Breathe Fire

An educator’s year is a whirlwind.  From the moments of returning back to school, to trainings, new colleagues, and new ideas to the first days of school with new names, new procedures, and new opportunities.  Here we are, with a year closing in on us, and while that once sounded peaceful, the myriad of testing, promotions, and graduations, and end of year reporting is a force unto itself.  

Add to the stress of our lives in school, is the reality that the decisions made by others have a huge effect on how we as a school community operate.  This is the time of year where we hold our breath hoping that all of the great educators around us will be coming back, hoping that there are no more programs or positions cut, waiting for the next hammer to drop.  That has been the collective end of year experience for educators across this country as decisions are made by legislatures, and governors, and political officials that will have a tremendous effect on the following year and our futures.

And here educators are this year, pulled in so many different directions.  Not knowing whether we can trust elected leaders, as so much has been promised in the past with so little actually given.  A barrage of sound bites are out there that seem ever-changing and focused on short-term fixes and political interests. This year, we are so close to change; more than three-fourths of Arizonans say the state is underfunding schools, but somehow an attack on educators by some in power seems warranted.  

Just today I had a wonderful young teacher stop by my office to tell me she was questioning if she wanted to teach.  She didn’t know if she could envision herself doing this over and over again. Didn’t know if she was going to be able to work with the shortages and shortfalls around her, around all of us.  Couldn’t imagine what it would look like if things were worse. This can’t be the dance we do each year.

I’ve been in education for over 15 years in Arizona, and I can’t remember the last time (maybe my first or second year teaching) that I wasn’t worried about what the next year would bring my students.  Would it be more testing, or labeling, or cutting? There has been no time ever that educators have had a place at the table to really say, “this is what we need to make our schools better, how are you going to help us get there?”  Instead, we as educators are played as pawns in a political game by decision-makers who don’t fully understand what it is we do.

A legislator made some disparaging remarks about educators, specifically administrators (which I am one) and I decided rather than deal with the back and forth I would call this person.  I would share my take on educational funding and offer my help as a resource. I was talked at for 30 minutes.  Never was I asked, “what do you think?”.  

It is all too taxing.  Educators were not meant to educate, counsel, assist, or lead by day and fight and fear and fret by night.  We were not meant to work second jobs. We were not meant to have to demand the proper funding that we know our students, schools, and communities need.  But it is our reality right now. And it is hard work. It is time that we have a seat at the table, where we are respected, and share our views, and they are listened to and considered.  

It is far too easy to fall into negativity and divisive words.  Especially when there are those that are divisive around us, those that are looking for educators to fail.  During this time of great difficulty, ensure that you give yourself even a few minutes of self-care and kind words.

So, just breathe even if it is for a few minutes.  Take some time to appreciate your families and your students and the new person down the hall who is doing a better job today than yesterday.  Take some time to thank your mentor, your custodian, your cooperating teacher. Allow yourself the few minutes to let that parent volunteer know how they changed your year, to let the people around you know how they have helped you close out this crazy, crazy year.  Give yourself the moments of gratitude for all that is good and harness that energy into advocacy.

Educators in Arizona have done a remarkable job in a short amount of time changing public opinion about teachers and schools and the importance of all staff.  The fight is nowhere near over and will take time and energy. And energy feeds off positivity and mental calmness. So with all that is going on, some of which we cannot control, I urge you all to find time to breathe.  Breathe the fire that you will need to sustain you in the most important work we have done. Arizona is on our side.



Jaime Festa-Daigle

My name is Jaime Festa-Daigle and I was born here in Arizona. I work as the Director of Personnel and Technology at Lake Havasu Unified School District. I’ve taught everything from ELL to 8th grade English to student council to college level government and economics. I was recognized as the American Civic Educator of the Year in 2012. I am fully focused on ensuring rural students have equal access to educational opportunities as their metropolitan counterparts. My current passion is the development of mentor and induction programs for novice school leaders in rural communities.

I am an NBCT, Arizona Master Teacher, and an Arizona Rural Schools Association board member. During the small moments where I am not focused on how to make Lake Havasu Unified School District the best district in AZ, I am usually nerding out on politics, fretting about my children and pugs, or working up a sweat at Cross Fit.

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