I get asked a lot about what it’s like to teach in the public schools while knowing the truths about corporate education reform. Obviously, the two worlds collide. And I have spent many a night trying to figure out how to describe it – and how to write about it - so that you might also know what it feels like. This is my attempt for those of you who do not teach in the public schools today.
It is surreal. It is so strange to watch the world crumbling down around you with such harshness and such coldness, while inside the walls of the school we continue to carry on, care for the children and fight to give them what every child deserves. As teachers, we fight to support one another - as human beings and as professionals. We fight to keep it together as we watch the corporate snakes slither in through the cracks and the crevices in our building. We shudder and hold the children close to us when others open the door wide and let the corporate snakes glide across the floor and make our building their own.
Yet, we must carry on because the children are always watching.
Have you ever had a bad day – a day in which you wanted to cry, or scream, or throw things; yet, you refrained from doing so because the children were watching. That is how it is every day for teachers who know the big picture - within the public schools. Every day we are protecting the children as best we can, without sharing - through our actions, our words, our teaching, our emotions - the horrors of the destruction making its way into our schools. Based on the ages of the children, this looks different - as some things are appropriate to share with older children. However, it can be like a dysfunctional relationship of the worst kind – in which you must continually find ways to resist and find ways to protect while keeping the snakes at bay – knowing that they will continue to search for ways to manipulate you and the system – in order to get what they want. And that is how it works – they often get what they want because of the mandates in place in our public schools. And in the process, you get harmed, the children get harmed, and much of it is never discussed due to fear, due to retribution, due to fear of what could happen – the unknown.
The unknown keeps many from taking risks. Many believe they have no choices. And so, it only gets worse as the snakes multiply. More children lose their childhoods. More children view themselves as failures. More children will be trained to obey and comply as they are groomed to be worker bees in a world which is being reshaped to benefit only the .01%. More children head down the school to prison pipeline.
Now that I have attempted to describe it, I want to share how I resist it. I began to make a list some time ago to document the many ways I work to resist the corporate snakes who slither around my feet and try to strangle the love of learning out of my school, leaving my children to starve in a world of tests, test prep and coldness - corporate reform is cold, very cold. The following is simply a quick guide to resisting from within. Because when you know what it feels like – which is very different than just hearing about – you have two choices, give up in some shape or form or find ways to resist. It’s very simple. You have to make a choice.
Here’s my list. Feel free to add to it. There is much more I am sure, and as teachers we are moving so fast all day, we often don’t take stock, or give ourselves credit, for all that we do to wake up the world and reclaim authentic learning and teaching for our public schools and our children.
1. Look at where you came from. What is your story? Recognize and use your strengths.
I am a small town girl from Missouri. My father was a political reporter. My mother was a music teacher. My oldest sister has special needs. I grew up knowing what it was like to be viewed as different. I grew up knowing what it was like to be shunned. I also grew up knowing that the truth speaks. Missouri is, after all, the Show Me State. I grew up watching my mother teach and stay before, after school, for choir practice, performances and more. I watched her spend her own money to become Orff certified. She is the best music teacher I have ever seen and she received little respect for it. My father is a brilliant writer and served as press secretaries for political candidates, wrote speeches for senators, worked for newspapers, wire services, and more. He played the game of politics which is addictive, full of gambles, full of ego and full of the unknown. We experienced many hardships as a family, as jobs were lost due to political candidates losing, due to one particular candidate dying in a helicopter crash, due to cuts in UPI when the office was shut down in our little Missouri town, and more. We lost many gambles. I grew up knowing that stability was a gift and that you needed to look around you and know the big picture and know yourself, because the view right in front of you may change tomorrow and you must know where to turn within and outside yourself when it does. I learned that listening and watching is key to knowing the big picture.This is who I am. I learned that education was important. I learned that writing could change the world. I learned that humanity can be kind and also very cruel. I learned that I had a voice and I had to use it. These are my strengths.
2. Open the door.
I know the teachers reading this have been told again and again to shut the door and do what is right for children. I beg of you, begin to open the door. Open it and let the light burst into the hallways. Let them hear your children laughing, singing, learning and engaging in what is real and true. When the children are not allowed to do so, open the door and let the world see this as well - let them see what corporate education looks like. Invite the parents to come in and help. Let them see the truths – good and bad – the parents will watch, listen and many will act to ferociously protect the children from the dangers that lurk in our buildings.
3. Be humble.
It is never good to allow ego to lead the way. Activism can have an ego. Avoid it; it will get you no where and it may lead you down the wrong path. Enough said.
4. Choose your words carefully.
This one is essential – absolutely essential. We must not use words that confirm or give credit to the corporate education movement. Remember what you know. Look up the words and question what you hear. Words such as rigor, compliant, defiant, punitive have no place in a public school. When you hear others say these words, gently rephrase them when you respond – this will give you great pleasure as you will begin to see a cultural shift. If you continue to do this, over time reality will change as language does indeed shape our world. Choose your words carefully in writing as well; make sure these corporate words do not become the language used inside your students’ homes.
We must read and educate ourselves. Always. And we must read from sources that are credible, sources who are in the trenches - sources who are not profiting off of public education and our children. There are many books and blogs to read – a few to start with include, www.dianeravitch.net, www.publicschoolshakedown.org , www.atthechalkface.com, the BATS and of course our own site www.unitedoptout.com . Form a book club if you like. Get the Reign of Error by Diane Ravitch immediately.
6. Align yourself with like-minded folks.
They can be hard to find. However, if you begin to get involved online via Twitter, Facebook and the various sites I listed above, you will begin to find them. Perhaps these friends will not be next door; but this will not matter, you will find that friends far away can offer you support and love even when they are not there.
7. If you have children, refuse the test for them. If possible, share opt out/refusal information with other parents.
As teachers, we must not allow our children to take these tests. We must be a model for others around us. I am happy to help anyone with this strategy. Do not allow your own children to labor for the corporations. Share opt out/refusal information with other parents if you can; there are ways to do this without your name being attached to it - find a parent to help you.
8. Look at your day and the Conditions for Learning.
Are you meeting the conditions - for you? For your children? I use it as my barometer. I ask myself daily as I work with children...Will this engage them and further the purpose their lives?
9. Create portfolio assessments for your students whether or not it is required.
Children deserve to SEE their growth as it actually occurs over time. Parents deserve to know the strengths, attempts and next steps of their children by viewing authentic student work. Teachers have the right to assess their students in a way that is authentic and supportive in planning for instruction. Do not allow mainstream media to continue to create mass amnesia! I am continually asked, “Without the tests, how will we know if students have learned?” TEACHERS KNOW HOW TO ASSESS. Don’t let them forget (while banging a pan upside their head). Here is a letter for parents who might wish to advocate for portfolio assessment - unbeknownst to you of course - in your school.
10. Advocate for yourself.
I learned this long ago. If you do not advocate for yourself expect to be trampled on. There is always someone available to trample on you, take advantage of you, and bully you. Learn how to advocate for yourself. I know this can be hard, which is why I love the quote, “Speak the truth even if your voice shakes.” Reach out to other activists to support you in this process.
11. Respect colleagues and do not gossip.
Teachers are already bashed enough without us adding to it. Respect them. Support them and listen to them. Collaborate and have patience. We each have our strengths and we each have our burdens to bear – these are not easy times. Together we are stronger.
12. Get involved in your union and join if you haven’t.
We must occupy our unions. We are the union. We must reclaim our union and we must not stand by when we see them taking actions which harm our schools, our children and our profession. Find a way to get involved. Read The Future of Our Schools by Lois Weiner.
13. Analyze actions, not heart.
We cannot get inside the heads of those who are currently hell bent on enforcing mandates and creating avenues to profit off of our children while destroying the public schools and ultimately our democracy. I, myself, find it difficult to do this one. As a teacher, I spend many a day getting to know students so that I can best determine how to support them – it is my nature – I want to see their heart…their passions. However, this is different, I cannot get inside the head of Obama, or Duncan, or Weingarten, or Roekel or Gates. I can simply analyze their actions and determine my next step based on what I see. Do not waste time trying to see what is in their hearts – spend your time analyzing their actions so that you can see patterns and red flags that will allow us to strategize and win this fight.
14. Be okay with disequilibrium and take risks.
If you grew in a world of disequilibrium, this will not be hard to do. This is one of those examples of utilizing your strengths – this may be a strength for you. If you did not get raised in such an environment, disequilibrium can be difficult. When you feel it, recognize that feeling and look around and see what is happening – are you still alive? Are you breathing ? Of course you are :). Own that feeling and know that disequilibrium is often accompanied by the ability to take risks. Some risks will be successful, others will not – and being okay with that is essential to moving forward. We must be okay with the unknown at times and trust that the risks we take will allow us to grow and learn from the experiences we have. Love your routines, but also love stepping outside of them to ask …what if?
15. Reflect and ask questions.
Do not assume anything is the truth unless you have had it verified via research or via someone you would trust your life with – I cannot stress this one enough. Perhaps it sounds harsh, but my radar is always on and I do not blindly trust – ever. We have already lost too much by trusting.
16. Use your own creativity to support your work as you resist from within.
I watch some activists share their truth via statistics. Others share the truth via words. Others sing, rap, dance, write poetry, and make jokes. Some paint. Others create comics. Use your own creative strengths to resist from within. Sometimes I just watch and smile at all these amazing activists whose passions are felt and seen so clearly in the way they express themselves. Remember, we do have heart, and people can see it and feel it – and THIS spurs action.
17. Use your teacher knowledge to deconstruct the madness of corporate education reform.
For example, here I use the Conditions for Learning to let Obama know how ridiculous and harmful RTTT is. What do you know? How can you use it to debunk the corporate ed. reformers who know nothing about teaching and learning?
18. Ignore the mandates around you however you can.
This is different for everyone so I cannot advise. I know what works for me. Find out what works for you – there are ways to ignore and refuse to participate in common core, test prep and more. I simply ask myself, at the end of day, did I listen to my students? Did I help engage learners and did they see how their learning will further the purpose of their lives? If I didn’t do that, something has to change. Make changes however you can and do not berate yourself because it wasn’t good enough – or you think you should have done more – you will always wish you could do more. Try again tomorrow. Nothing is forever. Change is always possible.
19. Use social media.
It’s a must. It’s how we have organized thus far. It allows us to reach each other no matter the distance, no matter the schedules of each individual. Tweet it. Facebook it Email it. Youtube it. Vine it. Blog it. Vlog it. Pick the tool that works for you and do it. Get the information out there.
20. Listen to the children.
Your students must be heard. The corporate reformers do not listen to them. The mandates ignore their needs. They must be heard. Get to know them. Listen to them and you will find many many ways to resist from within by listening to their passions, their fears, their strengths, their desires and their knowledge. Observe. Listen. And use this knowledge to empower them as learners and as citizens of our democracy.
21. Be kind to yourself.
I know there are many out there who tell you that you should quit and leave the profession rather than stay and be a part of a system that harms children. However, I say, be kind to yourself, and know that your resistance from within protects children and gives them more authentic learning experiences than any teacher as technician ever could. Your resistance from within helps adults see the need for urgent change – your resistance from within may well indeed be the catalyst to create an uprising to reclaim what is rightfully ours. Just know that no one is going to do it for us. Just know, that if you do leave they/corp. ed. reformers will applaud you as you walk out the door and will replace you with a teacher as technician who knows nothing about how to support the beautiful children in your building – children who deserve everything the children of the .01% are getting. So, be kind to yourself, stay if at all possible, and know that you are creating change. Know that others, such as myself, are always there in spirit holding your hand.
Share your knowledge as an activist and as a teacher. Do not keep your best kept projects a secret. Do not compete with your colleagues – share. Share this document. Add your own tips for resisting. Collaborate. Together we are stronger.