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Let’s Not Throw Away Our Shot! Harnessing the Power of the MƒA Community

Teacher Voices | November 29, 2018

MƒA Master Teachers Lynn Shon and José Vilson were this year’s Master Teacher Speakers at the 12th Annual MƒA Fall ƒunction. The event, held on November 10, 2018, was a celebration of the Power of MƒA, illuminating the connections and impact that 1,000+ MƒA teachers have on their schools, their communities, and the teaching profession at large. Lynn and José called on the MƒA community to transform schools and classrooms into vital spaces for social, environmental, and political change. Watch their speech and read their remarks below.

José Vilson: “I am not throwing away my shot, I am not throwing away my shot. I’m just like my country, I’m young, scrappy, and hungry.”

Lynn Shon: Whoa, whoa, whoa, this isn’t Broadway.

José: But we’re right next to the Richard Rodgers Theatre, home to the original Hamilton, so I thought I’d get my audition on here.

Lynn: José, you know I hate Broadway.

José: I know, but look at these lights, these beautiful people, in the greatest city in the world! Look around! Look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now!

Lynn: As the kids would say, “Facts!”

José: We should say hi to everyone here, though. After you!

Lynn: Thanks, José, and welcome! Special shout out to MS 88! And BROOKLYN!

José: A special shout out to Harlem and Washington Heights! To IS 52!

Lynn: Shout out to the SCIENCE teachers!

José: Shout out to the MATH teachers!

Lynn: Shout out to our dedicated MƒA Staff! And a very special shout out to our Executive Director Megan Roberts, our President John Ewing, and our amazing visionary, Jim Simons!

Lynn: Since José and I first became Master Teachers four years ago, we’ve seen this community make great progress in empowering teachers, our students, and democracy. Now, more than ever, we’re seeing more collective activism and informal social gatherings that give us the time and space to connect. We’re marching together for science and LGBTQIA pride. We’re sharing and celebrating our struggles on an open mic. We’re designing and leading our own summer conferences, and we’re seeing our course book evolve to better reflect the needs of our world and city.

José: A necessary shift to meet the needs of the students we serve!

Lynn: No Hamilton references, José?

José: Wait for it, wait for it, wait for it!

The power of the MƒA community has so many vast connections for me. How many teachers in the city get to spend afternoons with colleagues who truly want to explore better teaching for and with their students? We didn’t just explore STEM, either. The classroom can feel isolating, especially when people want to rank and sort us by our test scores, but MƒA says, “No, the expertise and experience is right here, and we’re here to get into our most marginalized schools and get them the experts they need.” From writing pieces for any number of outlets to using our platforms across panels and conferences, we’re actively using and cultivating our educator voices to amplify the work in here and out there.

Lynn: MƒA has connected me with such bright and dedicated minds, to build and share understanding of the most critical problems facing our students. From exploring health and climate risk across NYC neighborhoods, to reading the inspiring published stories of fellow MƒA teachers, the MƒA community has empowered me with the knowledge, compassion, and confidence to fight the good fight.

I’m proud to say that I have been granted a seat at the table with the NYC mayor’s office, fighting to incorporate climate justice education in city policy. If you want to be part of this movement, join us in the Climate Change and Resilience group on the Small-World Network!

José: So you can say you’ve been in the room where it happens, the room where it happens, the room where it happens.

Lynn: Well, as an Asian American, born of immigrants on the Gulf Coast of Texas, I know very well how systemic racism can trickle down to a classroom and limit opportunity. But I also know the amazing opportunity that CAN grow from supportive teachers who believe in you – in my case, this teacher was my father. I became a teacher in Brooklyn to build and nurture that sustaining confidence in young people, and to empower students to become advocates of their own lives and communities.

José: I too was born of immigrants. One of the things my Dominican mother and Haitian father agreed upon was the power of education, and how critical it was to the betterment of our lot. It’s not that we came from nothing. It’s that we came from people with so much to offer. I went to teach in the Heights in 2005 to help open doors for kids who might not otherwise have access to the math necessary to win out there. My aim was always to assure that everyone got their fair share.

Lynn: Not shot?

José: So far, we’ve had quite a run.

Lynn and José: Immigrants, we get the job done!

Lynn: José, you know, this idea of being "off the grid" has been stuck in my head as a metaphor for “the power of the MƒA community.” On the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Maria, I discussed with my students our political relationship with Puerto Rico (yes, it’s still a colony), and who is responsible for supporting Puerto Rico through its recovery. Climate justice and sustainable energy came up, and this all...somehow... made me think of teacher communities.

José: In the eye of the hurricane, there is quiet for just a moment, yellow sky. In 2012, a hurricane nearly destroyed this town, I didn’t drown. I wrote my way out, wrote everything down far as I could see.

Lynn: MƒA being that sustainable, expert community that nurtures and grows itself, that responds to its own needs. That doesn't depend on some metaphorical colonizer for power and voice. That generates its’ power from within our own community.  

José: This is not a moment; it’s the movement where all the hungriest teachers with something to prove went. Foes oppose us, we take an honest stand, and, if we win our independence, let it guarantee freedom for all our students. I know the action in the class is exciting, but between all the teaching and fighting, I’ve been reading and writing. We need to handle our educational situation. Are we a nation of states? What’s the state of our nation?

Lynn: It’s time we “get off the grid” and unite. Knowing that we’ve gone through this intense vetting process of getting into MƒA, let’s instead, one up each other in reminding our community why we are gathered here, and the powerful voice we’ve been granted in New York City.

We are, in fact, in the presence of the absolute best STEM teachers in New York City.  

José: Let’s work together to one up systemic racism and oppression with culturally responsive education, restorative practices, and community engagement for all students.

Lynn: Let’s one up climate change and push for student and teacher voice in policy.  

José: Let’s work together to transform our schools and classrooms into vital spaces for social, environmental, and political change.

Lynn and José: Let’s not throw away our shot. Thank you!

Lynn Shon is a two-time MƒA Master Teacher who teaches STEM at Middle School 88 in Brooklyn, NY, where she also serves as instructional coach. Lynn is a climate science activist; she has written climate action curricula that is implemented across New York City, and she is also a recipient of the 2018 NYC DOE Leadership in School Sustainability Award.

José Vilson is a two-time MƒA Master Teacher who teaches math at J.H.S. 052 Inwood. A nationally board-certified teacher, he the author of This is Not a Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and the Future of Education, as well as a regular writer and featured speaker for multiple major media outlets.