Friday, November 8, 2013
A BAT Teacher of the Year Speaks Out: Cristi Lackey Julsrud
Hi BATs! As my school's teacher of the year, I was invited to speak at our local Rotary Club for their monthly luncheon. The people there were representatives from the business community. I was supposed to talk about my school, and myself , and my teaching, and how everything is all hunky-dory, but when it came right down to it I just couldn't lead those people to believe that everything is great. So I wrote this. A few of my badass teacher friends told me I should share it with you all. The speech was very well-received, and I was given an invitation by one of the members to publish it in our town's literary magazine! I hope you enjoy, because I never would have had the guts to deliver it if it weren't for this amazing group.
As I considered what to say about my school, and myself, and education in general, I kept returning to one thing. Politicians, you know, would have us believe that education is a “race to the top,” and that schools benefit from competition with one another in a free market system. If there is one thing that I can say with certainty about education, it is this: if we are in a race, fully half of the participants never knew they were in a race to begin with, most of them never intended to enter, and some of them walked over the starting line, laid down, and were never heard from again. “Race to the top” is a TERRIBLE analogy for education. I believe a much more apt analogy is a boat.
Education is like a boat. Some of us start out on it. The boat is leaky. It is understaffed. It smells. BAD. The food is horrible. Some of the crew members keep jumping overboard. From this boat, we cast out lines to the hundreds of fish around us in the water. Some of the fish bite readily; others are more cautious. As for me, I like to bait my hook with something meaty: To Kill a Mockingbird, Shakespeare, traditional English grammar, the Constitution, Patrick Henry’s speeches, Martin Luther King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail.
Some of the fish think the bait is too big to swallow. Some think the bait is dry, or old, or just not the kind of food they want. Some bite at first, but are convinced by other fish that the bait is “uncool.” Some have the bait yanked away from them by well-meaning adult fish. Some are eaten by sharks, dragged down by seaweed, snared by other nets (because this ocean is full of poachers, and they have much nicer nets than we can afford). However, we keep on fishing through it all-- storms, sharks, poachers. Sometimes, you catch a fish, and I wish I could say that makes it all worth it. And it does, sort of. But it’s hard to ignore the fact that every year the boat gets leakier, the smell gets worse, and the bites get fewer and farther between.
You see, the ocean is where our students live. They are literally surrounded by circumstances which we cannot control. Poverty, apathy, unemployment, hunger-- all these are sharks which circle them. Self-doubt, fear, and bullying threaten to pull down others. And the ocean itself is ignorance. The lines we throw are not just to catch them, they are life-lines. We must make them see that the boat that we are on may not look like much, but the land we are going to will not only allow them to escape the ocean, but will also give them wings to fly.
I wish I could stand here and tell you all of the wonderful things my school is doing. I wish I could tell you the incredible outpouring of love, support, and FIRE that has been poured out just this week from our staff. I wish I had time to tell you every story of a student who found his wings, just like I promised he would. I have the stories. They happen all the time.
But the truth of the matter is that education right now is a battlefield. Politicians are seeking to demoralize and destroy public education, corporations are circling to pick us apart and sell off the pieces, many parents are apathetic, and society offers a multitude of cures for the ills of an education. Know that I, and all of the staff at my school, and countless others like us across the country, put on our combat boots every day, board the boat amidst the gunfire, and we cast our lines to the fish in the water, and we TEACH. Because we believe in this boat. We believe in its power. We believe in our kids, and most of all we believe that if we allow the war on education to continue, we will all lose, every one of us. Because we are all in this together, whether we are in the water, on the boat, or whether we have already arrived at a place where we have wings. We desire your support, we covet your prayers, and we need YOU to believe in us.