by Harry and Rosemary
2005 / January 2006
Ago Today, The Legacy
Bus No. 2857.
The old surplus bus had been sitting in the backyard of Roy H.
Sommerfield’s house in Montgomery, Alabama, for 30 years.
Now, it was up for online auction—no, not eBay—and
the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan,
outbid the Smithsonian and a museum in Denver.
Today, you can board the bus and relive history by sitting
in the same seat Rosa Parks sat in that fateful day, on December
1, 1955—exactly 50 years ago today as this teachers.net
article is posted.
Rosa Parks, a 42-year-old African American woman who worked as
a seamstress, boarded this Montgomery City bus to go home after
According to Jim Crow law, the first ten rows of a bus were reserved
for whites. Rosa Parks sat, correctly, in the eleventh row,
the first row behind the white section.
However, on that day, all of the seats in the bus soon filled.
When a white man boarded the bus, the driver (following the standard
practice of segregation) asked that all four blacks sitting just
behind the white section give up their seats so that the white
man could sit there. Rosa Parks, who was an active member
of the local NAACP, quietly refused to give up her seat.
When the police came on the bus that day, they said to Rosa Parks,
“You know if you continue to sit there, we’re going
to have to throw you in jail.” She answered, “You
may do that.” An enormously polite way of saying,
what could your jail possibly mean compared to the imprisonment
I’ve been subjected to for the last 42 years, an incarceration
from which I break out of today?
As a child in Pine Level, Alabama, Rosa Parks remembered watching
buses take the white kids to the new school while the black kids
had to walk to their school.
Although she was well-schooled in civil disobedience,
her actions on the bus that day 50 years ago was ultimately her
After her arrest, local civil rights activists, the Montgomery
Improvement Association, initiated a boycott of the Montgomery
bus system. Leading the boycott group was a young Baptist
minister who was new to Montgomery. His name was Martin
Luther King, Jr.
Since African Americans made up about 75 percent of the bus riders
in Montgomery, the boycott posed a serious economic threat to
the company and the white rule of the community. The boycott
lasted 381 days, into December 1956 when the U.S. Supreme Court
ruled that the segregation law was unconstitutional and the Montgomery
buses were to be integrated.
It was Rosa Parks’ arrest that ultimately
gave every American citizen,
regardless of color, creed, or national origin, the freedom to
sit where one chooses to sit,
eat where one chooses to eat,
worship where one chooses to worship, and
learn where one chooses to learn.
You Choose to Learn
Although we all have the freedom to learn, note where some people
sit at faculty and inservice meetings. Some arrive early
just to be able to reserve seats in the last row or sit in the
most remote corners. Their message is clear, “I do
not want to learn, nor do I want to collaborate.”
All I want is a job.
They want a job working 180 days, 8 am. to 3 pm, closed in a
room with no worry of a supervisor, reluctant to be in-serviced,
and free to belittle people (administrators, children, and parents)
to cover their ineffectiveness. Making money to pay bills
is the primary concern of such worker-teachers.
They blame others so they do not need to take responsibility
for their own actions.
The moment Rosa Parks chose to be arrested, she had no
assurance as to what her actions would bring. She
had no assurance that her friends would be there for her in the
aftermath of that action.
It was a lonely decision made in isolation,
just as we all have to make isolated decisions that can affect
our lives and the children we teach.
For instance, it can be very lonely when your negotiated contract
states that the work day ends at 2:30 pm but you choose to stay
late and even come in on weekends to work.
Or, you are part of a culture where people work in isolation;
a culture in which life-long learning, such as going to conferences
and networking with colleagues to solve problems, is not the prevailing
practice. The decision to continuously learn is a choice
you must make, as Rosa Parks’ action gave you the freedom
to make those choices even though you know that the people within
your negative work culture are going to give you a difficult time.
It’s a sad reality
that you may be the finest of teachers and
have the finest of lessons and programs, but
if you work in a negative culture—
the culture always wins.
As a teacher, if you conspire to be part of a negative culture,
then you help create a culture that is deadly for the children.
The Rewards Go to the Professional Educator
By making choices (Read Chapter 25, The
First Days of School, on choice), the negative aspects
of your life stop being your enemy. When Rosa Parks sat
down that day, it was partly an acknowledgment that by conspiring
with racism, she had helped create racism.
By conspiring with ineffectiveness, you conspire to create ineffective
schools and the children are the losers.
However, effective teachers know that the rewards go
only to the professionals. They are the happiest,
make the most money, get the most respect, and are the most successful.
The children are the winners.
Professionals have arrived at this happy state in life
because they build on strengths, not on weaknesses.
Their attitude and abilities are their strengths, and they do
not dwell on whining about people, places, and things because
they have discovered that life is fuller when chasing a future
challenge than when bemoaning the past.
The first days of school may be history for you now, but the
school year continues. What does the effective teacher do after
the first days of school?
The professional educator chooses to always learn and
grow. The professional educator is on an endless
journey; looking for new and better ideas, new information, and
improved skills to further student success.
This Is Teaching: Recognizing That Knowledge Is
Knowledge is power. Knowledge, like money
and status, is a form of power. Power is not physical force
but rather the ability to get things done. For instance,
the more money a person has, the more a person can do. The
more horsepower in a car, the easier it is to climb a hill.
The more knowledge a person has, the more the person is able to
accomplish. The ability to achieve and accomplish
accrues for those with knowledge.
Knowledge provides choices. A person without
choices is helpless in life. Ineffective teachers do not
read beneficial literature on education or attend conferences;
thus their reserve of knowledge is limited. They complain
helplessly that things don’t apply to them, waiting for
someone to TELL them what to do.
Whereas, effective teachers have a passionate pursuit for knowledge,
delighting that every new piece of knowledge allows them to reflect
on more CHOICES and options in life.
Do not allow people who cannot control their own lives
to control your life. Rather, proceed through life
expanding your awareness, searching for opportunities, working
and sharing with other professionals who are also expanding their
Professional educators believe that within every great teacher,
an even better one is waiting to come forth.
The Basics for a Beginning Teacher
The most crucial time in a new teacher’s life is
the first one to three years. During this time,
some 40 percent of new teachers will decide to leave teaching.
But regardless of the reasons they state, the fact is that the
successful teachers DO NOT QUIT. The professional educator
accepts the responsibility of personal growth and invests the
time necessary to become an effective and successful teacher.
There was a time when we could discriminate against minorities,
by restricting them to less appealing places. That way,
minorities could not get anything, while the majority got to choose
everything: jobs, opportunities, and schooling.
However, because of activists like Rosa Parks, today,
the only person who can discriminate against you is yourself.
Thanks to Rosa Parks and her contemporaries, we now have
equal access to all the opportunities that are available in a
free society. She left behind an inspirational legacy.
Choices in school and learning is one of them.
May her noble spirit remind us
of the power of fateful, small acts.
Much of the preceding has been excerpted from Chapters 25 and
26 in The First Days of School.
As you begin a new year, please reread these two chapters.
They will have a direct impact on your own life and happiness.
He Chose to Go to School
(The following story is excerpted from a column written by Jessie
Mangafunan that appeared in the San Jose Mercury News,
November 19, 2005.)
Jackson Dung Huynh lived only 15 years—almost half of them
sick with cancer—and he was a student a mere two and a half
months at Andrew Hill High in East San Jose, California.
But in his short life, racked with pain, his body reduced by
bone marrow cancer to a shadow of skin and bones, friends, classmates
and teachers say he left behind an inspirational legacy.
“I was struck by the irony that so many students are trying
to get out of school,” said teacher
Joshua Greene, “while young Jackson fought valiantly, even
until his dying days, to stay in school.”
On Friday, Greene and more than 150 students and teachers—many
of the classmates, like Jackson, were recent immigrants; coming
from China, Vietnam, Laos, Samoa, Mexico, and Cambodia to learn
English—paid a somber, moving, multilingual tribute to the
young student who had a simple life goal—attend high school.
Kids and teachers looked on at Jackson with fascination and awe
as he lived his dying wish with sheer mental will.
“He was one of the most powerful people I’ve ever
met in my life,” said Mark Grey, Jackson’s teacher
from Sylvandale Middle School in a tearful tribute.
“That boy wrote every letter in his homework
with his heart.”
Jackson, a 2001 Vietnamese immigrant, died November 1 at Stanford
University Hospital of complications from the bone marrow cancer
he was diagnosed with at age 7 while still living in Ho Chi Minh
City. He endured 13 months of chemotherapy, his mother Muoi
Thoi said, and the result was hopeful. The cancer had retreated.
With the help of Muoi Thoi’s brother in San Jose, the family
immigrated to the United States—but by then the cancer had
returned. In 2002 Jackson had a bone marrow transplant.
Through years of treatment and home-schooling, Jackson deeply
missed the company of students and teachers, the rhythm and life
of school. He fought to stay in Sylvandale Middle School
and graduated in a wheelchair.
He was frail and seriously ill but he wished to be in school.
“I don’t know where that comes from,” said
his mother, flipping sadly through the meticulous school notebooks
that Jackson kept in a blue and gray knapsack. “He
just loved school so much.”
When doctors told the family that Jackson had months to live,
he had a wish. He wanted to spend his final days going to
classes, doing homework—just being a regular student.
“Any child who’s that passionate about school, who’s
so determined to do homework even when he is seriously ill, has
a lesson that we—adults and children—should all learn
from,” said Bryan Cong Do, a San Jose real estate consultant.
“We all have limitations, but we must overcome and accept
it and move forward. To me that’s Jackson’s
That lesson was clear to many students and teachers at Andrew
Hill, who wrote, spoke, sang, and recited in poetry the inspiration
they drew from Jackson. A memorial wall in the cafeteria
was covered with their sentiments in French, Tagalog, Chinese,
Vietnamese, Laotian, Spanish, and English.
“Siempre en nuestro corazon (always in our
hearts),” wrote one student.
Teacher Julie Hoving noted that many students find excuses not
to do work. “He was the opposite of that,” said
Hoving. “He wanted to be as involved in high school
as he could.”
Jackson spent just two and a half months as a freshman at Andrew
Hill, wheeled from classroom to classroom by his mother, who was
equally determined to grant her son’s dying wish.
His final, half-finished homework was about people like Albert
Einstein and Rosa Parks who influenced the lives of others by
living lives of example.
“He was a really strong individual,” said ninth-grader
Cindy Ngar, 14, who knew Jackson from Sylvandale. “He
really inspired me because he never gave up. He inspired
other kids but he didn’t know it.”
So determined was Jackson that on his bed at Stanford Hospital
on a Monday—tethered to intravenous tubes dripping pain
medication into his bloodstream—he called his sister Linh
Huynh, a freshman at Evergreen Community College, with a plea,
“Don’t forget to pick up my homework so I can do it.”
He died that Thursday.
“He was strong in the head,” his mother said.
“Sometimes, I wanted him to stop because he was hurting.
He was hurting a lot.”
But not even the worst pain prevented Jackson from going to school.
In fact, school work, he told his mother, seemed the only salve
for his pain.
“He told me not to cry,” Thoi said. “He
said, ‘If he had one day to live, I want to go to school.’”
He CHOSE to go to school. He CHOSE to learn.
Commanding a full page story in The First Days of
School is our acknowledgment of the importance of Rosa Parks
and the impact of her choice on our American rights. Over
the past 14 years, Page 303 remains unchanged—reminding
us as educators we have the power to choose to become better educators
for our children.
You can be a voice for quality and dignity in the profession.
Continue to grow and educate yourself. Lead the way
for others to follow in your professional beliefs:
- Continue to grow as an educator by reading the journals, the
Internet, and going to workshops and conferences.
- Collaborate with each other and share the wealth of experiences
you each encounter.
- Care for each child with respect and patience.
- Dress professionally.
- Create a culture of fairness and understanding in your classroom
so the children can live it each day.
- Choose to make a difference in the life of a child.
We’ve been given the greatest charge on Earth—educating
our children. Exercise your power of choice.
Begin your action with one small act. Make December 1, 2005,
the day you recognize the legacy Rosa Parks delivered to us and
use to it to transform yourself and the profession and create
a classroom full of winners.
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