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Rick Hess Straight Up

Education policy maven Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute think tank offers straight talk on matters of policy, politics, research, and reform. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

American Crisis

By Guest Blogger — February 12, 2014 3 min read
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Note: Last week and this week RHSU is featuring guest bloggers from the National Network of State Teachers of the Year. For more on NNSTOY, check them out here. Today’s post is from Joe Fatheree. Joe is an instructor of technology for the nationally recognized multimedia program at Effingham High School in Effingham, IL, and was Illinois teacher of the year in 2007.

“These are the times that try men’s souls,” are words that were penned by Thomas Paine as he tried desperately to revive the spirit of a nation and the men serving in the Continental Army in 1776. The blunt honesty of that opening line painted a realistic picture of the political landscape of his time. The country was still in the early stages of the revolution. Questions and doubt hid behind every door. Morale was at an all-time low. Opinions varied as support for the war flickered like a candle in the night. The entire world watched as the idea that “all men were created equal” dangled precariously like the Sword of Damocles. Kings, despots, and tyrants hoped that it would fall. The commoner, on the other hand, prayed with all his might that the voice of liberty would not be silenced. The colonists needed a leader to rally the people. That man was Thomas Paine. He published thirteen articles known as The American Crisis from 1776-1783. Paine used his pen to inspire a nation to fight at all costs to defend the idea of freedom. He believed the concept that all men should enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness was so fundamental that he signed the articles Common Sense. John Adams said of Thomas Paine, “Without the pen of the author of Common Sense, the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain.”

The Sword of Damocles has once again been raised. Unfortunately, today it hangs over the head of the American teacher. For many educators, these are the times that try men’s souls. Teachers are not only faced with the challenges of implementing new learning standards and evaluation models, but must also take care of the physical and emotional needs of every student under their watch. Today’s teacher is required to have a detailed understanding of the Common Core State Standards and the Danielson Framework for Teachers, create differentiated lessons to meet the needs of diverse learners and establish open lines of communications with parents and community leaders, capture and interpret data streams that actively measure student growth over time, have the ability to recognize deficiencies and immediately create and implement strategies for correction, provide remediation, encourage collaboration, promote creativity, build enrichment activities for the gifted, understand changes in school law, implement multiple forms of technology into the curriculum, understand and ensure that multiple IEP’s are followed to the letter, and establish an effective discipline policy that promotes respect but does not curb individuality among many other duties that change on an almost daily basis. All of this is done under the ever-growing threat of shrinking budgets, layoffs, and the loss of retirement benefits. Teachers also face the all-real danger of protecting the nation’s children during natural disasters and school shootings. It’s hard to be a teacher in today’s world. They live in a land of broken promises and moving targets. Morale is at an all-time low, and yet it is a time when our students need us the most.

So what do can teachers about it? I think the answer can be found in the writings of Thomas Paine. He wrote:

The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.

In essence, he was challenging the citizens of the countryside and the soldiers of the Continental Army to stand up and be counted. As teachers we must do the same. I would like to encourage teachers to get involved. Here are some ways to do so.

1. Become an active voice in your building. Schedule a meeting with your building principal and discuss ways that you can be involved in the school improvement process.
2. Invite parents, community members, and the press into your classroom as often as possible. This really helps strengthen the bond between the parents and the teacher. It is also a great way to celebrate academic achievement and showcase the work your students are doing.
3. Join an online community of professional educators and get involved in the discussion. There are a myriad of different platforms that are filled with information that ranges from educational policy to technology integration.
4. Contact your elected officials and let them know how you feel about policy at the state and national levels. They need to hear your voice, and know how policy is impacting your students.

Teachers, America needs you now more than ever before. They need to hear the sound of your voices advocating for their children.

--Joe Fatheree

The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.