I had planned to start this blog in April of 2015. Having recently attended the 2nd annual Network for Public Education (NPE) conference in Chicago, I was really motivated to start writing. But… you know… the daily things that occur regularly in life just kept happening, darn it! and I never found time to actually do it. I may have also been a bit nervous about actually hitting the Publish button. Now that I’ve quit teaching – you can read all about it here, here, here, and here! – I have some time to think.
So now, I present my original first blog post. At the time, my 14th year in the classroom as a high school English teacher was winding down. Here it is:
APRIL 27, 2015
I have been tossing around the idea of blogging for quite some time now. There are several reasons why I haven’t started this blog earlier. One reason is time. Or lack of time, to be exact. But when I say that out loud, it really just sounds like a lame excuse. Another reason is anxiety. I’m a little nervous about putting my thoughts onto paper (or screen) for all the world to see. Even if only three people end up reading this, it’s still anxiety-inducing. The fear of being judged isn’t so easy to shake off, it turns out. But I’m over 40 now, so I’m trying not to give a damn. The final reason I haven’t blogged until now is that up until this weekend, I didn’t really think I had anything original to say.
I mean, I’m just a teacher. I’m just one of thousands of teachers who do their best and work hard to reach their students. But I’m fed up and tired of wanting to bang my head against the wall every time I read another article about the current state of public education.
A few years ago, I started getting upset about what was happening in education. I started teaching in 1998, so I’ve see the pendulum swing from no standards to state standards to Common Core standards and the testing frenzy we have now. And around 2008, I was starting to get frustrated. Maybe it began before that, but by 2011 I was downright angry. And that’s when I started researching educational issues online and realized there were many others who were feeling the exact same way.
Only I didn’t personally know many of those teachers. I seemed to be the only one I knew who was angry and aware of what was happening in education on a national level. I found like-minded people online, in the Badass Teachers Association (BATs) on Facebook and in the comments section of Diane Ravitch’s blog. But where I worked, I wasn’t encountering many who felt the same way I did at that time.
Even now, there are still so many teachers around me who have no idea of the struggle we are engaged in for the future of public education. They are content to close their classroom doors and shut it all out. Maybe they know but don’t want to face it. Maybe they are quietly seeking a way out of the profession so they won’t have to get involved or be here when it really gets bad. Or maybe they know but don’t know what to do. Many don’t speak out because of fear, and still others just have no idea what is happening outside of their own school or district. But I believe a lot of it is just purposeful ignorance – that they don’t want to know. But once you know, it’s hard to ignore. It’s hard not to be angry and frustrated. Not knowing could be their way of coping. I get it.
I think it is because of all this that I realized I do have something to say. I want to add my voice to the national conversation and help people understand the struggles we are facing in public education.
I’ve been in way too many conversations lately where we are discussing issues in public education, but the person I’m talking to doesn’t have a basic understanding of the problem. Like all they know about this issue might be their two-fold opinion that A) their child’s school is pretty good, but 2) we’re in big trouble everywhere else according to the news (or some other faulty assumption).
In other words, on a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 is “I read Diane Ravitch’s blog daily and frequently find myself wanting to bang my head against the wall in frustration about what is happening with the massive and concerted effort to privatize public education” and a 1 is “Who is Diane Ravitch?,” the majority of people I come across are in the 1-2 range. On this scale of mine, I’m a 10. But there aren’t many other 10’s around me.
Let me be clear – this is not a criticism. It just seems to be what I have encountered. I’m not looking down on anyone. After all, unless you are a teacher or a parent with kids in public schools at the moment, public education may not be in your top ten list of big issues right now. I completely understand that.
So once I realize I’m talking with someone who is a 1 on my made-up scale, I don’t know where to begin. Is it, “So, let’s begin by going back to 1983 when A Nation At Risk was published…” or “Well, basically everything you think you know about public education today is wrong“? I mean, there’s just a cavernous amount of background information and topics to choose from when I’m in these conversations. Most of the time, I try to relax, take a deep breath, and try to quiet the voices in my head (How can you not know what is really going on?! Don’t you see what’s happening?). Then I’ll do one of two things: change the topic to something simple (“Hasn’t it been raining a lot lately?”) to avoid even having to continue the conversation because I don’t want to overwhelm the person (or have them think I’m some kind of crazy conspiracy theorist), or take a chance and continue the conversation.
I might try to ask a probing question to see what part of the iceberg we can start chipping away at first. Charters and school choice? TFA? High stakes testing and the opt-out movement? The role of the Gates Foundation or ALEC or other education reformers in public education? The effort to privatize public education? Teacher’s unions? And then, maybe, I’ll begin educating. I say maybe because I am frequently hesitant to begin a deeper conversation.
Once this happens, the person I’m talking to usually looks at me in a bewildered way, like Really? I had no idea! And if they are interested, I’ll keep going. At some point, I suggest they get Diane Ravitch’s book Reign of Error or her recently updated The Death and Life of the Great American School System. And sometimes, I see the fire being lit in their eyes that shows me they want to know more. This doesn’t happen often (though it’s been happening more and more lately), but when it happens, it’s awesome. That’s what knowledge does – it lights a fire that will keep burning so long as you keep feeding it. And I’ve got plenty of firewood to add to that fire.
So that’s why I’m starting this blog.
I’ve never written publicly before. Actually, I can’t say I’ve ever really written like this privately either. I’m not usually a journal-keeping kind of person. So I know I will struggle to find my voice. But I hope to hone it over time. I teach English, so when I write I have a tendency to have my English-teacher-voice speaking in my head, making me a little more cautious than I hope to end up being.
I’m hoping this blog will be a collection of my thoughts about public education. It will include my own thoughts and insights, reflections on my experience as a teacher, and a collection of what other great writers have to say about issues in public education. Over time, I may develop a more singular focus, but for now it seems like this will be a hodgepodge of things related to public education in some way.
I am a little scared of putting myself “out there.” Of inserting myself into the conversation. Of being exposed on the interwebs. So this blog is also a leap of faith in the hopes that I’ll gain more confidence in my own voice. But I’m at the point now where I’m going to explode if I don’t get in the game.
And so it begins…