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Joining The Conversation

Any teacher can tell you of the kind of hard work being a city educator requires, and my experience is no different. I teach in Brooklyn’s Bushwick High School campus in a small high school with an environmental leadership theme. I teach math to students in all four grades, and I have a slight obsession with creating mathematical learning experiences that bring the subject alive for my students, especially because math is so often perceived as a monotonous subject that many students see themselves as simply “bad at.” I’ve also been working with a few other teachers in my school to make the environmentalism theme real for our students. One of my favorite projects from last year was coordinating a speaker from WE ACT for Environmental Justice who spoke to our students about food justice and sustainable development. We are working on creating a garden for the spring, which at the moment means converting a space on campus and writing grants.

Because my bottom line is the well-being of my students, I have also continued to attend events in my own time that I believe will support my own growth as an educator. Some of the most useful have included important history lessons — unfortunately many new teachers, myself included, lack historical knowledge of movements in education that can help inform their own place in the classroom at this point in time.

Years ago I attended an open forum discussion about the history of the education of English Language Learners. Many people spoke about the frustrations they have felt with the systemic barriers to providing the best education for these students, and we offered up not just our own techniques for doing so, but even ways of getting around some of the most imposing barriers. One teacher, Megan Behrent, expressed her view that if we only focus on how to make our own classrooms or schools better despite all the systemic issues, true progress in education will never take place. If we are committed to creating better educational opportunities for our own students, she argued, then we must be committed to having a positive impact on larger educational structures. Her argument was persuasive, and since that time I have become increasingly involved with organizations that I feel are striving for systemic improvements in New York City’s schools.

Working with the New York Collective of Radical Educators and the Grassroots Education Movement has exposed me to many incredible educators with more experience than myself, and to knowledgeable parents and students who have passionate feelings about education. The talks I’ve attended and conversations I’ve had have helped me develop immensely not only as a teacher but also in my own thinking about education and education reform. Some of the actions that have come out of my involvement with these groups have felt like an important and powerful part of the work for improving education. I was involved in planning the Jan. 27 city-wide rally to stop school closings, and with a few colleagues I organized a “Fight Back Friday” among the teachers and staff in our school. Most recently I worked with other NYCORE members to create an open letter for newer teachers who are in support of seniority rights to sign.

I am excited to contribute to the GothamSchools Community section and to share my perspective on education reform — both the current movements in New York and nationally, as well as ideas for other types of reform to change the focus of our energy, time, and money in ways that could truly strengthen teaching and learning. My column name refers to a quotation from Diane Ravitch that I relate to: “School reform today is like a freight train, and I’m out on the tracks yelling, ‘You’re going the wrong way!’” I have no qualms about professing my desire to change the course of that train, and to redirect those reforms in a way that helps our educational system become more socially just and creates deeper learning environments. I also don’t profess to have all the answers, only thoughts and ideas that I hope to share. I look forward to an open dialogue.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.