Amanda Dees

(Photo of Amanda Dees and her adoptive parents)

Blair Mishleau portrait

(Photo Credit:  Renee Barron


Next week, I begin year three in the classroom. This was a choice I had been planning on since before I joined the ’12 corps. I knew I would teach at least three years. It was one of the only things I was very sure of, for some unknown reason.

Dianne Hackett

“We need to talk about hitting.” No parent looks forward to being greeted by her son’s preschool teacher with that news. And yet, in the almost 3 years since our son, Sawyer, has been enrolled in early care settings, my husband and I have been met, numerous times, with news of him hitting another child… and biting… and, just this week, pinching!

Watching the shocking, appalling images coming out of Ferguson via Twitter over the last two weeks, I’ve been feeling like a spectator to an effort to preserve American civil liberties and uphold our American ideals, but not a contributor to it.

(Photo courtesy of DeRay McKesson)

“I got my hands on my head, please don’t shoot me dead.”

From the 5 days that I’ve been here marching and protesting thus far, this chant hits me the hardest.

The Pass The Chalk Editorial Team
Brittany Packnett

The air is thick here in Ferguson.

Here, in my hometown, only 12 minutes from my house, the air is thick with racial tension, mounting distrust of authority, flowing tears of a community in grief and civil unrest and frustration with consistent injustice.

The air is also thick with tear gas. 

By now, you’ve seen national news reports that tell you what I’ve known all my life: North County can be especially dangerous for black folk.  Black men.  Young black men. Young black men like Mike Brown.

Last Saturday, our young brother Mike, in whom his mother had placed her hopes and dreams, was murdered at the hands of someone meant to serve and protect, but who for decades has only been seen as one who intimidates and terrorizes.

Years earlier, my brother’s first encounter with police brutality occurred in a neighborhood with an eerily similar reputation, directly adjacent to Ferguson.  My father, a well-respected Pastor and College Professor was thrown against the hood of his imported car and beaten as my brother watched, screaming and crying from the backseat. 

My brother was 5.

That was 20 years ago.

In those 20 years, the story has remained the same.  Strike that.  The story has actually changed.  It is now deadly.

When I think back on my nearly six years in the U.S. Army, and look forward to continuing to serve my country as a teacher in Jacksonville, Florida, I’m reminded of President Theodore Roosevelt’s oft-quoted “The Man in the Arena” speech.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles…. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause...”

This “man in the arena” is me. I am someone who believes that though there may be challenges – though I may stumble and fall along the way – ultimately I can make a difference.

 

He is also the 5,300 committed individuals standing beside me as incoming Teach For America 2014 corps members. No amount of naysayers can convince us that – by working in partnership with families and communities – we can’t help build a better future for our students.

We see President Roosevelt’s man when he is already in the arena. But I like to imagine his path there, and those who helped him become the best version of himself.  I’m excited to approach my classroom with individuals from all different backgrounds – while united in mission, such differences make us stronger as a whole.   

Fifty percent of us identify as people of color. One-third are the first in their families to attend college, and 33 percent have graduate school or professional experience. Like me, 100 are veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces.

I’m grateful to my military experience for preparing me for the classroom. The Army is an institution built upon a shared mission of service, imparting upon its members  characteristics  particularly useful for educators. From day one of basic training, servicemen and women are immersed in goal-oriented, growth mindsets. We take on various leadership roles throughout our careers, and deal with high stress situations to move operations forward.

 

Photo credit: torbakhopper

A few months ago, as the weather warmed, a truth that the winter had been hiding was revealed. There is a woman at my church—I suspect she is unhoused or at least housing insecure. She takes the free meals offered and comes to church with what looks to be all of her belongings. The warmer weather meant that she wasn’t covered up in layers, and I confirmed what I thought I may have seen—she’s pregnant. Having just had a baby myself in the past year, seeing an unhoused pregnant woman was, in some ways, haunting. I thought about how difficult it is to be the mother of a newborn with the luxuries of health insurance, pre-natal care, a comfortable place to rest, security in my next meal, and every trinket and knick-knack. Then I thought about not only the challenges for this mom, but also for the newborn. The odds are already stacked against her.

A few days later, at a sandwich shop, I saw a family of four—a husband, wife, and their two kids. It was a school day at 9a.m., so I was curious why the kids, who looked to be around third- and fifth-graders, weren’t in school. Then I noticed what appeared to be many of their belongings piled on and around their table. It became clear: This family is unhoused. In this moment, school is likely low on their list of priorities. One of the greatest opportunities to expand their life options is one of the most compromised when faced with such physical insecurity. 

When the last bell rings at Middle School 223 in the Bronx, New York, students don't rush home. Instead, they stay for two more hours packed with extracurricular activities. The pioneering Bronx school is a leader in a growing push to extend school days given that research has shown the positive effects of afterschool programs on student performance.

Hoping to avoid the sometimes debilitating debt many students incur by attending law school, more people are taking interest in a less traditional route to enter the profession. In many states, wannabe lawyers can be trained as apprentices by a licensed attorney and then take the bar to become a licensed attorney. While this method reduces costs, students who choose this route have lower passing rates for the bar exams.

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We believe education is the most pressing issue facing our nation. On Pass the Chalk, we'll share our takes on the issues of the day, join the online conversation about education, and tell stories from classrooms, schools, and communities around the nation.

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