Dear Minneapolis teachers setting the example for us all,
I write this letter in the barest and realest way I feel I can present myself. I am a twenty-six-year-old Black assistant teacher whose Haitian immigrant mother endures daily the agony of arthritis in her hands while caring for patients as a nurse’s assistant; whose Haitian immigrant father works seven days a week for almost twelve hours a day driving a NYC yellow cab. One of the deepest things I share with them, rather than ties of a shared home, is our experience with exploitation.
My parents suffer the same exploitation today as they did when raising me and my three siblings. And I — a degree, a job, and a shattered dream later — am an assistant teacher struggling to make it through the stress of the workday. Even as I pen this letter of admiration now, I feel my heart trembling within the tight walls of my chest. A chest that is so tight from stress and anxiety, I feel it won’t expand despite the depth of my breath.
As an assistant teacher, this is my first experience teaching in a classroom and every day I am tasked with more than I can handle. I was recently responsible for covering Social Studies for a whole grade of about one hundred students. I was responsible for preparing the lessons, printing material, testing, and grading all the students’ work. This is while I am already responsible for 107 students in another subject.
I initially didn’t know how long I would cover until they eventually told me it would be for two whole months, even though I told them I was suffering and feeling overwhelmed. I couldn’t sleep through the night because the conditions were too awful. Instead of easing me into the workload they used the coverage as an opportunity to evaluate whether they will hire me full-time next year. They later wrote me up for not collecting enough exit tickets by the end of my coverage.
School officials purport our school is a leader in racial equity. However, children in white affluent neighborhoods would never have just one first-year teacher assistant responsible for educating over one hundred students. Our students deserve better.
Many of my coworkers cry on their way to work. Many who drive don’t sleep enough. And a close coworker who regularly suffers from panic attacks due to work stress had one at the school just this week.
This experience isn’t isolated within my school. I’ve been on panels with teachers from El Paso, Chicago, and Minneapolis and our experiences all have the commonality of being, put bluntly, awful. I have close friends in South America who are also teachers and their schools are dilapidated just as schools are in the hoods of the US. The overcrowded classrooms you guys are taking a vehement stance against, likely look like the classrooms my closest friends were crammed into growing up due to the mass closures of public schools in New York City.
Our schools are crumbling, our working conditions are terrible, and our students’ experience in school is unworthy of them because of the many years of attacks on education. These attacks killed unions and closed or underfunded public schools. They were delivered by the cold hands and cold smiles of Democratic and Republican politicians alike.
You are not only openly voicing the pain of educators everywhere so potently it compelled me to write this letter, you are also showing educators and students everywhere that we do not have to be demoralized, that we are not alone, and that we can fight against our abominable working conditions together. You reminded me that my coworkers and I run the school and that without us the school wouldn’t function, that me and my students’ families want the same for the kids — a quality education — and that we can fight tooth and nail, side by side with power that can erupt cities to win the conditions required for kids to have a quality education. Many of those things you guys are fighting for, within the place of the rebirth of a global movement that fought for Black lives. With this struggle, you are continuing that fight for Black lives right now. As you hold the line, just know, you are inspiring educators and workers around the world to fight with the same ferocity.
I send my admiration, my love, and my solidarity to every striking Minneapolis educator. My experience at work was slowly dwindling my convictions to fight for better conditions. After seeing you fight the behemoth that is the state of public education, my conviction and determination is boundless once again.
Black and proudly,
Carmin (proud member of Left Voice)