I know speaking of unity can sound to some like a foolish fantasy these days. I know the forces that divide us are deep and they are real, but I also know they are not new. Our history has been a constant struggle between the American ideal that we’re all created equal and the harsh, ugly reality that racism, nativism, fear, demonization have long torn us apart. The battle is perennial and victory is never assured.President Biden, 1/20/2021 – https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/interactive/2021/01/20/biden-inauguration-speech/
Our classroom during the pandemic is a different place than our classrooms prior to the pandemic. Each morning, each period, we greet each other and the school day with words diminishing the challenges and hardships in which many of us are operating; our routine feels too difficult to articulate how we feel at any moment of the day, particularly if we have to speak the truth. Yet, I do a check-in most every day: “Yes or no. I feel good today.” Most of the time my classes are mostly good, but one or two periods are over half NOs, and I do allow some time to talk about our struggles.
Today was a great opportunity–it’s Inauguration Day (and it’s official). My day started off in epic proportions as I received my paycheck sans our contracted retropay for our small increase (don’t get excited–for me it is about $5.00 a paycheck). The State of Florida passed legislation which gave beginning teachers (as categorized by a number of hoops that they must jump through to be called that–including not being provisional or temporary at school–of which we have many in our district) increasing the salary to around what I make now at Year 16 (I applaud this–I’m not jealous). Unfortunately, there is no money left for “tenured” teachers and it could be worse. In the case of a fellow coworker at Year 10, she’s getting the raise to new teacher salary (because her salary is still lower than that); her raise as a experienced teacher is more, but she’s not allowed to get that. There really is not much point in reliving this every paycheck (as we have been doing) as the State (in their power and wisdom) has withheld (we were notified Sunday night on social media) our bargained raises (and the retropay), stating (indirectly through our district) that they must approve two charter schools (another legislative boondoggle to force public school moneys into their voucher program funding private and charter schools without any accountability) and won’t release the money until later, maybe Feb. 3 (latest email today). None of us can fight this–even though it breaks our contract. We know it and the district knows it and the State knows it. What this looks like to me is that our Republican Governor and our legislature, who have scheemed and lobbied to systematically dismantle Florida public education, are closer to their goal.
Combine this with the fact we are showing up to a classroom in a district whose Covid cases jumped by 1000 overnight (from January 19 to today, January 20th). 1000 cases! Yesterday, it was 200. Teachers are reporting class sizes of 20 with desks 2 feet apart. Teachers are reporting that mask policies are nonexistent, and students are reporting to school with a positive case of Covid. Teachers are reporting they cannot show Inauguration Day to their students. I feel blessed to teach at my school where only some of these circumstances are occurring, and we try to solve them together). Again, we don’t have time to fix any of this, nor the means. We hit the ground running. The students and staff do, too.
And the icing on the cake was the morning teacher meeting on dress code and uniforms–namely, hoodies. Face-to-face students at our school must adhere to the traditional rules of uniform wear (mandatory at our school but not others) in the color, size, and uniformity of message. Having taught exceptional education for years now, I know it is not best practices to send an already disengaged and stressed out student to retrieve a sweatshirt from our uniform closet (not to mention it is now bare after this meeting–no more sweatshirts to give out). Whatever gets the student into this #container of learning we call school is fine with me. Students at home get to hold their pets, eat when they want, use the restroom, wear pajamas, go outside for a break, stretch, wiggle, etc. Although being digital and online comes with social isolation and other inequities, we can address this when they come to class; however, students in the face-to-face classroom are being told they are out of dress code and there is a continued stigma attached to that. No longer is this rule about equity in socio-economic status (fights and bullying over clothing items–the type of very real problems which some students encounter). Now it’s about attitude, as in they have an attitude! Yes, because a lot of our students (and teachers) have what’s called privilege. Rather than a consequence, how about an opportunity for us all to consider the rules in question in the first place.
I am reminded of the inequities that our district has combatted over the years. I think it was 2012 (maybe later) when the district was finally lifted from the court’s jurisdiction for desegregation! I’m left at wondering why hoodies has to be a major point of disagreement with our middle school teachers, and why it’s what we are focusing on? First of all, it’s cold in my room. It says 74 degrees Fahrenheit always–whether the A/C works or not. I don’t really want the heat to work (I don’t want to breath that air and I’ve been told not to open windows) so I wear my scarves, my coat, my hoodies, my leg warmers. It’s cold. I tell the kids: wear whatever you need to feel safe, loved, and ready to learn. We talk about feelings a lot because…
Feelings are valid. We experience this world together, as students and teachers (and families) strapped to the inadequacies of infrastructure and fear of Covid (every day). It makes sense to talk about the since many middle-schoolers are constantly bored, clueless, and opinionated. If I start a conversation on dress code, they will respond quickly. There is no reason for a dress code in a hybrid classroom during Covid; in fact, more inequities and hidden frustrations are created. We don’t need any more hidden frustrations; we need to bring to bare what is.
There’s never been a better time for being a #civicsteacher. This time in history will be one of great social and political change, one way or another. I’d like to nudge us all in the direction of #compassion and #multipleperspectives. In fact, our teachers have been given the responsibility of teaching mandatory district-wide mental health lessons, and these are pretty intense. We learn how to process our feelings and talk about them; we learn together. I don’t always agree with students’ reasons for not liking someone or something, but feelings are valid. I try to change this from a who or what is the problem to a how-do-can-we-start-to-solve or change the situation for the better of all–equity, access, basic needs. This seems fairly valid to be teaching, and our district agrees and tells us that’s what we are going do.
This #container that holds our learning, our classroom, our family and community of students and myself does so in safety and love. When I open my container each learning day, I won’t equivocate: applying a uniform/dress code to one group of students because they are in person and not to another group because they are at home is not fair. Not seeing why is #privilege at best and, at worst, a crushing blow to democracy.
Most of us understand President Biden’s words that “the battle is perennial and victory is never assured.” Students will go to some teachers and they will receive consequences for wearing a hoodie or too short shorts or wacky socks; this is also unjust. Moreover, they will use the opportunity to continue to disengage in new ways and find alternatives for their feelings and truths that are never brought to light. As a teacher (and mother and adult and citizen), not seeing why is #privilege at best and, at worst, a crushing blow to every person’s right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.