Teaching Profession

2012’s Educators of the Year

By Liana Loewus — December 31, 2012 1 min read
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Michael Petrilli of the conservative-leaning Thomas B. Fordham Institute dubs Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, the “2012 Education Person of the Year.” Needless to say, his intention wasn’t flattery. But he does make a pretty good case for her influence in the ed realm.

Lewis has been at the center of education-policy battles this year, railing against the mayor’s efforts to lengthen the school day and later leading her members into the first teacher strike in Chicago since 1987. Just last week she filed a lawsuit against Chicago Public Schools charging that recent “turnaround” efforts have disproportionately affected African-Americans. Petrilli writes that, because of Lewis, “we should expect a more strident unionism, especially in the cities, in the years to come.”

(Petrilli also points to some inflammatory remarks Lewis—whom he calls the “Anti-Ed-Reform Idol"—made on Diane Ravitch’s blog after the tragedy in Newtown, Conn. But Lewis’ way with incendiary words is hardly news, or evidence of her impact.)

However, as I look back on the last 12 months, I can’t help but think Petrilli got it wrong. In 2012, the Education Person of the Year gave her life for her students. She is Victoria Soto. And she is Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, Mary Sherlach, Lauren Rousseau, Anne Marie Murphy, Rachel DaVino.

If former National Teacher of the Year Anthony Mullen has it right, the Newtown educators, by acting so selflessly and courageously, will change how this country thinks of teachers—and in a way that far surpasses the reform vs. union debate. I’m pretty certain there’s no greater impact an “education person” could make.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.