Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Teachers Unite Through The Badass Teachers Association

Originally published by emPower Magazine on July 3, 2013

Ever wonder how teachers spend their summer vacation? Many people think since school is out teachers lounge around by the pool sipping frozen drinks catching up on some summer reading. The reality is many teachers work a second or third job during the school year and especially during the summer. Others use the break in teaching to take professional development courses that are required to keep their license up to date.  And many spend the summer break preparing for next year while spending much needed time with their friends and families.  This summer 20,000 teachers decided to do something else…they joined the Badass Teachers Association.

Unlike other Facebook groups this one grew faster than anyone could imagine. With over 1500 members in four short days it became obvious that teachers wanted to be a part of this. Now only two weeks old the group has over 20,000 members and continues to grow each day with teachers from every state and even a few countries represented. Some might say it is the name that drew teachers in. Although some teachers are not comfortable being called a badass, others have reclaimed the name as a badge of honor.  Instead of thinking of a badass as something negative, many find comfort in the Urban Dictionary definition that includes unspoken rules for being badass such as, “A badass does not give up. Badasses will always push themselves for the better, no matter how hard it gets.” and “A badass is not a jerk. A badass does not prey on the weak, and shows kindness in return to those who are kind.” By accepting the title of badass many teachers have found their voice in a time where many seek to keep teachers silent.

People might have joined because of the name but many have stayed because of the mission.  Founded by Dr. Mark Naison, Priscilla Sanstead, and Marla Kilfoye, the mission of the Badass Teachers Association (BAT) is “to give voice to every teacher who refuses to be blamed for the failure of our society to erase poverty and inequality through education. BAT members refuse to accept assessments, tests and evaluations created and imposed by corporate driven entities that have contempt for authentic teaching and learning.” Given the hostile rhetoric that is hurled at teachers by corporate reformers it should not come as a surprise that teachers might seek refuge in a group that seeks to give them a voice. As their profession is blamed for the failures of society and demands for more autonomy and fair pay are met with accusations of being a union thug, the time has come for teachers to say enough is enough.

From Chicago to Philadelphia public schools are facing a multitude of problems. Budget shortfalls, school closures, dramatic increases in standardized testing, and the push for a national curriculum are just a few of the issues plaguing public education. Through all the policies and new initiatives teachers are left trying to do what they do best…educate all children. And as more and more children grow up in poverty the devastating effects become harder and harder to overcome.  Education was once thought of as the Great Equalizer. In a society that aspired for meritocracy, education was seen as the vehicle through which to ensure everyone had a chance at the American Dream. As poverty grows and the economy remains stagnate many are quick to blame public schools and teachers for the failings of society. Those who cling to the myth of meritocracy fail to see the inequalities that keep the American Dream out of reach for many whose only mistake was being born to the wrong parents.  Teachers can educate, coach, mentor, and inspire but they cannot be expected to overcome the effects of poverty and oppression on their own.   

In spite of the challenges facing public education, teachers are not the type to give up.  Some could not dream of doing anything else and others hope to see the profession return to a time where corporate influences did not control the narrative.  And with the desire for change an idea has sparked a movement and teachers have found a place to share their voice, collaborate with others, and engage in political actions. Since the group has formed members have participated in a call-in to the White House urging President Obama to remove Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education and this week members information blitzed the National Education Association (NEA) during their annual meeting urging them to withdraw their support for the Common Core Standards and to put an end to the corporate influences that seek to turn public education into a profit making entity. 

Only time will tell how far this group will go and how far their voice will reach. For now it is a place for teachers to find strength in numbers.  Co-founder Marla Kilfoye shared this with a reporter from TakePart, “I want BAT to show everyone that we are not going away quietly, that we see the true agenda and it isn't about better education. It is about profit and privatizing our public school system.” Teachers have one of the most important responsibilities to our society and for many to teach is a calling not just a job.  But the one thing we must all do is to find our voice and to demand to be seen and heard as professionals in our field.  If you think you got what it takes to be a badass teacher, join us today! 

What YOU can do

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