Marla: I became a teacher 29 years ago. In my family this was an astounding accomplishment because I was the first to go to college. My mother, who was a single mother my whole life, worked hard to keep food on the table and pay the bills. We lived with my grandmother for most of my life. School for me was a sanctuary, full of amazing role models, and a path for me to follow so that I would not have to struggle the way that my mother did. The fight to save public education is a personal fight for me. It is about giving opportunity to children, like me, who grew up with financial hardship. It is also about giving opportunity to children who are disabled, like my son. The fight for great public education for all children, is the fight for every child to have an opportunity to be what they want to be.
Melissa: I became a teacher thirteen years ago. This is my second career, one I chose as an adult, knowing completely in my heart that this was the career that I should have chosen for myself when I first left for college. In my family, for my generation, college was a requirement. My parents worked hard to give my brother and I the opportunity to continue our education after high school. My childhood was the typical example of the American Dream, the dream that entails you working hard so that you can give more to your children and they can have a better life than you had. I grew up believing in that dream, determined to give my future children an even better life. I went to a school that provided an educational plan that allowed me to get the most out of my education. I tested at an early age with a higher IQ. In elementary school I was placed in a gifted and talented classroom within my district and provided the type of curriculum that I needed to grow academically. The fight to save public education is a personal fight for me. It is about giving opportunity to children, opportunity like I had. It is about fighting for public schools to have the funding and the autonomy to provide children with what they need. It is about fighting for our responsibility to meet the the needs of all children.
Marla: Despite growing up in a home that didn’t have much, my schools were well-funded and had all the resources they needed to help children. The staff in my elementary school was plentiful. Anything a child needed we had: nurses, librarians, custodial staff, café staff, clubs, sports, and after-school programs. I remember walking to school one day in the pouring rain. My mother had to leave early for work each morning because she did not drive and had to walk to work. It was my job, at the young age of 7, to get my brother and I off to school. Our school was a block from our house and on this day we had to walk to school in the pouring rain. We ended up at school soaking wet. My teacher, Mrs. Carlson, sent me to the Café to get my clothes dry by the oven. When I went to the Café the staff, busy making lunch for the day, let me stand by the oven to dry my clothes. They gave me several of their world famous biscuits to eat while I dried. I was there for about 45 minutes, got dry, and returned back to class a very satisfied child. Now, I am not saying this would not happen in any school across America today, but my point in that story was the idea of how a well-funded and resourced school runs. There were plenty of Café staff, and many of them had been at my school for years. They had invested in the children and the school. We had large, healthy lunches, and you could go back for second helpings if you wanted. Today, American children suffer at a very high rate of food insecurity. Well-funded and resourced schools meet those needs and, in many cases, beyond.
When I first became a teacher, I went into shock when I realized that not all schools were like the school that I had grown up with, that not all children were given the same opportunities that I was.
Melissa: My school days were filled with freedom. We had the freedom to participate in exploratory learning that was teacher led, but student directed. My fourth grade teacher knew French and taught us the basics. Our reading time was done with us sprawled around the room in various different chairs and stools. Classes were held outdoors when the weather was nice. We met with the sixth grade class for them to teach us how to play chess. I was provided many wonderful opportunities by my school and my teachers. I grew up believing that this is what school was. I loved learning so much that I even completed research reports in the summer. I am sure that there are some programs out there that provide such wonderful opportunities for their students. I would also bet that the number of these programs are decreasing in public schools due to funding issues. When I first became a teacher, I went into shock when I realized that not all schools were like the school that I had grown up with, that not all children were given the same opportunities that I was. Having been raised with an insane sense of fairness, I could not understand how this was being allowed to happen. Where were the schools that I grew up knowing, with plenty of resources and a variety of different programs and opportunities?
Marla: When I was growing up our elementary school was 1 block from our modest home. I walked to school with neighborhood children and their parents. The crossing guard knew my name and after-school we didn’t rush home. We stayed and played on the playground. It was often our teachers, principal, or librarian would come out and give us a good push on the swing, or play 4-square with us, or just come out and observe the glory of unbridled play. They were part of our community.
Melissa: Although I went to a different building that my neighborhood school for 4th through 6th grade, I still stayed within my district. Being only a few minutes away, I was still able to easily connect with my peers that went to my neighborhood school on a daily basis. I was still a part of district events that were held within the community. I retained my sense of identity by still being able to be a part of my neighborhood. When I moved on to junior high school and then high school, the transition was seamless for me to attend at the neighborhood high school. My parents never had to pay for me to go to a private school to be able to benefit from the experiences that I was offered at my district school.
Marla: I taught a young man many years ago who said to me, “I want to be an electrician like my Dad.” I said in return, “Great! When you do come back and give me your business card.” 7 Years later I went to my school mailbox and there was a card by this young man that read, “Hi Mrs. Kilfoyle if you ever need a certified electrician give me a call.” This young man earns an amazing living, owns a home, and has a beautiful family that he supports. College, for me, as a girl growing up with little money or resources was a long shot. I was very fortunate to have amazing coaches who talked to me constantly about going to college. College, by my senior year, became reachable. The idea of coaching and teaching became my dream.
Melissa: I run the after school program in my building. This program is only possible though a grant that our district has received. When speaking with the students to plan activities that they want to participate in as well as meet their academic needs, the answers overwhelmingly include activities that include the creative arts or physical education. They want drama, music, or art. Their young minds are aching for what is disappearing from their school day. They have a passion for being able to express their identities through these activities.
Marla: I have been a teacher for 29 years and was a coach for 15 years. My dream of opportunity came true. I had the opportunity because of my neighborhood school that was well funded, had amazing resources, but most importantly, I had great teachers who believed in me. Every child deserves that opportunity.
Melissa: I have been a teacher for thirteen years. I have been able to fulfill my dream of continuing my own learning. I was afforded this opportunity because of the schools that I attended. I had teachers that I eventually aspired to be. Yet, I feel a sense of loss and despair knowing that I am held back from providing the opportunities that I had to my students. I am full aware of the possibility that my future grandchildren may be in a school that I will not recognize.
Every child should have an opportunity to attend a school that caters to their community. When the school takes pride in its community the community in turn takes pride in its school. DL Hughley said it perfectly on Real Time with Bill Maher, “Why do I have to leave where I come from to go to a school that is NOT in my neighborhood? It says everything about where I come from is horrible. Why is everything better where I am NOT?” Perhaps the most egregious act that corporate market reformers thrust onto communities is closing their schools and calling them failures. Instead of focusing on closing schools and working so hard to label them failures, how about an examination of models that work to close the opportunity gap and replicate them? One needs to only examine the Schools of Opportunity project for ideas that seek to close the opportunity gaps and implement researched best practices. We have to examine models that seek to truly close the opportunity gap and that show they do in practice. We must move away from corporate market reform that relies NOT one bit on research. We know of NO valid research that says high sakes testing, Common Core, and closing schools will close the opportunity gap.
Corporate market reform would rather we spend that money on testing and standards that have NOT been researched. We need to focus on the basic needs of our children, which cost money and resources, in order to make them successful in school. Every child should have the opportunity to go to a school that has the money and resources to meet their basic needs (think Maslow’s Hierarchy) and fulfill their dreams.
Corporate education reform is set up to guide only the wealthiest, and privileged, children to college. If Common Core and High Stakes Testing are so great why are they not in the schools that the President, Secretary Duncan, and Bill Gates children go to? The methods employed by corporate education reform do not work nor do they seek to guide, and resource, children towards their passion. Now that corporate education reform has kicked in we have seen a huge loss in music, arts, gym, and trade classes. This does not provide opportunity, it stagnates it. Every child should have the opportunity to be guided toward their passion. A passion for a child may NOT be college and we as adults need to recognize that passion and seek ways to develop it.
Education should be an opportunity for all. It should be about best practices that are based on research and evidence. Corporate education reform is NOT working to close the opportunity gap. Instead we are experiencing more cuts to programs and staff that actually widen the gap. Why are policy makers and politicians so willing to ignore the truth?
Marla Kilfoyle and Melissa Tomlinson
Badass Teachers Association