I don’t know how to tell my story without yelling

I don’t know how to tell my story without yelling. Without my hands raised in the air, using a calm and measured tone. I don’t feel calm and measured about the state of education in this country. I don’t feel half way about anything, but especially about injustice. Ask my mom, I’ve been screaming IT’S NOT FAIR my whole life.

I walked into the copy room this morning to find a bookshelf, full of reams of copy paper. The only problem is that we didn’t have enough shelf space. Unopened boxes wait patiently on the floor for the end of year rush to copy study guides and final exams. My first year of teaching, I got an email in October that the paper had run out. I had to supply my own. I don’t ever want to be ungrateful for those things, for the paints my students are using as we alter books this spring, for the endless supply of pencils and pens that I do not have to buy with my own money.

I don’t understand why there are schools that don’t have basic supplies. This isn’t in some far away place. I am talking about school in the same zip code as your house.

I try to talk to my colleagues about it, and they just look confused. Many of them have only ever taught here, they didn’t know that schools still existed that have such a lack of supplies.

Maybe this is why I yell. I am trying to make sure that everyone will hear me this time.

I went to a writing conference. I had meetings and met people and talked to anyone who would listen about how I wrote a book about injustice in the inner-city school. And you know what? People listened. People wanted to know about my crazy story and the ways that it can get better. I tried to be professional, not wave my hands excessively or talk for more than my elevator pitch. I tried, I did, but the tears sometimes leak out. The urgency is real.

Right now, in a school in the same city as you, there is a crop of eighth graders who are excited about the possibility of finally being high-schoolers next year. Many of these students are headed to schools with graduation rates as low as 40%. Forty percent. Congratulations, you are in high school, and you are going to have to fight like hell just to make it through your senior year. Your entire future depends on your ability, at fourteen, to consistently make good choices. The stakes are that high. 

It is dire, and urgent,and if we could just change the disparity in education, we could probably stop building new prisons. We would no longer need them. I can’t tell this story without yelling, because I am sure this is a problem that is solvableThe situation is desperate, but not without hope. For every desperate school, I believe that there is a solution. I think we could give every kid a real honest to God chance at graduating High school, if we just invested in the school closest to us that needs it.

I think systemic change could happen tomorrow, or at the very latest in August. Right now, your local school is planning for next year. Right now is when they are being told how many teachers they will have and how much of their budget will be cut for next year. Right now is when the principals are trying to figure out how to make ends meet. Call them. Google “worst school in (insert your city name) and CALL THEM. Tell them you want to help and then LISTEN. The schools already know what they need, they just don’t always have the means to get it.

So that is why I yell. Why I talk so fast at parties people can’t get a word in edge wise, why I smack the person behind me on accident because I am gesticulating wildly. It is because I want to make sure I am heard. I am trying to make you care. We could change the trajectory of an entire school. If we just decided we wanted to. I’m yelling so you will hear me.


11 thoughts on “I don’t know how to tell my story without yelling

  1. This goes along with what I’m reading today. http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/charter-school-debate-new-york

    It’s so frustrating. I’ve donated to classrooms before so they’d have a good library for kids. Once you give kids books, they want to read more and more. And for many, school is the only place they have access. I hope you inspire lots of people to get involved.

    Everyone can take a look at Donors Choose and find classrooms near them where they can help. http://www.donorschoose.org/

  2. I remain utterly convinced in parenting, and in life, that sometimes the only way to be heard over the noise is to yell. We need people like you who will make sure we hear, and listen, and do something about it.

  3. Last semester I had a student who had gone to Phila’s best public school, and he reported that they didn’t have librarians. I know someone who teaches high school Latin at a Phila public school and he has to do it without books. It’s insane, and scandalous, and societal suicide. Profit and education is a terrible combination. I’m glad you’re yelling, and I am too. I recently found out that my university has a public service network, and I’m going to volunteer at a local school library next year. I think you’re right: the politicians have betrayed us, and individuals in the community need to step in and fill the gap.

  4. It doesn’t have to be this way – you’re right.

    There has to be a fundamental change in how we view education, and what makes an educated person, and as a society we have to put a value on that, and exercise that value through community involvement, and in how we vote.

    Over the time I was teaching engineering at the college level, I saw the goals go from teaching a basic understanding of the art to an attitude of “just teach them the software”. It was a disservice to the students, and will eventually be a disservice to society.

    Really, I think it’s all about respect. Respect for teachers, to be sure, but also respect for the innate ability and potential of the students. We have lost both. We look down on teachers, paying them far to little and imposing workloads and expectations that are far too high and broad.

    And I’m afraid that we have accepted a paradigm in which we ‘manage’ students. The expectation is not that they’;ll be challenged (though caring teachers fight this). Rather, they re channeled through a minimal set of standards that is assumed to absolve administrators, politicians, and ultimately the community from any responsibility for the damage that’s caused by this pernicious lack of care and attention.

    Students are not interchangeable parts that will be fitted into society, usually at the lowest common denominator. They are unique individuals with the potential for hopes and dreams and love and decent lives, and we are robbing them of much of what they might achieve.

    They are our children, and God’s, and we will have much for which we must answer.

  5. Abby, I don’t know what you’re complaining about. When we ran out of paper that October, the administration told us about all the cheapest deals on copier paper so we could buy our own at the best price.

  6. Personal community involvement in local education makes the difference. Kind of “Little House on the Prairie” style (if anyone watches that). The school marm lived with a family of one of her students. Locals painted the school house and chopped wood for the wood burner. If we have community connection and buy in for local education today, maybe we can build caring, libraries, and that old fashioned concept – pride in our schools. Volunteers and donations may be the critical push.

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