Tales from the Schoolhouse, Part 2: Solidarity Can’t Exist Among Those Who Weaponise It

Teaching in schools is exhausting. Mentally, emotionally, and physically. I’d forgotten how genuinely infuriating schools, teachers, and administration were until I re-entered the field.

I’d like to go back to vaguely remembering. Life was better then.

Yet, it’s the only job I’ve ever had where “solidarity” felt more enforced than simply encouraged, surrounding us with faux calls for teamwork and colleagues who actively harass you throughout collaborative projects while claiming that you’re “unwilling to participate.” It’s the one place where I’ve been told more often than I’ve felt or believed that I was part of a “community.” It’s the one place where the so-called community was never the primary concern, regardless of how often it was claimed otherwise.

The culture of schools—particularly private schools, though more public schools are participating in the same money-saving behaviours of their for-profit friends—says that you should never cause any kind of inconvenience for someone else. 

Are you sick? Deal with it, otherwise someone else will have to cover your classes and lose out on their precious (and far too little) planning time. It doesn’t matter that there’s a pandemic raging around us, that children are some of the least vaccinated people on the planet, or that many of us live in hellscapes that enable anti-vax bullshit. It simply matters that we are there, baby-sitting (and indoctrinating) the children while their parents go to work to fuel the economy that has been “suffering” as we tried to protect ourselves.

Are you asking for what little funds are available so you can buy books for your students? Well, we have to figure out how to properly divide this up between all the teachers because everyone might need something. It doesn’t matter that your students have decided, together, to read a specific novel; you’ll have to download it and read it online, even if your students struggle with a disability that makes it really difficult for them to participate (unless you, dear teacher, pay out of pocket or crowdfund for the materials you need, even if you work at a private school where students pay tuition).

Do you need to print something out? Well, you only get a handful of copies this year because we expect almost everything to be online. We’re an “environmentally friendly” paperless school, you know. It’s wasteful for you to make copies of everything you might need, especially because other people might need to make copies. No, you shouldn’t use colour ink because that’s too expensive and other people might want to do it, even if it makes the diagrams your students need easier to read. They need to learn to make do with things they can’t comprehend. Tell them that it’s a lesson they’ll learn throughout their lives.

And that’s just a handful of the common complaints.

Separator.

Being a dyslexic teacher with ADHD is incredibly frustrating. I ask for my colleagues to do simple things—send email reminders for things that need to be addressed, stop expecting me to remember everything they tell me in passing, create more stable and consistent schedules that are easier to remember—and they always respond by telling me that I’m asking for too much. When I remind them of why I need these, they tell me that I talk about having ADHD “too much.” One of my colleagues told me that it was nothing more than an excuse, that I couldn’t have ADHD because I was “too old” and it was a “disorder for children.” Another told me that I’m “teaching the kids to use their personal problems as excuses,” even when I’m just asking for basic respect.

They never stop to consider that I constantly mention it because they refuse to do simple things to include me. But yes, I’m part of a community. You know, a community that “cares” and “shows compassion” to people.

By telling us that we’re lazy, that we’re making excuses, and that we’re complaining when we need a little extra help.

Separator.

In a community, as far as I’m aware and have been taught, we’re supposed to give people what they need in order to participate, in order to be included. This could be by figuring out how to accommodate their needs: maybe we build infrastructure that enables them to access spaces, perhaps we give them the time and resources to learn in ways that suit them, or possibly we could get rid of harmful policies that only seek to unnecessarily demotivate and control people.

Effectively, we should be creating spaces for people to both collaborate and have space to be autonomous individuals. They should be spaces that provide for the needs of all people in them and to be responsive to needs that may arise over time.

They should be flexible and adaptable, ensuring that everyone is safe, included, and has what they need.

All of these beliefs are why, when I was told to write up my “class policies” and that I had the freedom to do them as I saw fit, I developed the ones I could control around pro-social behaviours that I wanted to encourage: not taking points off of late work because there is no reason to punish people for doing the work, encouraging students to talk to me if they need me to make accommodations to deadlines or are struggling understand the work, giving students additional chances for work that’s been plagiarised, and asking them to let me know in advance if they’re going to be absent.

Yet, when I submitted my course syllabi for the year, the only responses I received from my school’s principal and my colleagues were frustration and cynicism. They were all frustrated with my refusal to “teach kids a hard lesson,” claiming that I would be encouraging laziness and open refusal to complete work on time. They constantly complained at me about how students would “take advantage” of my policies and never complete any of the work in class since there was nothing to force them to do it. They told me that students would “become more irresponsible.”

None of this came to fruition. All of my students complete their work on time, with few exceptions. Those exceptions all let me know that they’re incredibly sorry but that they need a little extra time because they have other obligations. I always tell them thank you for letting me know and that they have nothing to apologise for because the deadlines are there to help people who need them, who need a guide for how to prioritise their work.

So, when it became clear that none of my policies created havoc to be wrought upon the school, they attacked me for “making them look like the bad guys.” They attacked me for not remembering to enforce pointless dress code rules (like not wearing hats indoors) because it “undermined their authority.” As parents sent emails praising my policies to the principal, more people said I made them “look like bad teachers” because I wasn’t being strict enough. They claimed, despite evidence to the contrary, that the students “didn’t respect me” because I wasn’t being harsh enough.

If anything, the students didn’t respect them because they refuse to treat the students as human beings. Instead of looking at their own work or at their own behaviours, instead of questioning values they simply accept as true, they blame me for their problems and their faltering relationships with students.

They blame me because I openly question much of what we do and how it impacts students. They blame me because I refuse to employ harmful structures. They hate that I create an environment where students are allowed to do the same. They have helped to build the walls in which they wish to remain, the walls that help them retain the power they seek to keep, and I threaten that.

They harass me in attempts to silence me, hoping that I’ll quit what little fights I can engage in on my own.

 

Separator.

Yet, I’m expected to stand in solidarity with people who wish to control me, who seek power over people more vulnerable than they are, who refuse to reflect upon their own actions and recognise how they create the harmful environment they claim they want to fix. These are the people, as I’m so frequently told, that I am “in community with.”

They are people who seek to exclude others because of their own personal convenience, who perpetuate harmful stereotypes and maintain problematic assumptions. Some of them are people who refuse to do the bare minimum to show respect to anyone around them, failing to say names correctly or use pronouns they were asked to use and making excuses for why they simply can’t.

As they co-opt the ideas of “solidarity” and “community,” they continue to create environments that are hostile to queer people, to disabled people, to non-white people. They refuse to shut down harmful rhetoric that is presented in class and opt for stating that certain students “are fascist” while claiming there is “nothing they can do,” simply stating that “school is not the place for such political discussions.”

But they are willing to cry about how one person, someone who simply wants to feel safe and included, is upsetting the balance and creating an unwelcoming environment.

It’s so entirely exhausting.