After talking to Hope Moffett - the Audenried High English teacher banished to "teacher jail" since Feb. 17 for daring to publicly question a School District decision - it struck me that I was witnessing a pivotal moment in time.
You know, a flashpoint. At a time when politicians are bullying teachers as sport, and the execution of educators' rights comes disguised in the form of state budget cuts all across the nation, Moffett has emerged as a local symbol of courage and a unifying force - for public education, for teachers, for unions, and against acts of intimidation.
"I'm just an average person," Moffett, 25, told me Wednesday as we sat in the spacious South Philly flat she shares with two roommates. "I'm just a teacher. What I do is not so unusual or different."
But history has shown that world movements have shifted on less. And my sense is, the more our invaluable first responders - police, firefighters, nurses, and, yes, teachers - are diminished, the more people will rise up to support them.
Three weeks ago, Moffett publicly questioned the district's decision to convert Audenried into a charter school, especially when, she says, predictive tests indicated that students had made progress in English and math.
To Moffett, the district's decision to turn Audenried over to Kenny Gamble's Universal Cos. seemed unfair and inevitable. Universal, an acclaimed neighborhood development company with only a so-so track record in education, had been slated to take over the high school back in 2005, before it was rebuilt with $55 million in public funds.
Moffett says the community should have had a say in selecting the charter provider.
Now the district has removed Moffett from her classroom, accusing her of endangering the welfare and safety of students because she gave them SEPTA tokens, which some used to go to the district office and protest the charter takeover of their school.
Never mind that she gives her students packs of tokens all the time. She also happens to make bootleg copies of books when there aren't enough for all the students.
"Nobody accused Hope of endangering students when she bought them winter coats and food," says Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. "This is America. Hope has every right to speak."
After her preliminary investigative school hearing Wednesday, the young teacher was sent back to solitary - a basement room in the academic offices of Strawberry Mansion High School. The room typically houses teachers accused of far more serious infractions, like hitting a student.
There, in the bowels, Moffett sits from 8:30 in the morning to 3:30 in the afternoon, passing time answering e-mails from her many supporters and preparing lesson plans for the students she has taught since ninth grade - and whom she may not get to teach again.
Why am I not surprised that it's the students who are suffering the most from all this ridiculousness?
Starting next week, district 11th graders are slated to take the all-important state PSSA exam. It's especially important at Audenried because it will be the first state testing for students since the school was rebuilt and a clear indicator of progress.
So while Moffett languishes in exile, her students must deal with one noncertified substitute after another.
"It's been crazy," says Daquil Shackelford, who says students have been wearing "Free Moffett" T-shirts at school. "Miss Moffett was one of the few teachers who kept everything in order. English used to be my weakest subject, but Miss Moffett never looked down on us. She believed in us."
Audenried, once trashed as the prison on the hill, has changed for the better thanks to teachers like Moffett, Shackelford says.
"I think we'll do good on the test," he says. "Miss Moffett taught us well."
Moffett hears that and smiles.
"Some of my students can get out of line with their behavior, but they can also break down Socrates and Plato and apply it to To Kill a Mockingbird."
Moffett can identify with many of them. Growing up poor among seven brothers and sisters in San Diego, she and another sibling were the only ones to graduate from high school; she knows firsthand the difference a good teacher makes.
Which is why she took a risk. And if she's sacrificed for speaking up, well, it's not as bad as when that car hit her going 35 m.p.h. during her senior year at Brigham Young University. The accident left her hospitalized for a month.
"I can deal with uncertainty. I can deal with poverty," says Moffett, who still walks with a slight limp. "I can bus tables. . . . I prepared for [the district's ramifications] before I opened my mouth."
"Because of what's happened to me, I don't fear many things," she says. "What can Dr. Ackerman do to me for speaking up for my students?"
And even if her disobedience winds up getting her fired, she vows to see her students get their diplomas, the first graduating class at the new - and she says - improved Audenried.