Profiles in Education Equity: Rachel Man, Teacher Leader
Rachel Man is in her fifth year as a teacher in Prince George’s County, Maryland. She currently teaches eighth-grade language arts for special education, general education, and honors students. She is an alumnus of Teach Plus Maryland’s Teaching Policy Fellowship and a current member of Teach Plus Maryland’s Teacher Leader Advisory Board.
What (or who) motivates you to advocate for education equity?
The easy answer to this question would be my students, and they certainly are the people I have in my heart and mind as I’m discussing issues around equity. However, when I dig a little deeper into why I got into this profession at all, it’s my mother, Leah Man. My mother is a superhero. She managed to raise four children, work full time, and still find the time and energy to take courses to finish her degree. My mom never “used” her degree — she never had a job in the field she studied — but she demonstrated to her children that education was worth fighting for. When public schools weren’t meeting my siblings’ and my needs, my mother decided to homeschool us, and I couldn’t have received a better education. Even as a child though, I recognized how lucky I was to have a mother who could one, afford to homeschool, and two, had the education and resources to homeschool. Because of this, I always wanted to be the public school teacher that I didn’t have, one who fought for every student the way my mom fought for my siblings and me.
How do you push to advance education equity in Prince George’s County?
I stand in front of approximately 120 students each day, and I try my hardest to see each one of them. I try to listen to them and take their stories and their experiences to those who have the power to make a greater difference for students. The way I see it, I am quite simply a resource for those who have the privilege of making decisions about education but who don’t always have the opportunity to be in schools themselves dealing with students one-on-one. I am thankful to Teach Plus for their Teaching Policy Fellowship for giving me the skills and resources needed to be able to translate my experiences and knowledge within the classroom for the policy-speaking world.
What do you think are the most pressing education equity issues right now? How can advocates address this challenge?
I work in a school where inequities are stunningly obvious. We lack physical resources (from copy paper to technology), experienced teachers, stable leadership, and many other key factors of quality education. If I had to speak to the one issue that needs to be addressed most immediately, I would have to say making sure that students of color and low-income students are taught by their fair share of great teachers. This in and of itself is a multifaceted issue. We need improved teacher preparation, increased teacher retention (far too many low-income students and students of color have inexperienced teachers due to teacher turnover), more reliable and valid methods of teacher evaluation that put an emphasis on improvement, and recruitment of teachers of color. Each of these areas must be addressed in order to improve academics overall, but I would urge advocates to pay close attention and ensure that we are not improving the whole without closing any gaps. We need targeted strategies to improve teacher access specifically for low-income students and students of color.
“The longer I live and the more experience I have of the world, the more I am convinced that, after all, the one thing that is most worth living for — and dying for, if need be — is the opportunity of making someone else more happy and more useful.” ― Booker T. Washington
Booker T. Washington is usually remembered most for his civil rights work, but he was an educator first. Where does anyone have a greater “opportunity of making someone else more happy and more useful” than in the classroom? Teachers have this tremendous chance to impact a student’s life in profound ways, and that is what I live for. And on those nights when there’s too much to grade, or I can’t sleep because I’m worried about a student, my greatest hope is that I remember that these children are worth dying for, not just in the physical sense, but in the daily sacrifices teachers make. Advocating for equity in education takes this a step further, I get to speak up for my children, who sit in front of me each day, for the children I don’t and won’t ever know. My greatest hope is that someday we can ensure that each student grows up happy, achieves personal success, and are valued in their local and our national community.