Hedreich Nichols

January 2022

I’m A Teacher, You’re A Teacher…

Over the past few weeks, I have awakened daily to the news of new humans in the classroom. Now, if you’ve taught a while, you’ll remember when “new humans in the classroom” meant meeting a fresh-faced new group in August or September of each year. Now, it means new humans teaching in the classrooms. Well, teaching is relative. As long as the children are attended, we’re good. Hey Rick Grimes, got a few minutes??

Education: In The Beginning

You see, when free public education was conceived centuries ago, it was designed to cement a unified version of American pride and way of life after the Revolutionary War. Later, after the industrial revolution and, more importantly, after women entered the workforce in large numbers, it evolved as a cost effective way to provide social services and keep our GDP growing. 

Under the flag of education we have designed a system that cares for, feeds, assesses and entertains students for most of the waking day while parents work. Working parents means more money flows into and through the economy. Or at least, that’s how it was before COVID. After shut downs crippled and even killed off businesses, the right people must have cried foul: Schools MUST be kept open at any cost. Of course, “virtual learning doesn’t work” was the tagline. ‘Learning loss’, especially ‘in our most vulnerable populations’ was a big problem. Quality learning face to face with teachers, that’s what we needed to do for our kids.

GDP Maintenance vs. Learning Loss Mitigation

Fast forward, more COVID, so much so that schools are suddenly closing on an emergency rolling basis. And in order to prohibit that? Creative thinkers everywhere are getting warm bodies into classrooms to keep schools open. The learning loss needs of fall have given way to the economic needs of winter and the other Big Lie is now lain bare. Learning loss is not and never was the real concern. 

The US does not have the number 1 GDP in the world for no reason. We have been ruthless in prioritizing profit, this is no different. Schools are necessary to the economy. Now you, as a teacher, are most likely in this job for the kids. And if you really want the best for them, here are three things you need to do THIS WEEK to prioritize academic needs:

  1. PRIORITIZE VALUING THEIR TEACHER. Decide that if anyone can stand in your class to teach and get bonuses and special permissions, you deserve bonuses and special permissions too. Get together with other teachers and decide what kinds of monetary and non-monetary bonuses would best support the valuable work you do. 
  2. Stop giving your employer money. If you’re working 10+ hours more than your contract calls for, you’re investing in a system that does not value prioritizing you or education. Make needed changes, start here with the 40h teacher work week. The information on Jennifer Gonzales’ podcast is a good beginning.
  3. Write your school board members and show up to meetings. Use your voice, do your research and vote in local elections. Better yet, run for office. If that’s not something you want to do, campaign for a teacher who will.

Mostly, we have work to do. Our students need more resources than we can give and it’s time that education gets a bigger slice of the economic pie. Valuing the job you do is a big part of that.  Not only are you an educator, you are an essential part of the largest GDP in the world. Start valuing yourself, and ensure that others do too.

Note: This OpEd is designed as a thought provoking, rather than research based, informative article

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Free at Last (The MLK Edition)

It was not so very long ago that Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina led the charge against this Martin Luther King Jr. holiday that we now celebrate. Today, that congressional fight has largely faded from memory as we celebrate the powerful words Dr. King spoke. In Selma. In Detroit. In Washington. From the many great speeches: I have a dream…; Now is time to make real the promise of democracy… so many great words flood our social media threads on this day. We remember the greatness but forget what he fought for. Dr. King’s marches began because of segregation and voting rights. This past year, the rights he fought for have been under attack like no time since he began the fight.

From Brennancenter.org:

In 2021, the state legislative push to restrict access to voting was not only aggressive — it was also successful.  Between January 1 and December 7, at least 19 states passed 34 laws restricting access to voting. More than 440 bills with provisions that restrict voting access have been introduced in 49 states in the 2021 legislative sessions. These numbers are extraordinary: state legislatures enacted far more restrictive voting laws in 2021 than in any year since the Brennan Center began tracking voting legislation in 2011. More than a third of all restrictive voting laws enacted since then were passed this year. And in a new trend this year, legislators introduced bills to allow partisan actors to interfere with election processes or even reject election results entirely.

Unfortunately, the momentum around this legislation continues. So far, at least 13 bills restricting access to voting have been pre-filed for the 2022 legislative session in four states. In addition, at least 152 restrictive voting bills in 18 states will carry over from 2021.

Liberty and Justice for All?

Who are we? Are we really who our founding documents say we are, or are we only patriots when it serves us? Gerrymandering, redrawing districts and attempted coups make me afraid of what that answer might be.

How will you honor the memory of a man who believed in the America we could be? My ask this week is that you spend some time reading the article on voter suppression from the Brennan Center, and that you contact your congressional representatives. After that, ask at least 3 friends to do the same. If you’d like additional information on voting rights and redistricting (wtheck do we do that for anyway??), head to Ballotpedia and use the dropdown menu on the left.

You Can Make a Difference

Although we teach all to often only about the great speeches in schools, Dr. King’s legacy is far greater than the words he spoke. MLK was not just a Nobel prize winner, not just a man of great words. He was a man of action, arrested 29 times and finally assassinated, shot in the face at the age of 39 for leading the nation into the constitutional promiseland of liberty and justice for all. He was a true patriot who gave his life for his country. If you want to honor his legacy, skip the quote post and instead, post a copy of your protest letter. That would be a celebration worthy of a King.

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Invisible for Christmas

This episode is dedicated to Sidney Poitier, the first actor I remember seeing who looked like me, may he rest in peace.

I don’t remember when it happened, but somewhere along my journey, I lost my taste for ‘classic’ movies. As much as I loved curling up together with my grandmom to watch old Hollywood movies, and as much as those memories warm me, the movies themselves no longer hold the same enchantment. Without using Google, the only big stars I remember who looked like me in mainstream movies were Butterfly McQueen, Lena Horne and Sidney Poitier. As a matter of fact, the cartoons and sitcoms were similarly populated, until Norman Lear came along, with mostly Americans of European descent. Since that was my norm, I never really knew what I was missing.

She missed–without knowing what she missed…

The old adage “you can’t miss what you never had” could not be further from the truth. Just as childhood trauma leaves scars to be reckoned with in later life, the lack of representation in my childhood smacks me in the face quite often. Scooby-Doo? Where were the diverse actors. After school cartoons? Same question. And hollywood ‘classics’? Well, geez, we couldn’t even get a Black Cleopatra.

Amazon Prime for the Win!

This year, that smack in the face came as I settled in to watch some of my childhood favorites for Christmas. My invisibility weighed heavily on me, cast a pall over my downtime–until Amazon Prime Video breathed new life into the phrase “Christmas Classics”. I found myself in romcom heaven with Black protagonists doing all the kitchy stuff people do in romantic comedies. And they were doing it in falling snow and red and green Christmas lighted backdrops. My little girl’s heart found what it had missed!!

Representation Matters

Everytime a child sees themselves reflected in the classroom around them, they stand up a little taller, knowing that their place in the world is secure. And everytime children see the world as a place rich in diversity, they develop a little more empathy, understanding and respect for differences. That’s a win for us all.

The next time someone tells you that culturally responsive teaching is a bad or dangerous thing, share this blog with them. Responding positively and with inclusivity to the diverse populations that make up our nation isn’t indoctrination, it’s just good teaching.

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