When the Political is Personal, and the Personal is Political

I think many of us have had conversations in schools, in neighborhoods, and around towns lately regarding the #RedforEd movement.

As I became a National Board Certified Teacher, I learned that it is my responsibility and privilege to advocate for my students and my profession.  Last week, as I tried to rally my community to use their voices as professionals, I was dismayed to hear one colleague say they couldn’t get into the movement because it was too political and they don’t “do politics.”

I was mulling over that response when I read a quote that rang true: “The political is personal, and the personal is political” (Celeste Ng, author of the fabulous Little Fires Everywhere).

How can it not be personal when I’m crammed into an overcrowded classroom, trying to teach more and more diverse students with fewer and fewer resources (human and material) every year?

How can it not be personal when I’ve watched my own child’s incredible teachers leave the profession year after year feeling ineffective and disillusioned?

How can it not be personal when my colleagues and I wonder how much longer we can afford to teach?

At some point, the opportunity costs and pay penalty of teaching will force each of us into action of one kind or another.

If that isn’t personal, I don’t know what is.

Avenues to Advocacy

Many of my colleagues are new to the world of advocacy at a district and statewide level.  Thankfully, many of them are rapidly developing sharp skills using their gifts of communication, creative minds, and boundless tenacity.

Advocating for new, better, and long-lasting policy is different than protesting at the Capital on a single day.  Advocacy is a marathon, not a sprint.

How do we get to the finish line?  We know why we are running the marathon, but everyone should train before a big run.  Here’s how we train:  Treat every opportunity as a chance to tell your story.  Tell your story to anyone who will listen, and be persistent with those who won’t.  We need the public on our side, and they aren’t always familiar with our current working conditions.  We need to do what we do best – we need to teach.

  • When you talk to the community, media, and policymakers, never say, I am just a teacher.  YOU are the expert.  No one knows our current reality like we do.  Speak with conviction.

As Yoda said, “Already have you…that which you need.”

“Already have you… that which you need.”

  • Be solution-based.  Many policymakers think teachers are just whining about not being able to afford boats.  Articulate the solution concretely as part of your story.  What would you like to see happening (the desired state) vs. what is currently happening (your current state)?

Advocacy comes from the heart and the head.  Teachers have the biggest hearts and the brightest minds of anyone I know.   We are natural advocates.

Too Overwhelming to be Ignored

Ultimately, a brighter future for our students is waiting at the finish line if we keep at our training and finish the marathon.  As Thomas Sergiovani said, teacher job satisfaction and the conditions that produce it “are linked to improvements in student achievement…The philosophical, theoretical, and empirical evidence in support…is too overwhelming for it to be ignored.”   We are learning that by using the power of our collected voices, we won’t be ignored anymore. How do you advocate for your students and your profession?




Beth Maloney

I am in my twentieth year of teaching and enjoy every minute of my time in the classroom. I have taught kindergarten, third grade, and currently teach fifth-grade science and social studies in Surprise, Arizona. I am an enthusiastic public school advocate. I am a National Board Certified Teacher and a Candidate Support Provider for the Arizona K12 Center, where I coach and mentor other teachers undergoing the rigorous National Board certification. I am the past president and co-founder of the Arizona National Board Certified Teacher Network and president and founder of the Arizona Chapter of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year. I am honored to be Arizona’s 2014 Teacher of the Year and appreciate having the opportunity to represent the teachers of Arizona. I love talking with and learning from other teachers around the world. I strongly believe that teacher voice in the public education dialogue is the best way to make change for the better for all students.

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