I was asked by John Ford to give the closing speech at the all-member meeting of JCEA last Friday. I spoke on the heels of other compelling speakers who had pointed out the absolutely vital importance of getting a pro-public school board elected this November. We absolutely, positively must get at least 3 of the five seats up for election. Five of five would be better. Failure in this endeavor would be catastrophic for the kids in Jeffco. John asked me to tell my story, explain why, with only three years left to retire with very good benefits, I have devoted hundreds of hours to this cause. This is what I said:
I wasn’t planning to be a teacher. I was going to be an actress. I started acting in community theater when I was nine, and I didn’t stop—community theater, school plays, dramatic interpretation in forensics. I knew what I wanted. Until my freshman year in college. I decided to get my teaching license as a backup career, but what was supposed to be a simple college student observation led to a teacher’s challenge to write and deliver a lesson plan, complete with student assessment (we just called it a “paper,” back in the day). The day I stood in front of that classroom, barely out of high school myself, my soul caught fire, and nothing—not even the murders of kids I loved by a kid I loved—has ever been able to extinguish that flame.
I am a teacher for the same reason I am human. I was born to it. I cannot be anything else.
I’ve been told I’m pretty good at it, but I didn’t get that way on my own. I was mentored, challenged, pushed to excel by my consummately professional colleagues at Columbine. They took a 23-year-old idealist who wanted most in all the world to be the kind of teacher who changed kids’ lives…and they made her one.
That’s why I’m a member of JCEA, because I challenge anyone out there to find an association of people more dedicated to kids, to the future, to inextinguishable optimism than the teachers of Jefferson County Public Schools.
My story is not unique here. I know for a fact that I am not the only one who walks into my classroom every day because that is where I am called to be. I am not the only one here who cannot imagine not teaching anymore than I can imagine not breathing. No, I am not alone in this arena—not by a long shot.
And I know that I am not alone in feeling that somehow three people have entered my classroom uninvited, into the lives of my kids, and sucked some of the air out of the room. You know the feeling. Agreeing to years of sacrifice to protect our kids from budget cuts, only to be told that promises made to us so we could teach our kids and provide for our families didn’t matter (gasp). Being told that, despite the achievements of Jeffco schools, our evaluation system needed an overhaul because our current one didn’t do enough to make us look like failures (gasp). Watching profiteers circle our kids, looking to skim off community resources intended to educate our children and put them into the pockets of men far across the country who already have more than they can spend (gasp).
I’m not the only one here who has, at times, felt suffocated. I’m a teacher, not a warrior, not a crusader.
But wait. Thirty years ago, I didn’t know I was a teacher. I had to be thrust into the front of a classroom to discover that.
All of us–you, me, Polly Positive who just didn’t want to believe that our schools were under attack, Negative Ned who keeps insisting there’s nothing we can do about it now—all of us have been thrust onto a battlefield. And you know what I’ve discovered? I am a warrior! You mess with my kids, and I am a warrior! You try to highjack public schools, the cornerstone of my democracy, and I am a crusader!
See folks, it’s not just us. The people attacking Jeffco aren’t just attacking Jeffco. They’re launching offensives nationwide. There’s a reason our story is being told by The New York Times. There’s a reason that the Vermont Teacher’s Association, just now beginning to smell the smoke of the battlefield drifting in their direction, called upon JCEA to send a couple of its leaders out there to help them marshal their troops for the fight ahead. We have been called to be the ones who stand up and say ENOUGH! NOT OUR KIDS! NOT OUR SCHOOLS!
Look, the truth is, no one wants to be called to something like this. We signed up to teach children with front teeth missing how to read. We wanted to get kids to see that doing cool stuff in chemistry could lead to careers developing cleaner fuel. We wanted to help kids express themselves through art, music, letters, and numbers.
But honestly, when we signed up for that, what did we really want to do? Change the world. Leave it better than we found it. To do that, we are called to this fight. We cannot not answer.
So how are you going to answer the call? I have been writing my blog and posting on Facebook. I’ve been facilitating house parties. My yard is full of signs. This fall, I am walking every single Saturday, because by God, I am not going to give up my kids, my school, my community, my country to profiteers. You’d better believe I’m a freaking crusader!
But I can no more do that alone than I could become the teacher I am today without my colleagues. I need you. Your kids need you. Their kids need you.
I’d like to close by quoting Marianne Williamson:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world… as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
Together, we can stop the advance of corporate profiteers upon the kids in our community and our nation. We can be the light that shines. We can liberate others from their fear. What will you do with your power, your light? Failure is not an option. We, the teachers of Jefferson County, must join with our community and win this war. Will you knock on doors? Will you phone bank? Will you hold house parties? I’m not asking whether you will do any of these things. You are called. I am only asking which of these things. And by the way, “all of the above” is an option.