By Kim Irvine
I believe the biggest problem we face in education is this: Our society does not understand the heart and mind of an educator.
Educators are constantly running behind schedule because, for instance, we spend hours helping a frustrated kid understand multiplying fractions, and then to save time, we secretly correct papers during faculty meeting or in church behind the hymnbook.
Educators hardly earn enough to run our own households, yet we engineer small miracles so that a new pair of shoes suddenly materializes in a student’s locker, the product of educators who noticed he was in need and gathered their pennies. And when it is discovered at dress rehearsal for the school play that the costume wigs are infected with lice, educators stay up all night spraying and freezing wigs so the show will go on.
Educators are a peculiar bunch, mostly because we choose to spend our days with those in our society who are often ignored: the children. We understand our students because we choose to make them our priority. Every day. We are experts on what motivates them and what makes them shut down. Educators have pure motivations: We simply want all our students to succeed. We know success looks different for each student, and we honor and celebrate those differences. We know a mere test score does not effectively communicate the talents, triumphs and trials of any student.
The answers to authentic education reform must come from those who understand the large and small issues that the individual children they serve face. The answers must come from the community. The caring professionals, parents and others who live locally are the only ones who truly understand the particular needs of the students in their communities. These tireless champions of education are the PTA members, the parents, the school bus drivers, the local librarians, the custodians, the local school board and the teachers, among many others. These supporters of education have not had a voice in national educational policy…until now.
December 10 marks the first anniversary of ESSA—the Every Student Succeeds Act. This is not another sound byte to be manipulated by politicians or vendors. ESSA marks an auspicious change. It gives voice to the educational community as a whole. It invites collaboration and synthesis. Finally we have the opportunity to raise our voices together against the educational tyranny playing out in our classrooms, driven by those who don’t know our students or the challenges they face. It is vital that we seize this unprecedented opportunity and not squander our chance to be heard above the sycophants and pundits clamoring for the spotlight in educational reform. Our students and the integrity of our profession depend on action from each of us.
No longer must we sit in silence watching our classrooms change from safe havens of inquiry open to all children in the community to data-driven competitions where schools, districts, educators and students are in a never ending test-and-punish-nightmare. No longer must we watch as public education is sacrificed on the altar of profit and as vouchers make it easier for the operators of private, often “mom and pop” schools to steal from the public and line their own pockets. Finally, we have standing to bring up the real problems in education—not test scores, but issues like poverty, bullying and institutional racism. We can have a role in educational policy and take advantage of cutting- edge research as we re-examine the old ways of doing things and creatively solve the inequities in education, giving us the freedom and status to lend our voice and expertise to the creation of good educational policy.
Finally, we can show the vendors, the politicians and the bureaucrats the exits and shut our classroom doors firmly behind them, because now, we speak for the children.
This moment is for us, the educators struggling under the yoke of limited academic freedom; shackled by scripted programs and myopic test score quotas. This moment is for those toiling in classrooms brimming with so many students there isn’t time enough to teach, reach and inspire every child. This moment is for those laboring under demoralizing micromanagement, ridiculous data- gathering objectives- and institutional hoop jumping. This moment is for those suffering as their pensions are threatened while their health benefits increase in cost and decrease in coverage, all of which make it harder for schools to retain the committed, talented professionals that all students deserve. This moment is for those scraping to make ends meet while earning tens of thousands of dollars less than similarly educated professionals. This moment is for those who are considering leaving the profession because of unreasonable expectations and too little support. But mostly this moment is for our students—because now, WE speak for the children.
Please raise your voice and join the crescendo of educational professionals collaborating to solve the problems in education. It is our turn at the table. There is no time to lose and much at stake. Lin Manuel Miranda’s message from his powerful, timely musical Hamilton warns us… “History has its eyes on you…” What will future generations say of us, the educators who stood against many and changed education forever because WE rose up and spoke out for our children.
Please join us: Opportunity Dashboard
Kim Irvine, a secondary English teacher, just completed her term as president of the Utah Council of Teachers of English. She has been teaching for seventeen years. Kim is active in her state and local association and its politics. She currently holds the office of Utah State Education Caucus Chair—where she advocates for excellence and equity in education for all. Kim holds a master’s degree in curriculum design and assessment and servers on several committees for both the State of Utah and the National Education Association. One of her most recent accomplishments is her graduation from the TLI (Teacher Leadership Initiative) through the NEA.