Monday, April 13, 2015

In Joyful Solidarity with the Fight For 15

Have you heard about the Fight For 15?  

It is a campaign of low-wage workers who are fighting for $15/hour and the right to form a union. In their own words, they are "fast food cashiers and cooks, retail employees, child care workers, adjunct professors, home care providers, and airport workers who work for corporations that generate tremendous profits, but don’t pay employees enough to cover basic needs like food, health care, rent, and transportation."

What started as a small spark of a couple hundred workers in NYC in 2012 has grown into a massive movement of people throughout the country and around the world claiming their right to earn a decent living, instead of settling for poverty wages. 

From my vantage as a teacher in the Philadelphia public schools, the Fight for 15 campaigners are not just fierce workers organizing for a better employment situation; rather, they are whole people -- the families of my students, the residents of my school community, the former graduates of my classroom.  And I am going to show up this Wednesday, April 15, to join with thousands of Philadelphians and march in support of the Fight For 15.   

You should be there too.

If you've ever taught a student who didn't have secure housing, enough food to eat, or regular health care because their family didn't have the money -- you should be there.

If you've ever had to wake up a groggy student in class who was up late working a low paying service job to help out with the bills in their family -- you should be there.

If you've ever had a student tell you they didn't do their homework or couldn't participate in an afterschool club because they have to take care of their younger siblings while their parents are out at their 2nd or 3rd jobs just to scrape by -- you should be there.

And more broadly:

If you've ever benefitted by having union protection and/or a collectively bargained contract -- you should be there.

If you've ever done the math and realize that a family just cannot survive on $7.25/hour -- you should be there. 

If you've joined in the recent protests and movement work directed toward racial justice, demanding that Black Lives Matter -- you should be there.

I am humbled and inspired by the courageousness of this action -- not simply to strike on Wednesday -- but to insist that we, as workers, as a city, as a whole society, can join in collective action to push back against a deeply inequitable economic system and instead build toward a changed future that prioritizes people over profit.  

Things will kick off at the McDonald's on Broad and Arch at 3pm, and will then march through the city toward 30th Street Station.  The Caucus of Working Educators will have an educator solidarity meet-up spot at 4pm at the SE corner of 30th and Market. 

Monday, March 2, 2015

Students Blogging -- Work from our 9th grade Poetry Unit

Over the past decade of teaching, I've recognized that the best work my students create happens when there is an "authentic audience" to showcase what they've learned:   Speech contests.  PenPal exchanges.  Staged performances.  Guest judges.

And thanks to the internet, we can now add: Online Publishing.

Last week, the students in my 9th grade class culminated our month-long poetry unit by creating blogs -- wholly written, designed, and revised by each one of them.

I used to use glogster webpages, but they became slightly clunky, and, dare I say, a little corny.  I figured that 21st century literacy ABSOLUTELY has a place in this generation's English classroom, so we used the blogger platform.

As is often the case when students get to tackle something that feels "real" to them, where they have autonomy in the design choices and get to "scale up" according to their own skills and aspirations, they rise to the challenge with excitement.

One girl, who has been slumping along this year, exclaimed, "This is the best project we've done all year!"  Another, whose first language is not English and has been having a challenging time in my class, ran up to me, smiling, saying, "I didn't realize I loved writing poetry!"

For a week, students were buzzing with activity - helping each other revise their words, design their layouts, and help each other widen their social networks to get more pageviews.

I, too, had fun this past week, helping facilitate their work, focus, and growth.

And I urge any teachers out there to use blogger (or another blogging host) to ramp up your projects.
Getting students to push their work onto the world stage definitely ups the stakes and calls for a heightened level of attention, care and pride.

Here are a few examples:

Unrealistic [Stanza]rds

Annarylis Belladona 

The Genuine Synopsis of Life


Writing in Imagination


Love, War, and Poetry

Poetic Effect

Wintry Skies

Poems by Some Guy

3rd World


A Deeper Ground


Poetry by Hoai


The Love of the Poet

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Why Educators Must March on MLK Day / Why We Must Continue the Work on Tuesday

On the Martin Luther King Jr Holiday this year, I am going to be out in the streets of Philadelphia with thousands of other folks, raising the issues of economics, education, and police oversight – indeed, continuing the work of the Civil Rights movement.

I will march as white woman who is working to dismantle racism and white supremacy in my life, my community, and my work.

I will march as a friend, community member, and comrade to many people of color who are at the frontlines of the current moment, leading the struggle for human dignity, survival and community-determination that has lately been manifest in the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

And I will march as an educator, who works with students of color in the public schools of our city, and sees the “fierce urgency of now” alive in my students’ demands to receive the type of quality education that they deserve.

Tomorrow I will be out in solidarity with my students -- many of whom are unjustly profiled and mistreated by the police in our city; have parents who work 2 or 3 jobs, but barely make enough to cover all of their family’s expense; and are robbed of realizing their fullest potential or actualizing their life dreams, because our so-called leaders have criminally left their schools underfunded and deprioritized.

I want to urge all of my fellow Philadelphia educators to be out tomorrow at the MLK Day of Action Resistance and Empowerment.  To join in what is expected to be the largest demonstration for MLK Day in Philly’s history. 

And then, on Tuesday, I want to urge all of us to dig in and do the collective work it’s going to take to make the march’s vision, unity and demands real. 

Let’s start in our classrooms.

We need to fill the gaps in our own knowledge (about race, the prison industrial complex, unions, community organizing, the work of ‘average people’ in the Civil Rights movement, etc.), so that we can be the teachers our students deserve.   So that they can learn their community’s histories and have their own stories at the center of their curriculum.  So that we can provide actual responses to the questions burning in their hearts about why the world is so unjust, why they are feeling so afraid, what we can actually do to change these oppressive systems that feel so crushing all around them.   

We need to not be afraid of breaking down injustice in our classrooms, of confronting the realities of white supremacy and institutionalized racism that yet pervades our society.  It is our responsibility to provide that language and lens to our students so that they can speak and theorize about their own lived experiences in a way that is connected to larger concepts and history.

And, speaking to my majority white colleagues, I want to urge all of us to do some important internal work to confront racism: to investigate our own lives, to look at the blindspots we have because of our white privilege, to push our own thinking about race and racism, to interrogate our unquestioned takes on the world, and to acknowledge those moments where we let our stereotypes propel us instead of working to truly understand our students.  And then, let’s talk about this more together.  Let’s push each other to deeper levels in our practice.   Let’s become the educators our students truly deserve. 

And, then, let’s move beyond our classrooms.

We all know that our responsibilities as educators don’t end when the 3:04pm bell sounds.  Similarly, our work for justice has to extend beyond the school doors. 

It’s time for us to join in the movement work that is taking shape in our city.

To see true racial, economic and educational justice, we’re going to have to fight against corporate dollars, entrenched politics, and closed minds.  This means that we’re going to need to join each other more than ever.  We need to recognize that our power comes from the strength of the web of relations we are building across this city, and put in the work to build those connections.  Workers, parents, students, people of faith, community members, and educators must continue to build toward the unity felt at tomorrow’s MLK Day of Action, Resistance and Empowerment.

Another world is possible and necessary.  I am inspired by the movement that is growing throughout this city, this country. 

Fellow educators, I am excited to do this work with you. 

Here are some links: