Search This Blog

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Why Teach?

From the first night in my Tuesday night class with a 170-year old truth. I shared the failed history of 170-years of failed reforms. Reforms rooted in "same old same old" the teacher needs fixing. 170-years of new rigorous standards and formal testing. NCLB, RTTT, and ESSA is forcing our poorest schools to compete against each other for limited resources. A constant drumming message to teachers is you must do more, and do more with much less. 170-plus years of inequity, injustice, and blame the teacher, the child, and the parent. A blame everyone, but the system itself.  A system without equity for all children. A system where wealthy schools get it all and poor schools get little or nothing.  A false accountability narrative that protects the wealthy, the powerful, and the connected. It allows the system to pretend it cares about all children, their teachers, and their public schools. Nothing short of a teacher and parent revolution could turn it around. In the meantime, Black, Brown, Special Education, and Poor children must suffer through new failing reforms that always mimic the failed reforms of old. Teachers do their best to keep their heads above water, for they know there are no lifeboats coming to their rescue. It is all upon them. 

After 170-years can we call it what it is? Systemic Racism, a system closely connected to White Supremacy. Where does such a system leave children of color, their teachers, and their public schools? In a system of abuse that needs change.
Still, children learn, teachers teach under abusive conditions.  This struggle for equity for all, is a struggle to give all teachers and children the resources and supports they need to succeed. This is the fight of our lifetime. Despite this systemic racist system, teachers and children struggle to do the best with what they have, and the system keeps blaming the ills of society on children, parents, and teachers. It gives a pass to racists, policymakers, our legislators, courts, and billionaires.

This Public School Systemic Racism Macro picture is difficult to fully see. It is hidden behind false accountability walls and fake reforms. I want to take it down to the Micro level. I want to talk about two hard-working urban Connecticut public School teachers. No really that different than the millions of other teachers teaching in our poor urban or rural schools. The ones fighting the good fight. Giving 110 percent to the children they teach. One English teacher, and one art teacher.  Michael Crichton, an author, screenwriter, and film director said:
“Why Teach? Why did Prometheus steal fire only to turn around and give it away? There is an inherent generosity in the human spirit. One of its faces is the teacher.” Like Michael Crichton, I have come to find that “Inherent Generosity” in the faces of the teachers I work with.
Last Friday after school, I met another one of those faces of inherent generosity. He is an art teacher Jason who teaches in an urban Connecticut public school. He wants to talk to me about his crazy dream (Teacher Hero Murals). So, I said come by after school on Friday.

As Jason was making his way to our CCSU Literacy Center, another urban face of inherent generosity was already working hard on one of our computers. She is another Connecticut teacher. She works hard, gives it her all, and thinks no one notices her efforts. She has come every Friday for over a year. To work on the district Dashboard, it must be turned in before Sunday evening. There is no time to do it during school hours. Not when you teach nearly a hundred students. What is this work? It is all her lessons for the week for 4 different classes, with strategic learning objectives, and connected to all the standards. There is no time to do it during the teaching day. Throughout the day she is already uploading attendance reports, assessments, making phone calls to parents, writing some 100 weekly individual progress reports. Poor School Districts across the nation keep piling that "can’t be done"work during the normal teaching day. Surveys point to about 20 hours without pay. That sounds low to me. Her day ends at 3, she stays until at least 6:PM and then spends another 5-6 hours in our Literacy Center on Fridays after school.  Unlike me, she is not political. She isn't radical, she doesn't think speaking up would change anything. But, she likes coming here, where she feels comfortable. She thinks of our Literacy Center as a second home. She is like a million other teachers doing the work that is required. She has an abundance of inherent generosity. She became a teacher to make a difference, and she refuses to walk away. She is doing her best to do the impossible. This is what Michael Crichton meant by why teachers teach."  What is 37 hours paid, and 20 hours of unpaid work in my professional opinion? It is abuse. 
Trust me her micro picture is not unique. The Macro picture of teaching in America is one of the millions. The millions of inherent generous teachers being abused.

We hear loud rumblings of a teacher shortage in the media these days. At Schools of Education in every state, we find declining enrollemnts in teacher preperation programs. My friend Dr. Timothy D Slekar the Dean of the School of Education at Edgewood College in Madison has begun challenging any notion of a teacher shortage. Dean Slekar is calling it Teacher Exodus. I am in complete agreement with Dean Slekar. What happens when you abuse professionals? They leave. It's not a shortage, it is an America Exodus of Public School Teachers leaving our schools.  Dean Slekar is coming to Connecticut to be one of our TEDxCCSU talkers. You can bet your bottom last dollar he be talking about this Teacher Exodus, and what we need to do to stop it. He'll speak truth to power, and solutions.  

Neil Gaiman wrote in Art Matters: “It is easy to pretend that nobody can change anything, that society is huge and the individual is less than nothing. But the truth is individuals make the future, and they do it by imagining that things can be different.”

What does this systemic racist system do to teachers? What do inequity and abuse have to do with these two urban public school teachers? Who is this teacher who spends her Friday nights doing her Dashboard? She is an individual who easily works 20 hours a week without pay. She thinks no one notices, but I notice, and I know why she does it. It is because she is a teacher imagining different. As she imagines different, 3 million other American teachers imagine with her. She is an abuse inherently generous heart being crushed by a system of abuse. She doesn't know it but she is one of my heroes.

Jason Gilmore another inherently generous public school teacher arrives about an hour after her. It's another Friday night at the Literacy Center, there are no classes, but Dr. Turner's door is open. Young Jason came from California to Connecticut a couple of years ago. He was a special education teacher in California, and his family packed up everything to come to Connecticut where he could be an art teacher. He is not one of my students, we are Facebook friends, and today we met for the first time face to face. We talked for 4 hours and recognized we are both dreamers. I love hearing Jason talk about art, and how he knows art can change our public schools. Trust me Hartford, you are going to see great things coming from Jason​. He wants to create teacher hero murals of diverse teachers. Almost all his students are diverse. We love our students, and we hope they will become teachers one day. They need to see people like them on every school wall.  He feels students will be inspired by seeing them. I agree with him. If only 30% of his dreams come true, it will be incredible. Connecticut is lucky to have this art dreamer from California. I see big things coming from Jason. My plan is to do whatever I can to help his dreams come about. I met a good teacher last Friday, and I made a great friend who imagines different. I teach classes of teachers at our university that are just like him. I teach classes of everyday heroes with inherent generous hearts who imagine different. 

To understand why I teach? I need to bring it back to Neil Gaiman and Michael Crichton: "The truth is individuals make the future, and they do it by imagining that things can be different.” and “There is an inherent generosity in the human spirit. One of its faces is the teacher.” I teach because I believe in teacher faces of inherent generosity who imagine different.  I fight the system, but I also fight for the individual child and the individual teacher. I understand the Macro fight. I also understand, if you don't fight the micro fight, you can't win the big fight.

Our Literacy Center has become a safe place for teachers. Someone needs to fight for these teacher-faces of inherent generosity. It might as well be me, for I have come to see them as my greatest heroes. I do my best to lift the worthy. All my prayers these days are for a better world for these teacher heroes finding their way to my door. The fight for equity can not be won without the teachers teaching in this system of inequity and abuse. I am a teacher face who imagines different

Get ready Connecticut,
Get ready America,
Get ready World,
Because Art will be rising,
Get ready Change is already marching,
Because teachers still imagine different.

Respectfully, Dr. Jesse P. Turner CCSU Literacy Center Director

If you like to listen to the song that inspired my morning walk in the rain its “Guadalupe” cover by Gretchen Peters > 

1 comment:

  1. They are private teachers who work with students either one-on-one or in small groups outside of the regular school system to strengthen their understanding of course materials and help them succeed in their studies. If you are curious to know more about private tuition, head over to the website.