To Smile or Not to Smile, That IS the Question

A group of educators marched from Durham and North Raleigh to the State Capitol on June 14- 15, 2016, asking to meet with governor. Fourteen members of Organize 2020 were arrested on June 15, 2016 after blocking a street when the governor chose not to meet with them. These teachers believe that our students deserve more. Here are their reflections on the 23-mile march, the rally at the legislature and Capitol, and their arrests for civil disobedience.

Alyssa Putt, Durham County Public School Teacher

June 30, 2016

I suspect the word “mugshot” is a litmus test for anyone who has ever had an incarcerated parent. From fourth to tenth grade, the only interaction I had with my biological father was typing his name into a search bar and seeing whether or not he had amassed new charges and an updated mugshot since my last search. To me, he always looked so guilty. After a while, I didn’t want to know anymore.

When the end of college neared and I began applying for teaching positions, I petitioned several data-dragging sites to remove any connection between my name and my father’s, so that potential employers and future students would not draw a parallel between us.

This is a piece of my past that I only discuss when kids trust me enough to tell me their own struggle with an incarcerated parent. I tell them that we are responsible for making our lives the lives we want to lead, for making ourselves the people we want to be, and that we are not required to carry around the painful pieces of our past any longer than to find strength in them.

Thursday morning I woke up — blistered from the march and bruised from the zip-tie cuffs — to endless text messages featuring my own mugshot. Mortification. In the months of planning and in the days of the march, it never occurred to me that I would be starting the summer with my mugshot being broadcast on television screens and shared rampantly on social media sites. I got into my car and cried.

I did not cry from shame or self pity. I did not cry because I had become something I have tried my entire life to avoid. I cried because I chose to be put into handcuffs at 26, while some of my students have already been in handcuffs by 15. I cried because I had seen children come into that jail alone. I cried because I wasn’t sure if those children were still there while I was on my way home. I cried because I know the statistics of the population served by my school, and it is inevitable that some of the children that have sat in my classroom will sit in that jail. I cried because I was being thanked for my arrest while thousands of black and brown kids are criminalized for theirs.

I cried because I wholly recognized that my arrest was privileged.

Because we got help when we asked for help. Renisha McBride did not.

Because we were told we would be under arrest if we did not comply. Tamir Rice wasn’t warned.

Because our seat belts were buckled upon my request. Freddie Gray’s was undone.

Because we were able to hold up Kristin as she ebbed in and out of consciousness. No one was there for Raynette Turner.

Because we knew we would be out before the night was over. Over a million people are still waiting.

This industrialized prison machine is vile, guys. The observed ratio of officers to prisoners was better than the ratio of teachers to students in my school. The food was more nutritious than the lunch my kids are provided daily. The facilities were better than many schools I’ve seen in rural counties. The cost of keeping one person in prison for a single year is already more than three times what we spend on a student per year in this state, but here we are, begging for educational funding in the streets. How has it come to this? Why will we spend more on incarceration than education? Why will it be easier for my kids to get a gun than a diploma?

Before the intake officer took my photo, we joked about smiles being disallowed. I asked her what she would want her kids’ teacher to look like in a mugshot. She laughed, and so did I, as she snapped the picture. I asked because I was terrified my students and their parents may see me looking solemn and think I was ashamed, or see me with a smile and think I was selfcongratulatory. I am not ashamed, but I am not congratulating myself, either, despite what my mugshot may suggest. I’m just hoping no kids are disappointed by my guilt.

This isn’t about 14 unflattering photos. This is about the fight for our kids, and how #studentsdeservemore. If you’re proud of the dozens of people who put time and effort into this thing, if you’re proud of Amy, Jessica, Kristin, Bryan, Carrol, Turquoise, Anca, Dawn, Alexa, Leah, Lisa, Donald, James, and me who went to jail for our kids, let’s work to turn this thing around. Get involved with ORGANIZE 2020, vote, attend School Board Meetings … do anything to make sure our kids get what they deserve.

Open Letter to Fellow NC Public School Teachers – What We Do Cannot Really Be Measured

By Stu Egan, Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Public School Teacher

July 11, 2016

Public school teachers,

You can’t really be measured.

In fact, those who are measuring you do not have instruments complex enough to really gauge your effectiveness.

If you are a public school teacher in North Carolina, you are always under a bit of a microscope when it comes to accountability. Everybody in the community has a stake in the public education system: students attend schools, parents support efforts, employees hire graduates, and taxpayers help fund buildings and resources.

But there are those who really question the path that public education has taken in North Carolina and lack confidence in our teachers and their ability to mold young people. The countless attacks waged by our General Assembly on public schools is not a secret and part of that is framing teachers as the main culprit in our weakening schools.

Why? Because it is easy to manage data in such a way that what many see is not actually reflective of what happens in schools. For example:

• We have a Jeb Bush school grading system that “failed” schools where wonderful learning is occurring.

• We have lawmakers allowing charter schools to be created with tax payer money without much regulation.

• We have a voucher system that is allowing people to send children to schools that do not even have to teach the same standards as public schools.

• We have virtual charter schools that have loose regulations.

• We have an Achievement School District established even though no real evidence exists in its effectiveness.

Since you are a government employee, your salary is established by a governing body that probably does not have a background in an educational career. The standards of the very curriculum that you must teach may not even be written by educators. And the tests that measure how well your students have achieved are usually constructed by for-profit companies under contract from the state government. Those same tests are probably graded by those very same companies – for a nominal fee of course. And now that we have less money spent per-pupil in this state than we had before the start of the Great Recession, we are demanded to teach more kids in bigger classes with less resources.

There simply is a lot working against us.

However, if anything could be said of the current situation concerning public education in North Carolina it is that teachers have not failed our students. That’s because you cannot simply measure students and teachers by numbers and random variables. You measure them by their personal success and growth, and much of that cannot be ascertained by impersonal assessments.

Nor can a teacher’s effectiveness truly be measured by “student achievement”. There is more, so much more, working within the student/teacher dynamic. Take a look at the definitions of three words often used in our lexicon: “art”, “science”, and “craft”. These definitions come from Merriam-Webster.

1. Art: skill acquired by experience, study, or observation

2. Science: the state of knowing : knowledge as distinguished from ignorance or misunderstanding

3. Craft: skill in planning, making, or executing

Every teacher must display a firm foundation in his or her subject area. However, teaching at its source is an art and a craft. A teacher must marry that knowledge with skill in presenting opportunities for students to not only gain that knowledge but understand how they themselves can apply that knowledge to their own skill set.

There are not many people who are masterfully skillful without having to develop their craft. They do exist, but the term “Master Teacher” is usually given to someone who has a “skill acquired by experience, study, or observation.” That “Master Teacher” has perfected an art form and married it to a science. And most of all, that “Master Teacher” understands the human element.

A good medical doctor just does not deliver medicines and write prescriptions. There must be willingness to listen in order to make a diagnosis and then there is the “bedside manner”. A good lawyer does not just understand and know the law. A good lawyer knows how to apply it for his or her client in unique situations. A master chef doesn’t just follow recipes. A master chef takes what ingredients are available and makes something delectable and nourishing. A great teacher does not just deliver curriculum and apply lesson plans; a great teacher understands different learning styles exist in the same classroom and facilitates learning for each student despite the emotional, psychological, social, mental, and/or physical obstacles that may stand in each student’s path.

How schools and students are measured rarely takes into account that so much more defines the academic and social terrain of a school culture than a standardized test can measure. Why? Because there really is not anything like a standardized student. Experienced teachers understand that because they look at students as individuals who are the sum of their experiences, backgrounds, work ethic, and self-worth. Yet, our General Assembly measures them with the very same criteria across the board with an impersonal test.

Ironically, when a teacher gets a graduate degree in education, it is often defined by the college or university as a Master of Arts like a MAEd or an MAT, not a Master of Science. That’s because teaching deals with people, not numbers. When colleges look at an application of a student, they are more concerned with GPA rather than performance on an EOG or EOCT or NC Final.

And when good teachers look at their own effectiveness in their art and craft, they usually do not let the state dictate their perceptions. They take an honest look at the each student’s growth throughout the year – growth that may never be seen in a school report card or published report.

Like many veteran teachers, I have taught the gambit of academic levels and grades from “low-performing” freshmen to high achieving AP students who have been admitted into the most competitive of colleges and universities. And while I may take pride in their passing state tests or AP exams, I try and measure my performance by what happens to those students later in life.

• When a student ends a “thank you” card because she felt like she learned something, then I did a good job.

• When a student stops me in the grocery store years after graduating to introduce me to his child, then I made an impression.

• When I read an email from a student in college who sends me a copy of her first English paper that received one of the three “A’s” given out of a hundred students, then I feel good about what I did in the classroom.

• When a student comes to visit me on his break and flat out tells my current students that what I did in class prepared him for college, then I was successful.

• When a former student emails me from half-way around the world to tell me what life is like for her since graduating, then I am validated.

• When a parent comes to you to ask how his/her child could be helped in a matter totally unrelated to academics, then you have made an impression.

• When you speak at a former student’s funeral because that student loved your class, then, well that’s just hard to put into words.

None of those aforementioned items could ever be measured by a test. Students do not remember questions on an EOCT or an EOG or an NC Final or a quarter test. They remember your name and how they felt in your class.

However, the greatest irony when it comes measuring a teacher’s effectiveness in the manner that NC measures us is that is it a truer barometer of how much NC is being hurt by this current administration and General Assembly.

• Think about Medicaid not being expanded.

• Think that nearly a fourth of our children live in poverty.

• Think about the Voter ID law.

• Think about the lax regulations for fracking and coal ash ponds that hurt our water supply.

• Think about less money per pupil in schools.

• Think about more money coming from out-of-state Super PACS to fund political races here in NC than exists in the operating budgets of many counties.

• Think about TABOR and HB3.

• Think about HB2.

• Think about cut unemployment benefits.

All of those affect students in our schools. And we still do the job. Rather, we still heed the calling.

That’s the best measure of what we do.

That and the drawer where I keep all of those cards and letters because I keep every one of them.

 

Published by Stu Egan in Caffeinated Rage https://caffeinatedrage.com. July 11, 2016.

We Were Arrested Together!

turq n don 3A group of educators marched from Durham and North Raleigh to the State Capitol on June 14- 15, 2016, asking to meet with governor. Fourteen members of Organize 2020 were arrested on June 15, 2016 after blocking a street when the governor chose not to meet with them. These teachers believe that our students deserve more. Here are their reflections on the 23-mile march, the rally at the legislature and Capitol, and their arrests for civil disobedience.

By Turquoise LeJeune Parker, Durham Public Schools Teacher  & Donald Parker III, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Teacher

June 30, 2016

WIFE: Whenever I realized the action we’d been talking about for months was going to take place on June 14th and 15th, well honestly, I was actually kind of excited. Donald and I are always sharing our big and small moments with our kids. We aren’t stepping into something new. I mean, our students were guests at our wedding. So, we got up on that Tuesday morning, which was our 3-year wedding anniversary by the way, and set out to do what we always do: take care of our kids. We marched those grueling, boiling HOT and long 23 miles to the Capitol together.

HUSBAND: And man was it LONG! My feet still hurt actually but anything to support my wife and the children we teach. I was still kinda like,”DANG, why does this have to be on our anniversary though” lol. I carried that large tree branch, described by a writer as a small tree, from Durham to Raleigh not just to symbolize struggle but to show an even greater picture that if Jesus Christ can carry a cross for the sins of the world and defeat sin and death giving us access to eternal life, then I as an educator can carry some large tree branch for the burdens and struggles of our children to win over the governor, giving them access to a better, more funded education.

WIFE: It wasn’t easy. At all. But WE MADE IT! We bonded with other educators those 23 miles. We grew to love, respect and appreciate so many people we’d never met before that 23- mile journey. As we turned the corner and the North Carolina Museum of History was on our right and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Science was on our left, we chanted and screamed our affirmations for the future of our public schools. After the “All In for Public Education” rally by the General Assembly, we turned around and set out to complete our mission. This time the North Carolina Museum of History was on our left, and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Science was on our right. I feel like I have walked through and protested loudly right in that same corridor a million times and boy does it get you hype. It’s something about the buildings, the way sound works, being beside people fueled with passion and a strong desire to not quit until our babies get what they deserve! We took that left onto Edenton St screaming, then we took that right onto Wilmington St. shouting “We ready, we coming” (that one gets me hype too). Ever since those days, when we drive near any part of our trek, we reminisce.

Just a few weeks before that, and a few days before that very moment, we held press conferences requesting a meeting with the governor. We are teachers after all, so we know how to meet! I was ready and prepared in my mind for what I would say in our meeting. Crystal Scales Rogers, Dawn Amy Wilson and Bryan Proffitt and I looked at each other and said, “It’s game time y’all.” When we turned onto Wilmington St., I saw the doors of the Capitol still open because it wasn’t 5 pm yet. When we turned towards that main entrance, the door was being shut. We called the Governor’s aide repeatedly, went around the Capitol, and knocked on all four doors, hoping for the best. At that last door, we decided that if our kids can’t get it….SHUT IT DOWN!

HUSBAND: To be completely honest, I sat myself down while they walked around the building knocking on the doors because my foot was killing me. Then I heard the police officers’ walkie talkies going crazy saying,”They are moving to the street.” Then I got up and started walking to the street, along with the educators who marched and people who supported educators, which totaled at least 100 people.

WIFE: After the police told everyone to move to the sidewalk, 14 of us North Carolina Public School teachers unlawfully and willfully stood in the 100 Block of E Morgan Street linked arms with signs in our hands that said: “I’D RATHER BE TEACHING” and we SHUT IT DOWN!

HUSBAND: At that time, I didn’t really know what was going on when I walked up, but all I saw was my wife in the middle of the street locking arms with other educators. I later found out that the teachers standing in the street already planned to do so. I wasn’t in those plans, but playing basketball, participating in band, and being in two fraternities taught me brotherhood and teamwork. I couldn’t let down NOW my teammates and brothers and sisters I walked with for 23 miles from Durham to Raleigh for our children, stand in the street without me. As a husband, there was also no way I was letting my wife get arrested without me either, while I sat on the sidelines, clapping, pulling out my phone to record and wave her on. Man, “I’m bout that action, boss.” Marshawn Lynch style. We doin’ this together.

WIFE: Locking arms in the middle of a very busy street and refusing to move wasn’t an easy move we made. It was scary actually, very scary until the interaction with the officer began; then it felt like we were definitely doing the right thing. When the police arrested Donald, that scared me because they put real handcuffs on him. They sat him in the police van alone. I had never imagined I would see my husband being taken away from me in handcuffs.

HUSBAND: They arrested me first. “You do know you are now under arrest?” said the officer in a very Southern voice. I slowly raised my head and with my shades on, stared into his eyes. Behind those shades were eyes of a black man whose heart was torn between two dissonant choices: one, calmly supporting his wife, educators locking arms, and the children of NC suffering at the hands of poor government; and two, rising up against the cops as a black man whose eyes are gouged and ears are punctured with hate from stories of innocent blacks’ interactions with law enforcement like Walter Scott, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, and many more.

I hadn’t answered his question after about seven seconds of a silent stare, so he asked, “Are you going to resist arrest?” I responded “Yes,” but it was to his first question, and Alexa said, “He means yes to your first question.” Once I answered that, I was not resisting arrest. I gave him my bookbag and he grabbed my right arm to put behind my back. Let me just say that as peaceful protesters with a crowd of people watching, the force he used to put my arms behind my back wasn’t aggressive, but it was still painful. I could only imagine the force and effort he would have used for someone not as peaceful or if alone with just officers. What made me feel isolated, segregated and discriminated against was that out of 14 teachers, the one black male teacher was the only person they used real cuffs on to arrest. Everyone else had zip cuffs. Man, those things were tight. I hated the metal sound they made and I felt for the first time in my life that I had no freedom. While walking to the police van, I had to remind myself that I wasn’t a criminal and that we just did something honorable. The policemen were not aggressive with us at all, so I walked with my head high with no shame. It’s crazy that as a black man, I go my entire life making sure I stay out of trouble that would involve the police and the one time I’m arrested, it displays one of the highest forms of altruism.

WIFE: In that moment, I began to squeeze Bryan and Leah’s hands even harder. It hurt me in a place I don’t know how to explain. Then everyone started screaming “We love you Donald! We see you Donald!” I could barely make those words out, but I thank God for hearing those words. As the police began picking the rest of us up, I cried even more. I cried because I heard Sendolo on the bullhorn saying one of Assata Shakur’s famous quotes:

“It is our duty to fight for our freedom.

It is our duty to win.

We must love each other and support each other.

We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

HUSBAND: It was hard for me as a black man and a husband to be in handcuffs and see another man, a white male police officer, grab my wife. I hated it. Putting those zip cuffs on her, standing her up, etc. It pissed me off really. And this isn’t hate for another race or anything, it’s hate for corruption and for many years policemen have systematically exhibited corrupt ways towards blacks. That viewpoint doesn’t change because the cause is for our students; it’s just placed to the rear and came to the forefront as I sat detained in that police van hearing the crowd chant, “We Love You Turq.”

WIFE: But I couldn’t hear them saying “We Love you Turq.” It was like the world turned off for a few seconds. I could only hear the officer. I do, however, distinctly remember hearing Matt Hickson’s voice saying, “The Professors love you and are proud of you for this.” That made me smile and feel like this was right. Although extremely frightened about the care of my husband because of the horrible history of our men and women of color in police custody, I was so extremely proud of him. I was so happy to be taking such huge steps for our kids together. Weird, but I fell more in love with him that day. The police didn’t know we were husband and wife, but we got placed right beside each other in the police van, only separated by the plexiglass. I will never ever get the picture out of my mind looking at my husband through that glass in that police van. All for our students, our babies. They deserve more.

HUSBAND: I’ll never forget that either. The heat, the confinement, and seeing her without the freedom to touch was rough. Those real cuffs hurt too, man.

WIFE: What we did that day was for the children. What about the children? What about the babies? They were who I thought about the whole time. Who we all thought about. Who we all did this for. These children have dreams, emotions, needs and they are all being choked right now by poor elected leaders. We walked in that street, formed that line, locked hands, and eventually sat down locking arms because our kids cannot take it anymore. It’s easy to ignore this ridiculous and embarrassing situation happening in our state because it’s “grown ups” making the decisions, but really, the kids are at the center. If we reminisce for any quick moment, we didn’t get where we are as a country (even though we have so very far to go), by just standing on the sidelines and doing nothing about the basic needs and rights of our babies. We got where we are by brave men and women holding hands, singing, chanting, row by row, of what they believe to be a possibility for our country and for our future. And look, we’re living in some of what they fought for. Their circumstances were not as gentle as ours. The police officers that dealt with us on June 15th, 2016, were kind and respectful. The police during demonstrations some time ago were disrespectful, disgraceful, and degrading to say the least. But those demonstrators didn’t care. They realized that drastic situations call for drastic demonstrations. I’ve been in the classroom for going on six years, and in that short time, I have seen some things. No one can make me believe that what the 14 of us did that day was wrong. Nope, not at all.

I’ll tell you what’s wrong:

-What’s wrong is teachers having to set Go Fund Me after Donors Choose after Go Fund Me after Donors Choose just to get full sets of books, supplies, and classroom and school necessities.

-What’s wrong is the achievement school district bill.

-What’s wrong is the attempt to silence educators.

-What’s wrong is elected officials taking personal deals to benefit themselves and throwing our kids under the bus.

-What’s wrong is our kids not having enough!

On June 15th, 2016 I was ready for something beyond emails and sitting passively, I was over it. I am beyond tired of hearing the negative rhetoric around my school and schools like mine all across this great state and nation. The rhetoric says we are failing. NO! These elected officials are failing our public schools. My beloved school is NOT an F school. Mrs. Parker’s Professors’ classroom, as well as the many beautiful habitats of learning like mine, ARE NOT FAILING! We are doing the best we can for our babies with what we have. They deserve more. Remember when you were a child? Remember how much ambition, drive, excitement you had? Remember that someone invested in you? Someone told you you could be anything you wanted to be? If not for those who loved us and who cared enough to show us, where would we be today? How can we just leave our kids out to dry like this? Nope, I won’t do it.

HUSBAND: Can you imagine for a second how frustrating it would be to not have a textbook to take home or the ones you take home are 10 years old or older, ripped, missing pages and are falling apart? Now, in a different context, imagine how frustrating it would be to use a computer from 10 years ago or a phone from 10 years ago? Not the easiest task. Dr. William P. Foster, the late great band director of the Florida A&M University, once said,”Why should we provide second class resources for students and expect first class results?”

My eyes in my mugshot are saying, “I can’t believe all of this has happened to educators who just want to do their job efficiently for our children and we are punished if we fail to do so.” Don’t you think if things were the way Pat McCrory and his team are trying to make them out to be, teachers wouldn’t have to lock arms in the street protesting? And what’s most ironic, as someone said in the detention center, is that the people who are about following rules are the ones breaking them, not even for themselves but for students. Marching and protesting for the love of my wife and the many students in North Carolina was an honor and a privilege. Leading by example is something I would gladly do again because I can. As Jesse Williams said at the B.E.T. Awards, “A system built to divide, impoverish, and destroy us cannot stand if we do.” Stand for something or you’ll float with or fall for anything.

Stand for our children. Students deserve more.

#studentsdeservemore

Why I Participated in Civil Disobedience

A group of educators marched from Durham and North Raleigh to the State Capitol on June 14- 15, 2016, asking to meet with governor. Fourteen members of Organize 2020 were arrested on June 15, 2016 after blocking a street when the governor chose not to meet with them. These teachers believe that our students deserve more. Here are their reflections on the 23-mile march, the rally at the legislature and Capitol, and their arrests for civil disobedience.

by  Kristin Beller, Wake County Public School Teacher

June 30, 2016

When the officer helped me stand on my feet, after binding my hands behind my back with zip ties, my mind went blank. Friends and family who were there on the sidewalk said I was screaming at the top of my lungs, “Our students deserve more!” but I don’t actually remember what was coming out of my mouth. My last clear thought between sitting on the burning asphalt and moving towards the stuffy paddy wagon was that I could not – and would not – go into that van silently.

I had not gotten to that day, in that heat, with those people, to be silent. I had put too much time, love and energy into this day and into each day spent with my students knowing that there was no way for my colleagues and me to reasonably meet all of their needs yet never ceasing to try. I was going to keep shouting and lifting my students’ needs until the end.

When we started planning the march and rally, one of the first tasks was to decide on clear goals. The hardest part of this was narrowing all of our students’ critical needs down to a short list. When you know folks can realistically only remember 4-5 things, how do you decide which of our students’ varied and equally important needs get raised? More importantly, how do you decide which don’t? Through the discussions and negotiations around this challenge, one thing became strikingly clear to me — we can never go back.

We can never go back to just talking about teacher pay and textbooks. We can never go back to just talking about buying supplies out of our pocket or the technology that doesn’t consistently work. It doesn’t feel right to just talk about paint peeling and broken desks. Yes, those things are very important to our daily learning and teaching conditions, but we have opened the school doors and are showing the totality of the needs that exist for our students, and we can never go back.

We are lifting up the fact that many of our students are living in conditions where their basic human needs are not being met. We are asking that the Governor pay attention to the fact that our students are drinking poisoned water from their taps; that our students and their families need access to healthcare; that our students need living wages for their parents; that our students are facing discrimination every day and now he has preserved that discrimination in law.

We can never go back.

Once I reconciled the fact that our fight was for our students and the Governor’s fight was for votes, the rest became easy. We were marching for hundreds of thousands of our students, and we were rallying to raise awareness around five of their most critical needs. We were meeting with the Governor to make two simple, low-cost requests: spend the surplus on public schools and expand Medicaid now. We were not marching to talk about teachers or their pay. We were marching for our kids and their families.

I was not surprised when the Governor’s aides did not answer our phone calls. We had talked for hours over the days before the rally trying to figure out how the Governor might avoid having a public conversation with teachers who were demanding, not higher pay, but that their students’ most basic human needs be met.

I was not surprised when we walked around the Capitol building knocking on doors that remained silent and locked. I was not even surprised that they were locked well before closing time.

I was not surprised when the crowd was fired up and ready to raise their voices in unison crying out, “Spend the Surplus! Expand Medicaid! Repeal HB2!”

What did surprise me, however, was the volume of folks who crowded Morgan Street helping to stop traffic long enough for 14 people to get into the line that would be held for 30 minutes. I had believed that teachers would be rule-followers and would have been nervous or hesitant when blocking a street. And they boldly proved me wrong. They proved that when our students are at stake, we are all willing to take risks to protect them and lift them.

You see, when it comes to our students, we have this fiercely protective stance that we just assume. Our kids’ lives are threatened each day that they go without access to affordable healthcare. Their well-beings are threatened when their parents have to choose between heating their homes or paying for food because they don’t earn enough to do both. Their bodies and lives are threatened in a very real, direct way when they are criminalized based on their race, their immigration status or their gender identity — even as early as elementary school.

So standing in the middle of the street, blocking traffic with 13 of my comrades felt easy to do. It felt easy because as we shouted “It is our duty to fight for our freedom,” I thought of my student who so very brilliantly fights for his freedom each day. He fights for freedom from the pain and fear having an ill parent can cause; he fights to keep that fear from his little sister; and he fights because he has the heart and the soul of a fighter. I thought of the time he couldn’t fight anymore, and he just sobbed on my shoulder in the middle of the hallway, not caring who saw and letting me hold his fight for a little while.

When we shouted, “It is our duty to win,” I thought of my student who worked so hard this year to overcome emotional and academic barriers that have previously held him back. I thought of him telling his classroom teacher that he had anger issues and how she simply asked, “Would you like to choose something different?” instead of labeling him or allowing him to label himself. He knows it is his duty to win. He knows that winning happens with a team, and he has learned to seek out those that will help him win. I thought of his smile and his pride when he looked at me after a reading group one day and said, “You got us, right, Ms. B? You always got us.”

When we shouted, “We must love and protect one another,” I thought of my students who always led their classes to care for one another. They understood already at 9- and 10-years old that we show up for one another and take care of each other first and foremost. They were always the first to offer a hand to a friend or to step up and in when a classmate was at risk of saying or doing something they may regret. I thought about the way they celebrated and lifted other students up, already knowing that some people need a little more love. Already understanding that, in our class, everyone gets what they need.

When we shouted, “We have nothing to lose but our chains,” I thought of my student who, after the non-indictment of Michael Brown’s murderer, was so compelled to take action that she spent a recess period organizing her peers to meet during lunch and create an agenda to bring to me when asking permission to use our classroom for a meeting space. I thought about how she facilitated that meeting so smoothly, allowing each person space to share their thoughts and ideas and then distributed responsibilities and roles to her classmates. I thought of my other student who, despite her shyness, demonstrated great bravery and courage when she stood up in that same meeting to speak about her own observations and experiences with racism in the justice system (yes, at 9-years-old).

I had the faces and voices of hundreds of children running through my heart and my mind as we chanted their needs.

Our kids are under attack. What would you do if someone threatened the lives and the futures of your students?

Yes, I had a choice. I always have a choice, but when it comes to my kids…I will choose them every time. I don’t want my students to have to fight this hard for their education – for their lives. People have already fought for them. Folks have already shed blood, sweat, tears and died for their lives.

We have a duty to fight for them. We have a duty to win. Let’s lose those chains.

No Chicken Soup for the Soul

A group of educators marched from Durham and North Raleigh to the State Capitol on June 14- 15, 2016, asking to meet with governor. Fourteen members of Organize 2020 were arrested on June 15, 2016 after blocking a street when the governor chose not to meet with them. These teachers believe that our students deserve more. Here are their reflections on the 23-mile march, the rally at the legislature and Capitol, and their arrests for civil disobedience.

By Anca Stefan, Durham Public Schools Teacher

June 30, 2016

They picked me up last.

They tied my wrists together behind my back, and scooped me up by the elbows.

When I was a child, I’d seen my grandmother pick up hens that way, gathering their wings into one hand, with speed and force, before she made them into soup for dinner.

There was no more space in the two vans they’d sent for us, so they pushed me into a separate police car by myself. My crime was that, along with 13 other educators from all across the state, I’d formed a human chain that, for 20 minutes at rush hour, cut diagonally through the intersection of Wilmington and Fayetteville Streets, in front of Governor McCrory’s office.

When the governor, again, failed to prioritize my students’ suffering, I blocked traffic in protest.

When, despite a well-publicized request, our governor disrespected our profession by refusing to meet with leading educators in a civil dialogue about the wellbeing of our state’s children, I stood in protest.

I stood in protest of the neglect Governor McCrory has continuously shown our children. Repeatedly refusing to address kids’ most urgent needs, and returning, unbothered, to campaigning for another term in office, was an unconscionable reality to me – so I refused to move.

I didn’t start in that intersection. Over the past 4 years, I’d spoken out many times about the alarming conditions my students have to fight their way through in order to learn. When I say our schools lack basic supplies, I mean paper – both printing paper and toilet paper – , whiteboard markers, working computers, science lab materials, equipment for art or gym class.

We don’t have textbooks in history class.

We don’t have textbooks in history class.

We don’t have textbooks in history class.

I’ve taught World and U.S. history without a textbook for the past 4 years.

My students can only receive medical care if they get injured Tuesday morning between 9 and 12 because we have a part time nurse.

My students need school counselors and psychologists to teach them how to process their emotions in healthy ways during the overwhelming time of their adolescence; they don’t need armed guards in uniform to throw them around and dehumanize them.

A week before the day Mr. McCrory had me arrested, I’d spoken to the press about the suffering of thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of our students. I’d listed conditions of abject poverty, and of continued loss of resources, stability and security in the daily lives of our youth.

Alongside many other professional educators in my state, I’d asked for an hour of the Governor’s time, and promised that we’d march on foot from our classrooms to his office to prove our dedication to meeting with him and working together in the interest of our students.

We did exactly as promised.

60-some people of all ages, from all over North Carolina, took to walking along highways, in the high heat of mid-June, to meet with our Governor.

I walked next to incredible people – law-abiding, polite, compassionate educators and parents.

I walked beside a 23-year classroom veteran teacher.

I walked with a 14-year old former student.

I walked next to a dear colleague and her 12-year old son who marched every single mile his mother and his teachers marched and never once complained.

I walked beside many people who are so important in the lives of many younger folks, and I carried with me the names and memories of many of my students.

Along the way, cars stopped to thank us, churches opened their doors and blessed us with good food and beds overnight, friends called, emailed or texted us with words of support and gratitude.

None of that support and none of the richness we carried with us mattered to Governor McCrory at 5 on Wednesday. He didn’t come. He didn’t invite us in for a glass of water the way Southern hospitality would have anyone treat people who have journeyed on foot for 23 miles in the summer heat.

Instead, Mr. McCrory locked his doors before 5. We know because we knocked on every single one.

When they put me in the arrest car, my body was shaking.

I felt guilty for being nervous because, unlike so many others, I had a team — my child was cared for and safe, and they had not used force to subdue my body or spirit.

But I could not stop shaking. I could not stop my handcuffs from cutting into my twisted wrists. I could not stop from feeling like my existence was only a subject of good fortune — not a guarantee, not a right.

I felt the way I do at takeoff on a plane – that no matter my accomplishments, my intentions, my talents, the only thing that matters is gravity: if we fall, we fall, and there’s no defending against it, there’s no argument to be made for my life.

Inside the jail I was first to go through fingerprinting and searches.

The officer who processed me said that what I’d done sounded like the noblest thing anyone’s been arrested for. The officer next to him whispered that his mother and sister were both teachers, and he thanked me in their name. I teach their kids. We love the same people. And here we were, forced to stand on opposing sides of a wall, all of us feeling none of this was just.

I sat down next to two girls. They were my students’ ages. At 16 and 17, they had just finished their sophomore and junior years in high school, and they could’ve been my students.

We talked and they thanked us for standing up for them.

They were scared. They were alone. They’d been picked up for something stupid, they said, for something they were embarrassed to tell me about. They were humble and sweet, honest and young.

I asked them if they felt they had everything they needed to learn in their schools. One of them laughed at the question, the other hung her head, shaking it softly in resignation.

They told me how they can’t study at home because there are no textbooks, and they don’t have wi-fi. They told me how their teachers point them to the public library, but how nobody seemed to understand they didn’t have reliable transportation.

That’s why I’d gotten arrested – because these kids didn’t belong here. Because they were only here for being poor and Black in a state where their existence is only a subject of good fortune – not a guarantee, not a right. Their lives were being attacked, and they were being punished for believing what they’d been taught – that they didn’t matter, that they didn’t deserve. They had been given no chance to defend their lives, no chance to argue for the value of their lives.

They had been scooped up by the tips of their wings, with haste and force, and they’d been thrown into this place, to be made into nothing.

I saw them again, on my way to the the magistrate’s office in the jail. They were sitting next to each other, more tired and colder now, alone in that freezing room with metal benches, hungry and scared of being abandoned, unable to reach anyone who could come free them. I felt so helpless and so angry at my helplessness. These were my students, my kids, and I would block 100 intersections to get them the warmth and food and books that they deserve.

Why, Governor McCrory – why is it so controversial to argue that #StudentsDeserveMore ? Why do you paint us as dangerous when the only thing we want to do is teach our students so that they can learn?

What We Should Prioritize

A group of educators marched from Durham and North Raleigh to the State Capitol on June 14- 15, 2016, asking to meet with governor. Fourteen members of Organize 2020 were arrested on June 15, 2016 after blocking a street when the governor chose not to meet with them. These teachers believe that our students deserve more. Here are their reflections on the 23-mile march, the rally at the legislature and Capitol, and their arrests for civil disobedience.

By Bryan Proffitt, Durham Public Schools Teacher, President of Durham Association of Educators

June 23, 2016

My mama had to see my mugshot. It was hard on her. I imagine that one of the most basic hopes a mother has is the one where she never has to see her son’s mugshot. And if she does have to, I imagine she hopes her son looks a little less upset.

I thought about her when they took it. I thought about her and I thought about all of the people who would undoubtedly see it: My former students would see it. My educator colleagues would see it. Thousands of people I’ll never know would see it on the internet and TV.

I thought about all of those folks, and I thought about smiling. After all, I wasn’t struggling with what I had done. I had just been arrested because the Governor of the state I live in is committed to prioritizing:

• Ensuring that wealthy people get to keep more of their wealth

• Enabling corporations to poison our environment

• Legislating discrimination and the criminalization of human beings

• Privatizing our schools

 

And I believe that he should be prioritizing

• Fully funded schools

• A living wage for everyone

• Health care for all

• Clean air and water

• An end to the criminalization of and discrimination against my students, co-workers, friends, and family

I marched two days in the North Carolina summer heat to go see this Governor about what he’s doing to my kids and their communities and make some demands. I marched over 20 miles to meet the man who was denying my people what they deserve.

He refused to meet with us. He refuses to recognize the crisis our state’s young people are in. I, along with some of the most beautiful human beings I’ve ever had the privilege to know, sat down in the streets to say that we’d had enough and that people needed to be woken up a bit.

I wasn’t struggling with my decision. Nope.

I also wasn’t struggling because of poor treatment. Most of the police officers we dealt with were professional and courteous. Some of them reminded me of a few of the School Resource Officers I have known and respected, and the internal contradictions they must wrestle with every day, as my co-arrestee and friend Dawn (who used to be a police officer) shared with us. Others were unnecessarily rude and provocative, but they were the exception. Many of them expressed sympathy and support for our fight (their kids, after all, are in our classrooms every day). I have no doubt that my profession, my whiteness, my cisgendered straightness, and my relative class privilege shielded me from the dehumanizing treatment that many of my students know all too well. So it wasn’t that. I had a team of folks in there with me. I had a team of folks holding me down on the outside.

I wasn’t overly concerned about my well-being.

A smile might have allowed for more effective communications strategies later. The reason I couldn’t muster it, however, is the same exact reason that I was in there in the first place.

As they loaded us into a police van, I could hear Freddie Gray’s body banging around in my head.

As we got to the station, I watched a 16-year-old who could have been any kid I ever taught being taken out of a police car, alone and scared.

As I watched my co-conspirators be taken into search rooms, I thought about the vicious sexual assault that NYPD officers committed against Abner Louima.

As I watched my friend Carrol, who needs a cane to get around, be asked to walk across a room on her own with no support until one of her team stepped in to provide it or demanded that the police do it, I thought about what it must be like to be there alone and have health problems.

As I watched my comrade Kristin nearly pass out until she got access to her inhaler, I thought about my former co-worker Vicki’s son, and how he died in jail because he couldn’t get medical attention.

As I talked with the funny kid who connected with everybody in there and reminded Woody, Donald and myself of a kid we have in at least every class, I thought about the tragedy of wasted potential.

As I sat in rooms filled with people, Black, Brown, and/or poor, I thought about:

• How my students Kaaylon and Jaronte probably would have landed here had they not been murdered.

• How the people who murdered them have probably landed there or will, or won’t get that far. And how they had been somebody’s students too. And how I have students who have murdered people.

• The time when J tried to stop a fight in my room, got mixed up with a cop, assaulted by said cop, and then taken off to jail for a case that he could never win if he tried.

• How I used to look at the daily mug shot reports in the online versions of the local paper, but I had to stop because seeing my kids’ photos every day became less grounding and sobering and more depressing and angering.

• My first week at Hillside when a fight I had broken up on my own between two girls ended with a 15-year-old screaming, bawling, and handcuffed through a face-full of pepper spray.

Jail wasn’t particularly hard on me. But it felt particularly hard to be in a place that eats up the lives of millions of Black, Brown, and/or poor people, many of whom I know and love. My body felt heavy with the pain and alienation of living in a society that says that some people get to have stuff, but most people don’t. Some people get to live good lives, but most people won’t. And some folks, who never had a shot from the beginning, will be warehoused for their whole lives because the people who run our society can’t imagine any function for most of us rather than the generation of profit for them. If you’re not doing that, they have to hold you somewhere and dehumanize you and contain you so that you won’t revolt.

So jail sucks. Or, rather, jails suck.

How about, instead of building more of them, we just give our kids the food, the shelter, the clothes, the nurses and doctors and counselors, the fun and laughs, the safety and knowledge, the skills, love, and opportunities to wonder and wander and learn self discipline that they deserve?

We have to win y’all. We just have to.

#educationnotincarceration #studentsdeservemore

P.S. We don’t win on one day y’all; this is slow organizing and long-term strategy and work. Please support the work of the Organize 2020 Caucus of NCAE by checking out this link and a) getting on our listserv, b) joining the caucus, and/or c) contributing financial resources.

The Measuring Stick of Education

A group of educators marched from Durham and North Raleigh to the State Capitol on June 14- 15, 2016, asking to meet with governor. Fourteen members of Organize 2020 were arrested on June 15, 2016 after blocking a street when the governor chose not to meet with them. These teachers believe that our students deserve more. Here are their reflections on the 23-mile march, the rally at the legislature and Capitol, and their arrests for civil disobedience.

By Lisa McCool-Grime

Durham Public Schools Teacher,  High School Dir. of Durham Assoc. of Educators, Member of Organize2020

June 23, 2016

My son’s father served in the military for 11 years. When I met him in 2000, I was a teacher to math students at Fuquay-Varina High in Wake County. I loved it. But I also loved him, so when he joined the military in 2003, I joined him as he moved from base to base for the next decade plus. When he left the military in 2014, we wanted to put down roots for ourselves and our son, so we settled near family in Durham and I returned to teaching math students, this time at Southern School of Energy and Sustainability.

With that move, we went from living as a three-person, one-income household funded by taxpayers via the military to living as a three-person, one-income household funded by taxpayers via public schools. Changing that one word from “military” to “public schools” was quite the stark contrast. For example, we gave up no-deductible, nocopay, comprehensive health care. My son, at age 4, had to go to the emergency room when he took a stick to the eye. An eyelid surgeon stitched up his eyelid and we paid that surgeon two more follow-up office visits, but not a single cent. Neither my teacher’s salary nor my health benefits could cover such an accident today. Actually, neither my teacher’s salary nor my benefits can meet the needs of our family of three at all. We lived well on one income in the military. Now that I am a teacher, we cannot make ends meet without other sources of income.

State tests take all the living and learning that happens in our classrooms throughout the year and reduce that to a single number of “proficient” students. So too, we could take my lived experience of different standards of living, quantify it and reduce it to a single data point. Some folks might then want to claim that single data point is a measure of how poorly our culture values teachers. But my lived experience tells me that the truth is much more complicated. For example, I receive the same kinds of thanks and praise when people learn I am a teacher as my son’s father did when he was military. Many of my lived experiences suggest our culture believes that teaching is a noble profession, that teachers offer a valuable service. To better understand my decrease in standard of living, we must hold wealth’s measuring stick out and look at the far end. There you will find a good number of my students whose family members work as many if not more hours than I do, but bring home less money with no health coverage and no thanks for their work from the community at all. One of my brightest seniors this year worked 40 hours per week outside of school to contribute to her family’s income because her mother was sick and could not. Neither her potential to learn the math nor my ability to teach that math made any difference, because she was so exhausted she often didn’t make it to school and when she did, she fell asleep. If we want to better understand my decrease in standard of living, we must also look at our jails which house so many of our children. In the detention center after my arrest, in every room that I sat, I sat jailed with jailed children.

Every day of the school year I sit with young people at the hard end of wealth’s measuring stick. Young people who, if judged by their fierce resilience, would surpass me by far. Young people I am privileged to know and love. I am learning from them that their lived experiences reveal what the data is actually pointing to: we have failed as a culture to value the lives of our poor students and students of color. The struggles that public school teachers face making ends meet–these struggles are just the collateral damage in the systemic devaluing of my student’s lives. If you truly want to support teachers in their work, you must love and support their children and their children’s parents. You must provide for their health and wellness.

McCrory talks of raising teacher pay but stands in the way of our students’ and their parents’ access to Medicaid. He wants to sock away the surplus while school nurses are split between buildings, while school resource officers far outnumber school social workers, while my son’s first grade classroom has over 20 students and no teacher assistant. We are calling him on this. We marched 23 miles to make clear to those in power that our students deserve so much more than our state currently provides for them. And when I say, “those in power” I mean McCrory and other elected officials, but I also mean the public at large. Because what we discovered when we arrived at the capitol with our plan for raising per pupil expenditure and expanding Medicaid was that McCrory did not care enough about us or our students to even greet us. But we also discovered that you, the public at large, did care. You met us with food and shelter at resting spots during our march. You asked us questions and wished us luck. You honked your support and drove alongside us. You not only greeted us along the route we took, but you took the streets with us to clear traffic in protest so that 14 of us could safely lock arms and remain in the street as the symbol of our collective insistence that students deserve more, that we as a body of people are also powerful and that we intend to use that power to get the resources our students need.

While McCrory tries to paint those 14 of us as fringe, his constituents continue to show their support for our message and our plan. He would do well to listen to his constituents. While McCrory slanders us by claiming that we are working for Roy Cooper, he reveals how divorced he is from the way that true public service functions. I work for my students. I walked for my students. I stood blocking traffic and took arrest for my students. The governor’s job is to work for us—the public at large, who stands with public school teachers and their students–and we will hold anyone in that office now or in the future accountable to our children. They, unquestionably, deserve that.

#studentsdeservemore

Public Education: Is it the Great Equalizer?

Jessica Benton, Wake County Public School Teacher

June 18, 2016

When I first started teaching, I was under the impression that public education was the great equalizer. That with a sound education, my students had more choices about how they wanted their lives to play out. All they needed was to stay focused and learn, and the world would be theirs. After 11 years in the public school system, I began to realize that wasn’t that simple.

Some schools had more because the folks living in those neighborhoods had more. Some kids had more because their families had more. Some families had more because the world we live in thinks that they are entitled to more. It began to dawn on me just how unequal our equalizer really was.

We have been saying it over and over. Our students deserve more, but what does that really mean? We have to understand that our students’ lives don’t end at the classroom door.

Some of our kids are not getting what they need when they leave our school buildings. Their parents are working multiple jobs just to get by, so that means less time helping with homework and projects and catch up. Some of my kids are not receiving the healthcare they need, and they literally stay sick from October to March. My kids of color live in a world that criminalizes them and their families based on the color of their skin, even in 2016. Some of our kids are even being yanked from school bus stops and detained because of their immigration status. Some of our kids are being subjected to highly polluted air and water because the poverty they’re living in doesn’t protect them from toxic living environments. And y’all, 49 people were just massacred in Orlando, FL because of their sexuality. And I am not talking pie charts and statistics here. I am talking about real people and real stories.

So when we say students deserve more we’re really saying that it is going to take more than just education to get our kids where they need to be to live self-directed, fulfilling lives. Lives that they deserve like any other. They need healthcare, protection from criminalization, clean water and air, economic stability and education. And it’s going to take all of us, including Governor McCrory and the General Assembly, to get our kids these truly basic needs.

And I am sorry. I know teachers are not paid nearly enough to make it themselves. I know our teachers deserve more too, but just talking about teacher pay raises isn’t enough. That’s only one piece in a much larger problem. We need to be demanding more for ourselves and our families. We are a team. We are that village we so often like to refer to that’s raising these kids. And our students deserve more.

I just marched from Durham to Raleigh with over 50 educators, parents and students. Twenty miles over two days to meet with McCrory and ask for the more our students deserve. We have been asking for three things: 1) to expand Medicaid immediately, 2) to fully fund our schools, and 3) to repeal HB2. I know this doesn’t cover everything. This isn’t everything our students need, but it’s a good place to start.

Don’t get me wrong. I know we have all been asking for more. This is not our first request. How many of you have written an OP-ED? How many of you have called or emailed your legislators? How many of you were lobbying today for more? And what has it changed? We are still fighting to no avail. We’re drowning.

As teachers, we don’t get to give up. We don’t have that option. When our students deserve more, we find ways. But we’ve been dipping into our own pockets, giving our own time, expending our own energy to get more for education and nothing has changed. And it’s clear the political leaders are not listening. The time has come for us to be heard. I don’t know about you, but I am done being ignored while I sit back and watch my students and their families struggle.

It’s time we make our leaders listen. It’s time to be heard. Let’s see if they can hear us. Repeat after me in your biggest teacher voice: Students deserve more. Students deserve more.

*Speech given June 15, 2016 at the Students Deserve More Rally in Raleigh, N.C.

Teacheritis: Are You or Your Children At Risk?

Button-ForSaleby Nancy Snipes Mosley, Wake County Teacher

Symptoms

Teacheritis is a common ailment that afflicts millions of teachers in the United States every year.

  • The most common symptoms are fatigue, headache, raw nerves, forgetfulness, diminished social activity, and intolerance to apathy/BS/ignorance/whining.
  • Many teachers also experience teeth grinding, sore feet and back, fluctuating body temperature, and recurring dreams (forgetting to call in for a sub when you are out sick, not having your lesson plans ready on the first day of school, your students refusing to do anything you ask them to do, etc.)
  • In rare cases, some teachers also develop obsessive behaviors like constant hand sanitizer use, re-reading emails 10 times before hitting send, and counting how many papers are left to grade every two minutes.

Causes

Teacheritis can be caused by a number of physiological and environmental factors.

  • Your risk of chronic teacheritis is higher if you are a new teacher, a teacher with young children, or a teacher who is close enough to retirement to start counting down the years.
  • Teachers with a history of anxiety and depression are more susceptible to teacheritis, as are those with family or medical concerns. 
  • There also seems to be a correlation between teacheritis and the number of workdays lost to inclement weather, frequent changes in state curriculum and testing policies, and stagnant pay.
  • Teacheritis is not contagious, though someone with prolonged exposure to senioritis or adolescent hormones may develop symptoms. Students should use caution when interacting with a teacher suffering from teacheritis, as there have been some reported cases of evil eye and uncontrollable sarcasm. Afflicted teachers will need to take measures to ensure this condition does not cause stress on their partners and children.
  • There may also be a component of Seasonal Affective Disorder involved in teacheritis since it seems to be worse in the fall, winter, and spring and better in the summer.
  • Triggers of an acute teacheritis episode may include events such as: a student misrepresenting you to their parent or administrator to deflect taking responsibility for their own actions, parents enabling their child to be disrespectful and/or irresponsible, 18-year-olds complaining that you don’t play enough games and give them video guides, or a meeting of colleagues where everyone is touchy and defensive because you can’t agree on how to solve the achievement gap or handle the phone cheating epidemic.

Diagnosis

Teacheritis is usually self-diagnosed, though some teachers need to be alerted by a family member or colleague who detects symptoms. Students often misdiagnose a teacher suffering from teacheritis with diseases such as Not Being Chill or Getting Old. A teacher who becomes sick easily or is extremely fatigued, anxious, depressed, or obsessive-compulsive should seek prompt medical attention, as there may be other issues that will get worse if neglected.

Treatment

  • Proper rest, nutrition, and exercise will alleviate the physical symptoms of teacheritis. The most commonly prescribed treatment for teacheritis is stress management – cutting back hours, going to bed earlier, taking a true lunch break. Teachers sometimes resist this course of treatment because they cannot figure out how to meet all of their professional obligations if they take more time for themselves.
  • Some teachers self-medicate by eating, drinking margaritas, or binge-watching shows to relieve the pain of teacheritis, but the relief is temporary and there can be adverse effects like weight gain or setting a bad example for your kids.
  • Other more radical and costly therapies include providing teachers sufficient time, resources, and support to manage all the demands and expectations of students, parents, administrators, and colleagues. Unfortunately, teachers who request this treatment are often denied and this can actually make the condition worse if they feel powerless or hopeless about the situation. 
  • Teachers who have spiraled from teacheritis into something more serious like workaholism or depression may need to try therapy or a support group that helps them learn to suppress negative feelings like guilt and try a different mindset that could promote recovery.
  • One of the most effective ways for a teacher to reduce the symptoms of teacheritis is to focus on the positive: All of the students who tried their best, showed maturity, engaged themselves in critical thinking, were sincere and honest, had positive attitudes, admitted when they were wrong, made you laugh, and gave you hope for the future. The parents who said thank you, the colleagues that helped you make a tough decision, the administrator that encouraged you to set limits and take care of yourself. The family that loves and supports you unconditionally.

Prognosis

There is no cure or vaccine for teacheritis; even after teachers quit or retire they can experience residual pain. However, with the proper support and treatment many teachers learn to manage the condition so that it does not prevent them from creating a positive learning environment, growing professionally, achieving personal health, and being there for their families.

We Need a Paradigm Shift in Education

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By Angie Scioli, Wake County Teacher

I remember learning the word “paradigm” for the first time in college.  The presenter showed us a visual puzzle that was totally perplexing.  He gave us a single word that allowed us to shift our perspective and look at the problem through a new “lens”, and “click!”  – all was clear!

We need a paradigm shift in education.

In my last two articles, I wrote about how education is and is not like business.  While that was a worthy mental exercise, I hope to convince you that we need to throw that whole “lens” out and use a different referencing institution when we think about schools: family.  

In simpler times (think hunter gathering / farming economies), education was mostly handled in the family unit (here’s how you hunt, here’s how you preserve food, etc.)  It was only with exploration and  industrialization that we began outsourcing the education of children to formal schools.  Increasingly, and yet strangely, our schools have come to resemble businesses more than families.  We think of parents as consumers, student as products, and we seek to quantify what “value – added” outcomes students will demonstrate by matriculating through an orderly, standardized, age-based processing system.

That system worked well for an industrial economy, but in a post-industrial context, the limitations of this approach are becoming evident.  Increases in technology, communication and transportation have created a population that demands more individualized and efficient ways of learning.  At the same time, we are struggling to close an “achievement gap” and deal with students who are difficult to educate because they are absent, don’t speak English, have experienced trauma, or suffer from food insecurity and/or homelessness.  

What would a family mindset look like in education?

You don’t take an exhausted child to Disney World.  It doesn’t matter how engaging and entertaining the setting, there will be a meltdown.  Parents know they must first make sure a child’s most basic needs are met:  they are fed, they are rested, they feel safe.

We bring exhausted, hungry, scared kids to school every day.  We’ve convinced ourselves that if their teachers are entertaining enough, or if the subjects are interesting enough, that they will magically forget about their aching tooth, their rumbling stomach, or their anger about what they have seen too soon.

We must first attend to students’ most basic needs, emotional and physical, before we can proceed with the wonders of learning.  We need more therapists, we need wrap around services that provide basic health and dental care, and we need social workers.  We must show kids that they are valued, and that school is a place they can come to find safety, nutrition, peace of mind and care.  And we must do these things first, as no environment, even Disney World, can overcome a child’s basic needs.

A second key aspect of family is acceptance and negotiation.  I sometimes look around at family gatherings and think what an odd and random family assortment we make.  My classroom is the same.  We are rapidly becoming a very diverse nation.  A random mix of students show up on day one, and we struggle from that day forward to accept, accommodate and negotiate to make our time together as productive and affirming as possible.  But that progress is built on a foundation of mutual respect, acceptance and encouraged by the fact that we are “stuck” together.

Navigating both of these contexts requires a sizable serving of emotional, social and soft skills.  It involves communication, anger, expectation and conflict management.  I’ve been aided by studying EQ (emotional intelligence) models, mindfulness, constructs of gender and race, and personality types.  As a result, I’ve learned how these skills are of increasing importance to our professional and personal satisfaction, but they are not explicitly taught in school.  Meanwhile, more and more of us are burying our faces in electronic devices and ingesting a steady diet of digital media.  Entertaining for sure.  Preparation for real life and relationships?  Hardly.

We need to make relational studies a central element of being an educated person in this society.  We need to make isolation less common, strengthen the social fabric of our communities, and make the long-term relational health of “our” kids our highest priority.   Schools and families can and should unite in that vision.  

The final elements that are key to family are commitment and stability.  Long term investment in an institution leads stakeholders to make different decisions – they tend to pursue their own self- interest less, and consider the health and viability of the whole.  Currently in education reform, we are pursuing policies that create “free agents” out of teachers.  With the end of tenure, the rise of charter schools and ideas like differentiated pay, we are suggesting to teachers that they might switch into a business / corporate mindset and simply pursue their own self interest.  Teachers will be one of the last categories of workers to break out of their “institutional” mindset and join the grand “talent shuffle” that is so common in other fields.  These reforms are touted as ways to get rid of weak teachers, but I wonder if many people have considered what fundamental shift it is creating among all teachers.

We need to pursue policies that will attract the best teachers we can to the classroom, and we need them to stay there, at that school if at all possible, for a very long time.   It took me about ten years to become a good teacher – to know my subject, to understand the developmental level of my students, to understand the community context of the school.  It takes considerable time to build trust and understand the personalities of your colleagues so you can collaborate and know where they are coming from.  Teachers that are committed to a specific school sit in meetings with a different mindset – they are invested in the decisions that are being made.  They buy spirit wear in the school colors, their reputation and the school’s are entertwined.  They teach siblings, they get to know families – they  care deeply.  And students can see that, they sense that, and that is a very different dynamic than the one we are creating through most educational reforms today.  Students want to know that their teachers are invested in the long-term well-being of the school family, just as they seek stability and commitment from their parents.  

So, we need to pick up a new set of lenses to see our schools.  Let us set down the business frames, and pick up the family mindset.  Let us remember the primary job of our schools:  to nurture children, to help them come to know themselves and others so they might better understand the world they are inheriting, and let’s be sure they are in the hands of committed adults that have their long-term interests in mind.  Loved, nurtured, accepted and secure people can figure out most problems together.   Strong families always do.

Make our schools more like strong families, and they will serve us, and our future, well.