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Thank you, Mr. Olsen. Thank you Ms. Lee. Thank you Sister Claire. Thank you Mrs. Hildebrand.

My list is a long one. There are so many teachers who brought me to where I am in my life, and except for one or two, I have no idea where they are today. I went to Catholic school in Georgia until I was ten and then I mostly went to Department of Defense schools wherever the Army sent my dad.  I went to public schools in Fairbank at Ryan Jr. High and Queen Anne High School in Seattle and Box Elder High School in Brigham City, Utah and El Paso Community College in (not El Paso, but) Colorado Springs and then on to the University of Utah.

I had incredible teachers all my life. And I am not alone.

Follow NEA’s board National Teacher Day on Pinterest.

It is a common American experience to feel a connection to your schools and the people who touched your lives there. It is a historic American experience that some of our most revered, courageous social justice icons fought to give ALL children – no matter the color of their skin, the language they spoke, or where they found God – to be able to have a good public neighborhood school that cherished all of them.

In the beautiful month of May we commemorate a lawsuit that changed, literally, the face of public schools. Mr. Oliver Brown was a welder and part-time pastor in Topeka, Kansas.  His little girl, Linda, had been prevented from enrolling in the neighborhood public school and forced to walk six blocks to the bus stop and ride to an all-black school far from her house.  Mr. Brown was listed first in a string of plaintiffs who sued the Topeka Board of Education and so the case bears his name: Brown vs. The Board of Education.

But, as we know, winning a lawsuit doesn’t win hearts and minds.  Brown vs. the Board was only the beginning of one hard-fought win after another after another. It was a fight. Hearts were broken. Heads were broken. But the marches of the Civil Rights Movement marched us to this place today. Because enough hearts and minds were won, children have rights. 

They have a right to a clean building and paper and pencils and books and everything that goes with a quality public education. They have a right to have caring school support staff to feed them and maintain the building and answer the phones. And most of all, they have a right to a teacher who sees them as the miracles that they are and who opens them up to the possibilities of who they could become. They have a right to a loving, competent, prepared and passionate teacher.

It’s time to celebrate those teachers, preschool to graduate school.  Say thank you to your favorite teachers using the NEA hashtag – #thankateacher – on National Teacher Day May 6th. Or make a Vine video thanking a teacher in your life.

We are inspired by how far we’ve come. We are driven to move ever forward. But we cannot forget to stop every now and then and remember. And smile. And thank a teacher.

Thank you Dr. Sorensen. Thank you Mr. Larson. Thank you Mr. Fleming. Thank you Mrs. Stuart.


The Busine$$ of Voucher$ vs. Choices that Work For Kids

Years ago, I was talking with a lovely director of a lovely and elite private school about private school vouchers. She was touting what her school had to offer in terms of class sizes of 12, and science laboratories and technology rooms, and truly, it was lovely.

Actual Conversation 15 years ago:

She: Why would you be against allowing poor children the ability to receive a scholarship voucher to attend this lovely school? Don’t poor children deserve the same right as rich children to come to a school like this?

Me: So, I want to understand what you just said. Rich children have a right to come to your school?

She, confused: Excuse me?

Me: Rich children have a right to walk into your office, plunk down their money and demand to be enrolled in your school?

She: Well, of course, there’s a process. There’s an application. There’s a test. There’s a committee. Our standards are very high. It protects the students to make sure they’re a good fit for our program.

Me: So, they have a right to apply. They have a right to show they have high test scores. And they have a right to hope that the committee chooses them.

She: Well, it’s much more than just test scores. We know that even a bright child must have a committed, involved family if he’s going to succeed. Our families have to demonstrate they can provide the necessary home support for the student or we don’t even consider them.

Me: I hate to be thick about it, but I’m also thinking they have to demonstrate they can pay tuition of about $20,000.

She: Well, yes, and that’s where the vouchers would come in. With vouchers, we could reduce the tuition by the amount of the voucher or even use the voucher to subsidize a scholarship. It would give poor children the same rights as our other children!

So, fifteen years have gone by and vouchers are still one of the more shameful and shakiest pillars of school reform nincompoopery.

The privately-funded ultraconservative group ALEC wants to shortchange your children and dismantle public education by robbing them of badly needed funding and giving it to private schools. Its ultimate goal is to privatize public education, which its corporate donors see as a multi-billion dollar industry just ripe for the taking.



And the Grammy Goes to…

And the Award goes to….

It is always with a divided heart that I agree to serve on award panels. It dates back to my year as Utah Teacher of the Year.  It was so amazing to be recognized for the things you did for your students; things you loved doing; things that you weren’t even sure anyone knew about. It was such an honor for someone to nominate you and remind you that your work impacted the future of someone’s child and that that is an important thing.

But I also know that it was awkward to know that your colleagues, who were a team and close and friends and hardworking and every bit as deserving as you, were not going to be recognized. It felt wrong to single out one person when so many deserved recognition.

But I agreed to serve on the award’s committee for the first-ever Grammy Award for a Music Educator. And I imagine Kent Knappenberger  is going through what I went through when asked how it felt to win. He’s thinking, “Why me? What about my colleagues? I’m not worthy. This is so cool!”

It’s the ultimate multiple-choice answer: All of the above. And all at once. Kent teaches everything musical at Central School in rural Westfield, New York, population 4,896. Not exactly the Big Apple of New York City. But there’s nothing small about Kent Knappenberger’s ambitions. His music program brings big joy, big smiles, big differences in the lives of his boys and girls. He sings and strums and plucks and whistles and rings bells.


A Day of Action for Our Students

The December 9 Day of Action — a day when parents, students, educators and community leaders will hold events in more than 30 cities throughout the country to support public schools — got an early start in Austin, Texas, with a rally outside the state Capitol building.

More than 300 supporters gathered to hear speakers address the most pressing issues in Texas schools, including education equity and comprehensive immigration reform.

Check out the coverage of Univision Austin! (more…)