Celebrating Teachers Who Advocate Beyond School Walls
I feel lucky to know some great teachers: They see past their students’ behavioral issues to recommend them for gifted programs, create challenging assignments related to students’ interests and experiences, and walk first-generation students through the college scholarship application process. They know that strong teachers make a big difference in kids’ lives. And for students who face discrimination outside and sometimes inside the school building, teachers can play an especially powerful role.
This Teacher Appreciation Week, schools and communities across the country will appreciate these teachers who create caring and supportive environments for students and push them to new academic heights. But, this week, I also want to give a nod to teachers who serve as champions for their students both in the classroom and in the policy sphere.
Teacher advocacy in the policy sphere is a natural extension of the advocacy many teachers do for children within their schools. Though social media calls-to-action often blend together, I always pay attention to those from teachers advocating for their students because I know that their advocacy is based on feeling the real-world impact that policies have on the children they teach. They see their students’ terror about losing parents to deportation. They hear their transgender students’ voices rasp from dehydration, the effect of avoiding bathrooms out of fear they will be harassed or attacked. And they know all too well how insufficient and inequitable funding means fewer educational opportunities for children who need them the most.
In recent weeks, many of my friends who are educators have urged their social media networks to advocate on behalf of their students. For example, one friend, who teaches high school in Virginia and who for years has helped students overcome issues in starting and running Gay Straight Alliances, posted on Facebook asking us to attend a school board meeting about a statement of inclusion. Another friend, who teaches high school in Washington state, asked that we contact legislators about adequately funding a uniform system of education as required under the state constitution.
My teacher friends are in good company. Across the country, educators are working to make it clear that students from immigrant families have the right to learn in public schools, to push their state leaders to budget adequate and equitable funding to schools, and to urge the courts to uphold laws that protect students from gender discrimination. Some teachers are doing this work as part of organizations such as Teach Plus and Educators for Excellence, which empower teachers to advocate for policies that impact their students; and others are doing it individually or through professional organizations. And they’re leveraging their social networks to ask the rest of us to join those efforts.
This Teacher Appreciation Week, I want to thank the teachers who work hard so all of their students are supported and achieving at high levels. And I want to give a special thank you to the teachers who advocate for students outside the classroom — and push us to do our part, too.
Photo credit: Fibonacci Blue