I am exhausted.
I’m in my 12th year as a public school teacher, and I can’t remember a time in my career when I felt so tired. The combined realities of the COVID-19 pandemic, onslaught of police brutality and anti-blackness in the wake of the Trump presidency have made being a teacher tiring in many ways. I feel like I’ve been studying because my life depends on it for the past two years.
For context, I’m black, eccentric, male identification, born Philadelphia millennial in Chicago and a first-generation college graduate. I teach US history and sociology at a large, comprehensive, well-resourced public high school that reflects the racial, social, and economic demographics of the United States.
If you asked me where I would be at this point in my life as a teacher, I wouldn’t have imagined it that way. When I graduated from high school in 2006, I decided to become a history teacher. I was part of the 46 percent of black boys who graduated from Philadelphia Public Schools, an area where at the time two-thirds were black. I thought that if other black boys had teachers who would take care of and love them as some of my teachers do, they would succeed too. I believed in an educational system that would help students realize their full human potential. I thought the teaching and our school systems were sustainable.
I was so naive.
Thin Stretching System
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed tragic truths about the US education system, and sheds light on the living legacies of racism, capitalism, and white supremacy in our school systems. Additionally, we are still dealing with the impact of gun violence, even though there is more policing to “enhance safety.”
Through all of this, schools are expected to be places where students learn and thrive. However, we remain focused on testing mandates because we face a national teacher shortage, diminishing mental health for both teachers and students, and politically motivated attacks on education in the face of critical race theory.
This undermines the basic principles of scholastic learning, especially when seeking new knowledge and understanding facts and realities. But even if all schools were mandated, it would be enough. The truth is that it is the responsibility of our school systems, however disruptive they may be, to provide the basic needs essential to our humanity: food, shelter, safety and love. As we move forward with this pandemic, we need to acknowledge that the current system is not working.
As Bettina Love delivers, We’re Only Alive. I’m just alive. I deserve to thrive. We all deserve to thrive.
dreaming of freedom
As a classroom teacher, I have taken on many different roles: counsellor, nurse, therapist, data entry, project manager, attorney, coach, and extended family. This pandemic has amplified the scale of what we do daily, as we care about the health and well-being of our students while fighting a deadly disease. But, if teachers and school systems are tasked with developing future generations of human beings, when will our federal, state, and local spending match these realities? How can we do all that society makes us teachers?
We must take a radical approach and take inspiration from educators such as Bettina Love and Jeff Duncan Andrade. What does it mean to create school systems that reflect activism, sustainability, and humanity rather than burnout, dehumanization, and survival? We must dream of a better reality, new possibilities, and a more humane future. At the core of Robin Kelly’s work, We Have to Dream of Freedom!