The Good Trouble Questionnaire

Ravi pillalamarri, Anne Arundel County high school math teacher

Ravi Pillalamarri makes good trouble for the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County. He is a math teacher at Annapolis High School. He took the questionnaire for the April, 2024 issue of ActionLine.

What do you love the most about public schools? Public education is an equalizing force for society, both for students and personnel.

What issues agitate you most about public schools? The feral pursuit of numerical data makes it impossible to develop curriculum that is relevant to the students in front of us. My school has a large population of students of Central and South American heritage—but you would never guess that from the math curriculum. Is it any wonder that so many kids are alienated.

What is your vision for public education? I’d like to see the hierarchies broken down. School leaders should be more accountable to us, and more decisions about the way schools operate should be made by those of us on the front line.

When did you first realize you had power and that your voice truly matters? A student asked me about policing for a paper they were writing for another class. I had just read The New Jim Crow and explained the 13th amendment. The student persuaded some of his friends to read the book with him over the summer. When we got back to school, those kids said that the book had opened their eyes even though they had not wanted their eyes opened at the beginning.

What is your favorite activist t-shirt? The red TAAAC shirt I just got is pretty good.

Who is your activist hero? Why? Fannie Lou Hamer didn’t back off of her criticisms to appease the Democratic Party. Questioning parties and questioning America is what we need, especially now.

What’s the most exciting march or protest you attended? I went to a march for climate in New York City a few years ago. It was exciting because it was so big, and people met up from all over the city at one park.

What is your favorite union chant? It’s a recent UAW one: “No justice, no Jeeps.”

What song gives you strength to fight for education justice? It’s not activism-specific but Public Enemy and Gang Starr motivate me most.

Who is your best activist buddy? Why? A friend from high school named Scott West. He has been doing a lot of work organizing the faculty at Harford Community College.

What keeps you doing this work when it’s hard? Solidarity.

What’s the best time you had making good trouble? We were in negotiations with the Carroll County Board of Ed, and 60 of us were sitting in at the central office. The district wanted teachers to have three days of written lesson plans on their desks at all times. Their negotiator said that they didn’t think this was much of a burden. It wasn’t planned, but we all started laughing.

What one thing do you wish elected leaders and the public understood about your job? Education is supposed to be an investment in our collective future. Kids need all the resources we can possibly give them, and that includes everything they need for a great education.