What Matters Now

On Wednesday, August 10, the National Commission on Teaching & America's Future (NCTAF) released What Matters Now: A New Compact for Teaching and Learning. The report lays out a compelling argument to reorganize schools in ways that support teaching, drive learning, and provide every student with a strong foundation to build a bright future. What Matters Now consists of two reports. The first issues a call to collective action, and the second provides a robust online base of research, examples, and case studies to support the call to action.

During the release event, audience members heard from a range of teachers and education policy leaders including Geneviève DeBose, NBCT. Geneviève is a NCTAF commissioner and is a teacher at the Bronx Studio School for Writers & Artists. She has provided her powerful remarks to The Standard.

Geneviève DeBose’s Keynote Address at the NCTAF “What Matters Now” Report Release 

Why do you teach?
I teach to transform society,
create a new urban reality.
 
Why do you teach?
I teach to transform society,
create a new urban reality.
 
Why do you teach?
I teach to transform society,
create a new world reality.
 
I’ll never forget one of my proudest moments as a teacher. It happened this spring in my 7th grade ELA classroom in the south Bronx in New York City. My students and I were at the tail end of a unit on scholar activism. Their culminating project asked them to identify a problem in our school community, in our local community or in the larger NYC community that needed to be solved. They had to research to identify root causes, share ways the community could get involved, interview people affected by the issue, among other things.  
 
One of my 7th graders, let’s just call him Hope, was standing in front of the room, with a set of Google slides he had developed, giving a presentation on transphobia in NYC. Hope was born female and in the middle of his 7th grade year he let us know that he identifies as a boy and asked us to use the pronouns he, him, and his when referring to him.
Hope stood up there that June afternoon and gave us tips about what we could do to help end transphobia in NYC. See or hear a transphobic person? Call them out. Be open minded when you engage with someone who is transgender. And to quote him directly, “Talk to trans people. Me and lot of people in this school and in Hunts Point are trans. If you know someone – and they’re comfortable with you asking – ask about what it’s like.”
 
Watching Hope, standing in front of his adolescent peers and speaking his truth, gave me goosebumps. I was proud.
 
I was proud of his bravery and academic scholarship.
 
I was proud we had created a community and culture in our classroom where my students felt safe enough to be their full selves – a hard feat at any point in life- but especially in 7th grade.
 
I was proud that my students were using their reading, writing, listening, speaking and researching skills to work towards creating a more just and equitable society.
 
You see, that same day Hope educated us about transphobia in NYC, another student taught us about suicide awareness, and another about the Black Lives Matter movement and  the killing of unarmed black men and women by police officers.
 
My students were using the skills they had learned over the course of the year to educate their community about issues that directly affect them.
 
What more could a teacher ask for?
 
I tell the story of Hope because our schools are changing. Our demographics are changing. Now that isn’t to say that there haven’t always been transgender students but the climate and culture of today’s schools is shifting. And our opportunity for progress --- and to disrupt the current system that chooses to educate only some of our students --- couldn’t be greater.
 
Today, most of our 66 million public school students are students of color. 51 percent of our kids qualify for free or reduced lunch. 4 million are English Language Learners and 6 million students have identified disabilities or special needs
 
For some of us, this has always been the case. We’ve always taught in schools that are high-need. But for many of us, these shifts are new.
 
We are at this crucial and unique point where we can keep doing what we’re doing - knowing it doesn’t meet the needs of our students or their teachers – or we can actually reorganize schools to support great teaching and drive real, authentic, relevant learning. 
 
I am so proud that as a classroom practitioner I am a part of the NCTAF.
 
I am also incredibly proud to have been part of the team of many who helped create this report: “What Matters Now: A Compact for New Teaching and Learning.”
 
Because what matters now is that we work together to create conditions, systems, and structures that support our students to have the skills and the dispositions to make informed, evidence-based decisions about important things like who our leaders will be and how we respond in times of crisis.
 
What matters now is that we, as a nation, collectively agree that our Black and Latino students and our children living in poverty are just as important, just as valuable, and just as intelligent, and matter as much as their white, Asian and upper-income peers.
 
What matters now is that we see this shift in demographics as a welcome opportunity for changing teaching and learning, as opposed to viewing it as a barrier.
 
What matters now is that we stop talking and actually start doing.
 
That we stand in front of each other, here today, or back in our schools, in our state and district offices, and in our homes, and just like my student Hope – who courageously stood in front of his peers – we make a declaration and then take action to create change.
 
Hope wanted to mobilize us to end transphobia in NYC and we as the NCTAF are issuing a call to mobilize teachers, families, students, policy makers and the broader community around a new vision for teaching and learning – one that transforms our current reality into a more equitable, organized, and responsive one.
 
 
Why do you teach?
I teach to transform society,
create a new urban reality.
 
Why do you teach?
I teach to transform society,
create a new urban reality.
 
Why do you teach?
I teach to transform society,
create a new world reality.
 
 
Watch the full video of the release event below. (The keynote address starts at 27:52)

 

This text was reprinted with permission from the blog of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (Aug. 17, 2016). 

 

Geneviève DeBose is an educator, artist, and activist who has taught middle school in Los Angeles (her hometown), Oakland, and the South Bronx for over a decade. She is a proud National Board Certified Teacher who returned to the classroom in September 2014 after three years of policy work at the national level. She strongly believes that education is a tool for social justice and empowerment and that learning experiences for children should be culturally relevant, student-centered, and interactive. She currently teaches 7th grade English Language Arts at the Bronx Studio School for Writers and Artists. Her blog “Back to the Point” can be found at www.genevievedebose.com, and you can follow her on Twitter @GenevieveDeBose.

 
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