It’s the fourth week of school and I am completely exhausted and overwhelmed. How is this possible when this is my 20th year in education? One would think I should have this down by now, and everything should be smooth sailing. But every year brings new initiatives and additional hoops to jump through, without any additional time to adjust to and implement them correctly.  So every year I feel like a beginning teacher having to learn my job all over again.

This is the story of every great teacher…  

This is not to say great teachers are satisfied with the status quo, a perception I often hear about educators. We are just as frustrated as those who perpetuate the endless stream of new policies, and more now than ever, we want change to happen. It can’t come too soon. But it makes us sad that political agendas come before children. It makes us angry that expectations and administrative tasks take us away from the real work of teaching. Kids are our priority but I believe that in the political rush to capitalize on Americans’ dissatisfaction with our system, we have moved attention away from the basic human elements of teaching. 

Students need a safe place to take risks and challenging, engaging instruction that allows for deeper thinking and connections to real world situations. But the most important factor in a child’s success is the quality of the relationships with his or her teachers. Kids need to know that they matter AND they need one on one time to share stories, ask questions, and learn from their teachers. But teachers have less and less capacity to nurture these interactions as administrative requirements continue to mount.  

As an art specialist, I am fortunate to work with all 700 kids in my school — but  that also means I face nightmarish assessment requirements that make it almost impossible to engage students on an individual basis. Similarly, how can we justify cramming 28- 30 kindergartners or first graders into a classroom to save money when individual attention in those formative years provides the foundation for their entire education?  And educators need more time within the day to plan for the diverse needs of children.  We expect miracles to happen without providing adequate time to learn from one another, reflect on how that learning applies to the children we serve, and plan lessons that excite, energize, and fill children with a passion to learn.

Educators are expected to maintain high levels of dedication and enthusiasm —  but when they ask in return to be treated with respect and a wage that allows them to supports a family, they are seen as greedy and selfish.  However, I can’t just blame the media, politicians, and community for what we as educators in some ways have allowed to happen. Eleanor Roosevelt eloquently stated that “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”  The grave was dug for us, but we chose to lay down in it… and now, we either climb out of it or we risk being buried alive.  That’s how I felt at the beginning of this school year — like I was being buried alive.  However, I choose to stand up and speak up for what’s best for my students and myself. We don’t have to throw dirt back at the ones who have tried to bury us, but we can refuse to be silent and accept the status quo.  

As great teachers who care deeply about our students, we must stand up and speak up on their behalf, as well as our own.  We need to be the leaders of our profession and change the system from within.  This can be done, but the first step is to recognize that in order to put kids first, every great teacher needs to advocate for their own needs in order to be the best they can be. If we don’t,  no one else will.  

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