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The simplest things

April 29, 2011

The Save Our Schools March & National Call to Action is collecting 338-word statements on what parents, teachers, and students think education should look like, in response to his own 338 words contradicting the real-world effects of his administration’s policies. Here are mine.

Mr. President,
I worked so hard for your campaign in 2008. I canvassed, raised money (which at one point involved knitting an afghan with 15 other people– long story), and of course, I voted. I was hopeful.

At the time, I was working at a Quaker school much like the one to which you send your daughters. (We met there, actually; right before your speech on race during the Pennsylvania primaries.) It was challenging and rewarding, as teaching naturally is, but it was the kind of challenging that still allowed me to make it home at a decent hour, share a nice meal with my then-boyfriend (now husband), read, call my mother…and canvass, and knit for fundraisers.

A little over a year ago, by contrast, I was writing frantically to school board members, and consolidating evidence in order to defend my career. (In vain, as it turned out; a glimpse of the future, perhaps, for teachers in the many states where due process will soon become a thing of the past.) The hour wasn’t decent. There was no nice meal. Mom often worried, since I’d take days to call her back. We’d gotten used to that.

There was a campaign going on, but I barely knew about it because the only world to which I paid any serious attention was that within my classroom. (I’d have helped knit an afghan, but by then knitting was something I only had time to do during mandatory trainings on how to administer some test or another. UnProfessional Development, I call it.)

It was a struggle. And now, at times, it feels more like a knock-down, drag-out fight.

Fun fact: I painted those walls before school started, after spending extra time on professional learning, with the help of a colleague. Guess we were just a bunch of lazy teachers with the summer off...

But I still wonder why it has to be so hard. Though teaching is inherently complicated, my desires were pretty simple. All I wanted to do was to give poor kids the same educational opportunities I had (in public schools, thank you very much!), the same kinds of educational opportunities I was trained to design in a private school setting. All I wanted was to use the knowledge, skill, and creativity that I was hired for in the first place, without being harassed for making changes to suit my students’ needs and interests; without having to compromise my health or my ideals in order to make us all fit into a standard little bubble. (You said I wouldn’t have to, you know…)

My students wanted the chance to learn in meaningful, engaging ways and show what they can do– something humans are naturally inclined to do. Their parents wanted them to learn, and have the opportunity to lead strong, productive lives. Again, simple things.

So why do we have to beg for this, when you and Sasha and Malia don’t? Why is the idea of providing equitably for all children– or at least covering the basics before the extras– suddenly a radical proposition? Why should people who care about students and education be disparaged because we disagree with the rich and powerful? Why can’t teachers teach, and students learn; why shouldn’t parents be able to send their children to any school within walking distance– no lotteries, no marketing, no struggles– and KNOW their child will be accepted, respected, and receive a high-quality, empowering education?

I’m over our word limit, so I’ll end by asking: why do we have to fight for the simplest things?

One Comment leave one →
  1. April 30, 2011 8:00 am

    Thank you, Sabrina for your heartfelt, strong yet simple message. Indeed, why do we have to fight for the slimplest things?

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