Defend Public Education

My Delegate Election Candidate Statement – Why I do this

Posted in Uncategorized by Nicole Conaway on March 7, 2010

This began as a brief statement I wanted my slate members to have in case I was late to our after-work party on Friday.  By the end of my day, this is what it became.

I went on a field trip with students today to see presentations on research in organic farming.  This field trip is part of preparations for a trip to a youth conferencewhere they will present about their experience in urban agriculture and lead workshops.

While much of the research presented by university faculty was “over their heads” so to speak, they stayed engaged, some writing and highlighting furiously and passing me notes with questions about things they didn’t understand. Some doodled in notebooks when it was too far above their heads to keep their interest, but then got back into it later. One even composed a song about how boring she thought it was. She wasn’t interested in the farming research, but she is interested in environmental studies, so I’ll get to share with her how this research is connected to what she is interested in.

Did they comprehend everything that was said? Of course not. Could they pass a multiple choice test on the content discussed? No way. Did they learn to listen and think and question? Absolutely. In the follow-up discussion on the ride back to school and debriefing when we returned they shared ideas they developed about going to college, new words they learned, strategies we might apply to our new garden project growing for a local restaurant, and how they figured out to stay engaged even when they were bored to keep their mind active and ready to jump back in when it made sense to them.  One connected her interest in forensics with the research of the scientists. At the last conference we attended one of them spontaneously stepped up when no one else would and took charge of a group of about 60 people, all adults except for our group of 9 students, and lead them in a discussion. I’ll take that over a perfect test score any day of the week.

Before leaving school for the trip, the group had an impromptu rehearsal for they will perform it as fundraiser for the trip to their conference. They are SO excited about this. It gave me goose bumps watching them.

 I’m running on this slate because I want every teacher and every student to have opportunities to do exciting, truly educational projects like these, not just be trained to administer or take standardized tests – tests that under the guise of “accountability” are used to set us all up for failure, so teachers can be scapegoated, fired, and public school funding handed over to private interests.  

Most of my students are ones the charter schools would throw away because for one reason or another like attendance problems, or require specialized instruction that charters don’t provide. IN fact we’ve had students come  to us from charters just after count day. Most are also the students NCLB standards would label as failing. Our school has gained attention worldwide because of the work done by the teachers and Principal in the school, not because of any outside reformer.  And while we don’t fit the definition of “progress” in legislation, we know we are successful.   This is one example of what teachers in DPS do.

If someone had told me this is where a career in teaching would lead me I might have chosen another path.  It has not been easy seeing all the hateful blaming of us in the mass media. But days like today, and most days lately, remind me that this is where the universe has brought me and there is nowhere else in the world I would rather be than here now in this struggle with these students and my fellow teachers in Detroit Public Schools.

This is where I ended my speech with “Thanks for coming today, I really want to represent us at these conventions to tell the truth, so please go back to your schools and tell colleagues to vote our slate.” And I got to share this with teachers and others at Bert’s  Marketplace, an institution in Detroit, home of some great blues and jazz, incredible barbecue, and karaoke in the background on Saturday mornings in Eastern market for I don’t know how many years. A member of Bert’s own family was there for the party, another proud DPS teacher.

As if that wasn’t enough, when I sat down at my computer to write about this, I read an email with an invitation to attend a BAMN meeting. So I went and got to hear from some brilliant young people creatively and boldly leading this movement. One young woman is using a class assignment as an opportunity to inspire classmates to political action. A young man is leading a  student organization at his school in this fight for the right to equal quality education. He spoke this message so boldly to the state education committee a few days ago that you could see them all hold their breath.  Students are speaking out against the Wal-mart job training program.

This is the kind of stuff that’s been happening every day here lately. This is why there is no other place I’d rather be. This is why I’m a teacher. This is why I’m running with the Defend Public Education/Save our Students Slate.  And for everyone who keeps asking, THIS IS WHY I LIVE AND WORK IN DETROIT.

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