Our Departure and a New Chapter

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I was twenty-seven when I started teaching. George W. Bush was the President, I had hair, and the Mariners playoff drought was only five years-long. I've been doing this long enough that when I started I had an overhead projector with a jar full of Vis-a-Vis markers in my classroom.

Teaching is my profession and I love its moments: first days, conferences, graduation, the staff meet-up after Homecoming. When I got into teaching, my goal was to have a positive impact on my community. To help create better, smarter students as well as neighbors. This is the origin the “Nerd Farmer” moniker.

I'm a grump, but I'm an idealist. When I co-founded Teachers United in 2011, one of the criticisms of the organization was that we were a gaggle of newbie, idealistic, pie-in-the sky teachers. I remember one commenter on an early Seattle Times op-ed I penned saying, “let’s see what you think when you’ve been in a classroom for a while.” The implication was that we would lose our idealism and passion for equity and justice. Well, here we are, bub.

This is my thirteenth year in the classroom. I’m proud of my work as a teacher. I think I've made an impact on my students and the city. For the last several years people have constantly (and annoyingly) asked me “what’s next for you?” The implication was that I should run for office (hard nah), become a principal (nope, nein, never), or do policy advocacy full-time (not for me). I pride myself on not having to please voters, foundations, or funders. If I don't need your vote or grant money, I don't have to soft-pedal my truth to you. I’ve always loved teaching. I’ve never wanted to lead a school or push paperwork. I just want to teach and feel like I'm being successful and fully supported in doing it.

By my reckoning, I have taught well over fifteen-hundred students in Tacoma. I’ve started my teacher tree: Alex, Ty-isha, Janelle, and Corey with AJ and several others on the way. That's the work.  The next generation is better than us. I see it everyday. I look forward to living in the world they and my students want to build. I think about this world often.

But it’s time for a change for me, a new chapter. I've shared my deep frustrations about the state of the teaching profession in the US elsewhere. I've worked at Lincoln for a decade. I love the school, the staff, and especially my students. But I realized at some point this year, that in order to stay in the classroom, I needed to do something different. One of the most consequential books I've ever read is called “Quitting America” by Randall Robinson. It's his story of leaving the US and relocating to Saint Kitts and Nevis. Frankly, given the state-of-affairs in the US, I'm not sure I want to break-up, but I do think I want to see other people for a while.

This summer Hope and I will move abroad. In August, we’ll be joining the staff of the American Community School, an international school in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. I'll continue teaching AP American Government and ninth grade social studies. For years, we've taught students to be global citizens, now I'm going to be one. That's kinda dope. We’ve already researched and adopted a new soccer team, Al Wahda FC.

My new colleagues at ACS

My new colleagues at ACS

Don't worry though, you’ll still hear from me. My Twitter Fingers ain't going nowhere, Nerd Farmer will continue (once we get settled), and I'll likely be writing more. You may see me again when President-Elect Inslee is putting together his Cabinet in 2021 (mostly kidding) or if the Seattle Sounders open a residency academy (deadly serious).

But for now, for me, it's time for a new challenge.

Excelsior.





A Tacoma Teacher Strike Reflection

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The strike is over and school starts Monday. When I got the email letting me know we’d reached a tentative agreement, I was so giddy I screamed to my wife “TA, TA, WE GOT A TAAAAAAAAA.” Words can’t describe how glad I am this is over. But, before I move on to my usual fall routines: learning names, custom handshakes, teaching about the Federalists vs the Anti-Federalists, and Friday Night Lights--I think it’s important to stop and take stock of what happened in our community.

Tacoma, thank you. Teachers owe the parents and community a massive debt. You had our backs! You brought provisions, you organized a 2,000+ member Facebook group, you told us to fight and keep our heads high. Every honk, every donut, every text was appreciated, and I thank you. You’ve always supported our schools through levy votes, voting for bonds, and random fundraisers (I mean seriously, wrapping paper?). But the support you showed during the strike went above and beyond and brought tears to my eyes, repeatedly.

We also need to thank the labor community. Doctors, nurses, firefighters, ILWU longshoreman, and pipefitters all came out and walked the lines. Teachers, if we don't return this solidarity when they need us--especially to the paras, school bus drivers, and food service workers who serve our students--shame on us.

To Tacoma’s students, we all owe you an apology. Adult issues kept you out of the classroom where you belong. That’s an injustice and there’s no way to spin that. There shouldn’t have been a strike. I found the last two weeks mind-numbingly frustrating because it was preventable. If the McCleary Settlement was done with transparency, rather than dead-of-night-last-second deal making, we wouldn’t be here. If a fair contract had been offered from the beginning of negotiations, we wouldn’t be here. If young teachers in our city felt valued and knew they wouldn’t have to pick-up side-hustles to stay in their apartments, we wouldn’t be here.

Lastly for the school board, we elect school board members not spokespeople. Canceling school board meetings, ghosting from social media, and responding to community members with auto-form replies is not the way for school board members to lead. The community didn’t vote for the district public information office, we elected you. If you don’t want to face an angry public when things are bad, perhaps elected office isn’t your calling.

This will be my thirteenth year of teaching. I have worked in Tacoma my entire teaching career. But, my mentor in the profession departed during this strike. I am still not over that. Despite reaching a contract agreement, I have lingering concerns about our ability to retain many of the great teachers we have. I want for Tacoma Schools to be the world-class system our students deserve, but nothing that happened over the last two weeks brought us closer to that.

I’ve heard from a lot of parents and community members. People are angry and we have to win their trust back. I often say in my talks that “teaching is relational.” Classrooms are places where if trust is absent, learning will be as well. For the sake of my students, I hope Tacoma Schools can spend this year rebuilding that trust.

I’m off to go lesson plan.

A Little Solidarity

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Colin Kaepernick is no longer playing in the NFL because wealthy team owners decided collectively to silence his protest. Merrick Garland remains on the DC Circuit Court because millions of Republicans, who can't stand Donald Trump, voted for him anyway to get tax cuts and more conservative federal judges.

A little solidarity goes a long way.

The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, unchanged since 2009, largely because middle-class folks won't fight for low-wage workers. As Michelle Alexander laid out in The New Jim Crow, one of the reasons mass incarceration became national policy is because leaders of legacy civil rights groups were focused on issues that impacted their children, like affirmative action in college admissions. Police killings continue unabated, at over 1000 per year, because polite white folks don't think it's their problem.

A little solidarity goes a long way.

I tend to avoid Wiemar Germany comparisons, but if you want to sell to me that we're living through pre-Franco Madrid or pre-Mussolini Rome, you'll have my attention. What is happening today is not normal. Separating kids from their parents as a form of political brinkmanship is not normal. Revoking citizenship from naturalized citizens is not normal. Equivocating between violent white-supremacists and the people who rally to oppose them is not normal. Ethnic paramilitary forces euphemistically calling themselves “Western chauvinists” and holding rallies is not normal. We can't become numb to it.

Earlier this week, my dude James Ford shared a video of Latinx factory workers walking off the job en masse in support of two colleagues. They shut their entire factory down because they were united, in solidarity. I often think about the Spanish Civil War. When Franco rose to power, he did so largely because the political left in Spain was divided over how to oppose him, until it was too late.

The aforementioned video, there’s some NSFW language here, just warning you

It's easy for us to get tunnel vision around our own issues. It would frankly be easier for me to stick to class size, teacher salaries, and school funding. But now more than ever, people who desire a more just and equitable society must show solidarity. I'm not a Marxist, but I speak the language. Capital and power seek to distract and divide us, but we're often too willing to do that work for them. Our lives are all improved by the contributions of immigrants to the cultural milieu. We were all birthed by mothers who deserve equal rights, pay, and treatment. We're all threatened when law enforcement operates unchecked in our communities. We're all harmed when the LGBTQ+ population has their humanity questioned or lives threatened. We're all worse off when Black lives don't matter. But, none of these struggles is more important than the other.

A little solidarity goes a long way.