As Jennifer Mason was getting ready for the first day of school this year, her preparation looked very different than any previous school year. Jennifer spent weeks preparing for more than just the classroom.
“I am making my will, my guardian plan for my children, and I am cleaning my guest room so we have a quarantine/isolation room at home. That’s my reality and it’s awful.”
Jennifer suffers from an autoimmune disease that due to previous hospitalizations and treatment makes her severely immunocompromised. Her risks for teaching this year are terrifying, but these hurdles have made her dig deeper.
Jennifer is dedicated to her profession, to the necessity of public education and to her family. Even though she and many other teachers feel they’re losing the battle with funding and support, Jennifer remains motivated to not give up and fight back.
Jennifer has felt the burden of concern for the education system as a teacher in America, but she also has felt the reality of what it means to be a teacher in 2020. “Because of the pandemic and people getting angry that some schools aren't opening, people are going to see that teachers do more than just educate students. That's what society has made us do. We feed kids, we watch them for suicidal tendencies, we teach them about bullying, we teach them how to clean themselves. I teach them how to protect themselves from an active shooter. And now this year, in addition to all that other stuff, besides teaching them English, which is what I went to school to do, I have to also figure out how to stay alive and keep them alive from the virus.”
Teachers across the globe are not only making decisions about curriculum, they’re also trying to figure out how to keep children safe, keep themselves safe and deal with decreased funding and a lack of public support.
A firm believer in the critical foundation of diverse education, Jennifer understands the need for equal education for all children. The era in which we are living in now will be marked as a civil rights campaign for kids in the United states.
One of Jennifer’s biggest concerns this year is the destruction of public education going unseen and unheard behind the curtain while a pandemic, a spiraling presidency and global turmoil mask the demise of democracy in America.
“People are unaware of the danger of having a choice [public education] taken from you,” Jennifer said.
Jennifer teaches English for a middle college in Genesee County and is a Flint resident. She’s currently teaching a Social Justice curriculum with another teacher. “He teaches the history part and I teach the English part. It’s called, ‘American Social History Project.’ It’s all about deconstructing the lies that you’ve been taught about our history as American people. What does it really mean to be an American? And learn that the history of America is people.”
Jennifer maintains hope and determination in the midst of this year. “There is still opportunity to do something new and fresh even though this sucks. I gotta find it and I gotta figure out how to put it in front of kids and make them want it. How do we inspire kids? Have them take ownership and make it [their education] transformative for them.”
Jennifer is constantly wondering under the current political climate, what is the future of education in America? Schools receive funding based on the community’s tax property value and through per-pupil funding. “An area like Flint doesn't get as much per-pupil funding as in comparison to a community like West Bloomfield, which is messed up. So when those things started to become apparent and schools weren't able to provide as much for kids, parents were getting upset and the schools were failing. Charter schools started to get pushed because it needed to be about school of choice. The argument was parents should be able to choose where their kids go, they shouldn’t be locked into the schools in their neighborhood. And in some ways I can understand that, I have to make that choice for my own kids.”
How does a teacher balance performance, protection and education for children in a classroom? What could be the miracle solution to creating a future where equal education is possible for all children regardless of where they grow up?
“We have to figure out a way to equitably fund all schools and especially make sure that schools with the most at-risk kids get the amount of funding they need. Every kid should be in a school that is clean, that has good food, that has technology, that does not have bullet holes on the side of the building, and rats running around. We need to do a PR campaign to show the importance of education. Because there are so many people I just don't think see the value in it.”
Schools are not a one size fits all. Teachers like Jennifer recognize the need for change, diversity and support of public education. Jennifer started teaching in 2004 and her desire to make lasting changes in the lives of her students motivates her even more this school year. She has a heart for the marginalized and a passion to reach them.
Jennifer’s voice is important to the start of the conversation of understanding the urgency of fighting for public education and realizing that our country's public education remains the foundation for our democracy.
Her perseverance and strength in the face of so much is an inspiration to fight for public education and remind society that teacher’s save the lives of children in ways that may never be fully recognized.
Jennifer Mason is a breed of a special kind of educator that changes your life forever after meeting her. Most people can look back in their life and think of a teacher or mentor who greatly impacted their life, their passions and even their career. Jennifer, like so many other incredible teachers, cares about each student's dreams and future. She cares about their day. She cares about their health. Teachers save lives.
The change will not start with simply reading an article or intaking the research and data on children in schools. The change for the education system and the change needed to support our teachers comes from being an active member of the community we reside in.
Understanding Jennifer’s story and supporting her passion is the start for change.