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What I’m Advocating For

A few days ago during eighth period in a 90-degree classroom a student cheerily said to me, “You like your job, don’t you?” I asked her what made her think that and she said that it was because I never seem grumpy, and because I always seem happy to be in class with my students talking about math. It’s true that the students are my favorite part of the job. I have strong negative feelings about the system in which I work, particularly the fast and furious experiments that are being done within it, but after three years I am not even close to sick of the kids.

On my most recent and far-too-distant post about the premiere of “The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman,” the documentary film by the Grassroots Education Movement, one commenter said he knows what I’m fighting against, but asked what I am advocating for. The problem is that there is so much rapid change going on in education right now that if one doesn’t see privatization and union busting as the answer to our education woes, one has no choice but to join the fight. All of the energy that activist groups put into this defensive stance could without question be going instead into some amazing transformations, but at the moment that is not the case.

The answer to the commenter’s question, of course, is that I am advocating for my students. They are the only reason I teach or became involved in activism and my commitment to them informs the decisions that I make about the advocacy work I choose to do. When I write of standing against the excessive use of standardized tests, it is because I have seen its effect on what my students are being taught, on their engagement, and on their concept of learning and knowledge. When I write that the union is not doing enough, it is because I know they could be an incredible force for social justice in our schools and our communities.

But if my time were not being spent trying to divert the freight train of corporate reform, what kind of real reforms would I be pushing for? Here are my top four:

  • School environments that are deeply engaging and invigorating places in which to learn and spend time.
  • Well-funded community public schools where teachers have the support and resources that they need.
  • Department of Education policies that promote a socially just approach to schooling, education, and discipline.
  • Better and better funded structures in place to alleviate issues of poverty in our society.

So yes, I love my job because I love spending time with students every day. And I have a vision that many teachers share of the amazing learning environments schools could become if we as a society chose to change our priorities. In my next posts, I will flesh out this vision with examples from my own teaching for each of my “top four” priorities for real reform.

Unfortunately, a great deal of energy, time, and money is being spent by educational leaders on adding more high-stakes standardized tests, demonizing teachers, eroding teacher protections, and privatizing our schools. These changes move us further away from an engaging, socially just education system, not closer to it. And so at the moment, I choose to fight.

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.