Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Why the name Badass Teachers? How can that be a good example for students?

On Monday July 28 the Badass Teachers gathered outside the US Department of Education to make our concerns known. The news coverage, and questions from friends who saw personal pictures has brought a new round of questions about the name. For those who are just hearing, here's what I told my friends who asked.

To me, being Badass means being brave, being skilled at what you do, and being willing to fight for what's right even when the fight may not be winnable. When I think of Badasses, I think of people whose spirit cannot be crushed because of their internal integrity. You can kill them, but you cannot conquer them.

They are also people who no longer ask permission or accept instructions from those in power who use that power to abuse others.

Here are a few people I think of when I think of a badass in real life:  Gandhi, Susan B. Anthony, the men and women of D-day, Sojourner Truth, women pioneers, Jesus, my mother and father, and lots of others.  

In the movies and literature I think of Steve McQueen in Great Escape, Spartacus, Cool Hand Luke, Tom Joad, Sally Field in Places in the Heart, even Harry Potter, and 1000 other heros and heroines whose determination, honesty, and caring about others was inviolable. 

As teachers, for years we had been raising our hands politely, asking for "a place at the table," and being circumspectly respectful.

 It just kept getting worse. 

My breaking point was last spring when as English department chair I was responsible for making sure all the 11th and 12th grade students passed the barrier exam to graduate--even if they had learning disabilities, even if they had not been in-country long enough to speak English, even if they had been sick or had deaths in the family.

It was the third time the state had deliberately made the tests harder (not better or more comprehensive, but trickier, and dependent on knowing how to play the test).

My colleagues and I got all of the most vulnerable kids over the hump, with sleepless nights all around for parents, students and teachers; and much stress barfing and headaches, and many tears. We were successful. 

But at the end of that process I knew that what I had just participated in was abuse. I had been on the wrong side of something that made me ashamed of who I was, and what I did, and I resolved to do whatever it took to break the standards and testing machine.  This was not what American education was about or for.  

Right after that, on June 17, 2013-- 3 days after it was founded--I found and joined the Badass Teachers, other teachers who like me were done with allowing what was being done to our students, our colleagues, our schools, and neighborhoods. 

We don't raise being Badass in the classroom, though some our kids read the news and have figured it out.  We do our jobs, and advocate professionally and appropriately in the school building and in our political spheres.

But I like the name, I think it is perfect. It serves notice-- if you are coming after our students, and our schools, you may be dealing with teachers, those nice ladies and easy going guys who like to help kids learn,  but know, we will bring all we are and have to bear against those who would harm what we hold most dear. 

In one year we have gone from 3 to 50 thousand, and we are dedicated to being as Badass as it takes--for our children. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

An Open Letter to Lily and Randi

An open letter to Lily and Randi
(and other leaders in our state and national organizations) from a teacher.

Dear Randi and Lily,
First of all

Thanks for taking a stand against high stakes testing and for all your years of work for us
 But, right now

We often wonder why you do not take a stand against CCSS or Charters, and why you entertain ideas like “accountability” --why you even portray them as good or acceptable ideas.  It creates a real disconnect for us in the trenches suffering under the multitude of threats the various components of reform are delivering.

It is difficult for us teachers to imagine why you think these things are not a problem, and why you are not out there resisting them with us.

Here’s what we are hoping, and what allows us to continue to support you.

What we want to believe is that you have made a strategic decision  to challenge high stakes testing as the first leg of the privatization platform, perhaps because it is the easiest to explain to the public and the easiest to get support for from parents and general citizenry. 

The others (VAM, CCSS, Closures, Untrained teacher replacements, and Charters) can become complex to explain and leave teachers and schools open to accusations of protectionism and making excuses for poor performance, so perhaps you have decided to not focus your efforts there. 

Also, Charters, so far, have mostly targeted poor neighborhoods, which in today's climate, leaves other parts of the population believing it's not their problem.  Changing societal attitudes toward poverty is a big one to take on when we are in a hurry and need fast change, so we get why that might not be the first place you would choose to do full out battle.

It is true that once the testing collapses, the standards become expectations rather than detailed mandates, and there will be no scores from which to enforce VAM, or school closures. 

If we kill the testing, we may be able to seriously injure, even kill the other components of this draconian reform.

Ok, we get all that,


You cannot really expect us to give you a pass on challenging the other components of reform.

Though we can accept that you are choosing not to attack on all fronts at once, what we have real trouble with is that you actually voice support for some of the other components-- either partially or fully.  

Lily, your last blog was about the wonders of Common Core, and Randi, you regularly switch back and forth on your anti-reform stances. One day you are against an element, and the next you are getting headlines standing by the president to sign the next destructive initiative.  

So here is what we need from you to be able to wholeheartedly back you with unequivocal support.
  • We need you to wage all-out battle with us and on our behalf, using all the resources at your disposal to stop the high-stakes testing, marshalling the staffs, advocates, budgets, states apparatuses, and your own status and credibility to stop  the madness now
  •  We need you to hold off on statements and efforts to sustain, accommodate, or in any way support Common Core as currently configured or proposed, the implementation is how the reformers are driving our best teachers from the field. It is not a good thing, don't say it is. 
  • And to do the same, refraining from any position of support or acceptance, for Teach for America or other quick replacement schemes to replace the work force of trained teachers.
  • We need you to hold off on any endorsements, or positive statements related to “accountability” or “assessment” driven evaluations for schools or teachers as a possibly valid endeavor. New "accountability" schemes are not appropriate or ok right now. 
  • We need you to not endorse or support Charters, even as you support your individual members who teach in Charters. Charters are the goal and end game of privatization you cannot give them quarter.
  • We need you to reframe the conversation. The entire effort of learning and teaching has been turned on its head, away from curriculum and instruction toward assessment and standards by business schools (as opposed to education schools) across the nation.  Teaching and Learning come first, not the other way around.  Your new vision, must be accessible,clear and inspiring.
  • We also have to tackle that difficult issue of poverty, steadily and with our hearts and skills.  You have to articulate solidarity with those who have lost access to money and status in non-jargon, so that the everyday citizen can understand, empathize, and not glaze over.
  • Finally, and this is very important and very hard to do—We need you to be invulnerable:

o   To those with money
o   To those with power
o   To those with status
We need leaders who cannot be seduced with any of the things that normally attract and draw people to doing the bidding of others, not access to philanthropy, access to high office, the promise of fame and accolades, or fortune, or privilege.  That means you cannot let policy makers tell you one thing while they are doing another.

I know this is a lot to ask, but do these, and together we might just save our schools, our children and our society.  

Try this and we will have your back in ways you never imagined.

And --I really do appreciate the work you are doing.  

It’s just that there is a lot on the line right now, and we need leaders who can inspire us to follow without hesitancy or question.  

Can you do that?
One of many Third Millennium Teachers