I am clueless.
I wanted to teach because I wanted to change the world. Seems like a completely ridiculous goal to look back on after 15 years of being an educator…changing the world? In my everyday life working in a public high school, I am not even allowed to change a lightbulb by myself. How self-centered of me to think that I could change anything at all. I walked through the threshhold of my classroom for the first time and saw endless posibilities. I saw the potential of my words and my actions and I thought about the countless children whom I could affect. I was talented. Earnest. Open-minded. I was a fighter. I believed in education as a route to freedom and peace. I believed that I could reach everyone in my classroom with lesson plans filled with critical thinking and self discovery. In my classroom, children would be able to rise above prejudice and injustice. I would be able to equip children of color with the tools to express their anger and resentment with line, shape, and texture; through beauty. Children who were different, quirky, and unable to fit in, would find a home in my classroom. Students could feel valued and safe. In my classroom, I would model being an upstander and using my voice to innact change. Because public school, I believed, is the great equalizer. In public school every child has the same chance to learn.
I was so freakin’ wrong.
My classroom is none of these things. My school is not what I dreamed of. I can’t help my students. Its too hard. Despite my gleaming heart of gold that I wear on both sleeves, some of my students aren’t actually eager to learn from me. Some of my students don’t see my classroom as a safe place. Despite my constant attempts to find ways to inspire my students, many of them leave my classroom uninspired. Why did I think that these children would enter my classroom as equal partners in their own learning? Why didn’t I see the whole picture? Why couldn’t I examine myself as unequipped to help many of my students? Did I think that I could wash away centuries of inequality with some well-placed watercolor brushes? Did I think I could assign writing prompts that would erase lives filled with unending poverty and violence? How dare I? Am I arragant enought to believe that I have any right to even think my students need “help”? My changing the world is an idea that comes my white priviledge and inability to accept my students as they are.
I was wrong to ever think that I was entering a profession of noble and brave human beings that were more heroic than everyday adults. My fellow teachers are not changemakers like I imagined them to be. They entered this profession like me…wanting to fix what is wrong with the world but now spend most of their time worrying about compliance and the status quo. We are not empowered to teach our students in innovative ways. We are not encouraged to evaluate ourselves and to search out ways to teach all student in the way they must be taught. We are not even given tools to try and connect with our students or gain empathy towards them. These days, I find myself apologizing for wanting to make change. I can’t find allies who prioritize change for the betterment of our students. Instead of heralding equality for my students, I find myself feeling shamed by my colleagues for complaining about the way things are. I am told that “my moral compass is wound too tight”. I am asked if maybe I should find ways to let my anger go- maybe I should find relaxation techniques so that I can accept the way things are.
Maybe teaching public school is not for me. Maybe there is no place for me in this system. Perhaps there is some other place in which I can still believe that I can change the lives of others. I don’t know how to exist in this system without trying to affect change. I don’t know how to watch the system which I am a part of giving up on my students without feeling the overwhelming need to fight back. But I cannot change anything by myself. I don’t know how to. I don’t have the desire to. I want a new system. Lets build a new public school. One in which teachers recognize and respect their own talents and one in which students can do the same. Lets build a school that aknowledges a history of inequality in our country and seeks to level the playing field; a school that does not erase past injustice, but seeks to rectify it. Lets build a school based on research and change, innovation, and understanding. Lets give teachers their well-earned right to teach, lead, and facilitate. Lets give students their well-deserved right to learn how to be themselves, and not force our biased assumptions about who they should be.
So after my holiday spending, I have almost 30 dollars. Anyone want to chip in for a new public school system?