Published: Apr 14, 2012 05:30 PM
Modified: Apr 14, 2012 05:24 PM
Our high school Spanish teacher was a patient man, somewhat browbeaten by the students. My pet name for him was Tio Calvito. Uncle Baldy.
Tio Calvito used a point system to track class participation. If you answered a question in English, you lost a point. If you answered in Spanish incorrectly, neutral; correctly, you gained a point. These were actually points, little pencil dots beside each students name in a grid-ruled binder.
Sometimes, when he wasnt paying attention, I would add points beside immigrant students who needed a boost. They spoke the language far better than we, but they understood Spanish grammar rules about as well as we understood English ones.
If Tío Calvito noticed me, he would sigh, saying in Spanish, Harris, sit down. You cant just manufacture points.
Im not, Id reply, pointing to the erasure marks. Im sharing mine. A native-born student who tested well, I had more than enough points to go around.
Weve been listening to a lot of North Carolina teachers with our current Hidden Voices project. Weve also been writing twitter poems with them. Theres a telling difference between what the new teachers and the midcareer professionals write. The young teachers believe they will make a difference. They believe they can affect change. They believe education is a right for every single child, not a privilege for a few. They are wrong. The constant pull in every different direction wears me thin. Let me teach.
Every year more legislation gets passed, more mandates handed down, to ensure teachers are not able to do what they are trained to do. Theres a lot of media about failing schools, failing students, and failing teachers. The truth is we have a country full of teachers who know what needs to be done and would be thrilled to engage in that activity. But they arent allowed to.
One of teachers biggest frustrations is that they pretty much have no voice in what they do even though they are held accountable. They see year after year whats happening to the children, but they arent allowed to make any decisions that affect them
the mandates have thrown what we know about child development on its head, explains an elementary school teacher.
Its a manufactured failing. We hold teachers accountable for things over which they have no control and then point to teachers as the problem in order to distract us from the real problem. Its an old tactic. Kids are people, not cogs, as are teachers, not machines with interchangeable parts, unique, not products created to be marketed.
Why does public education marginalize physical expression, engaged learning, history, science, civics, and the arts? Because we do not want students who think critically and express that critical thinking in creative ways. We do not want an informed citizenry. We want consumers.
What we need to reform is how corporations are funding the research that calls our schools failing and then (surprise) coming up with solutions that make those corporations more money.
It is going to require some determined rabble-rousing to shake loose the corporate power hold on our schools. It will require demanding that teachers be given the freedom to educate. That public schools be funded to a degree that does not embarrass us as a nation. And that school funding be free from corporate interests. Because it isnt our teachers who are failing; it is the corporate mindset that sees public education as a means to enrich their ends. Neglected resegregated schools 60 hour weeks (plus endless hours planning/ thinking about students) Paid less than a barista at a coffee shop Pocket change.
It is easier to blame the teachers and staff who pool their meager salaries to buy food for the children they serve; who lie awake at night wondering how to reach children who come to school angry and overwhelmed by the street violence surrounding them; and for whom school means metal detectors, police on every floor, tickets, and handcuffs. Prisons are big business.
Rather than tying teacher salaries to student test scores, how about tying legislators income to the progress they make addressing and remediating the actual factors that lower educational access for our students. How is each legislator doing on eliminating poverty; on eliminating violence; on expanding equity and access? For that matter, how is each corporate CEO? I felt sad because I knew: youd slip through the cracks. I hope you forgive me for not knowing what to do and not advocating loud enough soon enough for your best interest.
What do the mid-career teachers write about? Regrets. Forgiveness. Over and over, they ask the students to forgive them for not doing more, not advocating harder, not having the power to change their lives.
The real problem is poverty. Im not just talking about funding. Im talking about the poverty of mind that refuses to see solutions that are right before us. A poverty of mind that refuses to recognize we rise and fall together, and therefore, we must share those points around.