Letter: A Teacher Pleads for Tolerance

by / Jan. 30, 2015 10am EST

We at The Public have been focusing on the tumultuous crossroads that the Board of Education is facing. Just this week, our Shane Meyer wrote about the disingenuousness of the phrase “It’s all about the children” when there are obvious political calculations being made that aren’t entirely relevant to the education of children. Perhaps no one can credibly defend the interests of students like the actual people who spend hours every day in direct contact with them. We are happy to present the following plea for civility from a teacher with 10 years of classroom experience in Buffalo:

If you pay any attention to local media you know the turmoil that currently surrounds the Buffalo school system. Each morning when I wake up and read the latest articles in the Buffalo News, The Public, the tweets on my feed, I find the pit in my stomach getting a little worse each day. As a teacher, I deeply appreciate the passion that is surrounding the crucial issue of education in our city. As a tax-paying Buffalo homeowner, I am proud that so many people from so many walks of life are finding a vested interest in what happens to our schools. But as proud and appreciative as I am, I am also incredibly jaded and deeply disturbed at what has happened in recent weeks and months.

We have turned on each other. We have let divisiveness and distrust and anger rule us. We have lost sight of what truly matters and instead have taken sides, taken up rants and claims, and in doing so we have created what seems like an insurmountable wall.

Each post I read leaves me wondering about the person behind the comment. I wish that each person knew the names of the students that struggle each day to make it to school. I wish they knew first hand how difficult it is to teach a 15 year old that has an infant at home. I wish they knew that when teachers leave school for the day their mind whirls with thoughts of what they did right and wrong that day and what they can possibly do to be better, to reach higher the next day. I wish they knew that teachers get anxious during holiday and summer breaks because they worry about the dangers that our kids face when they are off of school for a week. I wish they knew that every teacher in this city, charter or public, private or Catholic, puts their heart and their soul into making this a better place for all of our students.

When I read the news my heart drops and the pit in my stomach gets worse because I know that each divisive and angry comment that adults make takes us further from those kids that teachers and schools and community centers are trying so hard to reach.

So here is my call to action for all of you. Stop taking sides. Stop finding blame in the places where children are served. Instead focus your energy, your articles, and your passion on where we have divided.

Start with the Buffalo Board of Education. Teachers, in schools all over this city, are teaching tolerance. They are teaching their students that every story has two sides. They are teaching teenagers to question the world around them, to see differences and appreciate them for what they are. They are teaching protocols to ensure quality, equitable discussions, and they are teaching their students the value of existing in an incredibly diverse world.

Instead of saying you are anti-charter or pro-public how about starting with being pro-tolerance? Demand of your city, of your state that this divisive board find a way to value one another or step down from their roles. If the adults that are holding decision-making power are unable to have a conversation in a respectful manner then I do not want them making decisions for my city.

There is no perfect school in this city. No charter, no public, no criterion-based school has all of the answers. Each day the people that are in our schools are doing the best they can with what they have. Instead of attacking one another it is time we turn to one another.

I urge you, today, in fact, I beg you, as you scroll through your news feed take a breath. Take a minute and think about what you are fighting for. Try and remember that what matters the most in all of this, are our kids. And our kids deserve adults that can see their way past their anger and opinions and frustrations. Our kids deserve teachers who are trained, developed, and supported. Put your research and your time into helping our schools accomplish that. Our kids deserve principals and school leaders that believe in innovation and will do whatever it takes to ensure that kids can come to school and achieve. Our kids deserve better than where this fight has landed. Our kids, the kids in this city, public school kids, private school kids, Catholic and charter school kids deserve adults who are models of what we aspire for our students to become. It is time for the adults in this turmoil to choose but do not choose between schools or factions but instead choose hope instead of fear, choose unity instead of division.     

—Sara Hilligas