Today I was laid off from the School District of Philadelphia.
Upon hearing the news, I made a quick, distracting joke: “And they didn’t even have the consideration to print the pink slip out on pink paper.”
8:52am and I needed to map out a gameplan for my life, make some decisions for my next career steps, start strategizing for the media campaign our organization needs to roll out in response to the dissolution of public education, and schedule an appointment at the optometrist before my health insurance runs out next month.
However, I still had copies to make for my classes, and the second hand of the clock was continuing its persistent swoop.
In the copy room, my colleagues gave me hugs, told me they “love my spirit,” and lamented the short amount of time we had together.
I carried my books and copies and computer up the three flights of stairs; as I ascended, the heat rose by 20 degrees and my morale drooped to an unaccustomed low.
This is the reality of working for a highly-centralized bureaucratic institution. Someone who has never met me, never sat in on one of my classes, never asked Daysha Gregory her opinion about mainstream media’s portrayal of teenagers, never asked Delilah Vazquez to read them her poetry about the complexities of life, just hacked away at a list and circled my name as one of the goners.
And it feels bad. It just feels bad. The countless hours and dollars I’ve spent in this District trying to do my best to teach hundreds and hundreds of students to be creative and critical thinkers, able to solve the problems of the world they’re inheriting.
They don’t really care.
The School District of Philadelphia doesn’t really care.
But that isn’t even the worst part.
Today, I lost my job in the School District of Philadelphia, and the worst part had nothing to do with my paycheck, my 403(b), my health insurance, or the imminent scramble to figure out what to do next.
The worst part was the tears streaming down my students’ faces when they said: “But we fought! We organized! We went to Harrisburg and DC and the District. We marched and protested and doorknocked. And we lost. The state is still not giving us the money, and we’re still losing our teachers. I can’t believe we fought so hard, but lost anyway.”
And just before the dreaded “what’s the point?” could even fall from their mouths, I interrupted: “We’re going against a huge machine. It’s got money, and politicians, and slick PR. But we’ve got people power. And, for real, we’re going to win. We just have to organize more broadly and effectively.”
“But we lost.”
“And you’ll probably lose again. You’re going to win and lose countless times.”
“We were going to build a better school – one where the city could see that a neighborhood school CAN be great. But we’re losing all of our teachers, they’re severing our relationships, the class size is going up, and all they’re giving us is more security cameras. We’ll never build a great school now.”
“Listen: Life is long and the universe is expansive. If you wake up in the morning and believe that the world can be a better place, then you’re an organizer. And you’re going to figure out an improved strategy to win. Otherwise, you’re just going to have to lay down and watch everything crumble. Is that what you want?”
“OK. Then be sad today. That’s fine. But tomorrow, you better wake up believing that the world can be transformed. I will be here to help you think through how.”
And with that, they cried some more; I gave them all hugs and told them that we’d make a video on Tuesday that we could send out about the impact of teacher layoffs on students.
Hopefully they haven’t already lost all hope in movement-building.
Today I may have lost my job in the School District of Philadelphia, but I did my job as an educator.