Task Zero, Review: My initial reaction to reading Rocking the Boat: How to Affect Change Without Making Trouble, by Debra E. Meyerson was not positive. It was hard to read the book at first and try to relate it directly to this age when public education seems to be under attack from numerous outside forces, and listening to Meyerson’s message that it is necessary to “temper” one’s’ approach to being a change agent. It has only been three years since I participated in one of the largest teacher strikes in our nation’s history and yet this year students and teachers in CPS are still being shortchanged with continued budget cuts, forced days off without pay, and threats of closing the schools weeks before the normal end to the calendar school year. However, after rereading most of the chapters a second time, I began to realize that Meyerson’s message pertains to myself as a teacher-leader and advocate public education in several ways. Meyerson forced me to deal with the question of “how I as a teacher leader can chip away at my ‘radical agenda’ and philosophical beliefs while making sure not threaten my own legitimacy as an agent of change for my students and public education within CPS. She forced me to ask “what is the right balance to strike?” As much as I want to take to the streets and fight back at those forces working against improving public education, I realize much of what Meyerson advocates in this book makes more sense. Meyerson shows how real-life tempered radicals are able to create positive changes in a variety or work settings and other social institutions through systematic ways of “rocking the boat but not so hard that one falls out of it”. She adds that “tempered radicals work within systems not against them.”
Task One, How am I different?: I feel that I fall into two of Meyerson’s three ways of being different, and I believe that these two ways serve the same goals. I can relate to “those who have different social identities and see those differences as merely cultural and not a basis for exclusion” and also “those who have not cultural but philosophical differences, which conflict with the prevailing values, beliefs, and agendas operating in their organizations.” On the first way of being different, Meyerson states that “one not need to have experienced discrimination to value and act upon social justice and diversity.” My IMAGINE-IT’s main goal continues to be to “rock the boat” in order to buck the trend of minority and female students who lag behind whites in pursuing STEM college and career paths. I combine this core belief with my second way of being different as a tempered radical by implementing high level inquiry and project-based STEM learning for my students in conjunction with establishing partnerships with minority and female STEM high school and college students pursuing STEM, as well as minorities and females already established in STEM careers. I believe racial, gender, and cultural stereotypes still exists within my school’s community and that is one of the reasons why minority and female students do not see themselves as STEM material. I know this from student surveys and I believe that often times those beliefs are reinforced with lower expectations of both students and their families. Now recognizing that I am different within the second and third domains of Meyerson’s strata is helping me pursue with more passion my goals as a “tempered radical”.
Task Two, Becoming a Tempered Radical: From “resisting quietly and staying true to one’s ‘self’” to “organizing collective action”, I find myself lying in various parts of the continuum depending on the circumstances. For example, I stated in task one above that despite what I view as lowered societal expectations, I try to stay true to my IMAGINE-ITs main goal of increasing my students’, all of whom are minority, access to and pursuit of high quality STEM paths into high school, college, and careers, despite that not being a priority in the age of incessant standardized testing, which tends to put more priorities towards two subject areas, math and reading . In order to accomplish this, I have to leverage small wins such as quietly starting a project where my 6th grade students get to take home STEM kits to explore and experiment together with their families and then share the experience in the form of World of Wonder presentations and an online Google Classroom discussion board with both my students and their parents. I have also quietly leveraged small wins by establishing community partnerships with outside STEM institutions such as Northwestern University’s Science in Society after school Science Club program and NU’s Engineers Without Borders, both of which have provided my students with direct interactions with minority and female STEM university students and professionals. These moves are slowly changing perceptions towards what our students are truly capable of and helping more of our students see themselves as someone who could and should pursue STEM as a pathway into high school, college, and career.
Task Three, Facing challenges: The main way I face the challenges of being a teacher when my views do not always conform to the dominant workspace views as mentioned by Meyerson is by constantly reminding myself why I got into teaching in the first place-to serve students! This requires me to take a step back from time to time and reflect on the fact that serving students in an age when so many outside forces are working against my core beliefs and teaching philosophy does not require recognition. Meyerson states “But tempered radicals persist despite receiving little recognition for their efforts and no guarantee that their efforts will result in desired outcomes”. Meyerson mentions how sticking with your core teaching philosophy becomes easier if lead by a like minded school administration, and fortunately for me and my colleagues, we now have that with our new principal at our school. Myerson mentions other professionals in Rocking the Boat who are more able to become tempered radicals when the workplace allows room for “independence”. She adds “tempered radicals also felt that their struggles were less difficult when their managers demonstrated a high tolerance for experimentation and deviation, or when they felt the differences they brought to the group were treated as an asset to a group’s effectiveness.” I feel that this year with our new principal my colleagues and I are now more open to share our views openly and we are encouraged to experiment with new ideas. This has helped me deal more effectively with all 4 of Meyerson’s levels of challenges within my teaching environment, which will continue to allow me to enroll my IMAGEIN-IT more easily into the longer term future at my school.