Teaching Profession

What the Nation’s Best Teachers Are Saying About U.S. Child Detention Policies

By Liana Loewus — February 22, 2019 4 min read
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By Kavitha Cardoza

I was in El Paso to cover a teach-in organized by “Teachers Against Child Detention.” It’s a group started by Mandy Manning, the 2018 National Teacher of the Year, who said she was “appalled” by the Trump administration’s practice of separating and detaining children for months away from their parents. She organized this event in west Texas, and hundreds of teachers from all over the country showed up in support, including a contingent that traveled from Alaska 3,000 miles away. John King, former U.S. secretary of education, and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, spoke out in support. So did several state teachers of the year.

Here’s what 10 of these award-winning teachers had to say:

Mandy Manning

Teaches high school English-learners

2018 National Teacher of the Year (and Washington Teacher of the Year)

“Child detention is not new. We did it to Native Americans, to Africans, we enslaved them, we did this to the Japanese. This is not something new, but it’s time we learn this lesson and stopped doing this.”

“How we are dealing with immigration right now is abusive. We’re taking children and we are putting them into facilities and incarcerating them, simply because they were born outside the United States. That’s a form of abuse and it’s time for educators to stand up and demand that these kids not be in cages, but in our classrooms.”

Michelle Cottrell-Williams

Teaches high school social studies

Virginia Teacher of the Year

“I have a number of students who have spent time in detention centers and so mostly I am here for them today so that they know that there are good people in this country that believe that they deserve the same access to education and human rights and to be with their families, just as any other child, no matter where they were born.”

Jinni Forcucci

Teaches high school English

Delaware Teacher of the Year

“I feel like a lot of times when teachers stand up for this, there are other people in our communities, even other staff who judge and even outwardly ridicule. And to be at an event like this where everyone has a common goal to love children, it’s refreshing and it gives me hope.”

“Some of my immigrant students have been taught to not share their stories, so they internalize their trauma. They’re taught to not tell their white teachers what they’re going through. I teach creative writing, and a lot of times after working really hard to develop relationships of trust, my students will tell their stories. I’m a better human because of my students.”

Josh Meibos

Teaches elementary school physical education

Arizona Teacher of the Year

“Right now, what we’re really focusing on is training teachers to have the tools to recognize the trauma that these students are having, but then giving us the resources and tools to help them. Teaching these kids how to articulate and have a language to understand what they’re feeling and the emotions and then how to deal with that.”

“One of the biggest takeaways for me is that I’m learning that there are resources out there. Sometimes it can be a little lonesome in the classroom, when it’s just you and those four walls, and you don’t realize there are organizations out there to support you.”

Ivonne Orozco

Teaches high school Spanish

New Mexico Teacher of the Year

“I’m from Mexico. I actually came to the United States when I was 12 years old, undocumented. Because of [the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program], I was able to work as a teacher. I am now the 2018 New Mexico Teacher of the Year. When we have these policies of incarcerating children, we are taking away that potential. We are taking away that future that they can have.”

“Education is so much more than content. We are teaching children to be productive citizens of the world, especially now that we are so closely connected. So it can’t just be about content anymore. It has to be about all the relevant things that are going on in the world right now.”

Ben Walker

Teaches middle school science

Alaska Teacher of the Year

“Alaska is a very conservative state, but we have a lot of people that support this cause. I don’t think this is a liberal-conservative issue, it’s just a human issue. I’m more than willing to stand up for these kids.”

Michael Soskil

Teaches elementary school science and math

Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year

“What happens in one area of the country impacts us all. Even though in my rural community, I may not necessarily see these problems manifest, they still belong to us as Americans. As an American teacher, it’s my job to protect children. I am a mandated reporter of child abuse. I cannot sit by and not use my voice when I see children are suffering.

Sarahi Monterrey

Teaches high school English learners

Wisconsin Teacher of the Year

“I can tell when students are sad. They might say they have a headache or feel anxious. There’s a lot of fear. I tell students all the time, ‘Let me know if I need to get you water, if you need a break.’ And it’s very hard because even as an educator, it’s hard to find the right words of what to say because sometimes I do feel helpless.”

Tara Bordeaux

Teaches high school cinema and media arts

Texas Teacher of the Year

“This is very personal to my students. It’s personal to me. As a teacher, it’s my job to see that I support them, every student, no matter who they are or where they come from. My viewpoints aren’t exactly what the rest of the state see, but I also hope that by being someone who is able to walk into a room and listen and respect the voice of conservative teachers who are working around me, they can listen to me as well and we can find common ground.”

Paul Howard

Teaches middle school history

District of Columbia Teacher of the Year

“I teach a large population of immigrant students. And they do not have a voice and the power to advocate for themselves. And it’s my duty to them to try and use my platform to advocate for their rights.”

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