As I drove out the parking lot of my school on Thursday, April 26th, I remember thinking about the upcoming teacher walkout. I was feeling uneasy;
I was not planning on participating.
I had a laundry list of reasons why I was not going to participate:
--The timing didn’t feel right
--We weren’t really asking for anything tangible
--I didn’t like the way the information was sent out to our staff by our union reps
--What difference would 1 more person make down there,
--I am just not a protestor at heart.
These were my main reasons for not walking out. If I am honest, I also don’t work 4 jobs, I don’t work in the summer, I don’t take grading home with me, and our dual income salary gets us through for the time being. I didn’t identify with the messages that I was seeing on the signs in Arizona, Oklahoma, West Virginia, and even from earlier in Colorado. Always, I have been the guy rooting on the protestors without actually stepping out there myself. When people asked if I was going to the Capitol my answer was, “I am not sure yet, maybe.” This was all meant to placate my interrogators, with no real intention of going down to march. My mind was made up by the time I got home at 4:15, I would show up to work the next day, get some tidying up done, hang out with some friends, and go home at my contracted time. I could always watch the march all day on the news.
Somewhere between 4:15 and 8 o’clock pm something changed. I went down a rabbit hole, I started reading the news to check on the march numbers from the first day of protests. I started to notice that my local news of choice, 9 News, was posting some really disparaging stories on the teacher walkouts. Stories like how Colorado really was 31st in teacher pay, not 46th, how the walkout creates tension between parents and teachers, and even a story on how some want teachers jailed for utilizing their Constitutional rights. Then came the comment sections under these stories on Facebook. I am a glutton for punishment, I read comments on Fox News for fun (bring the popcorn), but as I was reading these comments I began to get angry. Most comments were highly supportive of teachers, but it only takes one or two bad apples to spoil the bunch. I am paraphrasing, but comments included the following sentiments, “Teachers should know their place, which is in the classroom with their kids. If they cannot find their place then they should be fired.” Or, “If you annualize the teacher’s salary then they make 65 grand! That is pretty sweet for working ¾ of a year!” And my favorite, “There (sic) just being lazy. There (sic) not caring about students only about there (sic) pay.” On and on and on about how teachers knew what they were signing up for so they should just accept their situation.
, After an hour or 2 of pouring over these comments, videos, and conversations, I had a realization. We teachers are oppressed people as defined in Paulo Freire in Pedagogy of Oppressed (1970). If you haven’t had the pleasure of reading Pedagogy of the Oppressed, it is a foundational education book. It lays a framework for education as a transformative experience that allows for the oppressed to become liberated.
As I was saying, teachers are facing massive oppression. While not oppressed in the traditional sense with violence and extreme poverty we are nonetheless facing an oppressive regime of anti-teacher sentiment designed to maintain a societal status quo that benefits the rich and robs from the poor. I had fallen into a trap, I was starting to believe some of the comments, thoughts like, “Maybe we should stop whining,” came into my head. This makes sense,
"Self-depreciation is another characteristic of the oppressed, which derives from their internalization of the opinion the oppressors hold of them. So often do they hear that they are good for nothing, know nothing and are incapable of learning anything – that they are sick, lazy, and unproductive – that in the end they become convinced of their own unfitness." (Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, page 63)
For me, this understanding was key. The other Freire-ian principle that was present here was the idea that in order to be freed from oppression there had to be a collective group effort, a grassroots campaign with education being the mechanism through which liberation occurs. Suddenly, these negative commenters and journalists were my oppressors. However, through the transitive property (#math) if these people were oppressing me, they in turn are oppressing my students through lack of appropriate funding. And because the funding that we do get in education is never given equitably, the students who will be hurt the most will be my students, immigrant ELL’s who live in poverty. Essentially this anti-teacher rhetoric became a sneaky way (perhaps unintentionally) of screwing over poor students of color to maintain the status quo for wealthy white people in America. If I wanted to fight the oppression of my students then I needed to stand with them, in communion, and be part of an education revolution. At that point the choice was made, I put in for the day off and was resolved and excited to march with my fellow educators, for the future of our students.
English Language Development teacher attempting to bring some truth to the table.
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