Equity & Diversity Opinion

It’s Time for Teachers to Make Some Waves

March 02, 2017 3 min read

By Monica Washington

No one ever said being a teacher would be easy. I do remember being told that when the waters got rough, I should not speak up or speak out. Instead, I should hang on (in the background), stay out of school business, and just worry about the students in my classroom. “Keep a low profile,” they said. “You can’t change it anyway.”

This is the culture of our schools. Teachers: learn not to make waves; get used to limited resources and constant change. Brace yourselves for reading a school narrative written by people who haven’t visited a classroom since they were students themselves. Get used to it and be silent.

In years past, it has been easier for teachers to fade into the background, to withhold opinions, to keep still. Over the past 19 years, close colleagues told me they held on by only worrying about that day, that lesson, and those students in their charge. While I understand this survival instinct, our profession is at a turning point. We can no longer afford the luxury of caring only about what happens in our classroom.

This school year is different. Teacher leaders must advocate now more than ever. We have to think outside of our walls.

All over the country legislation is being proposed that will adversely affect educators and students. In Texas, for instance, schools will soon be rated with the A-F grading system. This will cause the most qualified teachers to avoid “F” schools, continuing the cycle of filling the most disadvantaged schools with educators who are still learning their craft. Educators find themselves in states where payroll deductions for membership in professional organizations has been banned. Legislation has been proposed in the U.S. House of Representatives that would divert much needed public education funds to private schools through vouchers. States are shifting standards and districts are adding new initiatives before the ink dries on yesterday’s new initiatives. To put it bluntly, this school year, despite our best efforts, has left teacher leaders weary.

And yet, despite the mounting setbacks, some encouraging signs have appeared. Educators who were once silent have begun to speak. They write. They call legislators. They are reading and becoming more informed. These reluctant leaders are taking action in small but meaningful ways. Colleagues ask me about journals or websites to help them simplify big issues.

The fact that educators, who have worked for years under the culture of silence, have recently become engaged has given me renewed hope. Teachers recognize that their training and expertise grants them not only the authority--but the responsibility--to speak out on behalf of their students and the profession.

Teacher leadership begins with learning. Those of us who are ready to learn to break the code of silence must begin by becoming more informed. Read up on House Bill #610, innocuously named the “Choices in Education Act.”

To those not new to leadership, those who stopped following the culture of silence long ago, please know that although we may grow weary in this work at times, our reluctant leaders are watching to see how true leadership is done. Let’s take a deep breath and show them the power of their voices. Invite them to join professional organizations. Let them know what newsletters and blogs you find useful. Remind them to vote for legislators who make public education a priority.

To those who stepped into the world of educational advocacy for the first time this school year, please don’t go back to your seat on the comfortable side of the boat. Some of us have to steer. Some of us have to paddle against the current. When necessary, some of us have to stand together and rock the whole boat. To get anywhere this year and in the coming years, we’re going to have to make a few waves.

Monica Washington is the 2014 Texas Teacher of the Year. She teaches English in Texarkana Texas.

Source: Image by Pixabay under license from Creative Commons.

Related Tags:

The opinions expressed in Teacher-Leader Voices 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.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Equity, Care and Connection: New SEL Tools and Practices to Support Students and Adults
As school districts plan to welcome students back into buildings for the upcoming school year, this is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and our systems to build a
Content provided by Panorama Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Classroom Technology Webinar
Here to Stay – Pandemic Lessons for EdTech in Future Development
What technology is needed in a post pandemic district? Learn how changes in education will impact development of new technologies.
Content provided by AWS
School & District Management Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Strategies & Tips for Complex Decision-Making
Schools are working through the most disruptive period in the history of modern education, facing a pandemic, economic problems, social justice issues, and rapid technological change all at once. But even after the pandemic ends,

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Equity & Diversity Why Two Superintendents of Mostly White Districts Are Actively Fighting Anti-Black Racism
Predominantly white school districts across the country have started addressing systemic racism in the classroom, but not every district is doing it, and those who are brace for backlash.
5 min read
Outdoor education teacher Mark Savage challenges his students with a game in class at Brewer High School in Brewer, Maine on April 30, 2021.
Outdoor education teacher Mark Savage challenges his students with a game in class at Brewer High School in Brewer, Maine in April.
Linda Coan O’Kresik for Education Week
Equity & Diversity What Black Men Need From Schools to Stay in the Teaching Profession
Only 2 percent of teachers are Black men. Three Black male educators share their views on what's behind the statistic.
Equity & Diversity Opinion Researchers Agree the Pandemic Will Worsen Testing Gaps. But How Much?
Without substantial investment in their learning, the life chances of children from low-income families are threatened.
Drew H. Bailey, Greg J. Duncan, Richard J. Murnane & Natalie Au Yeung
4 min read
a boy trying to stop domino effect provoked by coronavirus pandemic
Feodora Chiosea/iStock/Getty Images
Equity & Diversity Opinion The Chauvin Verdict Is in. Now What?
Justice has been served in the murder of George Floyd, but educators must recommit to the fight for racial equity, writes Tyrone C. Howard.

Tyrone C. Howard
4 min read
People gather at Cup Foods after a guilty verdict was announced at the trial of former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin for the 2020 death of George Floyd, on April 20, 2021, in Minneapolis, Minn. Former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin has been convicted of murder and manslaughter in the death of Floyd.
Following the announcement of the guilty verdicts in the George Floyd murder trial this week, people gather outside Cup Foods in Minneapolis.<br/>
Morry Gash/AP