You’ve got to be wondering what a teacher like me is doing marching against the “reform” trends. For those of you unfamiliar with my background, I graduated with a degree in Computer Science from Syracuse University. A year later, after 6-8 months of unemployment and a stint as a data entry person at an educational database firm, I went into the NYC Teaching Fellows program, an offshoot of Michelle Rhee’s New Teacher Project. On the surface, I’m a perfect candidate to follow the corporatist thinking about education, and should be easily molded into the dominant thinking from elites who ostensibly believe they’re going into education for the common good. All it takes is the right amount of fear, the right amount of frustration, the right amount of ignorance, and the right amount of failure to tip people into the hands of those who wish to rotate our profession backwards.
Fortunately for me, I lucked out. And if you’re reading this, I’m thinking the same goes for you.
You see, I teach at a school that, somewhere along the line, decided to value veteran leadership and collaboration. They fostered a culture of discussion and unity that stems from decades of hardship from a neighborhood and administration standpoint. As leaders changed and gangs ran the block, teachers fortified the brick walls of the edifice. When I first came to that school, that legacy was indoctrinated in me in ways the teachers who mentored me probably didn’t realize. That first year, ideologies and trends changed so often, the only resort for me was to seek stability. I found that in the most experienced teachers in my building.
As many of those mentors retired throughout my six years of teaching, I gained a profound respect for that unity, because it’s really easy to say kids first and it’s quite another to be it. For the better part of 10 months out of the school year, you’re a teacher. Even when you’re at home reading the paper or hanging with your closest friends, your job ends up defining you. You get used to people using your last name and find it weird when others use your first. You’re sensitive and perceptive to things happening on the street. You wake up having to change your energy to teacher mode so it’s already simmering when students walk in the door.
You’re a teacher, and that’s great.
We can debate the merits of the ideas tossed out there about how to improve this wonderful profession, but without the base of respect, honesty, professionalism, and progressive thinking, we can’t come to the table thinking we’re eating the same meal. When teachers have one of the highest approval ratings of any profession out there, deformers prefer to buy the public through ads and mainstream media diversions. When teachers take summer breaks, they proffer a set of changes to exams so more of them are administered and used to determine the effectiveness of teachers, but never finding time to truly audit and assess themselves. When teachers pay out of pocket for school supplies and professional development, they assert that teachers bare the blame for their widespread, expensive, guaranteed contracts. When teachers invest their whole beings into the futures of hundreds of students through their career [many spanning a literal generation], they say that their monetary contributions to their pensions weigh too heavily on the economic crisis.
When teachers say they want unity, they try to turn us against our unions with hallow promises.
At this point, deformers have sought to tell the general public that the tip of the iceberg is indeed the whole structure. That’s why we must continue our advocacy. Where others left off, this is the tide upon which we must ride. We can’t do things “in response” anymore. We have to create the new narrative.
I will be marching because, from where we stand, I can see that there are those who prefer we step backwards. But we can’t settle for simply standing here a few feet away from getting pulled in. Thus, I march onward. It’s my only direction.
Jose Vilson, Math Teacher / Coach / Educator …