Take a Small Step

All rights reserved by the artist Callandra S. Cook. Image may not be reproduced.

All rights reserved by the artist Callandra S. Cook. Image may not be reproduced.

All rights reserved by the artist Callandra S. Cook. Image may not be reproduced.

All rights reserved by the artist Callandra S. Cook. Image may not be reproduced.

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All rights reserved for the artist Callandra S. Cook. Image may not be reproduced.

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All rights reserved by the artist Callandra S. Cook. Image may not be reproduced.

Callandra S, Cook, or Callie as I always knew her, and I met in 2001. (I know the year because I still have my Teach for America t shirt that says 2001 corps member.) When we met, we both were recent college grads. We both were passionate. We both had signed on to do one of the most challenging jobs in the world: an inner city teacher.

But one thing I know now for certain is that we had not the slightest clue what we had gotten ourselves into nor how much it would change the very fabric of who we were. We had big hearts, sharp minds, and a sense of adventure.  TFA had chosen us well, but the choosing was only the beginning.

We sat on the campus of SUNY Maritime in the Bronx beneath the Throgs Neck Bridge in the sun. We stared at the water and chatted about where we had been, who we thought we were, and what might lie ahead. It didn’t matter that we were strangers. It didn’t matter that she was from Ohio and I from NY. It didn’t matter that we had different sexual orientation or racial background. Our paths crossed, and I still remember how fresh and new we were sitting on that concrete wall staring at the great blue expanse of water dotted with a million high rises of the city.

Callie and I did not end up teaching the same grade, or in the same school, or even living in the same neighborhood. Over our two year TFA commitment, we saw each other  quite a few times at various events, but our paths drifted apart. She stayed on after the two year commitment and my life took me to Brooklyn, where I continued to teach.

Callie and I stayed loosely connected through Facebook. I admired her dedication to the students of Baltimore from afar. Commenting on her beautiful daughter and her amazing photos of her family hiking in the woods. But most recently, I noticed her photography project and have been transfixed. I love her vision and her experience with inner city education that fuels it.

Right now education is like a minefield. A war that has polarized our country and pushed the argument far from what the children so desperately need from their schools and teachers.

Whether you love or hate TFA, charter schools, Common Core, testing, homeschoolers, public schools or private schools….I hope that you take a moment to consider supporting one amazingly dedicated and talented teacher’s project. For I believe that the only way education will get better is one visionary person at a time.  Callie is certainly a visionary.

If she does not meet her fundraising goal, she will not get any of the donations. So please check out her kickstarter site and consider taking a meaningful step in education reform.

Sure it is a small step in the face of all of the reforms, but every journey is made up of thousands of small steps.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1163253366/work

The Things I Can’t Change

The Serenity Prayer

God grant me the Serenity
To accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And the Wisdom to know the difference.

This prayer hung in my kitchen throughout my childhood. My father hung it there, when he received it as a gift from his sister.  When I would get frustrated about something, he would point to it.

I always thought the second line was stupid. Everything can be changed. I believed that with my whole, young fiery heart. And I think tonight, I finally realized my problem. I have never had, “the Wisdom to know the difference”. In my mind, I have always thought that if things don’t change, then people aren’t working hard enough.

Well, tonight I think it finally sunk in. That sometimes it’s not that things can’t or won’t change, but it’s a question of how long and how hard of an uphill battle do I want to fight?

When my husband and I decided to move, I promised myself to do the best research I could to ensure a quality school system and community for our children. The battle I fought in the town we were leaving was long and hard. Some said what I accomplished was impressive, but for me it wasn’t nearly enough. I felt like a failure.

I was leaving a profession that was so important to me. I wasn’t able to help those students I know were falling through the cracks and would keep falling without me advocating for them. I felt terrible that I couldn’t motivate and inspire more like-minded people (fellow teachers, friends, parents, etc.) to speak up and get involved. I felt bad telling parents of my former students that I was leaving and that I would never teach the younger siblings of families that  I had grown so close to.

But in the end, I took a deep breath and walked away. Knowing that I couldn’t stay somewhere and keep banging my head against the wall. I had already developed an ulcer and lost far too much sleep. Many asked me if I really thought I could find better. I was confident that I could and that I did. But one of my colleagues was right to say that the sweeping reforms were national and could not be escaped.

Tonight I realized that though I have found a better place for our family, I still am not sure that it is good enough. I wanted a place with more parent and community involvement. I found a place with three parent organizations. Yet tonight I sat at a meeting for one of those organizations as the ONLY member of the public at the meeting. Sadly the other groups and meetings don’t have much attendance either.

I feel cheated. I feel lost. I feel alone in this battle despite all of the Facebook groups that tell me that there are people out there fighting the same fight.

At what point do I just give up fighting for better public schools and just homeschool?

I just paid $100 to own this blog and $20 to print business cards to promote it. But tonight I feel like letting my kids finish out the school year and then just walking away…again. As inspiring as all of these Opt Out and other reform movements are, I just don’t know if I have it in me to lead one, because the battle is such a grueling one.

My first responsibility is to my children, and I know that leaving them in public school is not the best possible choice for them. But then I think that even if I homeschool my children, they still have to go out into a country that will be so much worse off, if things continue the way they are going.

Maybe I should be up late planning to homeschool next year instead of trying to fix a system that so many people are so complacent about.

Now that I am older I understand why my Dad’s sister gave him that prayer. Because he, like me, was never satisfied accepting that anything was unchangeable.