The Teacher of the Year who schooled Trump
Mandy Manning won the 2018 National Teacher of the Year award from the Council of Chief State School Officers. She teaches English Language Learners in the Newcomer Center at Joel E. Ferris High School in Spokane, Washington. Last May, Manning visited the White House to receive an award honoring her from Donald Trump.
While receiving the award, she staged a silent protest. She handed Trump a stack of 45 letters written by her immigrant students, in which they explained their “hopes and dreams for the future” and their disagreements with Trump’s rhetoric and policies toward refugees and immigrants. In addition, she wore several pins on her dress — one that read “Trans Rights Now,” another from the Women’s March, an apple with the LGBTQ rainbow colors, plus pins from the National Education Association, Peace Corps and Teacher of the Year program.
More recently, motivated by her outrage at the Trump administration’s racist detentions of refugee and immigrant children at the U.S. border and the separation of children from their parents, she began organizing with other State Teachers of the Year to set up a group called Teachers Against Child Detention.
On February 17 in El Paso, Texas, they are organizing a Teach-In for Freedom starting at 9 a.m. in the San Jacinto Plaza. She spoke with about her students, their protest of Trump, the upcoming teach-in and some goals for the movement to end the detention and criminalization of immigrant children and their families.
WHAT DO you teach? What are your students like?
THIS IS my 20th year in education. For the past 10 years I’ve been teaching in Spokane. The last seven years I’ve taught in the Newcomer Center which is 100 percent full-time working with brand-new English Language Learners. I’ve had students from every single continent: Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Malaysia, Thailand, Burma, Myanmar, China, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Nigeria, Sudan, Uganda, Congo, Guatemala, Colombia and Mexico — literally all over the world.
In my classroom, I usually serve between 15 to 25 students. They generally have between 12 to 15 languages spoken at the same time. The goal of the Newcomer’s Center, which is five periods a day, is we spend one period on intensive reading and writing, two periods on English Language Development and two periods on the English for math. But the real goal of the Newcomer Center is to help these students transition to living and studying in the U.S.
The main thing that I’ve learned from the kids, because I learn far more from them than they learn from me, is that they are focused and dedicated more so than students I’ve worked with in the past. They are 100 percent committed to reaching their potential and to giving back to the community which welcomed them in. They’re truly remarkable human beings with remarkable stories and so much resilience, tenacity, dedication and focus.
GIVEN THE racist and xenophobic environment today with Trump’s relentless push to build a wall on the Mexican border, how important is it for you to win this award given you teach immigrant students?
BEING SELECTED was surprising, but it was also so very validating because I think that in social media and on news sources, we often hear the darker side of the viewpoints of our people in our nation. We see that there’s white supremacists. We see that they’ve been emboldened in the last couple of years.
I think that the fact that I was selected as National Teacher of the Year really does give hope because it shows that there is a large section of society that doesn’t believe that way. I think it shows that all of these organizations [that hand out the award] have the belief that we should be welcoming.
All children, regardless of where they come from, have endless potential and deserve to reach that potential. Every single teacher when a kid walks into their classrooms should believe that about every single child.
WHY DID you decide to meet with Trump? How did you decide to make a political statement?
THERE WAS a great deal of thought and discussion that went into my decision of whether or not I was going to attend the White House ceremony. Ultimately, I spoke a lot with former students because my current students are a brand-new and have only been in the nation for three months or fewer and have limited English-language proficiency.
Every single one that I spoke to said you have to go to the White House because you have to tell the president about us, who we are, why we’re here, what we dream about, why we’re thankful that we’re here, and how we want to act.
A previous state Teacher of the Year had taken letters to the president from her students the previous year in 2017 when he first took office. I thought that’s a great opportunity. The kids want me to tell their story, but who better can tell their story than them?
I had the students not just from my class but also from the upper-level English-language classes, some community members and also some former students all write letters about their journey to the United States. Their hopes and dreams for their futures and how they want to give back to the nation that will welcome them.
I started to think also about my other students because I have been an adviser for the Gay Straight Alliance. I’m also a basketball coach, and I’ve had transgender students on my basketball teams. I’ve worked with kids who have been going through different things with their sexuality.
I thought I can’t stand up there in that environment that is not kind to a lot of my kids and not communicate to them that I’m not there to be in that environment for myself. I’m there to stand up for them. The way that I thought I could do that was to wear pins that represented groups of students that I directly work with. I chose some pins that I had available to me. I wore those to the ceremony and I took my letters and delivered them to the president. I did my best for my kids.
WHY DID you decide to call for a teach-in at the border?
A FEW weeks after my visit to the White House, this administration’s policies in terms of immigrants coming across our borders really ramped up. That’s not to say that there haven’t been issues with immigrant rights previous to this administration because this is not something that is new. It’s just that we’re seeing a different iteration of it.
Essentially just shutting off any kind of opportunity for people to freely move throughout the world particularly into and out of the United States. In May, that’s when the child separations really started to happen in earnest. This was really upsetting to me. I didn’t know exactly what to do about it. I had writing a written a couple of editorials, but it didn’t feel like that was enough because words are words, but action is the thing that makes the difference.
When I was in Alpine, Texas, for an event in early October, I was near the Tornillo children’s detention center. I was about three and a half hours away. I didn’t have any kind of transportation, so I was berating myself because I hadn’t planned better.
I started to think, well what difference would it make if I went? If it was just me going and witnessing is that going to make a difference? I thought, no we need to have true action.
I started to talk to some of my fellow teachers of the year from 2018, particularly Amy T. Anderson from New Jersey, Ivonne Orozco from New Mexico and Tara Bordeaux from Texas. Could we as a group go down there and do some sort of a demonstration? They thought it was a great idea.
Then I started to reach out to some other groups like Indivisible that are more skilled at organizing than I am because I’m new to this aside from some union organizing that I’ve done here locally in Spokane. I got together a team and that’s when the whole thing really started to take shape.
There are currently 11,400 children being detained in detention centers. There’s something like 117 detention centers now.
The teach-in is going to be for that whole day. We’re going to have teachers from across the U.S. teaching mini-lessons about the topics that impact child detention, the trauma, and history of immigration and detention in our nation. We’re going to highlight local stories of teachers who have students who have been impacted there.
We’ve really worked hard to include local organizations because ours is not the first group to work on this. It’s very important that we work with other organizations who are already leading in this effort.
Since we started, the Tornillo detention center has closed down. But there are several other detention centers in that area. Plus, it’s right down by the border where there’s a lot of activity. It’s kind of been likened to the Ellis Island of the current situation because so many families and individuals come through that area on their journeys.
WHAT IS your hope for both the size of the overall turnout and specifically educator involvement?
I KNOW that there’s going to be a lot of local educators from the surrounding communities, Texas, New Mexico, hopefully from Arizona, Oklahoma and the surrounding states. My hope is that we will have, if not over a thousand, at least hundreds of people there. We’re hopeful to have at least one educator from each state participate directly in the teach-in.
We’re going to have a resource fair so that people can get information about what’s happening and resources for educators so that they can take information and do what we’re calling a teach out where they’re teaching their students the history of immigration and what’s currently happening in our nation. Possibly hold solidarity teach-ins directly within their communities particularly within the eleven states that have detention centers.
There will also be different cultural things happening around the plaza so that people can really get to know the communities that are seeking asylum here in the U.S. and the benefits and beauty that they bring with them.
WHAT ARE your short- and long-term demands and goals you hope to achieve?
OBVIOUSLY, OUR big one is for the U.S. government to shut down these detention centers. We’re calling on educators to act as mandatory reporters to demand the immediate release of innocent immigrant children in U.S. government custody. We believe that children deserve to be in school, be free and be able to reach their potential.
WHY DO you think it’s important for educators to connect issues from immigrant rights to trans rights?
I’M PARAPHRASING here, but Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said it best “When there’s injustice for one, there’s injustice for all of us.” We have to make sure that we are fighting for the rights of all of our communities because all of us are together. All fights for equity have to the intersectional. We can’t just decide that one groups fight for equity is more important than another groups because we all deserve equity.
That includes like the right to love who we want to love. The right to walk through a store and not be targeted because of the color of our skin. The right to drive a car and not be pulled over because of the color of our skin.
That means we have to fight for justice for all of us. I can’t just say I’m only working on behalf of immigrant and refugee students because that’s not true. As an educator I serve all students.