Teacher: We have to reclaim our power and public school mission

Jherine Wilkerson is an eighth grade English/language arts teacher in Peachtree City. She has taught for eight years.

In this guest column, Wilkerson talks about the exploitation of public schools for political gain. She says teachers are the lifeblood of public education intact. If teachers are neglected and give up, public schools cannot endure.

By Jherine Wilkerson

The public school system is the last refuge of the political scoundrel. It bears the responsibility of society’s ills without the resources to improve them. It is easy to manipulate because most Americans have authentic experience with it.

A true refuge provides helpful resources. For the aforementioned scoundrels, education is a scapegoat and teachers, a profession dominated by women, are without the voice and the influence to speak up. If politicians are to be believed, teachers are simultaneously nefarious villains and imbecilic dolts whose sole intention is to destroy American culture from the inside out.

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

School systems are ill equipped or, in some cases, poorly run and therefore unable or unwilling to deal with the onslaught of parents who want silent babysitters for their children. A multitude of parents have borne children to be clones of themselves and have no desire for independent thought.

These parents have pushed back against so-called woke teaching, which is an oxymoronic term that means to them “anything at odds with my opinion plus Black people.” After all, the term “woke” is as racialized as the phrase “BLM.” It is unnecessary to define because the intentions are already understood.

Parents and community members pushing back against the politicization of the public school system, which I believe has always been a radical and political bastion of ideas, are doing so in bad faith. They are not concerned about the supposed left-leaning education that their children are receiving, but that they are being educated at all. A well-educated populace is the antithesis of what a growing number of Americans want — a totalitarian government that crushes the spirit of a free republic.

These desires are not thinly veiled. In fact, they are there for all to see. And yet school systems are afraid of parents, but why?

Why have systems conceded power to those who beat down the doors to send their children into cramped classrooms because they were either afraid to be in close quarters with them, as shown by their eagerness to have their kids back in the building at the height of COVID-19, or they needed a safe place for their children while they went to work?

In theory, teachers can all walk out. After all, we are in a right-to-work state. We have the right to leave. So, let’s say we all walk out. We manage to find jobs that we get to leave at 5 p.m. We survive.

What do the parents who question everything from our education to our voices do without us? It seems brash, but they need us more than we need them. School systems and boards of education need to recognize that the greatest asset is the teachers.

Administrators, stop lying to your teachers. Self-care isn’t going to plug the holes. We cannot manifest 2019 no matter if we all join hands and want it hard enough. The whole of America has heard the phrase “return to normal” ad nauseam since the pandemic began. If we could just return to some point in the past, everything would be okay.

Except that isn’t true. Prior to the pandemic, schools were constructed to encourage conformity — desks in rows, single file lines, mandated testing with little room for differentiation and independent thought. Reading scores were in the trash, and teacher morale was sinking.

The pandemic did not create, it simply revealed. With this understood, administrators — typically comprised of former educators — need to stop lying to teachers. We read think pieces about self-care, and our own state conducts research that two minutes in a middle school classroom will reveal — teachers are not burned out, they are exploited. No amount of meditation and deep breathing will help our kids come to school prepared to learn. It will not reduce the uptick in violence, and it will certainly not stop political groups from stomping on the diversity in our curriculum.

Being honest about where we are going and what we actually need doesn’t make us negative and pretending that honesty is simply loud negativity makes you weak. You are the leaders of our buildings, so be leaders or get out of the way.

Parents, it isn’t enough to drop your kids off at the door. You are the most important part of your kids’ education, and if you care about it, you should care that there are people actively and successfully working to take that education away from your children. It is their birthright and it belongs to them. Don’t sit back and let someone else decide that they cannot have it.

To those of you who have a personal stake in quality, honest, and rigorous education — reclaim your power.