The Intersectionality of Unruly Teachers
How teacher’s issues are at the heart of the resistance.
Public school teachers see America every day. When teachers get loud, it is for good reason. On Saturday, July 22, 2017, about 1,500 unruly teachers marched on Washington D.C., and many others did so in cities across the United States. This intersection of public school teacher’s protests with the issues in the larger society are both significant and telling. Make no mistake, teacher’s issues are everyone’s issues.
In 2015, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics, there were 3.1 million public school teachers practicing the craft in the United States. Almost 76 percent of that 3.1 million were female.
Teaching has traditionally been a low-paying, low-status, female-dominated profession. It is also family friendly employment. Often well-educated women have selected teaching in an attempt to gain a life-work balance which coordinates with family schedules.
It is caregiving work.
It is physical labor.
It is mentally draining.
It is challenging.
It is underfunded.
It is under-appreciated.
It is extremely rewarding.
These descriptors parallel with housework and stay at home parenting — that is not a coincidence.
When speaking at the March For Public Education on Saturday, July 22, 2017, Bob Bland, co-president of the Women’s March and CEO and Founder of Manufacture New York (MNY), expressed that public education is where all other issues in American society intersect. Intuitively, this has always been apparent, but with the existence of public education currently in jeopardy under the Trump and DeVos agenda, the support, investment, and discussions about the future of public education are crucial.
To kick off the rally before the march, a few brave kids sang the patriotic Woody Guthrie Song, “This Land is Our Land.” The Washington Monument was next door and it was sweltering.
These cute carolers reminded the attendees that the march was about students.
It is cliche and overused, but public school teachers always put children first. All children. The banner on the stage at the March For Public Education did not say teachers matter! Instead, the banner read: support our students. Public school teachers do not choose the zip code, the possible family issues, or the socio-economic status of their students. Rather, public schools open their doors every school day to America.
Public schools are the bedrock of American democracy. Every patriotic citizen should be clamoring for the best public schools for every student in the United States.
Another issue facing America’s students is college affordability. In her speech at the March For Public Education, student activist, Joseline Garcia discussed the topic, stating:
“Within the past 20 years, tuition at private universities has gone up 179%, and a staggering 296% increase at public institutions. In 1963- 1980s, a university student could work during their summer break to pay school; today we are at a point where a student has to work a full time minimum wage job for an entire calendar year to afford maybe the average of tuition. This means that it is almost impossible for any student to graduate without taking student loans. Americans owe over $1.4 trillion in student loan debt. That is more than credit card debt which is $620 billion. The student debt crisis has slowed down the financial growth in our consumer-driven economy by preventing many from investing in homes, cars, businesses etc due to the fact that they’re still paying off their student loans decades after they’ve graduated.”
Garcia, the daughter of immigrants, was able to fulfill part of the American promise of higher education. However, many of our nation’s college graduates struggle to reach middle-class status due to their debt burden.
“Make no mistake: Trump’s attack on public education is racist at its heart.
Although all public school students will be hurt by Trump’s cuts, minority and low-income children will suffer the most. Because it is minorities and low income families who are most dependent on public schools.”
— Elizabeth A. Davis, president of the Washington Teacher’s Union
Vouchers, school choice, scholarships, competency-based education, personalized learning all have at their root a fear of white students being exposed to the perceived dangers of non-white students.
Ultimately, the promise of integration held with the landmark case of Brown vs. Board of Education has failed to be achieved. Resistance to integration resulted in the white flight from urban areas, the underrepresentation of non-white teachers, and the present day school choice movement.
Although people love to champion Brown vs. Board of Education, one of the biggest negative impacts was the firing of teachers during the merger of white and black schools. Jose Luis Vilson discusses a major impact of Brown when he writes in his article “The Need for More Teachers of Color”, published in the Summer, 2015 edition of American Educator:
“For instance, when the Supreme Court began to mandate that southern states comply with Brown v. Board of Education, more than 30,000 black teachers and administrators were fired to ensure that white teachers kept their jobs.”
Dr. Paul Perry began his speech at the rally for the March For Public Education with humor, proclaiming that he was raised by gay men before being raised by gay men was cool. He went on to explain how during his time as an English teacher he felt compelled to protect children who were part of the LGBTQ community, stating:
“When I was teaching, I had a student named Angela who had two lesbian moms. While in my classroom, I kept her safe from any bullying. But Angela had to walk down the halls and eat in the cafeteria too. I wasn’t always there to look out for here and no protections were in place to ensure she was safe in her identity as the child of LGBTQ parents. Learning takes a backseat when youth don’t feel safe. Students like Angela get shifted around from school to school because we’re not looking out from them through our laws and practices in schools.”
With regressive bathroom bills in North Carolina and proposed in Texas, protecting the rights of students is imperative. Public schools need to be safe places so that learning, not intimidation, transpires.
Students with disabilities enter classrooms across the country. Some disabilities are extremely noticeable and others might be subtle. Regardless of the spectrum of abilities, under IDEA law all students are required to receive an education in the least restrictive environment possible.
Leslie Templeton, pictured above, spoke passionately about the need for funding the IDEA mandate, stating:
“The government is suppose to fund 40% of the bill when it comes to funding special education programs but falls short of that by more than 17 billion dollars, funding it only 16%-17%. We owe it to our students with disabilities to have it fully funded and have services provided to every and all students, no matter what public school they go to, the color of their skin, their native language, and the type of disability they have. I ask you to stand for public school special ed, thank you!”
Betsy DeVos’ glaring lack of knowledge concerning educational law and programs was apparent in her confirmation hearings. Many Americans might not see special education and disabilities in general as a major issue, but Leslie Templeton pointed out that public dollars are impacted, stating:
“It’s one of the reasons I became a disability and education advocate, to demonstrate that we matter. Yet we are disproportionately represented in prisons, especially within female prisons were 40% have at least 1 disability. Also, a staggering 50% of people shot by police are disabled.”
Either way, taxpayers will “get what we pay for.” Our financial investments expose our values as American citizens. The proposed federal tax cuts to Medicaid will disproportionately affect students with disabilities — therefore, healthcare is also an intersectional issue.
Nativism and assimilation have been strong forces in the history of the United States. Since 2016 presidential campaign, chants to build walls and kick certain residents out of the country have impacted classroom and living room conversations alike.
Sanaa Abrar, representing a network of immigrant families and youth called United We Dream, and an immigrant from Pakistan herself, called out a chant at the March For Public Education: “Here to stay!”
When bullied or called out because of her religion and foreign beginnings, Abrar recalled the words of her mother:
“They want you to be angry.They want you to walk away. Don’t do that. Educate them. Make them better.”
At the March Abrar did just that — she educated the listeners to a plight facing many students in public education. Many students worry about family member’s immigration status.
Abrar praised educators for creating environments for her and others:
“And you know who also supported me along the way? Educators. Educators who created safe spaces for me to be me!”
Abrar’s experience is not isolated. I recall having a student in tears this school year because she feared that her parent’s citizenship ceremony would be postponed or canceled. I wrote about her story and highlighted the difficulty of teaching in an extremely polarized and unpredictable climate in my piece entitled I Was Born on 9/11/2001.
Immigration, religion, difference, and the creation of “other” significantly impact teaching and learning. Classrooms are often places of refuge for many students and the current political rhetoric greatly impacts the manner in which classmates interact.
Mary Cathryn Ricker, executive vice president of the AFT (American Federation of Teachers) represents 1.6 million teachers, paraprofessionals, nurses, healthcare professionals and higher education faculty members.
Teacher unions, and unions in general are much maligned but rarely given credit for the higher standard of living and working conditions that unions have doggedly promoted.
Ricker signaled crucial labor issues facing teachers and all workers, outlining the AFT’s goals:
“Equitable public education; meaningful inclusion; testing sanity; The kind of school funding that supports the schools our students deserve; and the right for all workers to organize!”
Ricker went on to explain that the national political agenda is trickling down to the local level like acid rain by outlining the negative impact of the Trump and DeVos agenda:
“Betsy DeVos and Donald Trump want to take a meat cleaver to public education. Their budget is cruel to kids and catastrophic to public schools. They plan to cut $9 billion from our schools to fund massive tax breaks for the rich while also peddling failed privatization and voucher schemes.”
Furthermore, Ricker called for a collaborative approach to collective bargaining by citing her work as the president of the St. Paul Teacher’s Association:
“There, we pioneered a new way of bargaining — a collaborative, community-engaged way. I made it my mission to tap on what I call our wealth of solidarity…We held listening sessions across the city asking, what are the schools our students deserve? Who are the teachers our students deserve? What is the profession those teachers deserve?…Rather than just asking for support, we sought our common interests and worked alongside each other and we’ve accomplished great things: reasonable class sizes, culturally relevant curriculum, high-quality professional development, access to art, music, world language, physical education, a school nurse for every school, librarians, counselors and social workers.”
The March For Public Education was a turning point for public school advocacy. Although teachers are not natural activists, they have been summoned by national events and local disparities. The problems did not begin with the current political administration, and they will not end when Trump leaves office. However, teachers will not be silenced. Teachers will resist. Teachers will take back education from the privateers, the corporations, the politicians, and other false prophets. Public education is a right and it is integral in a free and open society.
Click the link below for a post where you can locate links to all of the speeches shared, or click on the person’s underlined name above to reach their words.