A few weeks ago I wrote about the conflict regarding my former teachers at Egg Harbor Twp.
Last night I attended their board meeting. Which was, well, quite a show to say the least. It included the Board of Education‘s president, James Galvin, referring to the teachers as, “You people,” (Huh, I guess Chris Christie’s trend is spreading), and me getting told to “shut my mouth.” I also just learned that there were board members who were playing on their phones as people were speaking to them. As one teacher wrote:
Some on our side may have been abrasive. I would opt not to do that. There is nothing persuasive in it. However, NONE of our speakers were as blatantly disrespectful as some board members & administrators. I wished someone would have called them out on their not paying attention, playing on their phones, etc. We would not accept the sort of behavior we saw from the board last night from any of our students.
The board meeting was packed way before the meeting even started. The room was filled with teachers in their beautiful, blue union shirts and signs, so filled we had to be moved to the cafeteria.
Can I also mention that it is seriously one of the coolest things seeing your K-12 teachers standing up for their rights like this?
Anyway, to give a little refresher on what my teachers are fighting for: They’re fighting for a fair, settled contract. The teachers are earning less than they were last year since they are now paying for their own health benefits, the board wants to extend their work day, but do not want to give them the 2% pay raise that the NJ allows.
As we all finally settled into the cafeteria–still so many of us that people were still forced to stand or sit on the floor–the meeting finally started. The president of the board, James Galvin, stated that people would only given 2 minutes to speak.
One by one, different people voiced their opinions. Impassioned educators brought to light what many of us already know: the career of a teacher is so much more than just teaching lessons regarding their subject. Current and former students shared stories about the impact these teachers had on their lives that many of us alumni can identify with. And of course, there was someone who didn’t believe in the teachers’ fight, believed that the protest the teachers held the other week was “an embarrassment,” and that she did not understand the blue shirts.
I had the pleasure to speak right after her.
My speech had a pretty aggressive tone, and I will readily own up to that. To those who attended the meeting last night, I know my speech received mixed opinions, and many may have disagreed with my action–and I respect that whole heartily. Yet. I have seen too much teacher disrespect, too much silencing of teachers that I will do whatever I can to challenge the power structures that are responsible for it–especially when it directly impacts the teachers who became a second family to me growing up, the teachers who inspired me to become an educator in the first place.
I just want you all to know that I knew exactly what I was putting myself at risk for. In my experience and through my observations, I have found that if you speak how people expect you to speak, then you get a pretty expected, common response. But, if you speak the unexpected, well, as proven last night, you get the unexpected. I was also not surprised considering the level of actions executed by other Board of Educations. For example, in Chicago, students were removed by force, in Maryland a parent was removed and arrested speaking out against the Common Core, and in South Carolina, a board president told a parent that her concern “sprang up from retardation,” And these are just to name a few instances. Therefore, I was not surprised by the response I received (but just because it has become a norm does not make such disrespectful actions acceptable by any means).
The reason why so many administrators and policy makers continue to enforce destructive policies, standards, and all the alike is because they assume that they can. They believe that there’s nothing we can do about their actions. But, from wins and actions of other educators and community members e.g. CTU Strike, Seattle MAP Test Boycott, Washington Heights elementary school mandated exam canceled, you all know this is not true. Remember that you all have such a better insight and understanding of what is best and most effective in the classroom; you are the ones day-in and day-out in the classroom, the ones who are building relationships with our community’s youth, the ones who went through the study of education and pedagogy–not them.
From all the blue in the room last night, you all know how much power you hold. Don’t be afraid to use it.
I am so thankful for your messages and comments in support, but please don’t feel sorry for what happened to me. Like I said, I knew very well what I was getting myself into. Rather, I ask that you all learn from it. What does James Galvin’s actions reflect about his character thinking he has the right to talk to anyone the way he did? I ask that you continue to stay fired up, use his actions as means of continuing to build momentum, and don’t let this board off the hook. Let’s continue fighting this battle until we win.
We cannot settle for less than you know–we know–you all deserve.
You inspired me when I was 6, 12, 16, 18, and now at 21 years old, that inspiration still has not burnt out.
And I have feeling it’s not going to anytime soon.
Thank you for your courage, and I look forward to your victory.
To read news report by our local press please see: Hundreds attend EHT school board meeting over teacher contract issue