…written for and read at the November Arkansas State Board of Education meeting by Stacey James McAdoo…
This picture was captured the day I was named the 2019 Arkansas Teacher of the Year. It is the faces, words of endearment, and frankly the prayers of these babies that push me to be a better person. Since being a part of this board, I’ve lost two uncles to cancer and a close student to a horrific accident. In every instance, my students and parents were the first to reach out to lift me up.
My original signature poem, since becoming the 2019 Arkansas Teacher of the Year, is entitled “I Teach.” In it, there’s a line where I say, “I don’t teach a subject, I teach a child.” The whole child. This poem is about the power of connections and relationships between students and teachers. It is also about how public educators are charged with teaching every type of child regardless of the resources (or lack of) that they are provided.
During my entire teaching career and my tenor as the 2019 Arkansas Teacher of the Year, I’ve also been very vocal about my position regarding standardized tests, specifically about using them as rewards or punitively, as well as the psychological damage associated with labeling and shaming schools and students as “failing.”
Being a teacher is hard. It can also be emotionally draining. Often teachers feel attacked — undervalued, overworked, and not treated as professionals. It especially hurts when it feels like administrators, politicians, and educational policymakers are contributing to those attacks.
Some of you have an education background, have been in the classroom, are parents, have worked with/around children, or know someone who has. Board members and Secretary Key, the following are a set of questions that I’d like for you to think about and answer.
- Raise your hand if you’ve ever gotten a phone call in the middle of the night from the hospital chaplain informing you that your student’s mother just died and asking if you could come up to the hospital to be with her?
- Raise your hand if a legal guardian has ever called you for help because their child was literally in a physical closet and would not come out?
- Raise your hand if a mother of a student has ever called you to inform you that she and her child had gotten into an argument, the child left home shoeless, and she needed help searching the neighborhood to try to find him?
- Raise your hand if a student has ever put you on their visitor’s list after being committed to a psychiatric unit due to a mental or eating disorder?
- Raise your hand if you’ve ever received a phone call from a mother who minutes before had just learned of her child’s death…and she called you to say she wanted to be the first to tell you of her child’s death because he loved you and wouldn’t have wanted you to hear about it first on the news?
- Raise your hand if you’ve ever taught a student convicted of murder. Or have received letters from students in jail or rehab thanking you for loving them in spite of their mistakes, reminiscing about a lesson or a particular day in class or asking for book recommendations, or apologizing for letting you down?
I could go on and on with countless lists and scenarios of phone calls, events, and trauma that I’ve personally had to deal with outside of my contract time. I can also share tons of stories about the tears I’ve wiped, behavior I’ve helped to modify, goals I’ve helped students devise, or students I’ve had to physically pick up and carry due to the immobilization of anxiety attacks, a mental breakdown or a suicide attempt DURING instruction time.
The brilliance, resilience, redemption, and growth from these scenarios will never be able to be quantified or tested. These are just some of the real stories about the students I teach. Who by the way, volunteer to enroll in the most rigorous classes they can handle and try their best to put one foot in front of the other and “play school” despite everything they are dealing with outside of the walls of my classroom.
So as you are looking at data and numbers, talking about reconstituting schools and staff, making decisions about “those” kids, the “not yet” schools, these “selfish, lazy, always complaining who don’t really know what’s best for them” teachers — and doing things to us because it worked somewhere else or because you think our views are in or represent the minority and your way or thoughts are better, please visualize my face and that of these students. Know that if their faces, their parents, and their teachers don’t have an actual say in the decisions that are being made about/to them, you cannot use the word community — not community buy-in, community engagement, community advisory nor community schools.
*Stacey James McAdoo, the 2019 Arkansas Teacher of the Year (affectionately referred to as 2019ATOY), is a 17 year Oral Communication instructor, AVID Coordinator and sponsor of the spoken word collective called Writeous Poets from Little Rock, Arkansas. She teaches at the historic Little Rock Central High School where she is the living embodiment of her ATOY platform of using passion and poetry to close the opportunity gap.*