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Leah Thomas

“Yeah, well. They don’t tell us anything.”

This phrase is one I’ve heard so often, both during my time as a teaching artist and years ago when I was a teacher, that I anticipate it whenever I receive a new classroom placement. Like a catchphrase or slogan, I wait for discontent to rear its head. Usually it happens in a first or second meeting with a new teacher. We’ll be asking about resources, or about standard requirements, or scheduling, and inevitably the teacher sighs and expresses uncertainty or frustration.

The trouble is, the exasperation is legitimate. Too often teachers feel like tools in an administrative system where their voices are not heard or valued. There are always whispers of decisions happening elsewhere, and many times I speak to teachers who feel powerless to move or change their teaching habits for fear of crossing one line or another. Artists in the classroom of course make teachers nervous, because artists are not as tightly bound to the infrastructure of schools and do not face the consequences that teachers do. However, we are not unsympathetic.

With headlines like those we’ve seen in the past few weeks, especially regarding the dark prospects for public education in this new era of America, this feeling of powerlessness is likely to intensify. Teachers are accustomed to being devalued, and I wish I could say we are on the cusp of change, but this is an area where we are all powerless.

What I can say is that we are not alone in feeling this way, and there’s strength to be found in camaraderie and standing next to each other. I wrote previously about inclusion in the classroom, about creating safe spaces for students. But schools should also remain safe places for educators and staff, and that, on a personal basis, is within our power. We lead by example – we respect each other and communicate well, then we can alter the climate of a classroom, if not the world beyond it.