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Cheryl Gibbs was not an activist. She just wanted to teach her children in a Virginia public school and ignore politics. But step by step, she realized that there was a coordinated attack on public schools. One thing led to another. She joined the union. She became a union rep. She became a BAT.
And when she retired, she became a full-fledged member of the Resistance. The Resistance fights privatization. It fights the replacement of experienced teachers by TFA and artificial intelligence. It fights for real education, real teachers, real public schools.
When I began teaching twenty years ago, my activism was caring about children; loving them, helping them discover their most complete, healthy, and most fulfilled selves as they grew. I read the mainstream news and voted. That was about the extent of it.
I joined the union, like many teachers, to have the liability insurance that I knew a teacher might need when classes included at-risk and emotionally disordered students. When I was asked to be a union co-rep for my building, the promise was, “You only have to attend one meeting a month and fill-in when the “real rep” isn’t available.” I reluctantly agreed to serve.
Yet here I am.
Voluntarily retired two years earlier than I planned; deeply embedded in BATs, participating in webinars with the Quality of Worklife Team; organizing marches and legislative actions, and planning workshops with the Virginia Educators United RedforEd Caucus; and campaigning for school board members and state legislators I think we can trust.
Today, I am often asked by other union members and pro-school activists why more educators don’t speak up, don’t act out, don’t defend themselves against the bullying and onslaught of attacks our profession has been under during the reform and privatization movement.
The answers often seem obvious.
We don’t like confrontation:
It’s not our default. We prefer peace and collaboration. Our default is yes, not no. It takes a lot to push us to play offense.
We assume the best in others:
It is impossible to believe someone could deliberately be attacking our work, our kids, our schools. We are well-intended. It’s hard to come to terms that others are not.
We are busy:
Our jobs have been engineered to keep us so. Between 50 or more hours a
week as an educator, a second job for making ends meet, and family duties
when can we take additional actions?
We are afraid:
Afraid of losing our jobs, of losing our houses, of losing our kids’ health insurance, afraid of losing a career we trained long and hard for, afraid of losing our public dignity and credibility.
We don’t think we can win:
The people who say we are at fault and our schools are failing (Yes, they are still saying that) are the intellectual elites, the thought leaders, the policymakers, the wealthy, our bosses. How can we ‘just teachers’ of kids stand up to their power, their influence, their affluence?
So, often we find another way out.
We just close our door and pretend there is no crisis.
We find a therapist or a friendly ear outside
We find a school with fewer high needs students
We look for a school with less toxic management
We move to coaching or counseling or administration
We leave education for another field
I thought all those things at various times across the last 20 years, particularly during the last 7 as my activism has escalated. I considered each of those paths and wound up retiring on my way to here.
But none of those options really Solve the Problem, and the Problem is much bigger than just that my job is unpleasant or that my school is under funded and too often mismanaged.
The unfortunate truth is that I’m an activist today because step by step, watching my colleagues be targeted, watching schools be undermined and closed, watching systematic underfunding, and replacement of competent people with hobby teachers, watching the deliberate reduction of teachers of color in the system– I came to realize, there is no other choice, and even worse there is nothing left to lose.
Our job protections have been dismantled. Most school employees can be fired at will with todays’ evaluation systems. Our salaries are below working class level. Our health plans and retirement plans are being gutted. Our credibility and respect in the community are already gone. And even sadder, our students are being stalked for death, stressed to the breaking point, and priced out of gaining access to professional success, and those of color are being moved systematically from school to jail.
Individual personal solutions will not stop the destruction of our schools, or provide safety for us or our students. Pleasant and amenable collaboration will not satisfy the appetites of those who want to squeeze our schools for every penny and would distort healthy learning into a propagandized prison to get that last penny.
Read it all.
She has joined the BATS and the Resistance, and she won’t give up.