Are We Worthy of our Students?

We have a guest blogger! Our very own NEA vice-president Becky Pringle. Thank you! Follow her on Twitter @BeckyPringle.

I grew up on the streets of North Philly. We moved “on up” to Germantown, but I still watched as desegregation gave way to re-segregation and my school became almost 100% African American.

I made it out. I became a teacher. My father wasn’t happy that with my background in science and math, I pursued such a traditional career for a black woman. But I had no choice, it was my calling. And then, because of my very vocal and passionate demand for equity for my son, I began my journey of union activism. I’m now the Vice President of the National Education Association, the largest labor union in this country.15797853626_e4ec766c5b_z

And my spirit is crying.

I just spent American Education Week visiting schools, thanking educators – teachers, support professionals, administrators – for all they do for our students everyday. For holding expectations high, for fighting for more resources, for creating the best environment they could for teaching and learning, for being the champions for our students.

My heart sang as I watched my colleagues do more with less and fight against the obsession with standardized testing that reduces their students, and them, to meaningless numbers. They were encouraging our babies to reach for the stars, giving them hope, preparing them for possibilities. It was simply, amazing. And inspiring.

I listened and learned as the teachers and support staff; parents and university faculty, worked collaboratively under the distributive leadership of their visionary and empowering principal Dr. Christian Sawyer at the Bailey STEM Middle School in Nashville.

A team that respected each other’s professional expertise, valued each other’s experience, supported each other’s fanciful and creative adventures, and came together to lift up all of their students. It was magical. And it’s in danger.

Even as my heart sang…my spirit was crying.

As I heard them tell me of the threat of shutdown because even with incredible improvement in their test scores, it wasn’t enough. They hadn’t made the cut.

It’s not right.

I then travelled on to Pittsburgh where I went to Turner Elementary School in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania. It was a little surreal – it’s where I did my student teaching – many moons ago.15201547604_1eb01c5b6b_z

I was greeted with a big hug and infectious smile by Mrs. Tucker, the school secretary. I didn’t know at the time, but our local ESP President told me later, that the Education Support Professional ranks had been decimated; almost 40% laid off within the last two years.

But there she was. Proud of her school. Protective of her students. An education professional – that caring, compassionate person doing her very best for the students of Wilkinsburg.

As my journey continued I met Mr. King, a 5th grade teacher tapping into his students’ curiosity as they explored the wonders of ecosystems. They were just so precious. So excited and proud, they talked about how in healthy ecosystems, different organisms depend on each other; provide each other with the necessities to support life. Hmmm. Quite profound, wouldn’t you say? Kids do say the darndest things.

As I listened to his students talk about their predictions and observations, I knew I was witnessing something extraordinary. Here was an educator, with books that were written almost 25 years ago, computers idle because they were too outdated to use, but he was holding expectations high, finding ways to get information into the hands of his students, challenging them…teaching. At once, my heart sang, and my spirit cried.

Our students with the greatest needs getting less – of everything.

We think they don’t know, because caring adults are surrounding them with love. They’re doing their best. And more.

But they know. And it’s not right.

There is just no excuse why children in America should be suffering; why they don’t have what they need. We can’t hold them to higher standards without the resources to achieve them.

It’s not right.

My heart is breaking.

It is simply unacceptable that we allow these conditions to exist for far too many of our students.

It is immoral that the students who need the most from us, get the least.

I saw the faces of the real children and the real teachers and support staff who have suffered at the hands of a governor who didn’t see their value or support them; who didn’t see their humanity; who didn’t understand or care about the ethical obligation to support them with resources so these beautiful children too could have the opportunity for success.

And my heart is breaking.

American Education Week is the time of year when we honor and celebrate the men and women who have dedicated their lives to educating America’s students; when we recognize that public education is at the very core of the American ideals of justice and freedom; opportunity and equality. It’s over now. Are we there yet?

On my way back home from my road trip I listened to BeBe Winan’s song, “I Have A Dream.” It’s an homage to Dr. King. With the melody in the foreground, Dr. King’s speech plays in the background. A compelling reminder of how far we have yet to go:

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. I have a dream, that one day true freedom will ring.”

I’ve travelled all over this world. So I know how lucky I am to live in America. Anything is possible here. I am a living embodiment of that possibility. But it doesn’t change the reality that far too many children have dreams that are never dreamt.

My heart weeps.15814673425_d5f5e3e952_z

We must do better. All of us.

The question Kimberly Oliver, our 2007 National Teacher of the Year posed still haunts me: “Are we worthy our students?”

But I am both comforted and inspired by dedicated educators and Association leaders I meet as I travel the country. Every time I am in your presence, my heart soars and my spirit sings. That’s why I know we will find our resolve in the words of the preamble to our NEA mission:

We are the voice of education professionals. Our work is fundamental to this nation, and we accept the profound trust that is placed it us. That profound trust is our students.

We will weep no more. We will do what’s right for them. We must.

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One Response to “Are We Worthy of our Students?”

  1. Virginia Villafranca

    I’m retired now after 40 yrs as teacher, union activist, and now A lifetime NEA and CEA member. I want to thank you for your words and for continuing the fight. It seems to be getting worse instead of better. I pray about it now as that’s all I can do. THANKS.

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