People used to look at me with concern and disbelief when I told them I taught high school in East Palo Alto.
“That must be so hard/challenging/scary/tough/difficult/(insert negative adjective here)” they’d inevitably add. “Those kids must be so hard/challenging/scary/tough/difficult/(insert negative adjective here).”
I have yet to come up with an appropriate response to address the layers and layers of racist judgement and innuendo inherent in these comments. Though I’ve heard some form of this comment innumerable times over the past ten years, I still sometimes struggle to give a response at all.
If I had the time, I’d like to tell people who react in this manner: yes, my job is freakin’ hard. In fact, I think it is one of the most challenging, frustrating, exhausting, heart-breaking, emotionally-taxing, difficult jobs one can do. And no, it is not because of my students. My students are my heart and inspiration. They are the reason I show up everyday, even when I feel like throwing in the towel. They give my work meaning and joy.
My job is hard because it is entrenched in a dehumanizing and inequitable system that makes the work of empowerment seem impossible and, too often, hopeless. My job is hard because for every student I am privileged to work with, I know there are thousands more who have no access to any semblance of quality or care in their educational experience. My job is hard because I am constantly burdened with the consciousness of the ingrained socialization and beliefs that uphold an oppressive system that has become invisible to most; I am always aware that these institutions of mindsets, power and privilege squash and undermine my work, and more destructively, my students’ lives.
My job as an educator in schools was hard because I knew for so long that I was trying to put bandaids on the sores of a patient with the plague. The problem with any dialogue about education today is that it continues to do just this; it talks about surface symptoms without ever addressing the root causes – racism, prejudice, fear – because it’s easier to stay on the surface than to challenge the mindset of an entire society about who it does and does not value, and who it sees as deserving or undeserving of hope and humanity.
We will never create lasting change in our society without engaging in real dialogue about the deeper reasons we continue to educate students in separate and unbelievably inequitable schools. We will never create lasting change in our country unless we examine the prejudice and privilege that allows the perpetuation of a criminal justice system that disproportionately disenfranchises and locks up men of color.
I left the school and students I loved for the opportunity to work at The Reset Foundation because I want to change systems. In redesigning prison to be a restorative, educational and healing experience, I believe that we are not only resetting criminal justice, but we are also re-imagining education.
My job at Reset is hard because my team and I are not dealing in symptoms; we’re trying to address the sickness. We live at the intersection of race, gender, class, power, privilege and oppression that make the school to prison pipeline a reality and we are trying to create change.
I believe that we are starting a revolution. Join us.