Teachers fill a lot of roles in our public schools.
We’re mentors to kids in need.
We’re homework-givers, pencil-providers, idea-encouragers, lunch-buyers, scrape-bandagers, hand-holders, hug-givers, good listeners, counselors, caregivers and – yes – sometimes even butt-kickers.
It’s no wonder that we occasionally get mistaken for mothers and fathers.
But one thing we will never be is a snitch.
She’s not going to say what we should do one way or another. She’s just saying that this is something we COULD do if we wanted.
If that results in those kids and their families being deported, well we are a nation of laws, after all.
It’s a remark that sounds so reasonable to some folks.
Luckily, I speak dog whistle.
So did the U.S. Supreme Court back in 1982 when justices ruled in Plyler v. Doe that schools cannot deny children their right to a free education based on immigration status.
When kids are afraid to learn because they or their parents or extended family may be undocumented, that has a smothering affect on the classroom.
When ICE raids a local business, we see a sudden drop in class attendance.
So if students thought their teachers or principals were scrutinizing them to determine their citizenship status, we’d be discouraging many with brown skin or extra-national credentials from ever coming back.
By suggesting that educators have a choice whether to obey established law or to become self-appointed border patrol officers, DeVos actually is prescribing how we should act.
Well, not this teacher, Betsy.
Not now. Not EVER.
No matter who you are – black, white or brown – a public school is a sanctuary. It is where kids of all different races and creeds come to escape from the ravages of poverty, violence and indifference.
Teachers are not the enforcers of our broken, bent and biased immigration policy. It is not our job to oblige xenophobia and bigotry.
It is our job to teach, to protect and inspire.
Sure, I’ve made my fair share of calls to parents, healthcare professionals and Child Protective Services.
But I did that to protect my kids. And I do think of them as my kids.
When these little people come toddling into my class, I take a kind of ownership of them.
For the time they’re here, we’re family. I take interest in their lives and they take interest in mine.
They know all about my wife and daughter, my parents and grandparents. And I know about theirs.
We don’t just learn grammar, reading and writing. We share our lives with each other.
We share a mutual trust and respect.
If I reported even a single student for a suspected immigration violation, I would lose that forever.
Hispanic names have become Anglicized. Angelo has becomes Angel. Julio has become Jules. Jorge is now George.
The dulcet melody of Spanish has been silenced. You’ll only hear it in muffled voices if you wander by a few lockers, but never in class.
My kids aren’t even 13 yet, but many of them have already learned to hide.
Don’t appear different. Don’t let anyone know your roots extend beyond national borders.
Be “normal.” Be homogenized, bland American.
That’s the world we’ve built and it’s the one that DeVos is encouraging with her tin pot nationalism.
Some things don’t change when you cross municipal lines – human decency is one of them.
So I won’t be reporting any of my students to ICE.
I won’t help the Gestapo separate parents and children based on citizenship status.
White supremacy was bad enough before Trump was elected. I won’t help the unfortunately named Department of Homeland Security become the protector of a new white trash Fatherland.
I will defend my students. I will stand up for their safety and their rights.
That’s just what we do in public school. We look after our own.
Like this post? I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!
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