Teaching in freedom, empowering teachers

Every day, on every continent, teachers are inspiring students and advocating for the resources and support that all students—from kindergarten through college—need and deserve. On World Teachers’ Day, October 5, we celebrate amazing teachers wherever they are for dedicating themselves to our profession—which, in my humble opinion, is the best on the planet.

As NEA president as well as vice president, North America and Caribbean, of Education International, I have the opportunity to visit, learn from, and bring together teachers in many places. Whether in India or Indiana, it’s clear that we share the same “gene” even though our circumstances and cultures vary: We believe with all our hearts in our students, and we are passionate about helping them discover what they are passionate about.

World Teacher Day 2017

Through my travels, I’ve also learned that we face many of the same challenges, including figuring out how to stretch resources that are often pretty paltry. A new World Bank report calls attention to some of the problems in public education, but it could go further in identifying funding issues as the root cause. We’re also fighting privatization, which pits those of us who know the kids against CEOs who know a profit-making scheme when they see one.

And here is a huge problem: 121 million children and adolescents are not in primary or lower secondary schools worldwide, according to the Global Partnership for Education. That number hasn’t changed for the past decade. In many countries, conflict, violent extremism, and political interference have pushed students out of school. These factors also inhibit educators’ ability to teach as we see fit and even endanger our lives. But wherever we are, we are committed to the success of each and every student.

The theme of this year’s World Teachers’ Day is “Teaching in freedom, empowering teachers,” and it underscores two ideas that are essential to providing students with an education that inspires their imaginations and curiosity and instills a lifelong love of learning.

Number one, teachers must have the freedom to teach in ways that engage all students. There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to learning, and as the professionals, we have to be equipped—and trusted—to make the best decisions for our students.

Number two, we must be free to advocate for the resources and support that students and our profession need. By coming together in our unions, we can raise our voices and push our communities to invest in the things that we know work, such as class sizes that are small enough for one-on-one interaction, after-school programs, and health care.

This year, World Teachers’ Day also coincides with the 20th anniversary of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNSESCO) recommendation on the status of teachers in higher education, which was intended to help improve the working conditions of college and university faculty members throughout the world. The recommendation underscores the necessity of academic freedom and university autonomy to both teaching and research and articulates the rights faculty members should have. It remains an important document in higher education because it explains what constitutes academic freedom; in fact, many organizations use it to help gauge the extent of academic freedom and university autonomy around the world.

These are ideas worth protecting and fighting for, especially at a time of divisiveness in our own nation, and upheaval in many other places. But one thing is certain: Today’s students are tomorrow’s best hope for a better future. And that means educators everywhere have a huge responsibility: to go forth and teach!

Happy World Teachers’ Day.

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