Sabrina Joy Stevens, Chris Lehmann, Jose Vilson, and Raquel Cepeda, This Is Not A Test Book Party, UFT, 2014

A Note About the Fifth Year Anniversary of This Is Not A Test

I wrote this book for you.

For some of you, it means I wrote this in love. There’s always that first visit to the local bookstore when we scan the education section and don’t see a book that tangentially relates to your qualms and visions. Most of the narrative-based books are written by professors, ex-educators, celebrities, and wunderkinds with a connection to a highly visible outlet for their story. The ones written by actual classroom teachers – the very few there are – are relegated to instructional books that publishers can sell en masse to districts flinging their arms for a life raft.

At the time, there were plenty of people implicitly competing for the “best” teacher blogger, teacher writer, or education writer. Some publishers forced teachers with narratives to follow the instructional template even when the educator had an actual set of stories to tell. Other publishers just threw as many books out as possible in hopes that perhaps one would stick. Some people write books in hopes of raising their platforms, knowing they’ll have plenty of opportunities (and connections) to write more. Some even wrote books as a “teacher” even when they left the classroom and schools a long while ago. I went into this process knowing that this one book would have to both convey the urgency of now and last forever because teachers like me rarely get opportunities for more than one.

Haymarket Books offered me the opportunity to be a legit author and not just because they’re a well-respected publishing house. Julie Fain and Anthony Arnove took a huge chance on me. Liliana Segura printed out my manuscript and marked more than half of it in red at our first meeting. That, too, made me write well and write more. Sarah Grey did her set of nips and tucks on my book, and heard me when I said, “You know this has to be immaculate because it’s my first and because I’m Black, right?” She was an accomplice in my writing. Their whole team blessed me until and after the publishing date. Truly.

They helped me pursue my vision. I didn’t have to change my voice to sound like what I thought my favorite writers would like to read. I only had to outwrite myself. In the process of editing the script, I lost my math coaching position. My father died. So did Nelson Mandela. I almost didn’t birth this book. You didn’t let me not write it.

A few hours after my book release, I was on my way to the White House, carrying all the aspirations of New York City and all that we deserved with me. This book is for you.

This book is for the rest of you, too. There’s a handful of you who hate the idea of people who directly work with kids actually writing their own narratives. It cuts the money you make from hustling through school systems with solutions recycled from different eras in education reform. It stops you from doing speaking engagements about how the humans in certain communities are horrible for not espousing white middle-to-upper class values. It hurts when educators actually have better and more people-oriented solutions than your venture-philanthropy-funded policy paper did. It irks you that your notions of what’s “too” radical or not radical enough get challenged into non-linear spectra.

It allows you to disregard us since we can’t really attend your 9-5 policy meetings, briefs, panels, conversations, luncheons, and then won’t get invited to your after-hours galas and celebrations because we couldn’t attend the former, either. It insulates your power to designate who gets the title of favorite teacher, teacher of the year, award winner, best representative of this school / district / state / country / world, teacher who deserves this set-aside cash, teacher on our promotional materials, teacher who gets to travel, teacher you said could do that prestigious thing.

It gives you permission to say “You’re just a teacher. Of course you don’t have the time to write for yourself.” And the temerity to speak on behalf of folks who can talk for ourselves.

There’s something all of you need to know. We need more books by people currently working in front of and with students, especially from marginalized spaces. We need books from our underresourced schools with Black and brown children that don’t suggest they need saviors to dismantle their oppression. We need books from our prisons, shelters, and other alternative spaces where we get to interact with human beings in the text, not the stereotypes of their being. We need books from a variety of people of color from across gender and socioeconomic spectra. Books that don’t pay attention to craft, message, and audience dilute our purpose, even those that have sell thousands of copies. Too many recent “teacher” books weren’t written by folks in spaces where they regularly work with school-aged children.

Our society hasn’t made space for educators to write as fully human. I wrote this book as a Black / Latino cis-male who grew up on the Lower East Side in the projects and went back to teach in Washington Heights for the culture. What’s it like for those of us who write a book that would probably get us fired, yet we stay?

I encourage those of you wanting to occupy this narrow and uncongested lane to consider how our words converge with our pedagogy and experiences. I would love for you to disavow the idea that we don’t belong on the same platforms as our favorite celebrities, professors, writers, politicians, and gurus of the moment. I urge you to write the book that feels best aligned to the individual and collective works you’d like to do for the time allotted to you on this Earth. I want you to ground it in the craft of writing along with the stories that need telling.

I wrote this book as the book for us. This book is for us.

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