I Wrote a Book! Yeah. I Can’t Believe It Either.

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How did this happen?

It was only three and a half years ago that I sat down at my computer and decided to write my first blog.

And now I’ve got a book coming out from Garn Press “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform.”

Like the title says, I’m just a public school teacher. I’m not important enough to write a book.

A blog? Sure. That could disappear any day now.

All it would take is WordPress deleting the site or maybe the power goes out and never comes back or a zombie apocalypse or who knows…

But a book. That’s kinda’ permanent.

It has mass and takes up space.

 

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That won’t just poof out of existence if someone unplugs the wrong server.

It would take some sort of conscious effort for a book to go away. People would have to actively work to destroy it. They’d have to pile those rectangular paper bundles in a fire pit, douse them in gasoline and light a match.

Otherwise, they’d just maybe sit in a basement somewhere in boxes, unopened and collecting dust.

Or could it really be that people might actually crack the spine and read the things?

It’s a strange sort of birth this transition from cyberspace to 3-dimensional reality.

And it’s about to transpire with selected bits of my writing.

I am flabbergasted. Shocked. Almost in denial that this is really happening.

 

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Did I mention that I’m a public school teacher? No one is supposed to listen to us.

School policy is made without us. Decisions impacting our kids and our careers are made by people who haven’t seen the classroom in years – if ever. And when we politely raise our hands to let people know that something isn’t working, the best we can hope for is to be ignored; the worst is to be bullied into silence.

Yet my blog has 1,184,000 hits. I’ve got 12,545 followers on Twitter and via email. And now – a book.

So, let me propose a theory: the people at Garn Press are just incredibly nice.

Denny, David and Benjamin Taylor are just fulfilling one of those Make a Wish thingies for a downtrodden soul like me.

Maybe I’ve got some sort of debilitating disease and no one’s told me yet.

 

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The book officially comes out on Nov. 28. So when I’m handed my first actual copy, I’d say it’s even money that the next thing I’ll be handed is some medical document showing I only have moments left to live.

But whatever.

I’ll die with a smile on my face.

It reminds me of a few lines from Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451:

Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there.

In my 40-some years, I’ve tried to do that. I’ve tried to make some lasting mark on the world. Tried to leave it a better place than I found it.

 

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I started as a journalist.

It was great! I could shake up a whole community just by writing something, uncovering some hidden truth, asking a tough question.

But I needed to eat, too, and you can’t do that when you’re on call 24-hours a day for nearly minimum wage under the constant threat of downsizing and meddling by the publisher and advertisers.

So I got my masters degree and became a school teacher.

And it’s been great! I can alter the course of a child’s entire life by helping her learn to read, encouraging her to write and getting her to think and ask questions.

But I’m under constant threat by bureaucrats who know nothing about pedagogy and child psychology trying to force me to do things in ways I know are wrong, detrimental or prejudicial.

So I became an activist, too.

And it’s been great. I joined groups of likeminded individuals and we took to the streets and the legislature and lawmakers offices and parent meetings and teachers conferences and just about anywhere you could stir things up and get people to start asking the right questions.

That led directly to the blog and now the book.

 

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So what’s in it?

In short, it’s my hand-selected favorite articles. These are the ones that either got the most readers or that have a special place in my heart or both.

And this summer I sat at my kitchen table and intensively revised almost all of them. Even if you’ve read them before, these are definitive versions. In some cases, they’re considerably different than the versions you might still find up on-line.

Who did I write it for?

You, I hope.

But, if I’m honest, the people I most had in mind reading it were my daughter and my students.

One day my little girl will grow up and she may wonder what her old man thought about X, Y and Z.

What did Daddy think about racism? What did he think a good teacher did? What were his thoughts about politics, prejudice and reform?

I can see some of my students doing the same.

Perhaps I flatter myself that they may dimly remember me – their crazy 7th or 8th grade Language Arts teacher. I wonder what Mr. Singer would have said about… whatever.

I guess this is my way of telling them.

It’s a time capsule of my present day thoughts. And a guide for how to get to a better future.

You’re cordially invited to read it.

If you’re a longtime follower of this blog, let me just say – thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I never would have had the courage to continue without you.

If you’re new to my writing, welcome aboard. I hope I’ve given you reason to keep reading.

And I hope that one or two of you will be inspired to seek out a certain oblong bundle of papers wrapped in a blue and white cover proclaiming my undying, self-chosen, provocative descriptor:

Gadfly on the Wall.

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(Oh! And a special shout out to Denisha Jones and Yohuru Williams for writing incredible introductions to the book! I am beyond honored!)


UPDATE:

The book is now available for purchase at Amazon.com. Just click here!

I am also donating 10% of all proceeds to the Badass Teachers Association. 

Bending Toward Justice: BATS Congress and the Fight Against Corporate Education Reform Taking Back the Power of Teachers

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(NOTE: This article was written by Yohuru Williams and Steven Singer)

Be the change that you wish to see in the world.—Mahatma Gandhi

Nearly a year ago today, I joined an inspiring band of intrepid activists who made their way to the nation’s capital to protest the impact of high stakes testing and corporate education reform. We arrived with the genuine hope that a demonstration at the Department of Education might encourage a national discussion about what many have rightfully identified as the destruction of public education.

After a long day of speeches and activities, a representative from the Department came out and asked for a meeting. After being ushered through security, a small contingent of protesters and I travelled upstairs where we were hustled into a small conference room. After a few minutes, Secretary Arne Duncan joined us. He stayed for only a few minutes, sometimes listening, but mostly politely but firmly pushing back and evading our grievances. It was clear that we had come to the wrong place.

After he departed, Arne’s staff pressed us for solutions. I suggested a National Teacher Congress that would allow real teachers, from across the nation, and from all backgrounds and districts, to convene in Washington to earnestly discuss and explore solutions. Arne’s aides perked up. “What a fantastic idea,” one his staffers chimed in. In abstract it was, but as we debated it in the weeks following the protest it was clear that we needed something stronger. We felt acknowledged for sure, but certainly not heard. For all the power projected on him, Arne is a functionary and we determined that we needed to go after the persons and entities on whose behalf he functioned.

In the months that followed my idea of a Teachers Congress morphed into a week of lobbying to educate elected officials about the detrimental impact of corporate education exacerbated by rampant racism and poverty. The idea of a National Badass Teachers Association (BATs) Congress was born.

On Saturday, July 24, 2015 I reprised my role as keynote speaker as part of that Congress, but the real action had already taken place as my fellow BAT and edu-blogger Steven Singer of Pennsylvania chronicles below. The BATs returned to DC, not to revisit history but to continue our mission of creating real opportunity and equity in the nation’s schools. For even as we all firmly believe, as the Reverend Dr. King once expressed that the arc of the universe bends towards justice, we also acknowledge that sometimes you have to push at its base to help it’s curvature along. —Yohuru Williams

Steven Singer:

We came to Washington, D.C., in ones, twos and threes.

We came by the carload. On the train. In transcontinental flights. Even walked.

No mass uprising. No angry rhetoric. No fists shaking.

No corporate funding. No thick rolls of bills. Just whatever jingling change we could spare for travel, room and board.

We occupied the Capitol stuffed overcapacity in hotel rooms, sometimes sleeping on the floor or even in the hall.

Not ideologues, not Democrats, not Republicans – just parents, teachers, students, people.

Who are we? We are the Badass Teachers Association. And we came to be heard.

Last year we stood outside the U.S. Department of Education to air our grievances. We spoke to those walls, we spoke to each other and the open air. We spoke with such volume, the doors opened and we were invited inside.

And in the presence of The Powerful, we didn’t stumble, we didn’t lose our courage, we told the truth to their disbelieving faces.

Our public schools are not failing. YOU are failing our public schools.

Your policies are poisonous. Your testing is treasonous. Your facts are fallacious. Your designs are dangerous. Your ideas imperious. Your lectures libelous. Your measures malicious. Your networks nefarious. Your rigor ridiculous. Your standards suspicious.

Secretary Duncan, next year you should convene a congress of teachers. They would tell you what needs to be done.

 

And we meant it.

We didn’t wait for permission. We didn’t wait for an invitation. We gathered our own power, gathered our selves and this year became the Badass Teachers Congress.

For two days we marched up Capitol Hill and into the halls of the House and Senate. We made appointments months in advance to sit down with our legislators, and if they wouldn’t meet with us, we sat down with their aides, and if they wouldn’t commit to a meeting, we showed up anyway.

We told them the truth. Right to their faces if they were brave enough to face us.

We didn’t wait for education policy to be directed by education experts. We presented our expertise, offered it freely, shook hands, smiled and looked them right in the eye.

But we didn’t stop there. Telling Congress is one thing. We BECAME a Congress.

We drew on our own first hand experiences of the failure of national education policy. We drew on research, peer-reviewed studies, the fruits of universities and colleges – real, unmanipulated data.

And we came up with resolutions.

We acknowledged that our labor unions sometimes fail to live up to their promise. But we didn’t throw them away. We devised ways to strengthen them, to increase their power to empower and make them more like us.

We shared our fear of being the lone dissenting voice and planned ways to overcome ourselves and speak up for our children and communities even if our voices shake.

We acknowledged our national history of racism, sexism, and prejudice. And we didn’t allow our many different shades of skin to provide offense, we didn’t allow our various cultures, ethnicities, religions and sexualities to become a burden. We drew on our differences as a strength and committed ourselves to acknowledging the ways we have been disenfranchised. We decided on a path of love and acceptance even if that path might take us to places that make us uncomfortable, we’d go there together.

We resolved to continue protecting teachers from toxic work environments that far too often become abusive. Too many of our colleagues have taken their own lives due to the toll of this job. We are the last line of defense between children and people who would sooner sell their futures for a few pieces of silver. And finally the problem is being recognized and steps are being taken – slowly – to help.

In short, we did what The Powerful least expected or wanted. We held each other up. We recognized our own power and vision. We organized, made plans and set the course for our future.

In the weeks that follow, more details will emerge. We’re still examining the incredible input, ideas and information. So much happened, it’s hard for any one person to encapsulate it all.

But of this you can be sure.

We are the Badass Teachers Association.

We are not waiting to be invited anywhere. We are not asking permission. We are taking control of our own destinies.

And we will be back.


 About the Authors:

Yohuru Williams is an author, Professor of History and Black Studies, and education activist. Steven Singer is a husband, father, teacher, and blogger, education advocate. Both are members of the Badass Teachers Association.

williams-singerNOTE: This article also was published in the LA Progressive.

The Killer in my Classroom

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Some nights sleep just won’t come.

I toss and turn, crumpling the blankets until I have to get up and read or pour myself a glass of water.

Sitting up in the pre-morning gloom, that’s when they come back to me.

A parade of faces. No names. Words are all lost in the haze of time.

But the faces remain.

Kids I’ve taught and wondered about.

What ever happened to Jason? Did Rayvin ever get into dance school? I wonder if the army took Tyler…

But there’s one face that always comes last.

A strong straight lip. Soft nose. Brooding eyes.

Terance… Terrell… TYRELL.

Yes. That’s his name.

One of my first students. One of my biggest failures.

And I don’t have to wonder what happened to him. I know with a dread of certainty.

He never got to play professional basketball like he wanted. He never even made it out of high school.

No, not dead – though I do have I gaggle of ghosts on my class roster.

He’s a murderer. Life in prison.

I was his 8th grade language arts teacher. It was my first year teaching in the district.

I had a reputation for being able to relate with hard to reach kids so they put me in the alternative education classroom.

I had a bunch of students from grades 6-8 who simply couldn’t make it in the regular school setting.

These were kids with undiagnosed learning disabilities, appalling home environments, and/or chips on their shoulders that could cut iron.

But I loved it.

I taught the Read 180 curriculum – a plan designed for students just like mine. We had three stations: silent reading, computer remediation and small group instruction.

The class was divided in three – students rotated through each group. Though I somehow monitored the whole thing, I spent most of my time meeting with kids in small group instruction.

I had an aide who helped the whole thing run smoothly, too. Lots of planning time, support and resources.

Everyday was exhausting. I could barely stay awake on the ride home. But it was worth it, because I felt like I was making a difference.

And there was Tyrell.

Few days went by without at least one of the children having to be disciplined. Sometimes it was just a simple redirection or even standing in close proximity to kids who seemed set to explode. Other times it was a brief one-on-one counseling session to find out why someone was misbehaving. And sometimes it was so bad kids had to be sent to the office. Once we even had a child escorted out of the building in handcuffs because he brought a weapon to class.

If you’d told me one of those children would end up killing someone, I wouldn’t have blinked. If you told me it would be Tyrell, I wouldn’t have believed you.

He was a gentle giant.

Almost always calm and in control. He was well above the others academically. When one of the others lost his cool, Tyrell would help talk him down.

I wondered why he was there. Turns out he was involved in a bloody fight on the way home from school the year before.

But that rarely made its way into the classroom. It was like he was already doing time – serving out his sentence with these misfits until he could be placed back with the rest of the student population.

I remember when Carlos got caught with the knife, Tyrell’s back had stiffened but he hadn’t moved.

The knife had fallen from Carlos’ pocket across the table and slid to the floor.

Tyrell watched it slide across his desk but said nothing.

“Is that a knife, Carlos?” I asked.

“No!” he said picking it up and putting it back in his pocket.

“Why do you have a knife, Carlos?” I asked.

He shrugged and refused to say anything.

Then Tyrell spoke up.

“It’s for the walk home, Mr. Singer.”

“What?” I asked.

“He needs it,” Tyrell said.

And the look in both of their eyes said it was true.

But what could I do? If he used that knife, I’d be liable.

I had to report it, and I did.

Would I still do that? Was it a mistake?

I don’t know.

But I went to the administration and told them the truth – that I BELIEVED the knife was for self-defense. That something had to be done to protect these kids on the walk home.

Nothing changed. Our district saves a ton of money by forgoing buses. Richer kids get a ride to school. Poorer kids walk.

And Carlos got charged.

Tyrell never said anything about it. But I wondered what we’d find if we searched HIM.

We have metal detectors, but they are far from 100% effective.

I remember one day Tyrell stayed after class to talk to me. Talk quickly turned from grades and assignments to what he wanted to do with his life.

Tyrell loved B-ball. Often wore a Kobe jersey to school. And always the cleanest, brightest Jordans on his feet.

He was going to play ball, he said. No doubt about it.

I tried to convince him to have a backup plan, but he just shook his head.

“What kind of options you think there is out there for a guy like me, Mr. Singer?”

I’ll never forget it. Me trying to convince him he could do anything he wanted, and he just smiling.

“Guy like me only do one of two things,” he said, “He plays some ball or he runs out on the streets.”

I asked him to explain, and he told me about his brothers – how they sold drugs, bought fancy cars, took care of the family.

I kept insisting there was another way – a better way. And finally he agreed but said that his way was easier, safer, more of a sure thing.

“Why should I work my ass off on all this?” he said pointing to his books, “I can make a stack on the street.”

Was there anything I could have said to change his mind?

I don’t know. But I tried.

And that was it, really. I never had another chance. They moved him back to regular ed. a few weeks later.

He finished the year with a different teacher in a different part of the building.

I saw him occasionally, and he’d dap me up, but that was about it.

The next year there was an opening for me in regular ed., too.

Eighth grade with the academic track population.

I had to really think about it. My colleagues thought I was crazy not jumping on it at the first opportunity.

But it was no easy decision.

What finally pushed me over the edge was the rumor that alternative ed. was being downsized.

They would no longer pay for the Read 180 curriculum. No more aides. No more resources and extra planning time.

So I put in for the move and have been there ever since.

Of course, with a much reduced alternative ed. most of the students I would have taught had moved up with me to the regular ed. classroom. Now they’re just bunched in with the regular population.

But I don’t regret it. I love these kids. I love being there for them.

And Tyrell? About a year later, I read about him in the newspaper.

Police think it was a drug related hit. Tyrell was in the backseat. He put his gun to the driver’s head and pulled the trigger.

Bam.

No more future for either of them.

Except on restless nights when Tyrell’s face keeps coming back to me.

Is there something I could have done? Do the words exist for me to have convinced him to change his path? Would he have listened if I hadn’t reported Carlos?

And most importantly – why am I the only one who seems to care?


NOTE: A slightly condensed version of this article was published on Nancy Flanagan’s blog “Teacher in a Strange Land” in Education Week. The expanded version seen here also was published on the Badass Teachers Association blog.

Coming Soon – Badass Films!

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Quick! Somebody microwave Bill Gates a bag of popcorn!

Fluff up Arne Duncan’s favorite pillow!

Get Chris Christie some Sour Patch Kids!

A lot of Sour Patch Kids!

Because the show is about to begin!

Coming Friday, March 6, I’ll be launching Badass Films.

This new venture is a division of the Badass Teachers Association (BATs). Your humble blogger is a member of the leadership team.

I’ve made 12 very short films about corporate school reform and the grassroots movement that fights against it.

They’re nothing fancy – just something I whipped up with imovie. But I hope they’ll help spread the message and get people up to speed on the damage being done to our school system by standardization and privatization. I also hope to shine a light on some of the amazing people out there – parents, teachers, students, and people of conscience – who are fighting against factory schools with all their might.

I already released this film called “Opt Out of Standardized testing:

Friday I’ll release the remaining 11.

Here are the working titles and a few mock movie posters made by our incredible BAT Meme Team:

COMMON CORE

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(Meme by Lisa Smith)

CHARTER SCHOOL TREASURE HUNT

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(Meme by Deb Escobar)

V.A.M. SHAM

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(Meme by Lisa Smith)

SCHOOL TO PRISON PIPELINE

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(Meme by Lisa Smith)

SOCIAL JUSTICE

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(Meme by Lisa Smith)

TEACH FOR AMERICA

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(Meme by Deb Escobar)

TEACHERS UNIONS

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(Meme by Deb Escobar)

TEACHER TENURE

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(Meme by Deb Escobar)

PENSION THEFT

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(Meme by Deb Escobar)

SCHOOL “CHOICE!?”

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(Meme by Lisa Smith)

BADASS TEACHERS ASSOCIATION

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(Meme by Lisa Smith)

I hope you’re as excited as I am! I always wanted to be in the movies! Move over, Orson Welles! Here comes a BAT with an ipad!

See you Friday at the movies! ^O^


This article also was published on the Badass Teachers Association blog.