Why This Teacher Doesn’t Stand for the Pledge

 

 

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Kneeling during the anthem. Sitting during the pledge.

We’ve all heard about it. We’ve all typed about it on social media. We’ve all got an opinion.

I was around 15 when I stopped saying the Pledge of Allegiance.

I grew up in rural New York, near a Native reservation. I had a friend in my homeroom who was Native and she sat during this routine part of the day. One day I finally asked her about it and she had a lot to say.

From the numerous reasons, two resonated with me.

One, the United States did not recognize my friend and her people as citizens until 1924…150 years after we stole their land. On top of that, the US didn’t even grant Native Americans civil rights until 1968.  

“I don’t say the pledge because by recognizing us as tribal nations the US recognizes that they took our lands and ravaged our people. I will not pledge allegiance to a government that decimated the cultures, government, and people that were here and has made little effort to make reparations for those things.”

Two, “The god in the pledge isn’t mine either.”

I found her arguments compelling. Maybe this was the beginning of my social justice path in life, maybe it just made sense to my teenage brain.

While I didn’t sit (I wasn’t quite ready to go against the norm just then), I did stop saying the pledge. If our government and pledge weren’t “fair” or representative of all people, than it seemed wrong to say it.

As I got older I became increasingly aware that our laws and freedoms aren’t applied equally, especially to migrants, women, Muslims, the LGTBQ community, and most of all- people of color.

I started speaking out, I started marching, I started to stand for something other than what made people “comfortable”.

Fast forward fifteen years. I am teaching English in an urban classroom. Not only am I teaching English, but I’m teaching English to students have newly arrived from other countries. I plan thoughtful lessons, make sure my students voices are heard, and serve as an advocate to those who need it. I don’t think about the pledge that much.

It took another Native, this time my student teacher, to remind me of why I stopped saying it in the first place.

After his first day he approached me. I had seen him sit, so I figured it was coming. After he told me his reasons for not participating in the pledge, he asked why I made my students stand.

“I ask them to stand, they don’t have to say it. I ask them to because it’s respectful, because it’s what you do, because, because, because…”

“More than half these kids aren’t from the US (meaning not from Puerto Rico).” he countered. “They are here because they are fleeing horrible circumstances in the countries they are from, not because they suddenly want to become American. Also, the Hindu’s aren’t really represented in the ‘under god’ part.”

“The god in the pledge isn’t mine either.”

I started considering all of the ways that my students were not treated equally in the United States.

My Puerto Rican students hold US passports, but are treated deplorably by the United States government. As I write this, the Federal government still has not sent aid to the over 3 million Americans without power, water and transportation after Hurricane Maria. People routinely think Puerto Rico isn’t part of the US, and tell them to “Go home to your own country if you don’t want to speak English.”, even though the United States- by design- does not have an official language.

All of my students are people of color.

As such they are more likely to be misidentified and mistreated by law enforcement, less likely to see themselves represented in literature, more than 3 times more likely to be labeled as behavior problem or classified as learning disabled compared to their white counterparts. Less likely to graduate, more likely to end up in prison. The list goes on and on.

The more we talked the more I realized that I was wrong. I wasn’t asking the kids to stand because I believed it was respectful or in service to anything. I was having them stand because it was a behavior management mechanism- it got 28, loud, boisterous, rough teenagers to be quiet and get ready for the day.

I sat then and have every day since. I give my students the option to stand, speak, stay seated, or stay silent.

To those who are outraged, I say this. You stand because you believe that the United States is the greatest country in the world. You stand because it “shows respect”.

I will stand with you when our ideals extend to all of our people. When I can look at my students and sincerely tell them that there is liberty and justice for all.

Until then, this teacher will spend the first 5 minutes of her day sitting in silence.

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If I Ever Leave Teaching it Will Be Because of the Adults, Not the Kids

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A Facebook “On This Day” popped up in my newsfeed today. Normally I dismiss them, but today’s subject gave me pause.

3 years ago I sat down at my computer and started writing. I was upset about work and needed to find a way to work out my frustrations.

I rarely listen to music, but that day I’d heard TuPac blasting in the hallway.

Have you ever heard the story of the rose that grew from the crack in the concrete? It learned to walk without havin feet.

The result was On East High, my first viral blog post.

Could that have really been 3 years ago?

One of the hallmarks of a good teacher is reflection. I’ve always believed that if a lesson fails, it is my fault. I sit and think about the ways in which it failed and what that means for my students. Was the task too difficult? Was it interesting enough? Did they know why what they were learning was important?

When On East High went viral, District personnel reached out for my opinions on what we needed to do to change our schools. I sat in on countless meetings, spent hours on emails and even spoke at multiple conferences. Little by little those meetings and those “interests” have died down. If anything, I find that my professionalism and commitment to my students is challenged more than ever.

The District just can’t seem to honestly and openly reflect on why it is failing.

When no one even cared-the rose grew from the concrete-keeping all these dreams.

I still have never been paid the correct salary.

I still have battles over sick time and personal days.

My students are still not being given their mandated services.

I give ESOL services to students who speak NO OTHER LANGUAGE BUT ENGLISH because of a paperwork/clerical error that “can’t” be fixed.

I hold students who cry on a regular basis because they are lost, but someone’s test said they are proficient enough to sit in “regular” classes.

I meet with administrators, district officials, and even email the superintendent, hopeful that someone will listen, that someone will ascribe value to the lives of the children being lost in the system.

When no one else even cared. No one else even cared…

In every research papers about job satisfaction I could find, the results showed that there was a negative relationship between teacher job satisfaction with operating procedures and years of teaching experience. As years of teaching experience increased, teachers in public schools were more dissatisfied about the operating systems and procedures in which they worked.

Not behavior. Not safety.  Not “today’s youth”.

Operating procedures—which are made and staffed by other adults.

Every time someone asks a teacher about the state of education, we give the same answer: “If I ever leave teaching it will be because of the adults, not the kids.”

Think about the power of that statement. Teachers are, in general, a pretty conformist bunch. We like to follow rules and make systems. We say “good morning” to everyone we meet. We value kindness, integrity, and order.

How is it that this is our unofficial mantra?

We are failing our children, that much is clear, but if you really look and reflect, you’ll see why.

Our students “fail” over and over again because we are obligated to work within a system that was built by people who are no longer (or never were) teachers. We witness the racial, socioeconomic, and linguistic discrimination that is our public school system.

Teachers can’t work to our potential. We can’t do what’s right for kids because some politician decided what is right for our kids. Because some complicated formula or algorithm told a computer what is right for our kids.

We watch as those children don’t graduate, get low paying jobs, get married and get pregnant.

We watch them join gangs.

We attend their funerals.

All the trouble to survive and make good out of the dirty, nasty, y’knowhahatImean, unbelievable lifestyle they gave me

I’m just tryin to make somethin…

In my blog I wrote “ East is doing the best it can in a system so broken no one knows how to fix it.” Three years later, I’m amending that statement.

The system is broken, but there are people who know how to fix it—the teachers.

God bless the teachers who grow from the cracks in the RCSD.

Don’t ask why.

But please, I’m begging you, ask us how.

Peace,

Kelly

On International Women’s Day and A Day Without Women

Today is International Women’s Day.

Yes, it is actually a thing and it is actually celebrated in many different countries.

No, it isn’t made up by some conspiracy, man hating group to further “the leftist” agenda.

When I lived in Europe I would often get flowers or small presents. Students and even strangers would do small favors for me.

Women in different cultures celebrated in different ways, but one thing remained the same. They were honored. Their communities “saw” them. They were affirmed.

Never once did someone say ” That’s annoying.”, “That’s privilege.”, “Why do you get to feel special?”

You see, in so many countries around the world they realize what we in America haven’t seemed to grasp- That celebrating women doesn’t demean men.

So to experience the pushback that I’ve gotten today, for simply wearing red is tiring.

Or maybe I’m just plain tired.

I’m tired of pretending that things are ok.

You see teachers carry burdens so much heavier than an armload of homework.

We’re mandated reporters of sexual abuse and assault.

We watch mothers struggle to feed and clothe their children.

We watch the system discard working adults as parent’s who “don’t care”, because they can’t come to parent teacher conferences.

We take care of other people’s children while daycare workers get minimum wage to watch our own.

These issues are all women’s issues.

So while I would normally stay home, today I’m at work.

Today especially, I fight for my girls.

For their opportunity to come to this country, despite racist and discriminatory “Presidential” edicts.

For the opportunity to escape female genital mutilation.

For the opportunity to marry who they love.

For their opportunity to dress in a manner that represents themselves, without “asking for it.” if someone thinks their tank top is too low.

For the opportunity to wear a hijab and fully cover without “asking for” racist and bigoted threats.

I’m working today because students get sexually assaulted at school too and I need to be there for them.

I work so that my daughter will see and know a strong woman.

Today I couldn’t strike, but I stand with those who did.

Until every woman can feel safe in every place she occupies.

Until not one of my friends can name, with ease, times they were harassed or assaulted.

Until pink collar jobs like teaching are paid what they’re worth.

Until all women are paid what their worth.

Until I don’t have to teach my daughter to walk with her keys in her fingers.

Until all those who identify as women are safe.

I work and strike for you.

#adaywithoutwomen

#internationalwomensday

On Why Black Lives Matter

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Our school district will recognize this Friday, February 17th, as a day of affirmation and understanding that black lives matter. Its overwhelming support includes that of the teachers’ union, administrators’ union and the school board.

Hopefully hundreds of teachers will voluntarily participate in “teach-ins” and engage in difficult yet necessary conversations around the inequality faced by people of color in this country and how it affects them and their school environment.

However, as is expected with anything that involves race, there has been a lot of pushbackpushback from the community and from teachers, with very heated opinions on both sides.

Instead of engaging with every Facebook post, every email, every pointed question, I’ve decided to tell my story of how Ia very white ladycame to not only believe in, but to fight for the #BLM movement.

A few months ago, my husband and I were discussing having another baby. For a variety of reasons, we would like to adopt.

When you adopt a child, you can’t just say, “I want any baby.” There are all sorts of things the agencies ask you about, one of which is race.

My first response was to blurt out, “Race doesn’t matter!” Especially since we are thinking about international adoption.

But before I got those words out, I stopped myself. I must have looked pained, because my husband asked me what was wrong.

And just like that, I said it out loud. “I don’t think I can raise a black son.”

Then, I started to cry.

In that small moment, a thousand conversations about what to do if he was stopped by the police went through my head. I imagined family meetings about “the right” clothes and tone of voice. I thought of teaching him not to run through white neighborhoods.

I thought of all of the things that black mothers, fathers, and caregivers tell their sons to “lessen” their chances of getting profiled and hurt.

The reality is that it doesn’t make a damn bit of difference.

You see, it’s not because I can’t love him enough or provide for him enough.

It’s not because I can’t learn how to style his hair or that I’m worried about what people would think of our mixed family.

It is because I would be terrified every time he walked out of my house.

I cried for a baby that wasn’t real because I couldn’t cloak him in my whiteness and privilege forever.

I cried for the little baby boy who would eventually be a hoodie-wearing male teenager.

I cried because it is not fair.

I cried for all of the mothers who can’t choose. For those that can only hope that when the time comes, the world sees their sons for their character, and not their clothes or the color of their skin.

I cried because I am not strong enough to be the mother of a black son.  

White friends, I know you grow uncomfortable when I talk about #BLM and how we can use our privilege to be allies.

I know that you don’t think that you are part of the problem, so you don’t see why you should “get involved”.

I ask you this sit for a minute and think about your own children…

Think about all of the good with the bad. Think about that time you had to pick your kid up because they got drunk or because they did something stupid in school. Think about how much you hate your teen’s ratty old sweatshirt and the jeans with the holes in them that are two sizes too big.

Now imagine your child is black.

Did you change how you would parent?
This my friends, is why black lives matter.

Peace,

Kelly

For more information about the Black Lives Matter at School event in Rochester, N.Y. please visit blacklivesmatteratschool.org or email blacklivesmatteratschool@gmail.com

 

 

On DeVos and Why I’m Marching

 

 

It has been two months since my last post. Two months since I was overwhelmed with the possibility of the first female President of the United States. Two months since I realized the anger that drives part of our population.

To be frank, I’ve been numb.

I’ve avoided a lot of news, kept to myself on social media, and then — because curiosity killed the cat — I watched the Betsy DeVos confirmation hearings.  

As I watched her admit that she was unfamiliar with FEDERAL legislation regarding disability accommodations for students, I about yelled at the television.

“This is some sort of joke.” I told my co-workers the next morning. “This can’t really be happening.”

As tomorrow’s impending “celebrations” inch closer, I’ve realized that the American public has become numb to this sort of ridiculousness.

Appoint a woman who has no idea about public education, has never sent her kids to public school, or as Tim Kaine pointed out, “has no experience overseeing massive monetary programs like college Pell Grants?” Sure.

Why not? We elected a man who has no political experience, promotes rape culture, and has the demeanor of a three-year-old to be President.

But my job? Don’t you even think about being a teacher unless you are “highly qualified”.

In New York you must complete your undergraduate in teaching and a core subject area, pass multiple state required exams (one of which Ms. DeVos obviously needs since it tests the legislation and treatment of students with disabilities) and then get your master’s degree within 5 years of your bachelors. Most people complete the cycle in 7 years and the debt we take on is enormous.

Being married allows me to be a teacher. If I were to suddenly become single I would not be able to afford to work. My student loan payment is as much as my mortgage. My daughter’s weekly daycare is as much as a monthly car payment (10 year old Prius BTW). My daughter and I could survive on my salary, but it wouldn’t be pretty.

When will we start valuing our teachers?

When will we stop blaming the teachers and start looking at the real problems in education?

Could you sit by while an unqualified, inept, and discriminatory doctor examined your child?

Teachers don’t have time to wait it out — and even if you don’t realize the harm coming to your child’s education, we do. We won’t let an unqualified, inept, and discriminatory candidate be appointed Secretary of Education.

And so, with less than a week to go, I found my voice again.

I bought a bus ticket to Washington. Saturday I’ll be marching with hundreds of thousands of women who will show that their voice matters, and will be heard.

I march because I am not helpless.

I march for all of those, like me, who had to pay for a required master’s degree that was never feasible to be paid back on our salary.

I march for my daughter’s teachers at daycare, so that one day they can make a living wage.

I march because my profession is a calling and not a job.

I march for your children, even as you condemn me.  
Remember that in the years to come.

On Voting…

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I’m an emotional wreck. There… I’ve said it.

Up until yesterday, I’d been invested in the election in a purely academic sense.

As a teacher of minority students, who aren’t yet American citizens, I pretty much wear my “liberal-ness” on my classroom door. You’d be surprised at how many social liberals still have a hard time with the whole “not speaking English” thing.

I had my fair share of polite (and not so polite) political discussions and Facebook rants. I voted for Bernie Sanders in the primary and lost. I liked Clinton enough as Secretary of State to know that she was aligned with many of my values and was my candidate of choice in this election.

The end.

Then, last night, I attended an art show/ craft fair with one of my friends.

We stopped at a booth selling inspirational type quotes silkscreened on different household items. As I was flipping through the different sayings, one caught my eye.

“The day may be approaching when the whole world will recognize woman as the equal to man.” – Susan B. Anthony

Maybe it was the quote. Maybe it was the day. Maybe it was because I was out, without my two year old, and my brain was less distracted.

It hit me- the President of the United States will likely be a woman. I was shocked at how emotional that realization made me.

This election has brought up a lot of issues that I, as a women, (even an empowered, modern woman) have quietly learned to live with. Wage equality, sexual equality, microaggressions are so common that they are easily hidden away in the folds of our patriarchal society.

I am a 35 year old mother. I’m an urban teacher.  I’ve lived in four different countries and traveled the world alone.

And yet…

I hold my keys laced in my fingers as I walk to my car. I palm over my drinking glass no matter where I am. I’ve learned to deflect unwanted attention, not defend my right of consent.

Many people believe that teachers shouldn’t give their personal opinion on political matters.  I don’t believe that anyone should unduly influence a student to do or think something that that student doesn’t believe is right.

However, I do believe that it is our moral responsibility and obligation to openly discuss issues of race, gender, bias, and discrimination in the classroom. I believe we can state our opinion without creating undue influence, because I believe that we are “wired” to help students learn and seek understanding, not blindly indoctrinate.

So tomorrow, on election day, I will proudly wear my pantsuit to work. Under it, my t-shirt will read “A Woman’s Place is in the WHITE House.”

If my students ask me about my voting choice, I will tell them the truth.

I will tell them that in the end, I am voting for them.

I am voting for equality and integration in education.

I’m voting for my Muslim students, because the first freedom in the United States is the freedom of religion.

I’m voting for my immigrant students, because they are the ones who this country was founded upon and founded for.

I’m voting for my LGTBQ students and their right to their first crush and first love.

I’m voting for my female students, so that I can say “ You can be anything you want when you grown up.” and not lie when I say it.

I’m voting for all of the women who fought for me to have this right.

I’m voting for my candidates’ policies and ideas, not her outfits.

I’m voting for the woman who stood, let the world rip her apart, and came out a champion.

I’m voting for the first female President of the United States. 

-Kelly

On Orlando

 

It was a Tuesdaydownload.

I was in Political Science class at Nazareth College when the first plane hit the World Trade Center.

I don’t remember what I was wearing, or what I had for breakfast, but I clearly remember my professor’s response to those streaming in talking about what was happening.

“Be quiet. I’m sure it’s not true. You’re to stay in your seats and attend to class.”

Those of us with family members working or living in NYC ended up leaving, amid threats of failing from that professor.

I remember not caring if I failed.

I remember being afraid and confused.

It is uniquely difficult to be an educator after an event as horrific as 9/11, or most recently, Orlando. We alone are the recipients of questions that children are afraid to ask in front of their parents. We are the ones who hear the unfiltered thoughts of children trying to process events that they are not quite able to comprehend.

Our students are afraid. They are confused.

They ask questions like “Are all Muslims trying to kill us?” or “Does God really hate gay people?”

They worry about walking to school in their hijab because “Americans think all Muslims are dangerous and may hurt me.”

When confronted with situations such as this it would be easy to respond with “Talk with your parents.” or “We’re focusing on math right now.” It would also be plain wrong.

You see, we don’t have the luxury of being silent because we are uncomfortable.

We are the front lines in the war against terror.

No matter what your religious beliefs, no teacher supports the taking of innocent lives. This is where we must find the common ground to speak with our students about topics like terrorism, gender identity, and religious tolerance.

First and foremost it is our job (and legal responsibility) to make sure that every child who enters our classroom knows that they are safe.

Every child. No matter their race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.

We must create an environment where children can ask questions openly, without fear or embarrassment, especially when talking about emotionally charged events like Orlando.

We as a country have allowed hate speech to run rampant. Entertainment companies mimic news channels while spewing toxic misinformation designed to inflame the most dangerous ideas held in this country.

Teachers see these ideas taking hold. We watch children trying to find their footing in the adult world by fitting in with social norms. If we allow that norm to be one of hate, we have — in our silence and our complacency — forsaken the future of those sitting in front of us every day.

We owe it to our children to combat the bigotry and hate that create breeding grounds for acts of violence such as this to occur.

We owe it to our students and our children to be uncomfortable.

It was a Sunday.

How will your students remember your response on that day?

Peace,

Kelly

The following resources can help facilitate conversations in your classroom.