Teaching Profession

National Teacher of the Year—a ‘Hero’ of Bill Gates—Calls on Teachers to Be Activists

By Sarah Schwartz — August 22, 2018 2 min read
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Teachers should take an active role in creating education policy and get involved in local debates, says Mandy Manning, the 2018 National Teacher of the Year.

In an essay for Bill Gates’ blog, Gates Notes, Manning says that teachers should closely follow policy debates. “Know how federal and state policies impact your classroom, school, and community, and take an active role in implementing those policies,” she writes. “Policymakers, please invite teachers in. Seek their input.”

Manning’s essay comes after Gates recognized her this week as one of his “Heroes in the Field:" educators, activists, and others who “quietly do the work of making the world better without fame or recognition.” Gates singled Manning out for her work teaching newly arrived refugee and immigrant students in Spokane, Wash.

She writes that she was first inspired to take part in activism outside the classroom early in her career teaching in Bronx, N.Y., after seeing the way public institutions—including schools—didn’t serve the needs of her students of color.

Now, after visiting schools across the country in her role as National Teacher of the Year, Manning says she’s seen too many “rigid educational systems” that prioritize standardized instruction and don’t allow for the individual needs of students.

“That’s why educators need to be engaged in making policy—not just at the federal and state level, but at the local level too,” writes Manning. “Local rules generally dictate what actually occurs in our classrooms, and in my experience, it’s also where educators are most often left out.”

Manning’s comments on teacher political activism come at the same time as a wave of teachers are running for office across the country—including one former National Teacher of the Year. Jahana Hayes, who was awarded the recognition in 2016, recently won the Democratic primary for an open seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in Connecticut’s 5th district.

An advocate for refugee and immigrant students, Manning has said that in the current political climate, all teachers have an obligation to make students feel supported, regardless of their background.

She reiterated that message in a conversation with Gates, in a video for his blog.

“To come to a new place, and to be welcomed with open arms, and to know that people want you there—that is going to make a tremendous difference in how they interact in their new community, how they acclimate, how they move forward in life,” said Manning.

Gates’ list of “Heroes in the Field” includes one other teacher: Camille Jones, the 2017 teacher of the year for the state of Washington, where Microsoft is headquartered.

Watch the video and read Gates’ interview with Manning here.

Photo: President Donald Trump, right, and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos acknowledge Mandy Manning, a teacher at the Newcomer Center at Joel E. Ferris High School in Spokane, Wash., during the National Teacher of the Year reception at the White House in May.—Carolyn Kaster/AP-File

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