time to read many sources of information in order to synthesize and reach their own conclusions? If I don’t offer topics with a historical lens, who will allow them to make historical connections to today’s problems?

So, I will risk being labeled another “liberal” teacher and try again to show the students there are many sides to all stories. I will demonstrate that all news has the potential be “fake,:” and that sensationalism and yellow journalism are not new. I will have difficult discussions about men named Mao, Hitler, Stalin, and yes, even Trump. That is what I do. I am a social studies teacher.

Is a pleasure to have in class

When you believe in public education, but that same system is underserving your own child.

93% average, fourth quarter

I am told she is a nice kid. She does her homework. No behavior problems. She earned a 92% overall average for the 2016–2017 school year — making honor role and missing high honor roll by tenths of points. I should be pleased, but my kid might as well be invisible. She does not have special needs, nor is she gifted. She doesn’t qualify for the advanced track, nor does she need anything exceptional besides quality instruction. She is the vanilla comment that teachers give: is a pleasure to have in class. She is obedient, compliant, hardworking, and on the cusp of reaching her full potential. What would it take for her to reach excellence? Will it be hard work, or simply time? Or is this it? Has she peaked, at twelve? Is she just a pleasure to teach? Do I need to accept her where she is, or do I explore this nagging feeling that she has more to show?

I cannot ignore the feeling that she (and others like her) are being underserved.

Entering seventh grade this upcoming school year, my daughter is now officially tracked. She will never take advanced math and science, she didn’t make the cut. She needed to have earned a 93% overall average in both subjects. She earned an 89% in math and a 91% in science. Science was partly due to a huge mistake she made preparing for her final exam. Her math average was due to her elementary experiences. Accelerated humanities courses have yet to be offered.

I am an educated parent. My children are well-fed, read-to, well-traveled, advantaged. I am a fucking high school teacher. However, I didn’t see the letter in the envelope sent home in her first five-week report card (where she earned a 100% in science that first quarter). That missed letter explained the game, set the bar. I did not know that the 93% was the coveted grade until April — months too late. My daughter is competitive. If I had seen and read the letter, I would have told her the goal. She, being who she is, would have done everything in her power to earn the 93% in her math and science classes. She already has her upcoming season’s state swimming numbers memorized — she is a motivated, competitive person. I blame myself. I am sure my own public school and adjunct college teaching schedule hindered my ability to pay attention to details like letters in my sixth-grade daughter’s first five-week report. I missed the mark. I wonder if I was the only parent who did? I wonder how many of my own student’s parents have had similar experiences?

She finished third grade without mathematical fluency. I recall shopping at Costco that spring when she could not tell me what 4×4 equaled. I tried to get her help in third grade and none was offered. That school year, we actually spent $200 to learn that she did NOT need eye glasses. She continually complained that she could not see the board. We thought her eyesight was to blame, but it was a literal statement. She could not see the board because the room was cluttered and her seat was at a severe disadvantage to see the extremely small space the board held on the overly decorated classroom wall. She actually lost an entire year of learning. My daughter continues to have very little fluency in her math facts and in her spelling.

I spoke with the administrator, but only after my daughter had finished the third grade. I was a coward. Because I was hesitant to rock the boat, an entire year was lost for my kid. I didn’t know how to cross that line and call out a fellow teacher for malpractice.

By fourth grade, I welcomed a fresh start. The year began well until her long-term substitute teacher was replaced by the “real” teacher back from a leave. The long-term substitute teacher listened and tried to get my daughter help in math, but there were too many other more needy children. My daughter was not needy enough to merit help. During the last week of school, every female in my daughter’s class was given some sort of award or acknowledgment while sitting in the school auditorium or back in their classrooms. My daughter came home defeated sans any paper with a declaration of her doing something award-worthy. By the end of elementary school, it was evident that my kid was deficient, but not special in any way. She was in need of remediation, but not as much as others. She was lost, unseen.

In fifth grade, she was placed with a wonderful, caring teacher who saw her. I will be forever grateful to her fifth-grade teacher. However, there were frequent behavior issues presented by a few students. My daughter improved but continued to be instructed in an environment filled with peers who presented more needs than she did. It was more of the same issues in previous years, but it was better.

Sixth grade was the most positive year. My daughter finished the year strong with a 93% average. She learned a great deal. Her teachers were dedicated, warm, and extremely competent. However, my daughter did not enter with all of the information needed — she missed both the needed prerequisite instruction and the rules of the advanced placement game. She learned, she improved, but when I respectively requested that she be allowed to try the accelerated science class, which would have allowed her to take the NYS Regents exam one year earlier, my request was denied. I was told that it was unfair to allow her to accelerate when there were other students who scored near or above her scores but were also not recommended for accelerated science. The school had to draw the line somewhere. The line is drawn. Now there are a small group of kids (in a class of about 70 in a small, rural school) who are being sent a message: try your hardest kids, but you will never be accelerated in math and science. What will become of this small group? How will they learn to perform at a higher level? Will they become more or less motivated? Will they resent their more accelerated peers? Will they learn more because they will take their courses at a slower pace? Will they score higher on their NYS Regents exams?

Bottom line, my kid is coachable. I see her in the pool and on the volleyball court. She listens to her instructors, she implements changes and she improves. I am one of her most important cheerleaders, coaches, and teachers. I am biased. I am relentless. I am pissed. I dropped the ball. I am frustrated at her current public school system. I am concerned that choosing to live in a rural district was a mistake for my kid. Maybe a big suburban district, like the one I teach in, would see her potential? I am worried that she is hearing the inaccurate message that she is not as smart as others, and therefore not capable of reaching anything but where she is. I am concerned that all of the student’s fates are being set at only twelve years of age. I am unhappy that as a parent I held no real sway. My knowledge of my own kid did not matter.

I was told not to worry. I was told that my daughter will be fine. Fine. Not excellent. Not challenged. Fine. I am told to accept mediocrity without giving my daughter a chance to attempt any other track than average.

So, I ask myself if I should continue to fight for the survival of public education? If my own privileged child has been invisible, what about other people’s children? How have I failed my former students? Who have I ignored these past 23 school years? Who’s baby did I deny a chance? How does this personal experience instruct my own teaching in my last ten years in the profession? How can I challenge students to reach their excellence and graduate their best intellectual selves?

Maybe, anytime I am inclined to use the report comment number 24 (is a pleasure to have in class), I should assess my relationship with that student. Hopefully, this experience will make me less complacent and more willing to challenge my not so gifted, but not so needy students.

As for my own kid, my husband and I have told her that she is required to continue doing her best and that if she happens to earn higher than a 93% in every class next year, that would be her sweetest career comeback.

The Intersectionality of Unruly Teachers

How teacher’s issues are at the heart of the resistance.

http://www.zettaelliott.com/intersectionalty-positionality/

Public school teachers see America every day. When teachers get loud, it is for good reason. On Saturday, July 22, 2017, about 1,500 unruly teachers marched on Washington D.C., and many others did so in cities across the United States. This intersection of public school teacher’s protests with the issues in the larger society are both significant and telling. Make no mistake, teacher’s issues are everyone’s issues.

Women’s Issues

Bob Bland, speaking at the March For Public Education (7/22/2017).

In 2015, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics, there were 3.1 million public school teachers practicing the craft in the United States. Almost 76 percent of that 3.1 million were female.

Teaching has traditionally been a low-paying, low-status, female-dominated profession. It is also family friendly employment. Often well-educated women have selected teaching in an attempt to gain a life-work balance which coordinates with family schedules.

It is caregiving work.

It is physical labor.

It is mentally draining.

It is challenging.

It is underfunded.

It is under-appreciated.

It is extremely rewarding.

These descriptors parallel with housework and stay at home parenting — that is not a coincidence.

When speaking at the March For Public Education on Saturday, July 22, 2017, Bob Bland, co-president of the Women’s March and CEO and Founder of Manufacture New York (MNY), expressed that public education is where all other issues in American society intersect. Intuitively, this has always been apparent, but with the existence of public education currently in jeopardy under the Trump and DeVos agenda, the support, investment, and discussions about the future of public education are crucial.


Children’s Issues

Steve Ciprani, co-chair of the March For Public Education, pictured here with his daughter.

To kick off the rally before the march, a few brave kids sang the patriotic Woody Guthrie Song, “This Land is Our Land.” The Washington Monument was next door and it was sweltering.

These cute carolers reminded the attendees that the march was about students.

It is cliche and overused, but public school teachers always put children first. All children. The banner on the stage at the March For Public Education did not say teachers matter! Instead, the banner read: support our students. Public school teachers do not choose the zip code, the possible family issues, or the socio-economic status of their students. Rather, public schools open their doors every school day to America.

Public schools are the bedrock of American democracy. Every patriotic citizen should be clamoring for the best public schools for every student in the United States.


Joseline Garcia speaking at the March For Public Education, July 22, 2017

Another issue facing America’s students is college affordability. In her speech at the March For Public Education, student activist, Joseline Garciadiscussed the topic, stating:

“Within the past 20 years, tuition at private universities has gone up 179%, and a staggering 296% increase at public institutions. In 1963- 1980s, a university student could work during their summer break to pay school; today we are at a point where a student has to work a full time minimum wage job for an entire calendar year to afford maybe the average of tuition. This means that it is almost impossible for any student to graduate without taking student loans. Americans owe over $1.4 trillion in student loan debt. That is more than credit card debt which is $620 billion. The student debt crisis has slowed down the financial growth in our consumer-driven economy by preventing many from investing in homes, cars, businesses etc due to the fact that they’re still paying off their student loans decades after they’ve graduated.”

Garcia, the daughter of immigrants, was able to fulfill part of the American promise of higher education. However, many of our nation’s college graduates struggle to reach middle-class status due to their debt burden.


Race Issues

Elizabeth A. Davis, President of the Washington Teacher’s Union, speaking at the March For Public Education (7/22/2017).

“Make no mistake: Trump’s attack on public education is racist at its heart.

Although all public school students will be hurt by Trump’s cuts, minority and low-income children will suffer the most. Because it is minorities and low income families who are most dependent on public schools.”

— Elizabeth A. Davis, president of the Washington Teacher’s Union

Vouchers, school choice, scholarships, competency-based education, personalized learning all have at their root a fear of white students being exposed to the perceived dangers of non-white students.

Ultimately, the promise of integration held with the landmark case of Brown vs. Board of Education has failed to be achieved. Resistance to integration resulted in the white flight from urban areas, the underrepresentation of non-white teachers, and the present day school choice movement.

Although people love to champion Brown vs. Board of Education, one of the biggest negative impacts was the firing of teachers during the merger of white and black schools. Jose Luis Vilson discusses a major impact of Brownwhen he writes in his article “The Need for More Teachers of Color”, published in the Summer, 2015 edition of American Educator:

“For instance, when the Supreme Court began to mandate that southern states comply with Brown v. Board of Education, more than 30,000 black teachers and administrators were fired to ensure that white teachers kept their jobs.”

Sexuality Issues

Dr. Paul Perry, Candidate for Congress, PA 7th, speaking at the March For Public Education, 7/22/2017.

Dr. Paul Perry began his speech at the rally for the March For Public Education with humor, proclaiming that he was raised by gay men before being raised by gay men was cool. He went on to explain how during his time as an English teacher he felt compelled to protect children who were part of the LGBTQ community, stating:

“When I was teaching, I had a student named Angela who had two lesbian moms. While in my classroom, I kept her safe from any bullying. But Angela had to walk down the halls and eat in the cafeteria too. I wasn’t always there to look out for here and no protections were in place to ensure she was safe in her identity as the child of LGBTQ parents. Learning takes a backseat when youth don’t feel safe. Students like Angela get shifted around from school to school because we’re not looking out from them through our laws and practices in schools.”

With regressive bathroom bills in North Carolina and proposed in Texas, protecting the rights of students is imperative. Public schools need to be safe places so that learning, not intimidation, transpires.


Disability Issues

Left: Leslie Templeton, speaking at the March for Public Education in Washington, D.C. on July 22, 2017. Right: March For Public Education Participant with a protest sign.

Students with disabilities enter classrooms across the country. Some disabilities are extremely noticeable and others might be subtle. Regardless of the spectrum of abilities, under IDEA law all students are required to receive an education in the least restrictive environment possible.

Leslie Templeton, pictured above, spoke passionately about the need for funding the IDEA mandate, stating:

“The government is suppose to fund 40% of the bill when it comes to funding special education programs but falls short of that by more than 17 billion dollars, funding it only 16%-17%. We owe it to our students with disabilities to have it fully funded and have services provided to every and all students, no matter what public school they go to, the color of their skin, their native language, and the type of disability they have. I ask you to stand for public school special ed, thank you!”

Betsy DeVos’ glaring lack of knowledge concerning educational law and programs was apparent in her confirmation hearings. Many Americans might not see special education and disabilities in general as a major issue, but Leslie Templeton pointed out that public dollars are impacted, stating:

“It’s one of the reasons I became a disability and education advocate, to demonstrate that we matter. Yet we are disproportionately represented in prisons, especially within female prisons were 40% have at least 1 disability. Also, a staggering 50% of people shot by police are disabled.”

Either way, taxpayers will “get what we pay for.” Our financial investments expose our values as American citizens. The proposed federal tax cuts to Medicaid will disproportionately affect students with disabilities — therefore, healthcare is also an intersectional issue.


Immigration Issues

Sanaa Abrar, speaking at the March For Public Education, July 22, 2017

Nativism and assimilation have been strong forces in the history of the United States. Since 2016 presidential campaign, chants to build walls and kick certain residents out of the country have impacted classroom and living room conversations alike.

Sanaa Abrar, representing a network of immigrant families and youth called United We Dream, and an immigrant from Pakistan herself, called out a chant at the March For Public Education: “Here to stay!”

When bullied or called out because of her religion and foreign beginnings, Abrar recalled the words of her mother:

“They want you to be angry.They want you to walk away. Don’t do that. Educate them. Make them better.”

At the March Abrar did just that — she educated the listeners to a plight facing many students in public education. Many students worry about family member’s immigration status.

Abrar praised educators for creating environments for her and others:

“And you know who also supported me along the way? Educators. Educators who created safe spaces for me to be me!”

Abrar’s experience is not isolated. I recall having a student in tears this school year because she feared that her parent’s citizenship ceremony would be postponed or canceled. I wrote about her story and highlighted the difficulty of teaching in an extremely polarized and unpredictable climate in my piece entitled I Was Born on 9/11/2001.

Immigration, religion, difference, and the creation of “other” significantly impact teaching and learning. Classrooms are often places of refuge for many students and the current political rhetoric greatly impacts the manner in which classmates interact.

Labor Issues

AFT Executive Vice President, Mary Cathryn Ricker, speaking at the March For Public Education

Mary Cathryn Ricker, executive vice president of the AFT (American Federation of Teachers) represents 1.6 million teachers, paraprofessionals, nurses, healthcare professionals and higher education faculty members.

Teacher unions, and unions in general are much maligned but rarely given credit for the higher standard of living and working conditions that unions have doggedly promoted.

Ricker signaled crucial labor issues facing teachers and all workers, outlining the AFT’s goals:

“Equitable public education; meaningful inclusion; testing sanity; The kind of school funding that supports the schools our students deserve; and the right for all workers to organize!”

Ricker went on to explain that the national political agenda is trickling down to the local level like acid rain by outlining the negative impact of the Trump and DeVos agenda:

“Betsy DeVos and Donald Trump want to take a meat cleaver to public education. Their budget is cruel to kids and catastrophic to public schools. They plan to cut $9 billion from our schools to fund massive tax breaks for the rich while also peddling failed privatization and voucher schemes.”

Furthermore, Ricker called for a collaborative approach to collective bargaining by citing her work as the president of the St. Paul Teacher’s Association:

“There, we pioneered a new way of bargaining — a collaborative, community-engaged way. I made it my mission to tap on what I call our wealth of solidarity…We held listening sessions across the city asking, what are the schools our students deserve? Who are the teachers our students deserve? What is the profession those teachers deserve?…Rather than just asking for support, we sought our common interests and worked alongside each other and we’ve accomplished great things: reasonable class sizes, culturally relevant curriculum, high-quality professional development, access to art, music, world language, physical education, a school nurse for every school, librarians, counselors and social workers.”


The March For Public Education was a turning point for public school advocacy. Although teachers are not natural activists, they have been summoned by national events and local disparities. The problems did not begin with the current political administration, and they will not end when Trump leaves office. However, teachers will not be silenced. Teachers will resist. Teachers will take back education from the privateers, the corporations, the politicians, and other false prophets. Public education is a right and it is integral in a free and open society.


Click the link below for a post where you can locate links to all of the speeches shared, or click on the person’s underlined name above to reach their words.

#whyweM4PE

Please consider following my site, following the March For Education Blog Publication, following on the organization on Twitter, liking the page on Facebook, and bookmarking The March For Public Education Website.

Did you miss the march?

 

7 Ways Public Education Is Like Church


I was raised Roman Catholic. Yup. Baptized, communion, confirmation, marriage — I have received many sacraments. As an adult, however, I am a bad Catholic. I don’t attend mass, and my children are heathens. However, when asked about my religious affiliation, I will always proclaim that I am Catholic.

My relationship with the Roman Catholic Church is similar to many Americans relationship with public education. I know this post will offend some people, but that is not my intent. Please allow me to explain my analogy.

1. You must have faith.

Like Christianity, one must see the end goal in mind when thinking about the mission of public education. Christianity’s mission is to live a life based on Jesus’ teachings in order to find salvation. Public education’s mission is to provide education to every resident in the United States of America. That education is supposed to be appropriate, rigorous, and standardized. Americans must have faith in the mission of public education, or they will abandon their community schools and search for alternatives. Many Americans have lost their faith in their local public education system and have turned to charter and private schools (some corporate based) in order to provide the “best” education for their children. Urban public schools have not been adequately invested in and Americans have especially turned to alternatives to public education in city settings. This divestment has led to more issues in the existing urban public schools, leading to public monies being diverted from public education, and has continued to weaken communities. Losing faith in an institution like public schools furthers the false narrative that schools are failing. A recent article in The Atlantic, entitled Why Americans Think So Poorly of the Country’s Schools,” by Jack Schneider, discusses the impact of the loss of faith in public schools. The article actually points out that Americans rate their own schools much higher than American public education in general. Schneider states that the implications of the gap in faith in public schools are crucial, writing:

But the perception gap is real. And it is deeply consequential — fostering interventionist policy, stigmatizing schools, and exacerbating segregation. In acting on perception, Americans have done great harm to their public schools. But efforts to more clearly represent reality might undo the damage; it might even make schools stronger.

We must have faith in our public schools to make our schools better.

2. You get out of it what you put into it.

My religious education teacher told us that you get out of mass what you put into it. He was right, of course. When congregants “phone in” their attendance by not listening to the sermon or daydreaming throughout the mass, they are simply getting through their Sunday obligation. Public schools are community centers, but they also need an army of volunteers. Strong PTAs make a school vibrant, generate fund-raisers, and enable school functions. Parental involvement is crucial, but the entire community must be quite nationalistic about their school, for school pride to be a reality. Sporting events are a good door opener, but other programs for adults and families are very effective in getting more out of our public schools.

I teach in a large, suburban school district. I live in a small, rural district. Both districts are intent on connecting to the community. However, in the rural district in which I reside, the school is the community. It is a major employer. It is connected to a community recreation center, with a pool. The school parking lot is seldom empty and you better arrive early to get a decent spot to park when concerts, plays, or other student activities are happening.

All communities members could do more to participate in our public schools. If we had more commitment to our public schools, they would truly be places of pride.

3. You notice the areas in need of improvement in the institution, but you accept that there is more good than bad.

My friend once said, in jest, that to her the Roman Catholic Church is similar to that crazy uncle we all have. He might be quirky, and we might keep our distance at times, but he is still family. The Roman Catholic Church has had plenty of issues and has had its share of complaints: sexual abuse scandals, absent female leadership, etc. The issues in the Catholic Church are real and important, but often they overshadow the charity and the good works that congregations do for so many.

The issues in public schools are great and many. There are significant issues to be addressed: school building maintenance, curriculum, testing, overcrowding, segregation, funding inequities, teacher training, teacher pay, teacher pensions, staff development, special needs appropriations, mental health issues, and the dire need for vocational opportunities.

The negatives are significant and need addressing. However, the positives are so overwhelming. Ask a person to describe their best teachers. You will notice how animated they become. Their face lights up and they often wax nostalgic. In every public school, there are countless teachers leading students on the path of learning. There are 3.1 million public school teachers practicing the craft of teaching.

There is more good than bad in public education.

4. You need to contribute money to help the institution run properly.

I remember being nervous during mass when the wooden baskets were passed around because we didn’t have one of those official envelopes like other people. My grandfather would simply reach into his wallet and throw a couple of dollars into the pile. I felt proud that my family contributed to the church’s good works.

Public education funding is bone dry in many places. There is such inequity in funding formulas, and not surprisingly, areas with bigger houses have bigger budgets.

In another recent article in The Atlantic, Jonathan Kay writes about how Canadian taxpayers recognize that in terms of government spending you get what you pay for, in an article entitled, “Why Canada Is Able to Do Things Better.” Kay writes that in Canada he pays about 10 percent more in taxes than he would in the United States, but he gets more than 10 percent of a return, writing:

What does that 10 percent premium buy for my family? Aside from universal health care, there’s world-class public schools, a social safety net that keeps income inequality at rates well below America’s, and an ambitious infrastructure program that will help Canada keep pace with its swelling ranks of educated, well-integrated immigrants.

We must look to other countries for models of getting more out of our tax dollars.

5. You might not want to go, but are glad you did when you leave.

Getting up early and wearing church clothes is not fun. I remember one Sunday when my grandfather was upset because the shirt I packed was wrinkled. I recall, however, how the priest talked about appearances that day and my grandfather and I laughed about the topic. After mass, he took me to Perkins for pancakes and all was right in the world. I have always felt better after mass. Maybe it was a feeling of an obligation fulfilled. Maybe it was true spirituality.

Public education begins early in the morning. It sometimes requires wearing nice clothes and it involves a great deal of listening (on the part of students, especially). It is not always easy for students to connect with the topics that their teachers preach on about, but when connections are made it is as glorious as a rainbow.

Many adults carry with them negative experiences about their time in public schools. These perceptions often cloud their ability to see public schools as positive institutions. However, like mentioned in number three above, taxpayers often become more positive about public schools when they are involved with the schools in constructive ways. Furthermore, students never say that they regret getting an education. In the words of one graduating senior that I had the pleasure to teach, he said: “You know, this place isn’t so bad.”

6. You meet flawed people, sinners, and saints.

My husband often comments that church is really necessary for many people, he says that some people need the church. I get his meaning — church can be a sanctuary for many. A congregation also includes people of varying socioeconomic levels and reasons for attending. There are people who need saving and there are others who help them get there.

Public schools are often sanctuaries for students. Students eat their meals at school. Students have a routine and expectations at school. Students bring their problems to school. Public schools embody the words of Emma Lazarus’ poem engraved on the Statue of Liberty: “”Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” Public schools are open to any student. This open door policy can make public schools messy, amazing places. Public schools are diverse, creative, vibrant and dynamic. Public schools are microcosms of society.

7. You have a shared popular cultural experience with other people who have attended the same institution.

Roman Catholic Mass is the same everywhere. Many people find comfort in standardization. Schools are similar in their standardization — school buildings have classrooms, teachers, students, and administrators. Most schools have bells, schedules, and rules. Many also share a smell, part cleaning solution, vomit, glue, and tater tots.

Although schools are not “equal” in terms of rigor, standards, funding, teacher pay, amenities, everyone has a school story. Like being Roman Catholic, public school graduates have more in common than not. In a way, it is like public school gives us all a shared television show, with character archetypes we all know and love. This common appreciation for the challenges of public schools, for both students and educators alike, is where the conversation concerning the future of public education begins.

The following are some topics to begin the conversation:

  • Is public education a right of all residents of the United States?
  • What should be the mission of every public school in the United States?
  • How should all of America’s public schools be equitably funded?
  • How much do we, as citizens of the United States, value the salaries, benefits, union organization, and pensions of public school educators?
  • Who should be recruited to teach in our public schools? What incentives will we offer our young professionals to choose to teach?
  • What curriculum needs to be taught in our public schools?
  • What do we want our public school graduates to be able to do upon completion of their education?
  • Do we value vocational training and apprenticeship?

Feel free to add your own questions and comments below. For me, these are reasons why I will be marching for public education in our nation’s capital on Saturday, July 22, 2017.


#whyweM4PE Join me! The March for Public Education on July 22, 2017 is critical. Please consider clicking the heart ❤️ icon above, following the March For Education Blog Publication, following on Twitter, liking the page on Facebook, participating in the march, and/or donating to the march. Here is a list of marches throughout the country: https://medium.com/march-for-public-education/where-are-advocates-for-public-education-marching-on-july-22-2017-7f07f13b1815. Click here for  The March For Public Education Website.

#whyweM4PE — An Ode to 5 Teachers…


#whyweM4PE

Brave souls on Facebook have been videotaping themselves proclaiming why they will be marching for public education in Washington, D.C., and in sister cities across our great nation, on this SATURDAY, July 22, 2017.

 

I am not brave enough to post a video, so I will spare everyone the visual of my summer hair-do and hide behind my words.

I have not marched in our nation’s capital in over twenty years.

I am a rusty activist.

I can’t bring myself to make a sassy poster with a slick slogan. I can’t sum up why I am marching with one statement. Public education is too complex and too important — my experience is grounded in history both systemically and personally.

My reasons for marching run deep, as deep as elementary school. In fifth grade, I realized that my teacher, Mr. Carl Weed, loved his job. He smiled. He demanded that we know our states and capitals. He played games with us. He listened. He gave me the first indication that teaching could be a possibility for me. I was just a working class kid being raised by a single mother who could not count on my father for regular child support. Mr. Weed (yes, his real name) was more than a teacher for me, he was a surrogate. When I play games with my students, I often conjure up the image of Mr. Weed engaging his students and making learning fun. On Saturday, July 22, 2017, I will march for the Mr. Carl Weeds of the world — teachers that make other teachers.

As I reflect on all of the teachers that I have had the privilege to learn from, the most important group for my generation were teachers of the baby boomer generation — they filled positions when the country so desperately needed teachers and they taught with a dedication to service. Two such teachers, my in-laws, born in 1946, began their careers in 1968. They have always shown a model of effective, quality professionals. My mother-in-law taught social studies with a talent for organization, humor, and a love for the underdog student. My father-in-law taught physical education, coached many sports, and led many buildings as a beloved administrator. They are retired, as many of their generation have worked to achieve that wonderful goal. Their retirement was hard won. Their careers began with dirt poor wages, a contentious strike. The careers were filled with a cycle of educational initiatives and half-baked pedagogical theories. However, they rose above the noise to serve their students and schools. They improved the profession. On Saturday, July 22, 2017, I will march for Geri and Dave Brown — teachers who paved the way for my salary, my pension, and my benefits. These teachers have such value and perspectives.

Another such baby boomer teacher, Mr. Jim Slusarski, was my cooperating teacher during my student teaching in a suburban middle school near Rochester, NY. To this day, I will remember what he told me when we first met: “I expect you to be on time and come prepared.” He told me his expectations clearly and demonstrated professionalism. He was also a blast. He demanded every student pay attention at all times, but he did so with humor and candy. When he gave out marking period grades, he attached a blaze orange hunting seat to a chair and told the students he was putting them in the “hot seat.” While co-teaching with him, he would turn to me and say: “We get paid for doing this.” He inspired me. He challenged me. He showed me that veteran teachers could continue to love teaching. On Saturday, July 22, 2017, I will march for Mr. Jim Slusarski (“Slu”) — teachers like him who make classrooms come alive with their enthusiasm and wit.

The last baby boomer teacher who reminds why I march for public education is Patricia Zalewski. When I changed school districts fifteen years ago, I had eight years of teaching experience, but I was as scared as the first day of student teaching. I had to teach Global History to tenth graders in six different rooms, on three different floors. The high school where I teach is huge and can be intimidating, however, Pat “Z” gave me a refuge in room 811 and, more importantly, she gave me coffee. She let me cry when I needed it. She met me for a drink when we both needed it. She introduced me to her friends and my life has been so enriched by knowing that crazy crew of amazing educators. Pat gave me a safe port in a storm. She also demonstrated scholarship and leadership in the social studies department. She tirelessly advocated for students, for teachers, and for appropriate administrative action on issues. She showed me excellence when I needed a model most and I will always strive to be like Pat. On Saturday, July 22, 2017, I will march for Mrs. Patricia Zalewski — teachers like her who are constant gardeners of students and teachers alike. The Mrs. Zalewskis of the teaching world create safe places for teaching and learning.

Mr. Carl Weed, Mrs. Geri Brown, Mr. Dave Brown, Mr. Jim Slusarski, and Mrs. Patricia Zalewski may not be physically marching with me on Saturday, but they shape my teaching. Although retired, they all continue to impact student learning. I will march to preserve what teachers like them have built in public schools across the United States. Public schools must be preserved, improved, and invested in. We must not let private companies profit from public dollars. We must uphold the gains and the foundation that was built by those who came before us.

Check out the website:  https://www.marchforpubliced.org/