Today’s post is written by second grade teacher and guest blogger, Emily Kaplan. On Saturday, May 21st Emily presented at the 6th annual Boston-Area Educators for Social Justice Conference with DEY’s Co-Director Geralyn Bywater McLaughlin. The workshop was titled: Defending the Early Years: Finding your voice as an early childhood activist. Emily is a reflective teacher who went from feeling discouraged and alone to feeling empowered – and part of a movement. How did that happen? We asked Emily to share her journey as an emerging activist, as a way to encourage and inspire other early childhood teachers. And that is precisely what happened on Saturday. Please read and share Emily’s story below:
You Are Not Alone:
The Value of Speaking Up, Together
Good morning! My name is Emily Kaplan, and I am so very excited to be sharing with and learning from you all here today.
Last year, I taught second grade at a “no excuses” charter school in Boston. In the past few months, I have written several articles about my experience there, as well as the systemic forces which support the existence and growth of these dangerous and counterproductive pedagogical environments.
A few days after an article I wrote was published in the Washington Post, an e-mail popped up in my inbox with the subject line “THANK YOU!!” It was from a woman who teaches at a charter school in another state.
“Hi Emily,” it began.
I don’t often do this, but I just wanted to thank you for writing your article about your experience in your no excuses charter school… While reading your article I felt like you must have been in my head reading my mind to have views so heavily aligned with mine. I also teach at a “no excuses” charter… We are seeing these exact trends in our kids from K-12th grade… I would repost your article but I won’t…yet…
As much as my article seemed to bring comfort to this woman, her e-mail brought me tremendous relief as well. I had been terrified to put my writing—my experience and my convictions— out into the world. I feared retribution, personally and professionally. What I feared most deeply, however, was that I was writing into a void: that it would turn out that no one would be listening at all.
But that is not what happened. After I began to write about my experiences, I heard from a lot of people. Some of them, as expected, were angry; I am proud to say that I recently had an entire Huffington Post article written about how short-sighted and simple-minded I am.
Most of the people I heard from, though, were educators who felt just as strongly as I did about the same topics. Many were young teachers from around the country whose thoughts and experiences were parallel to mine. Others were educators with decades of experience who wrote to say that I had voiced what they had been feeling for years, that the way this country educates its youngest students has changed for the worse. “I did not retire with joy as I hoped I would,” one teacher wrote. “We need to become a coalition and advocate for developmentally appropriate education for children.”
I agree, wholeheartedly. But I also think that we’re already partly there.
There are so many people who share this mission, and many of them have organized. I’m honored to be here today with Defending the Early Years, a group of brilliant, passionate, experienced educators and academics who fight the good fight, day in and day out. The Teacher Activist Group, The Badass Teachers Association, The Boston Education Justice Alliance: these groups are doing excellent work, and I credit them— 100%— for granting me the courage to take my first baby steps in joining the world of early childhood activism.
Last year, when I was teaching at the charter school, things were going— how do I say this diplomatically?— terribly. I struggled every single moment of every single day. And I began to think that not only was I a terrible teacher, but also that I was deeply crazy.
Nearly everyone around me, after all, seemed to be on the same page, downing the Kool-Aid like water at a marathon. I must have been the one who was wrong.
So, in desperation, I looked online. Was there anyone out there who felt and thought as I did? Was there any chance, that is, that I was not insane?
Within a few keystrokes, a whole world opened up. I was not the only one who felt this way— not by far. There were whole communities, organizations, books, academic careers devoted to dismantling the type of approach to education that I found myself in. No, I wasn’t crazy. And I was going to take start taking notes.
I transitioned from survival mode to journalist mode, from cowering in the corner to playing offense. For the rest of that school year, I viewed every troubling situation I found myself in, every example of the type of pedagogy I so deeply disagreed with, as material for my future writing.
This is how I got myself through my time at the charter school. And this is how I came full circle— to join, in baby steps, the community that helped me survive. We are not alone. And the more we band together, loudly, unapologetically, the stronger we will become.
To read more posts from Emily Kaplan check out: