My Choice

I never purposefully set out to become a teacher.  I graduated from college and promptly became a stay at home mom, supporting my husband as he supported our country.  He was a part of the government in the form of the Air Force.  In the Air Force, there were rules and regulations.  There were deployments and TDYs.  There were duties to be performed to support the mission.  There was conformity. Everyone was treated the same.  In the eyes of the government, neither gender nor race, marital status nor sexual orientation matters.  Everyone conforms to meet the needs of the mission.

Through all of our service commitment, I treasured spending my moments with my sons.  I realized how much I loved seeing my little guys experience and learn.  Teachers call these occasions “lightbulb moments”.  With kindergarten on the horizon, I knew I could finally go back to school myself.  If I loved seeing the wonder in my own child’s eyes, imagine how amazing it would be to share that experience with other kids.  It took a while, but I found the place where I belonged.

Teachers are an incredible variety of people.  We thrive on helping our students overcome their struggles.  Sometimes that struggle is academic: a learning disablilty, a medical problem that hinders traditional learning, a lack of sufficient vocabulary, an entirely new language.  Sometimes that struggle is personal: parents in prison, abusive homes, lack of food, no water/gas/electricity in the home.  We juggle the bureaucracy in such a way that we can find resources to help.  We connect local churches and charities with those in need.  We offer our ears, our shoulders, and more often than not, we offer our finances.  We give and give to our students not to take over as their parents, but because sometimes their parents aren’t in a position to provide their children a better start.  While we have a certain amount of conformity, we also have a certain amount of leeway to construct rules that best serve our individual students and our communities.

That’s why I am so baffled.  Popular news/entertainment shows have started to rename public schools “government” schools.  Books are written about them.  Politicians throw the term around.  It’s never done with a positive connotation.

When I hear the term “government school”, images of North Korean children with one of their 28 state prescribed haircuts come to mind. When I hear the term “government school”, images of strict lines and formations of uniformed children marching in unison are produced.  And following Godwin’s Law, when I hear the term “government school”, I am reminded of the students who were forced to participate in programs such as Hitler Youth to brainwash their minds and their bodies to accept the horrors that were to come.  I do not mean to equate our current educational climate with either of these, but I’m fairly certain that those speaking the loudest in our culture don’t mind if you make those connections yourself.

I do not think of these things when I see my own classroom.

I must assume then, that this is the goal of the talking heads, the think tanks, and the multi-millionaires that Citizens United has enabled. We are operating on fear in this country right now. We cling to our ideologies for fear that someone, something, some entity will strip those ideologies away from us.  We don’t want our children to become mindless drones in a government school.  For those that seek to sell our nation’s treasures to become a money making enterprise, this fear is something that should be capitalized.

I didn’t choose to work at a government school.  I chose to work at a public school.  “Government” insinuates an unyielding, overbearing, big brother.  “Government” means lack of local choice, lack of local control.  “Government” means uniforms and doctrine and thought control.  “Government” means once you’ve made the commitment, you are in for life.

Think about it, honestly.  The people who teach your children – you KNOW them. You see them in the grocery store. You may even attend the same church.  Your kids play little league together.  You share MANY of the same values.  You are helping each other grow your community.

This is why the narrative needs to change.  Recently at an EdCamp, Barbie Jackson, Claudia Swisher, Megan Cabe, and Christie Paradise came up with an idea to help achieve this goal.  It’s a whisper campaign.  Educators, administrators, parents – Facebook or Tweet with the hashtag #1CoolThing.  Tag your legislator.  Show them that our schools are NOT “government” schools.  Our schools meet the individual needs of the communities they serve, and we serve the public.  We are doing great things in our classrooms every day.  We are expanding learning experiences every day.  We are meeting the kids where they are and guiding them to where they would like to be.  We are doing all of this while still complying with each and every federal and state mandate handed to us.  We are doing all of this while being called failures.  We are doing all of this while having our hands and feet tied behind us with deeper and deeper funding cuts. We are welcoming each and every single child with open arms.  We are celebrating our differences in order to celebrate our similarities.  We are thriving despite all that has been handed to us.  Please help us change the narrative.  Visit a local school.  Find how you can volunteer.  See for yourself – we are doing great things every day.

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