Hello all! Today is World Teachers’ Day, so here on the blog we’re celebrating with a piece by Jill Charles of the Bezazian Branch Library workshop, published in the latest issue of JOT, “Testify: JOT Writers on Creative Resistance: Art as Activism.”

STUDENTS TEST US
Jill Charles

Steal paintbrushes from children’s fists.
Tell them schools can’t afford art,
Then wonder why they scribble on tests
And who painted all those train cars?

The red and gold swirls of ten-foot names
On your schools faded fence and brick wall
Belong in chapbooks and gallery frames.
Read graffiti as a grievance letter, Mr. Principal.

All students question until forced to quote.
Let them invent, compose and sing hard.
Let history show who died for their vote.
And science grow runner beans in their backyard.

I respect all true teachers and learners in class.
The students test us daily and I hope we pass.

Street art in Antwerp, BE - photo by Flickr user Roger Price (username antwerpenR)

Jill’s piece celebrates a vision of true learning and teaching, as well as acknowledging the difficulty of teaching in classrooms constrained by rules, standardized tests, and budget cuts. Last month, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Teacher’s Union engaged in an ugly (and still on-going) fight about extending the school day by 90 minutes. Chicago’s students spend less time in class than nearly all of their counterparts in comparable school districts. While few oppose the extension of the school day in theory, finding a way to pass and implement the change has created ill will and deadlock.

And last week, the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research released a widely discussed study showing that the progress of CPS in the past thirty years has been greatly over-emphasized, and only marginal improvements have been made in important areas like elementary education. Meanwhile the achievement gap for low-income and minority students has widened.

With many of the stories about Chicago and education so depressing, Jill’s piece is an especially important reminder to celebrate the teachers who succeed, and pass the tests their students set them.

Nearly a year ago, when Dr. Margaret Burroughs passed away, NWA writers who had known her wrote a series of moving tributes to her skills as an educator, including her many years as an art teacher at DuSable High School, for this blog. Their strong memories of her are inspiring, even years later.

So today, on World Teachers’ Day, I’m putting out an open call. Who are the teachers who inspire you, or your children? Which teachers changed your life? Who makes you believe that the school system is not always as flawed and broken as we hear?