By Jill Fletcher
A prevailing narrative of US public education of late is that it is failing because of poor and outdated instructional methods. However, many classroom teachers know this narrative is untrue. Our education system is not failing en masse because of outdated teaching methods. The reasons parts of our school systems struggle are much more complex.
Even despite disheartening inequity, there are still phenomenal things happening in public education, but these positive stories are rarely told. As teachers, we might consider working together to change this.
If you are one of over 3 million teachers in the US, think about sharing your classroom’s story or your teacher story to paint a truer picture of public education. By contributing your own colorful shade to a dull sketch of a so-called broken educational system, you give clarity to what it is truly like to be a classroom teacher.
Teachers See Everything
Consider this: teachers are witnesses to the immediate problems in our communities. Teachers see students day after day and acutely understand how students are affected by the problems in their community. Teachers love their students. Teachers see their students as humans. Not simply as data points. Not simply as test scores. Teachers know we cannot say that these students are not my children and therefore, I don’t care about what happens to them after they leave my classroom.
In this respect, teachers have a deep knowledge of the community they serve, and should share ideas for its improvement as well as build partnerships with community stakeholders with the support of their district’s leadership.
Advocate for Students and Eliminating Limiting Factors
Still many times teachers are told, “Put aside the factors you cannot control and only focus on factors you can control.” In fact, a few months ago, at a professional development training we were told to write down all the things that we had no control over, like a student’s homeless situation or a student’s parent’s job loss, and place it aside. As my colleagues and I wrote these factors down, I began to feel upset. I wondered, why is it that we are always asked to set aside these things we can’t control when they are the most impactful things for my students? Why can’t teachers affect more than just what happens in our classrooms? Why are we asked to put constraints on what we can do as teachers?
If we ask teachers to believe in their power to move their students beyond poverty, racism, sexism, and other limiting factors, then we must also believe in the power of teachers to collectively bring to light problems and solutions to the education system and then change it for the better.
To act as if the environment that surrounds school is not somehow one of the important factors that teachers should try to change is asking teachers to be active participants in an oppressive system, which never truly seeks to change the very thing it claims to do, which is to empower students to a successful life.
Write Your Story
One way teachers can advocate for change is to simply begin by writing our own stories: the good, the bad, and the ugly. The truth is needed.
If this sounds intimidating, teachers can start small by writing a story of #WhyITeach or write about about instructional strategies that work for their unique group of learners. As they gain confidence, teachers can write to local businesses and partner with community stakeholders with their schools with support of their district’s leadership.
Once teachers begin sharing their opinions of how to improve education, they will be unstoppable. Systemic change often begins with a shift in mindset so simply by sharing your voice, you will be influencing and changing opinions around public education. Consider submitting your story to organizations such as NCTE, ASCD, Edutopia and Curio Learning.
As teachers, our experiences are vast. We’re indigenous. We’re immigrants. We’re settlers. We live with a disability. We’re artists. We’re care-givers. We’re from disenfranchised communities. We’re from the dominant culture. We have privilege(s). We look like your child. We look nothing like your child. We’re in our second career with knowledge about industries outside of education. We’ve always wanted to be a teacher since we were little.
When we tell teachers it’s okay to care about the issues that long held beliefs say teachers can’t control, and give teachers opportunities to voice solutions to long standing issues, there will be a dramatic shift in public education.
Because empowered teachers grow empowered citizens. And we need those more than ever.
Jill Yamasawa Fletcher is a poet, National Board Certified Teacher, and a 2018 Hope Street Group Hawaiʻi State Teacher Fellow who advocates for student and teacher empowerment. She has taught AVID, college and career readiness, to grades 6–8 for 6 years and was an ELA teacher before that. Jill holds a BA in English from Santa Clara University, an MA in creative writing and a teaching credential from University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. She is currently a TA assistant principal. Find her on Twitter @teachinginhi.