I Will Not Shame Myself for My Story

I read in a poetry show last Thursday. I wrote about the world I teach in and the one I used to. You may or may not know, I’ve written a whole book about it. I’ve worked through a proposal on it, in the hopes of getting this book published. I’ve guest posted about it, and run a series about it, and had countless dinner party conversations where I get angry and completely dominate the talking because I cannot stop talking about the injustice inherent in our education system.

I talk, and write, and THINK about the whole thing so often that I grow tired of the same words coming out of my mouth. I think because I have told the story about being awakened by a spotlight, or the story about not telling, that I have said it all. And maybe I have. But not everyone has heard it, and certainly not the people who can do something about it.

I have been holding back out of fear. Out of fear that there are only so many times I can tell this story, fear that there are only so many times people will listen. I am afraid that people will shake their heads and roll their eyes and say, “there goes Abby, talking about educational injustice again. I really wish she would stop.”

When I opened my mouth at that show last week, that didn’t happen. The words rang loud and angry and the crows grew silent. It turns out that I am not the only one in this world who would actually like to have No Child Left Behind, rather than a law that ensures it.

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I ran into an old colleague yesterday, one I hadn’t seen in three years. I asked her if she was still at the school I had left. She nodded. I asked her if the things I had been hearing from the county emergency response team were true. She nodded. I asked her if she were thinking about going somewhere else. She nodded. Ten years was enough. She couldn’t do it anymore.

I need you to know some things about this ninth grade teacher looking to get out. I need you to know I observed her class for one day and learned more about teaching than my entire under graduated education. I need you to know she produces some of the highest scores in the state, out of a school that has mediocre test scores at best. I need you to know that she is totally even keeled and not easily shaken. I need you to know that she had every intention of being a career teacher at an inner-city school.

She is tired y’all. She is tired of the news showing up and the guns in the parking lot. She is tired of the way the school isn’t safe and the energy it takes to just make sure no one is seriously injured on your watch. I don’t mean to say that I am not tired too. I am. It is 4 hours to spring break, of course I am tired. And my job is hard. Of course it is. I spend all day getting 15 and 16 year old’s to read and actually think about real life. But when she asked me, when she asked me what it was like, on the other side of the city where the kids are well fed and not in gangs, I remembered the truth: We may have the same title and make the same salary. We may sign the same contract. But the job is not the same.

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I know, and I forget. I’ve written poetry, and blog posts, and a whole freaking manuscript. I forget the way the air is toxic. I forget the way you wake up and put on your make up and drive to school wondering if you can do this today. I forget what it feels like to find ways to numb yourself because your job is that hard. I landed in a job that is hard but doable and I forgot that the impossible no longer exists, because it no longer exists for me.

I want to remember. I want to remember that there are kids who are not given a real chance in this country because they were born in the wrong place at the wrong time. I want to remember that there are neighborhoods that are the wrong place, and that 2014 is still the wrong time. I want to remember that we use the same words, school, teacher, chances, but that they are not at all the same thing.

I don’t think I care anymore, whether people are rolling their eyes and wishing I would talk about something else. I don’t even care that I tell the same stories. I am telling the stories that need heard. I am telling the stories because people don’t know, and I am telling them often because it is easy to forget. I am telling these stories because I believe that there are solutions and people who care. I am writing these stories because they are true, and because I need to remember that. I will no longer shame myself for my story. I will tell it until it isn’t true anymore. May that day come soon.

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13 thoughts on “I Will Not Shame Myself for My Story

  1. There are so many different grades of “hard” and “tired” in our profession. Since I teach, I’m often introduced to other teachers as if we do the same thing, when it’s obvious that they have to work so much harder than I do because of their context. I wish there were a way, in polite company, to acknowledge that we do not quite work in the same field, and that I am in awe of their diligence and perseverance.

  2. Abby,

    Stories that are true and change how people think need to be told again and again. Stories like yours that touch my soul and others never get old. Don’t stop Abby; even if you are removed from the war; it stays with you and you know what needs to be said.

    My oldest daughter is a teacher and my youngest will be soon. For them I don’t want you stopping. Teachers need a voice that tells the truth and stories that inspire and stories that light fires of change.

    Keep flaming the fires of change Abby. If you don’t who will?

    Thank you for doing so. Thank you for my daughters Jessi and Esther.

  3. I agree with everyone else…keep telling your story. I teach in a high poverty “failing school”. The teachers I work with are amazing. No one works harder than these people. I’ve seen teachers bring kids up 2 years in reading, yet they’re still considered “ineffective” because the kids aren’t up to grade level yet. (Most of our kids come to us several grades behind already)

    When I tell teacher friends (in more affluent areas) about the things we consider normal…the level of violence, the rate of mental illness, the hunger, the transience, the lack of basic necessities of life, you know the list…they can’t believe this is what I face each day.

    We need to do something to help our poorest schools, and it doesn’t involve handing them over to for-profit charters, testing them to death, or having the state take over. I don’t have the answers, but the public really needs to understand the effects that poverty has on our kids.

    Keep telling until someone believes you 🙂

    • You are so right! I see them get off the bus in Kindergarten, frightened to be sent on their own on the first day of school. They show up hungry and tired, sometimes dirty, and often don’t know how to properly clean themselves after using the restroom, let alone tie their shoes or hold a pencil, or even a crayon. Where is the calculus equation to show their growth when they finally master such basic skills? There isn’t one, so the state marks the blossoming child as failing and the school gets a black eye for doing all of the right things.

  4. I think you’re terrific.

    I taught for ten years in a college environment – not the same thing at all, but I did see detrimental changes in the ‘official’ attitudes to education. They went from a relatively coherent and common-sense approach to sheer idiocy.

    Students are now numbers, and they’re used to polish the resumes of administrators.Nothing more.

    Please keep talking about it. We NEED you!

  5. Powerfully done, Abby. Don’t shut up – glad you’ve got a manuscript and I’m praying it finds a home. Soon.

  6. Oh Abby, my heart squeezes with empathy and shared passion for your cause of injustice in education. Experiential learning has been forgotten and standardized testing now drives the curriculum. Common Core has carved out the pleasure of literature. Without voices like yours, who will sound the call for revolution in American schools?

    • Thbis is so true. I have beeb teaching for 19 years and am now wondering if I can even teach one more year. thanks for sharing this post and know that teachersin fl feel the same as you and your friends!I

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