Change. Is it really good?

by Melissa Bollow Tempel

As I think about the upcoming year, I can’t help but feel slightly pessimistic about change —heck highly pessimistic about change.  Yes, I know that Obama ran a winning presidential campaign based on the idea of change being a positive thing, but lately it doesn’t seem that way. I’m at a new school again, having been reassigned because of drastic shifts caused by the 1,000 positions that were eliminated in our district in June. Many of my friends are jobless and I feel horrible about what they must be feeling, sitting home this fall while I prepare my classroom.

My new classroom
My new classroom.

I never would have dreamed that a change in power in our state of Wisconsin would strip our state educational system of millions of dollars. The election of Governor Scott Walker and GOP control of both houses of the state legislature is what ripped my daughters’ talented art teacher and dedicated librarian from their public school (I still cry when I think about this, even after having the entire summer to digest it). I am disgusted when I think about all the changes that happened at my former school, where 10 teachers (including me) were pulled to balance the budget creating class sizes of 30 or more in almost every grade.

But… it would be unfair of me to grumble, and, this is a social justice blog so I have to be fair.

If I have to look for the positives, as my dad says, in some ways the changes make me feel lucky. I have a job. It might not be the one I wanted, but it’s a job, and many of my friends are without jobs right now. I admit that I’m a bit refreshed by the change in schools. I have the chance to start over in a new school (even if it is the fourth school in four years). I’ll make new friends and meet new allies in my quest to promote social justice curriculum and anti-biased teaching. I know I can change by observing and sharing with new colleagues. Maybe they will change after meeting me, get more involved in the Educators Network for Social Justice (ENSJ), try a new approach to teaching and celebrating Thanksgiving. Like teachers all over the country, I get to meet great new families. As a “people person,” I honestly look forward to building those new relationships.

The crappy changes that took place in Wisconsin politics have energized educators and public workers all over Wisconsin to make a big change in their attitudes. It made us rise up and make noise. Lots of noise. Together we have recalled two state senators and a huge gubernatorial recall effort has mobilized progressive activists from all over the state. We are poised and ready to begin signing and circulating recall petitions.

Wisconsin protest signs
left to right: RS supporter Stephanie Schneider, me, and editorial associate Kathy Xiong. This photo was taken during the Wisconsin Worker Fightback during winter of this year.

On July 30th thousands of teachers from all over the country met in our nation’s capital for the Save Our Schools (SOS) March. We rallied to increase funding, decrease standardized tests, and demand that teachers are treated as professionals. Friends of mine who attended were truly inspired. We finally got some national news and speeches by Jonathan Kozol and Matt Damon, both great supporters of Rethinking Schools, went viral helping us get the attention we deserve.

OK, so maybe change can be good. Here’s to the beginning of a new school year. Who knows what this year will bring!? What crazy things will happen in educational politics?

Maybe a millionaire will donate billions to the U.S. education system and solve all our problems.

Maybe the politicians will decide that enough is enough. Schools before wars!

Think I’m overdoing it?

Hey, I never would have thought a governor could decimate the education system in a couple of months, but ours sure did. I have to have faith that the pendulum will swing the other way at some point, and hopefully sooner.

My friends always tell me that I’m full of energy. It’s true. I can’t stop plowing ahead, whether it’s going door to door to get out the vote, writing for Rethinking Schools, baking a pie, trying a new extreme workout, working on a new Rethinking Schools book, or knitting a pair of mittens, I am always going. So I’ll leave you with a little bit of my energy and a whole lotta Wisconsin enthusiasm. Here’s to the beginning of a great school year. SOLIDARITY!


Melissa Bollow Tempel
First grade bilingual teacher
Milwaukee Public Schools
Rethinking Schools Editor

This post represents the views of the author, and not necessarily those of Rethinking Schools.