Let’s face it… Educators across the country have increasingly felt hopeless and disillusioned over the last decade. And with good reason. The punishment of schools under No Child Left Behind, our country’s obsession with testing, and the demoralization of our profession, have prompted teachers to flee our profession in droves. Our children have suffered the most, losing highly qualified educators, who are passionate and care deeply about them. Children and teachers alike have been treated like widgets and stuffed into tiny little boxes to appease those who hold the purse strings for education funding.
However, we are at a crossroads and we ARE changing the direction of education to bring back the love of learning for all children to experience. Last month Congress finally realized the implications of NCLB and put an end to a decade of punishing our schools and our children. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) refocuses our attention on our nation’s children and their needs– no longer punishing schools in impoverished communities and with diverse populations. It is the beginning of a course of actions that can create global citizens who explore their curiosity, use their creativity, and solve global issues!
Educators led the charge with the National Education Association supporting them every step of the way…but OUR work is simply NOT done. I realize the last decade has been a long haul but our kids need us more than ever to continue to speak up, take a stand, and change perceptions about education including our own role in its transformation. We must lead the tough conversations about what students need. We must take the gloves off and do the messy work of organizing the larger community. WE must be the change that we want to see in education.
Recently, my superintendent was sharing information about her proposed budget with the teacher advisory group. While this is only her third year in our county, she has shaved almost half a billion dollars from our school system’s budget the last two years to demonstrate to our Board of Supervisors that she was willing to reduce the budget and focus on just priorities. However, the BOS continued to underfund our schools. This year, my superintendent took off the gloves and presented a budget with NO CUTS!! It has been over a decade since this has happened in my district. I sat in awe and with hope because she is standing up for us her employees, for our community, and most importantly…OUR STUDENTS! I was inspired.
For the first time in almost a decade, I felt proud to be a teacher in MY district. She said something that day that continues to resonate with me. A fellow teacher challenged her decision to make this type of proposal arguing that the county was never going to fund this budget. My superintendent’s response was simple, “How can we justify to continue doing nothing?” These few words hit home with me in such a way that I immediately began planning and talking with others at my school and in the county about ways to support this work. How CAN we continue to justify our lack of action? How can we JUSTIFY being silent for even a moment longer?
Alice Walker said, “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” Educators for so long felt they had no power. Many allowed themselves to become silent witnesses to the demise of education because we simply felt our voices didn’t matter. Yet we know our voices do matter- consider the difference you make everyday in the lives of your students. If that is NOT power, I don’t know what is. We have power beyond our wildest imagination to influence policy and funding. We must summon it individually and collectively. We must do something NOW.
So… I CHALLENGE YOU to have the hard conversations with your neighbors, the community, your legislators, and when appropriate with children! Your leadership and expertise is needed and valuable to the changing tide of education. Write letters to leaders, write editorials, host house parties on education, and build relationships with local leaders and the community. Engage in advocacy at a level you are comfortable but engage now! We must take advantage of the momentum and turn it into a revolution where educators of the nation are transforming the system beyond the classroom because OUR voices should be the loudest voice in the conversation to advocate for children and public education! What will you do today, to “Be the Change” in education?