On being on the edge of the possible,

Fellow teachers past and present; and allies. I miss not being there in the schoolhouse next week. But I fear it’s not the kind of re-entry I nostalgically recall–as we all re-gathered together.

It hurts when I realize how hard it is and will be to get “the” public seeing the world of schooling as so many of us do. For example, read the Phi Delta poll, even recognizing the softness of poll data on complex issues, it’s pretty discouraging. The country seems split on whether students and parents who choose private schools should do so “at public expense.” 44% say they favor it and 55% oppose. That’s worrisome. 90% think common core standards would either improve eduction or have no effect. 58% think “illegal” students shouldn’t get a free eduction or free lunch or free anything. (My first instinct is to want to…do something evil to them!) On using student test scores for teacher evaluation there was no way to say that you were opposed to such use of tests. But given the choice of “Less than 1/3,” “1/3-2/3”, “2/3 plus”, or “don’t know/refuse” 63% selected one of the two more than 1/3 boxes. (But also keep in mind that parents think more like us.) We have work to do. Above and beyond the time spent the the kids.

That’s why I see the task of folks in my camp to be largely educational–to change minds. We have to make it easy for others to identify with us and maybe join us from time to time by focusing on the issues that we have the most leverage on: too much testing, too much prepping, the narrowing of the curriculum, the abandonment of phys ed and the arts, the pressure and fear imposed on very young children (and their parents), especially those who reach specific benchmarks later, and finally a rotating teaching force with little training and constantly afraid of losing their jobs. There’s another battle needed to remind folks about why unions were invented and why things are every bit as hard now as they were “then”.

In short, just as we know that we must start where the kids’ are–taking their misconceptions and ignorance as natural and expected, so too must we start with our fellow adults. Given the relentless and misinformed (lies) attack on teachers and unions, and the hyping of private enterprise what would we expect? It’s even more “natural” for adults to believe we are the crazies. That’s the starting point. Accept it.

To go further we need patience, and the capacity to find the metaphors that connect others to our concerns. We need to share tactics and strategies for enlarging our circle of allies. We need to be organized. It isn’t going to happen between now and November. We need to set an example for the youngest of what it means to be long-distance runners.

I know how hard it is for me to avoid exploding when even good friends say absurd things!

So–enjoy those kids! Laugh WITH them, not at them! And don’t be afraid to do the right thing–most of the time. Forgive yourself for occasionally compromising. Unless we live in the world all by ourselves, that’s what we do all the time. And always will. But…which compromises? Where is the line in th sand, for you? Share that with me and others–and hopefully no one you care about will sit in judgment. But they might suggest another path……

We never needed the power of all our ideas more.


10 Responses

  1. Very nicely put.

  2. I think most people out there take it for granted that they’ll always have all the things they currently have in their community schools, with just a little tweaking around the edges. They simply do not grasp the scale of community destruction that corporate raiders are planning to visit on them.

  3. How lucky we are to have Deborah Meier fighting for our public schools.

  4. I substituted in elementary autistic class yesterday. Someone should bring a camera crew into one of these classes for the public to see. At the end we escorted a 6 yr old to the bus, He wasn’t on the drivers list, She had to call “down town” to get permission to transport this learner home. This was our responsibility. The average citizen does not have a clue about the little things that make up our day. The sped TA’s are mazing people and do amazing work. I am truly moved by this choice in occupation.

  5. My line in the sand was seeing how my kids’ school goes overboard on rewards and punishments and the absolutely horrifying amount of time spent on standardized ted prep last school year. They literally lost WEEKS on instructional time on test prep, practice tests, and the actual tests themselves. I taught until I literally went into labor with my first child, and now that both kids are in school themselves I can’t get hired due to budget cutbacks, so I’ve been substituting and volunteering – or as I see it, trying to soften those procedures and policies for the kids I’m with whenever and however I can. But I can’t bring myself to take on a full-time job in public schools any more. Maybe 2-3 days a week tops (I teach music) – more than that and they want you to sit through all the staff meetings and test prep sessions, while the half-timers are less-regarded as “real” teachers in many schools (outside their use as planning time and bus duty, anyway :P).

  6. Out here in the West I thought we had a couple of years before the insanity landed on our door step. I posted a similar message about my day subbing in an autistic class and a friend responded that her autistic daughter’s class has 27 autistic learners in it. I guess the internet speeds everything up even the dumb.

  7. They have brought a ‘multi-intensive’ class (is this a local euphimism or national?) to one of the schools where I work. Today I went to ask the teacher something, she invited me into her room then she walked with me to each of the twelve or so students and four paras to introduce us to each other. We touched hands in whatever way they could and made eye contact to whatever degree they could. There was a big joy in each connection that felt like a condensed version of how I experienced coming back this first week of school. We aren’t yet lost in the pressures. We are just happy to see each other. We recognize our shared hopes. I hope it is possible to remember this when the pressure starts rolling over us. Since we’re using the word “possibility,” maybe this year we’ll find a way to stand up and not get rolled over.

  8. Perhaps you have already seen this, but I find it to be such an inspiration in this culture of testing and evaluation. You could spend a whole year building something like this with kids and just imagine the learning that would take place!

  9. Keep on keeping us sane, Deb, we need you more than ever.

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