By Todd S. Hawley & Adam Jordan
With the 2017-2018 school year wrapped up, we dedicate this month’s column to all the committed people who make up the ecology of our public schools: hardworking teachers, principals, school nurses, counselors, school maintenance workers, custodians, cafeteria workers, and others.
As former teachers, we both remember how exciting the end of the school year was. As high school teachers, we were witness to many graduation ceremonies marking the end of one phase of a student’s life and the beginning of another. We know that for students the end of the school year also means saying goodbye to your favorite teacher and the excitement of moving to the next grade. For schools, the end of the school year also means saying goodbye to valued members of the teaching profession who are retiring, giving colleagues and the community time to celebrate all that they have given throughout their careers.
The end of the school year means teachers can look forward to finding time to recharge and reinvest in themselves to be even better prepared for the hard work of teaching when the 2018-2019 school year begins.
Todd was recently in a high school on the last post-planning day for teachers, and there was a sign that read, “Teachers are solar-powered; they recharge in the summer.” When the principal ended her comments on the school year, she mentioned the sign and hoped the summer would bring much-needed rest and time to recharge. All the teachers in the room laughed and cheered. It was a special moment that clearly demonstrated the closeness of school communities.
The end of the school year also brings time to reflect on the past year and get organized for the future. For teachers, this means continuing to work on unit and lesson plans, attending conferences and professional development workshops and working with grade-level teams to improve as professionals. Yes, this work happens in the summer. When most people think “summer school,” they think about the struggling students who were assigned additional time in summer school. For teachers, summer doesn’t equal extended vacations or unplugging from work for three months.
To honor the hard work being put in by teachers and students during the past school year, and to offer support for those working hard this summer, we decided to set up a summer school for anyone interested in supporting teachers. These assignments are for those of you who reject the notion that teaching is easy and a profession where teachers get three months off. These assignments are for folks willing to stand up for students, teachers and schools both locally and nationally. Just like a high school teacher who assigns summer reading, we have no way of knowing if you will actually do any of these assignments. Instead, we will do our best to provide a compelling rationale for each assignment.
Our hope is you will put in some work on behalf of teachers this summer.
Make Calls & Write Letters Demanding Gun Reform
As we sat down to sketch out ideas for this month’s column, we found ourselves again watching news footage from another deadly school shooting. The murder of eight students and two teachers at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas, left us wondering if things were ever going to change. The students killed in Parkland, Florida, were not enough to bring gun reform, nor was it enough to stop President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence from speaking at the National Convention of the NRA. Of course, even the Secret Service recognizes the importance of restricting access to guns at such events, and it banned weapons in the convention hall while Trump and Pence spoke. Kudos to the students from Parkland who called out this hypocrisy. We considered calling our column, “The New Normal: You Could Be Killed at Work if You Decide to Become a Teacher.” We have both had prospective teachers express their concerns about being shot in their classrooms. These conversations will certainly continue. Remember all of those teachers we talked about at the beginning of this column? We do not want them to die. We want to demand that things change so teachers and students can focus more on learning and less on active shooter drills.
Your first summer school assignment is to make phone calls and write letters to your elected officials. Find out who your elected officials are. When you call or write them, please mention your support for the teachers in your local school district. Tell them how much those teachers mean to your community and that they deserve to work without fear of being shot and killed. After you call or write, tell your friends and encourage them to make calls, too. Share your experience on social media and let everyone know how easy it was to take five minutes to take a stand for teachers and students.
Support Teacher Activism & Become an Advocate for Teachers
The 2017-2018 school year will also be remembered as the year when teachers stood up.
Most teacher activism centered around increasing teacher pay and overall funding for students and schools. Teachers in Oklahoma, West Virginia, Arizona, Kentucky, and North Carolina went on strike, walked out, or held sick-outs to take action in their state capitals, demanding elected officials demonstrate a deeper commitment to educational quality. These protests demonstrate just how much power teachers have when they work together and advocate for increasing the educational quality of their schools. The “Red for Ed” movement has been growing on Facebook and other social media sites after the West Virginia strikes demonstrated the power of teacher activism. Teacher activism stands in stark contrast to the model of funding for-profit charter schools and voucher policies that allow parents to use public funds to attend private and religious schools.
As we have written about previously, U.S. Betsy DeVos Secretary of Education is working to create a competitive marketplace where public schools compete with for-profit charter, religious, and private schools. In this model, the students and their families choose, and the money follows them. So-called “failing” public schools are encouraged to accept the challenge and miraculously find ways to improve. This corporate model of school reform stands in stark contrast to the collective action taken by public school teachers across the United States during the 2017-2018 school year.
Given the current reality of public school funding and the ongoing efforts to divert public funds to private and charter schools, there is plenty of work to be done on behalf of public schools.
Your second summer school assignment is to reach out to a teacher. We know you have them in your families and neighborhoods. The next time you run into a teacher, ask them what you can do to help support their work, to make their working conditions and the learning conditions of local students better. And don’t just ask one teacher and think you have finished this assignment. Talk to as many teachers as you can find. After talking to these wonderful people, thank them for all they do. Before ending the conversation, give them a high five. You will both feel better. Finally, after you have talked to local teachers, take action. When you call your legislators about gun violence, you could also discuss ways that they can improve funding for public schools. Next, start or join a Facebook group (like Red for Ed) that supports public school teachers and students. No matter how you respond, we encourage you to take action.
Find a Way to Support Children & Families Who Need It
Iron your Hug More Necks T-shirt, slap that bad boy on, and go out and find a way to support students and families in need this summer.
When we imagine kids getting out of school for the summer, we always imagine a day of jubilee, and for many kids, it is exactly that. But every teacher knows many students go into summer anxious and afraid. At school, they had at least two square meals and social interaction. Many students go into the summer months with food insecurities and anxiety. Find a way to plug in and help those kids and families. It is likely that your community is already doing something. Perhaps it’s a backpack program for food-insecure families or a food bank. Maybe it’s a summer enrichment camp or a mentor program. Whatever that something is, find a way to be a part of it. Most folks are afraid to complete this assignment for a couple of reasons. First, you think you don’t have a unique skill to offer. Second, you think the responsibility is too overwhelming. Neither could be further from the truth. If you’ve got the heart to hug a kid’s neck and listen, you’ve got the skills. We promise those folks who work tirelessly to run these programs will welcome a level-headed somebody with open arms.
Make Your Work Visible!
Everyone loves extra credit, so we would be missing out if we didn’t provide an opportunity for everyone to make their learning, and hard work visible. So, we would love to hear from you about how you approached these assignments. Use this link to tell us how it went. Post a comment on The Bitter Southerner’s Facebook page and/or Twitter feed. Let us know what your elected officials said when you called and wrote letters. Tell us what you learned from your local teachers and how you acted on those conversations. We would love to hear from you, and we would love to showcase your good work.
Now get to work!