First Things First: Speaking Up For Public Education

When I first decided to become a teacher, I did so because I loved school. I had the privilege of having many great teachers throughout my schooling, and I couldn’t wait to be the one up in front of the classroom returning the favor to future generations of students. I remember my excitement as I would think about all of the great ways I could engage my students, all of the fantastic ideas I had for innovative lesson plans, and all of the energy that would flow through my classes as the students and I worked together to expand each others’ minds.

When I first became a teacher, I did so because my student teaching and substitute teaching had shown me that having the honor of being able to educate children was even more fulfilling than I had envisioned. Having the chance to turn my ideas into reality as a student teacher and being able to hone my technique of discipline that focused on mutual respect while substitute teaching were both incredible experiences. I was excited and nervous to be on my own as a teacher with my own class full of students, but I was more than ready for my journey to begin.

When I first completed an entire year as a teacher, I did so with a sense of accomplishment and a list of ways to make myself an even better educator. I had been able to work with many wonderful students with many different learning styles. I quickly became their favorite teacher because I respected their individuality, I worked with their opinions instead of against them, and I incorporated as many of the ideas that interested them into my lesson plans as possible. I definitely had a long way to go, but I felt that I had a long and fruitful career ahead of me.

When I first became discouraged as a teacher, I did so with much regret and frustration. This was the profession I chose, the profession that had chosen me. I was good at my job, the students thought I was good at my job, the parents thought I was good at my job, and my administrators felt I was good at my job. The areas that needed improvement were always obvious to me, and I worked hard at improving those areas through collaboration with other teachers, by taking classes and workshops, and via constant reflection. But that wasn’t enough. Now the federal government said no child could be left behind, an idea nobody could disagree with but also one that almost everybody knew was being implemented the wrong way. Teaching just became a little harder and a lot less satisfying.

When I first realized that being a teacher would never be the same, I became saddened. I thought about how excited I was to go into the profession, how I longed to have the same positive effect upon my students as so many of my teachers had upon me, and how–somewhere along the way–I may even become a respected part of society. I knew I would never become wealthy but never imagined how it would feel to make so little money while working so hard. I knew teaching would take every ounce of dedication I had within me but never imagined that however much that was, it would never be enough. I knew that despite even the most Herculean of efforts, some students might not succeed as much as I had hoped but never imagined the blame would be placed entirely and unfairly upon my shoulders. Perhaps I wasn’t meant for this profession after all.

When I first became aware that teachers–and public education in general–were under attack, I stopped doubting my choice of professions and started believing something needed to be done. Why were teachers suddenly scapegoats for the ills of public education? Why were members of the media criticizing the job we were doing when they had no idea what it was like to do our job? Why were segments of the public agreeing with them? Most importantly, why were we letting this happen?

When I first decided I needed to start speaking up about the real problems facing public education, I was unsure of myself. Who was I to be so bold? How could I get others to agree? Why was I the only one who thought this needed to be done? Then I realized I wasn’t. There were others out there like me who were fed up with the route society had taken when it came to public education. There were others out there who knew they were good teachers but felt like they had to prove it to everyone again and again and again. There were others out there who had the voice within them but needed a way to let it out. There were others out there who speak up.

When I first became an activist, it wasn’t because of teachers, but because of their students. Teachers were the ones under attack; their students were the ones suffering the most. When teachers are fired because public schools aren’t adequately funded, students lose. When teachers are forced to teach to a test, students lose. When otherwise future teachers choose a different career path because they don’t want to deal with the constant scrutiny that the teaching profession brings with it, students lose. When teachers don’t realize that they now must also become activists, students lose.

When teachers, parents, students, and other concerned citizens first unite to speak up about public education, it will be with one common voice. One common voice that shouts public schools will be fairly funded. One common voice that screams give teachers the respect they deserve. One common voice that echoes over and over again it is time to work together to fix this national education crisis and to set an example for future generations so that they can work together to bring America to levels of prosperity never before seen. Our children are our most important natural resource, and their education is our number one priority. Teachers know this. They always have and always will. No amount of negativity, unfair scrutiny, or otherwise disrespectful hypocrisy will make us think otherwise. It’s just a shame that we have to fight so hard in order to prove this.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that education must remain relevant, that students are the priority, and it will take the majority to act now before it becomes too late and our fate is sealed.

An educator’s job by definition alone is to educate. To provide education. To help students gain knowledge. Knowledge about the world that surrounds them, about the world within them, about the world that has proceeded them, and about the world that awaits them. And educators do in fact do this and much more. Educators provide students with more than measurable factual knowledge; they also provide social training, character training, counseling sessions, medical care, morale boosts, and conflict resolution. This part cannot be found in the definition, but educators have created a new definition of what an educator does.

But we can’t do it alone anymore. Try to, but can’t. Can do, but not enough. Not do is not an option. So, once again, another definition must be created: that of interdependent educators, because America’s future deserves it.

Long ago, it became apparent that teachers alone could not give children all that they need. The school systems answered that need by providing school nurses to assist with more severe medical problems. They provided counselors and social workers to help with issues that teachers themselves weren’t qualified to handle. Para-professionals were provided to help the students within the classroom, and deans were provided to deal with students whose behavior caused them to have to leave the classroom. The school systems have evolved with society to provide students with as many resources as possible to educate them. Yet, the classroom teacher’s job has become even more challenging, even more diverse, even more stressful. However, education continues, educators continue, passion continues. Though at this point, continuing in the same manner has become impossible.

Our nation is at a crossroads, and education is on all sides. In order for America not to veer left or right at the crossroads and instead continue forward, we must all become interdependent educators. Professional educators must start the march forward by making themselves heard, letting America know that we want and desperately need its help. That process has begun. Parents must continue that march by also making their voices heard and by extending their hands within the classroom and without to pick up where the school leaves off. Students must take accountability for their own education and realize it is not the key to their own future, but the key to America’s future. Legislators must join the march forward by working with those who are in the classroom every day, by having faith in their knowledge and opinions, and by providing them with the tools that current society demands they have. The remaining segments of society must also become interdependent educators. Business leaders must become role models for students and come into the classrooms to share their vast knowledge base. Others in the private sector can become interdependent educators simply by displaying support and respect for teachers instead of disinterest or even contempt. Children often model the behaviors and opinions of adults, and if even a small portion of America’s adults are convinced that America’s public education is a failure due to the teachers, they will also begin to feel this same way.

As our founding fathers joined forces and took the first step in America’s march to become the greatest country in the world, so must we continue that march by relying upon each other instead of blaming each other. By choosing to become interdependent educators as opposed to dissociated agitators, we will assure that future Americans will continue to prosper and move forward.

And for the support of this declaration, we must mutually pledge to each other America’s fortune and honor now and into the future.

Chris Janotta is junior high school language arts teacher who has been working in the same public school in the south suburbs of Chicago since he started his career 13 years ago.

Reminder: Monday, November 22, is the National Day of Blogging for Education Reform. Bloggers across the Internet will be posting and advancing debate on how we can all work together to improve education in America. Be sure to visit EdVoices on the National Day of Blogging for Education Reform, as we will be featuring the latest posts from education’s top bloggers.


Comments (4)

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention First Things First: Speaking Up For Public Education | Edvoices --

  2. Chris — When I first got into teaching, activism felt like a choice. With all the ill-advised changes that are coming our way now, it doesn’t feel that way any more. It feels like something we all must do. Sounds like you went through the same thing.

  3. Wow, a very powerful blog! I to have become an activist fighting for what educators know is right for children and for our public schools. As an educator and a parent of children in public schools, I am extremely worried about the direction the federal, state and local governments are pushing us toward. Not only do we have the government to contend with, but also Oprah, Bill Gates, The Dells and many other very rich and powerful people getting involved in something they know very little about. We must stand together and keep spreading the truth to all that will listen, and make those that won’t listen as well. I heard Diane Ravitch speak last week and felt some relief that there was still some common sense left in the world!

  4. This article is very interesting. I have been a public education teacher for 26 years. I love teaching. I have been pursuing Nbpts for the past three years. I received my scores last Friday. I made 274 and I needed to make 275. One point kept me from achieving this certification. I worked very hard for the past 3 years to achieve this. Now, I am heart broken and there is nothing I can do to change it. All I can think about is being denied because of 1 point. I’ve always been told that hard work pays off, but now I am not sure I believe this.

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