For weeks, I’ve been getting ready for the first day of school. Staplers, looseleaf, folders, erasers, rulers, Lysol wipes, and the eight pegs I used to fix some broken cabinets show up on my summer receipts. I emptied truckloads of garbage left over from a seemingly vacated classroom in the span of 48 hours. I thought of students who just graduated, and dozens of others who barely know me. This past Friday, these hands, the ones I’m using to currently write this, also move furniture to an aesthetic that hopefully makes children feel safe and welcome without a word from me. I left at 3:30 in the afternoon while the security guards jiggle their keys in anticipation of closing the school building.
All so when it’s officially time for teachers to start on Tuesday, I can organize my lessons, assessments, and rituals. A head start clears my head.
On this Labor Day, I still wince at the idea that all of our labors are equal. They’re not. Our pedagogies, our lessons, our delivery, our expertise, our style of dress all become fodder for our termination while a few miles out of our glorified squalor, teachers worry about their next home, the level of chlorine in their pools, and whether the next building on campus will be erected in three years or five years time. We might have similar tenets to our work: an objective, a warm-up activity, an adult standing in front of a number (greater than 10) children, and any set of behaviors that our students exhibit.
Yet, nuances emerge along race, class, gender, and ability, and with significant reliability. Oh, and level of cooperation with corporations. That’s not another blog post. That’s this one.
We as educators have a unifying call to action, namely to impart knowledge on a younger generation. Even in that, we start to see crevices open up. Who teaches in a school building, a prison corner, or a campus with sprawling grass fields? Who teaches a classroom outfitted with the latest materials versus a classroom with cracked walls and rats for classmates? How many students occupy the class? What does the teacher look like? What does their curriculum allow? Who gets pegged for someone ready to move away from the classroom and how long ago was that assumption made? What explicit and implicit values does the community hold? What does agency look like for the students in those classes?
What does their school tell them about themselves?
Because, while announcements about my doings hit everyone’s inboxes, I go through serious bouts of insecurity. My lessons. My ratings. My fashion and the ways I convey my professionalism. My love for students, even when a few don’t love me back. My rage and fury at adult decisions. My family. My friends, the ones that could have been, and never were. My gloomy disposition walking into the century-old building. My need to pulverize mediocrity in my works.
My ability to ask harder questions of myself than anyone else could.
Our work might have similar titles, but it’s not all the same. As we construct new visions for our classrooms, schools, and communities, we ought to start from the places that breed trauma so easily. We ought to see how many people are compelled to double down on narratives around testing and rote pedagogy for the sake of job safety and scholarly fascism. We ought to subvert any narrative that says working in our most marginalized communities means working in lesser communities.
I can start from my very first day of school. For the 14th time in a row.
And really, on my first day, I’ll already have the hundreds of dollars in supplies I bought for my students tucked under my desk, two tabbed planners, and a heart re-energized from a much-needed summer. When asked, I’ll say “I can complain, but I refuse to.” I’ll give my whole heart and mind to those who either walk through my door, and those who choose to converse with me about this constant, beautiful profession.
I still believe that we will win. I just hope that, should folks see us in the same place at the same time as them, they shouldn’t think we took the same route. Respect ours.