I’ve never thought of myself as an activist. That was never a role I ever wanted to play, although of course, there were always issues to get behind. That has changed over the course of the last year.
I am an educational activist.
It was a role I didn’t seek. It came to me. I find myself speaking to everyone I know (and random people I don’t know) about education. No conversation passes without some reference to the “reform” we are currently experiencing in New York. I organize, I speak at events, I write and I use every organization I belong to as a means of questioning the agenda. I opt my daughter out of tests, I question the administration at her school and I do whatever I can to support her teachers.
Am I doing it out of a love of my career as an educator? Am I doing it for my daughter currently stranded by this system? Do I do it because of all my friends that teach and my students that are future teachers? Am I doing it for myself because the option of just standing by is not on the table? I’ve lost track of my real motivations long ago, but it is some balance of all of these reasons.
I just know I can’t stop even though I am experiencing a host of negative effects. What I am starting to find is that this activism is taking a toll on my personal well being and my family and I begin to question why I fight so hard.
I find myself obsessively checking the feeds on the groups I belong to on FaceBook. I am never without my phone because I look for that constant update – hoping for some good news for a change. I am in constant contact with the other organizers of Oneonta Area for Public Education and I know we all share the pressure of “if we don’t do it, who will” – as if we could stop even if we wanted to.
I find myself breaking down in tears at the smallest acts. A student in one of my classes mentions a fabulous teaching idea she has, but can’t implement because the school is full module adoption– I cry. A friend talks about buying books for her students for the winter holidays to give them the gift of reading and she has a spreadsheet with all their genre favorites – I cry. My daughter comes home from school excited for the first day in two months because she got to manage her own learning for a change and it didn’t come with a worksheet – I cry. My daughter tells me she hates that she is the only one that opts out of the school tests and I cry.
I don’t sleep anymore. My husband relocated to the spare bedroom because of my insomnia. I toss and turn all night and often wake in the night to write down ideas on what we can do to halt this machine destroying schools. I have panic attacks and anxiety. My doctor has prescribed me Xanax. I can’t catch my breath. My heart races and I am on edge at all times.
I lie to my students. They are future teachers and I tell them how fabulous education is. It used to be true. When I don’t lie to them and I reveal the truths of what they will experience in the field, I am criticized by those that have bought the lie sold by SED and Commissioner King. I am told that I am making them jaded.
Despite all this, I can’t stop fighting. I fight because I need to believe in a better educational future for my 7 year old and for the soon to be teachers I mentor. I fight because I can’t give up on a career that I have devoted my life to. I fight because I feel energized and empowered when I meet with a group of other like minded individuals that want to reclaim education. I fight when I see the hope in the eyes of my students and the knowledge that they have a voice.
But I need you. I can’t keep fighting with just this small group of individuals. We need you to share the burden of activism. I need you to challenge what is happening in our schools and I need you to stand up and say “No More.” With all of us together we can enact change and we can reclaim our schools. We know scripted curriculum is not the answer and that high stakes testing is not productive. We know that teachers must not have test scores included in their measures of effectiveness. We know that sharing our student’s private data to be sold to the highest bidder is not appropriate.
Join me in this fight. Share your stories by giving your testimonials to us to post. Join in local activist events that are up-coming or plan your own in your town. Network to know you are not alone by joining OAPE and meeting others. Everyone has a stake in this. If you have children, grandchildren or love a child you need to fight. If you are a teacher or involved in education on any level you need to fight. If you love a teacher or educator, you need to fight.
Use your strengths. Everyone has something they can contribute. Are you an artist? A public speaker? Someone comfortable in approaching the school board? Can you write a letter to your state representatives or even dash off a quick e-mail? You have something to contribute.
I look forward to raising my fist in the air with you and shouting “NO MORE.”