I work with the belief that my students deserve the highest quality education possible. In my profession as a bilingual citizenship class instructor, I reject a system that limits access to quality education only to those that can afford it, or speak English, or have papers. Every student possesses the ability to learn, succeed and follow their dreams; my job is to guide and support.
Society does not value my students. Many are low income or no income. There are varying levels of proficiency in English, which result in feelings of shame or inadequacy. And lastly, because many are seniors, they are not seen to possess a productive value in society. Our society may not value seniors, but I know they have lived much longer, gone through more than I can ever imagine. For some of my students the citizenship test is the latest, biggest test of their lives. It is the last thing preventing them from reuniting with family, visiting dying loved ones or just feeling safe in a climate where everything feels uncertain. Many of my students have survived genocide, revolutions and civil war, picked up their lives and started over in a new country. The least I can do is to everything I can do to help them pass their citizenship test. The decision by management and board of directors to layoff 10-15 line staff, including the entire teaching staff is an additional barrier my students do not deserve.
For a teacher there is no greater variable to a student’s success than motivation. My students are here because they want to be. They take the bus from hours away, quit their jobs and they find childcare or bring babies to class. Teaching adult immigrants means never having to worry about motivation. As an educator this makes my job a joy, and I do my best to make learning fun. I most admire the students that fail, come back to class and continue to study and then pass their second test. They define the qualities of perseverance, courage and faith.
It hurts me then that the board and management of Advancing Justice wants to terminate my colleagues, myself and the classes, with no consideration to the community needs. Management does not value my students, or the line staff who keep this organization running, namely direct services. They do not care about my students. I can say that definitively because of their actions, regardless of what they claim. The staff has tried multiple times to have a say in decisions and have been ignored and rejected each time (and we got the receipts). For decisions made during the transition process, there has been no line staff consultation, least to say community input, despite the fact that the community will bear the brunt of their decisions. It is unconscionable that the board, including executives from Disney and Bank of America is paying both an interim director and financial consultant exorbitant sums of money on one hand, while citing a deficit as an excuse to layoff workers (union supporters) and terminate programs that fulfill a vital need in the community.
The timing could not be worse. Just this week the Department of Homeland Security announced changes to the public charge rule, a calculated strategy to deny citizenship to people who look like the students I serve. Immigrants are the target of hate crimes so often it does not make the news unless people die. They want to rewrite the Statue of Liberty, damn it. This is not the time to turn our backs on the community. At a time when we should be focusing our energy in combatting a regime hell bent on attacking immigrants, we find ourselves struggling against our own management for basic rights, our jobs and to continue delivering services in the community.
The attack by the board and management is meant to divide us, wear us down emotionally and mentally, make us question and second guess ourselves. Today I had to tell 80 students that the future of our class in uncertain, that even though I’m fully funded by a grant, they may cut me and my classes short. My students are ready to fight, like have they have been fighting since they came to this country. At that moment it became crystal clear: you are either for my students or against. You are either for layoffs or fighting them. I have made my choice, and though it is hard to sleep every night not knowing if tomorrow is the day colleagues and I will be fired, I am with my students and I am against layoffs.
That doesn’t make this any less scary.
But I am a teacher and my students are in jeopardy. If I cannot stand up for myself, then how can I expect that of my students? They stand up everyday against a system that says they don’t matter, that they aren’t welcome here. What lesson would I be teaching them by sitting down and shutting up, as the board would prefer? I teach civics, and if there was ever a time to relate the ideas about our rights to freedom of speech, assembly and to organize, it is now. I was hired at Advancing Justice with the responsibility of educating America’s newest citizens to-be. I want them to play a vigorous role in democracy and shaping their own future and the world around them for the better. Sometimes that struggle begins in the workplace, fighting for the dignity of yourself and your colleagues.
The board and management can at any time meet our demands, and put a moratorium on layoffs. They can allow the people doing the work at this organization to sleep in peace, give my students a sense of certainty. I hope everyday that they will look inside themselves and consider this, but until then I’m fighting for my students.