The Special Forces of American Education
I hope your year has been full of accomplishment, challenges, and growth; I know mine has. As a refresher, I teach students with an emotional/behavior disorder in the middle school self-contained setting in suburban Atlanta, GA. The original idea for this follow up was to tell you all the things that occurred this year, where I am headed in my career, and maybe a few new tips I picked up. Well, I changed my mind today. What changed it? The drastic changes that have occurred in the country within the past 72 hours changed it. Monday June 24, I woke up, the south was still under DOJ oversight in terms of voting, the US still hated gays, and we could not have our love recognized. In essence, all was ‘right’ with the world. Right meaning expected, more or less comfortable with the status quo. This morning, while in an authorization session for my new teaching job, my phone alerts me that the world according to the US has changed dramatically.
If you did not know, I am very social justice driven. Being a multi-racial gay male in the south sort of forces you to be active in those things. While working on a journal article yesterday, I became distracted for hours tweeting, facebooking, and reading all about the SCOTUS decision on the Voters Rights Act. Furious struggles to describe my emotion, I found myself fighting similar urges my former EBD students fought daily and had to employ their strategies while sitting at my desk. I resolved myself to ensure that I make a concerted effort to teach more life lessons to my students like empathy, equity, justice, and love. I committed myself to working within the educational system to make the changes that would allow the next generation to see the errors of their elders and not hesitate to change things, and to do my best to improve education for them, especially my EBD kids. Today, I was overwhelmed with entirely different emotions. Today was a day of elation, pride, hope, and love. I did not dare contain these emotions and spread my emotions via social network as far and wide as I could from my phone. After my authorization session, I rushed to downtown Atlanta to participate in a rally celebrating the death of DOMA and the end of Prop 8.
What does any of this have to do with education or this blog? It has everything to do with it! I realized that as teachers, especially special education teachers, we are on the front lines of the greatest war that will never end. That war is a great battle between creating a happy and self-sufficient adult or a delinquent that we have to raise taxes for to build new jails. This war is hard, and demanding; it comes with little to no recognition, the stress is unbelievable, and yet we do it anyway. Why do we do it? Why do we sacrifice a better paying job, with less stress, easier access to restrooms, and in my case, no flying desks or books or restraints? We do it because we are the special forces of America. We are those who go in and fight the toughest battles, and when we are bruised, hungry, and tired we yell, “more please!” We do this because we realize that we can make a difference and are set on making that difference.
This year I learned how to advocate and protest professionally to get my students services and supports I felt they needed, the data showed a need for, and there was no reason they should not get them. As the school-wide positive behavior coordinator for the school, I was constantly protecting the rights and interest of students who had challenging behaviors. Teaching is all about advocating, protecting, and protesting for what is in the interest of our kids. After all, every student we meet becomes ‘our kid’ and we treat him or her as such. The past 72 hours have shown me the power we hold and often fail to realize and utilize. We have the power as teachers to spread lessons of love and compassion, of endurance and justice, and of courage and dedication. As individual citizens of a very large caucus, we hold the powers to create the very best environment for our kids. We can stop the privatization of education, the standardization of childhood, the insistence on end of individuality and creativity. We can insist on creativity, self-expression, community, and individuality. Take motivation from the world around you, and change the world around you for today and for tomorrow.