Your Time to Shine: Get to Work

So last week was a pretty devastating blow to education on a national level. (I can’t state why due to the non-political nature of this blog, but I’m pretty sure most readers don’t need me to spell it out.) Social media blew up with rants, emoticons, and some pretty funny memes. As the collective groan from educators goes out across the nation, I have a challenge: Don’t waste all your energy proclaiming distress about an event that cannot be changed. And don’t waste all your time scrolling the messages online either. Instead, put your teacher voice to work.

This is one of those short moments in time when a lot of people are talking about education. Even more importantly, education issues are being discussed on the national news! It’s a wonderful time to engage our local community in dialogue about common goals for education and the reforms we need to achieve those dreams. Do you have the courage to share your opinions and perspectives?

I say that there is no other choice.

But you don’t have the energy, time, money, knowledge, (fill in the blank) to get involved because you are so busy taking care of your own classroom and students. I get it. You aren’t alone in feeling that way. Mike Vargas recently wrote about how apathy negatively affects educational progress in this state. I think that apathy is a natural response when teachers feel voiceless and unheard in state and national decision-making. In Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, he calls this a ‘culture of silence.’ If you are allowing education destroyers to force you into a culture of silence, shame on you. That’s exactly what they want! Time to shake off those chains and bust out the microphone. I strongly believe that education reform will come from real teachers telling real stories about how education policy affects real kids in their real classrooms. So be real teachers. Freire writes that the key to liberation is dialogue with others.

Here’s some ideas about how we can raise our voice:

  • Develop an opinion about Governor Ducey’s new education priorities in this state—and be ready to weigh in. Critics say there are not funds to make these priorities feasible without raising taxes (which Ducey vows he will not do). It would be helpful if educators could advocate for the priorities that matter most to them by contacting legislators. And it would be great if educators took the initiative to start conversations with colleagues, family, and friends.
  • Give voice to others. Teach friends, family, and colleagues how to sign up for Request to Speak so they can have a voice when state legislators are voting on legislation. Teach them how to find out the names of their legislators. When you’re talking to someone who has strong opinions and commitment to education, challenge them by asking how they will share their perspectives with policy makers and community members. We must unite our voices together.
  • Be real about the problems. I think that a lot of people think everything is “fixed” in Arizona now that Proposition 123 has passed and Ducey has announced his 2017 education agenda. In fact, I was telling a parent about our classroom Donors Choose project today and he said, “I thought that Ducey was fixing everything about education.” People don’t know the realities we face. Sharing those realities is our obligation.
  • Be an advocate for the schools you love while the “school choice” movement creates questions for parents. In the last two weeks, I’ve had two families ask me about enrolling their child in a nearby charter school for kindergarten. These are families who are very happy in my non-charter, public school classroom. In both cases, I’ve asked neutral, open-ended questions like, “Why are you thinking that (charter school) will be a good school for your child?” Both times, the families responded that they really don’t know anything about the charter school, but they are worried about picking the best school for their child. This has been a great open door for me to share the many wonderful things about my school. As I did, I could see the worry disappear from their faces and both families said that they would stay in our school the following year. School choice doesn’t mean that families have to choose blindly. We can help educate families about why our non-charter public schools are a great choice.

If you feel silenced, find your voice. If you feel voiceless, unite with others. If you feel concerned about education today, it’s time to get to work.

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Jess Ledbetter

Dr. Jess Ledbetter teaches preschool students with developmental delays in a Title I school in Glendale, Arizona. She is a National Board Certified Teacher (ENS-ECYA), an Arizona Hope Street Group Teacher Fellow Alumni, and a Candidate Support Provider for teachers seeking their National Board Certification. She earned her doctorate in Educational Leadership and Innovation at ASU in 2016. Her mixed methods research used a Communities of Practice model as a strategy for early career special education teachers to collaborate with peers to increase their team leadership skills working with paraeducators in their individual classrooms.

Dr. Ledbetter is guided by the belief that all teachers are leaders in their classrooms and possess the skills to be leaders within their schools, districts, communities, and greater context. She hopes you will contribute to the dialogue by leaving comments about your own experiences, opinions, and insights so that real-life stories from our schools can inform the policies that affect students, teachers, and their communities.

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