By Dr. Adam Jordan and Dr. Todd Hawley
Each new year, most of us make a resolution or two with the intention of doing things just a little bit better than we did the year before. Usually, our own personal resolutions are to lose weight and quit saying so many dadgum compound curse words.
Less than 10 percent of us keep those resolutions, and we two are no exception. We still rock size 2XL in our Bless Your Heart T-shirts, and we may still let some choice bad words slide out on occasion. Don’t worry; it’s never around kids, and it’s usually in defense of teachers. Lord forgive us.
In addition to resolutions, the new year is supposed to bring optimism. But 2017 brought some tough times in education, with ups and downs coming on the regular. We saw the beginning of the reign of a secretary of education who has never attended, much less taught, in a public school. We watched grant opportunities shrivel up, dry out, and blow away in the winds of a new presidential administration. We were teased with tax reform that would allow millionaires to see a reduction in tax obligations — while teachers could no longer deduct their classroom expenditures and graduate students could be taxed for their tuition waivers. We shook our heads as the Trump administration threatened to break the promise of the public-service loan-forgiveness program that has allowed thousands of teachers the opportunity to do what they love and one day escape the weight of student loans. We saw a continued conversation of “failing schools” that failed to acknowledge inadequate school funding, poor teacher support, overcrowded classrooms, and the impact of systemic racism and poverty. It was a rough year, y’all.
In this face of these despairing development, did teachers across this country give up? Oh, hell no. They taught. They loved. They cared. They persisted.
Don’t misunderstand. They didn’t look away naively. Teachers are well aware they are consistently the scapegoats for poor public policies and failing politicians. But despite how they are treated in policies or in public media, when they step into their classrooms, there are 20, sometimes 30 students depending on them. So, they push that negative stuff to the side, they smile, and they get to work, because not only are they professionals, they are quality human beings on a mission.
Throughout last year, we did our best to highlight many ways parents and community members can support teachers as professionals, resist attempts to dismantle public schools with using publicly funded vouchers to fund private schools, leverage collective action to create an anti-racist revolution in schools, and be part of the process of recognizing how we are failing our schools.
This year, we plan to highlight the need for schools to focus on how teachers, schools, and communities can support the most vulnerable among us. In that effort, we will explore the struggles of transgender students, teachers, and parents while celebrating the diversity found throughout our public schools. When appropriate, we’ll draw on both evidence-based and science-based approaches to resist further attacks on schools as places that are failing kids. Hell, we might even talk about schools as places where students should hone their skills as participatory citizens of a democracy, capable of deliberating why a government agency would ban the words “fetus” and “entitlement” in official budget documents.
Given all this, we’re making a couple resolutions we intend to keep.
First, this year we resolve to continue to rage against those who seek to use teachers as scapegoats.
Second, we resolve to highlight teachers who day in and day out fight for justice-oriented classrooms.
Along those lines, we thought this first column of 2018 would be the perfect place to begin fulfilling our resolutions. All through 2017, y’all sent us notes and messages highlighting educators who are making the magic happen in public schools all across the South and the rest of this nation. We read every one, and we would like to shout out just a few here. Over this year we will keep shouting out good teachers, so please keep sending them our way, but let’s start with these good people:
Gina Parnaby, English teacher at an Atlanta Catholic high school, keep working with your colleagues to create an anti-racist curriculum. It matters.
Karen Nickles, thank you for holding it down in Washington and fighting the good fight for children marginalized due to behavioral concerns. Thank you for seeing promise and not risk.
Rebecca Fields, art teacher in Henrico County, Virginia, thank you for using your talents to be a warrior for social justice.
Amy Roark, the Director of School Nursing for Clarke County, Georgia, we love that you are supporting the whole child in beautiful Athens. We’d be lost without our school nurses.
Drs. Katherine and Philip Brown, we are glad to know you are living the power-couple life in Oconee County, Georgia, pushing for inclusive schools.
Tori Ruis at Oakland Middle School in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, your teachers love you, and so do we.
There are too many people across the South doing too much good work for us not to be excited about education in 2018. We are excited this column is becoming a way for good educators across the South and beyond to connect. We are well aware that sometimes teaching can feel like a lonely island. Y’all remember we are all in this together. Together, we all make up the complex ecology of public education. Here’s to a year of good teachers and good policies. Let’s make 2018 the year of anti-dumb-ass pedagogy. (Oops, there went the cursing resolution.)
Y’all keep teaching; we’ll keep singing your praises.