Thousands of Educators Gather for Save Our Schools March


By Rebecca Bright

WASHINGTON — Educators and concerned citizens from across the country gathered on the White House Ellipse Saturday to urge national leaders to focus on education reform that provides a high-quality education for every student.

The culmination of a week of conferences, Saturday’s Save Our Schools March included speakers such as Jonathan Kozol, an educator and author, and actor and philanthropist Matt Damon — whose mother was a teacher — taking the stage to share their commitment to public education. Despite blazing heat, participants finished the event with a march around the White House.

NEA members bused, drove, flew, or took trains from every part of the country to show solidarity with fellow educators and declare their dedication to fully-funded, world-class education system for all students in the United States.

The youngest generation of teachers was well-represented Saturday in student leaders. NEA Student Program President Tommie Leaders exhorted the crowd of public education supporters to take concrete actions to make a difference.

“Now is the time to call, email, tweet, Facebook your member of Congress and tell them that what works in Washington does not always work in our classrooms,” said Leaders, who was introduced by NEA Vice-president Lily Eskelsen. “We cannot test, label and punish our way to a better public education. We need to work together to give all of our students the foundation and the resources they need to succeed.”

Fellow NEA Student Program major Heather Keith, an elementary education major at Indiana State University who serves as president of the Indiana Student Education Association. Keith felt that the march was a good opportunity for her, and the three other student leaders attending from ISU, to become active in their profession on a national level.

“It’s important that we stand together and unite to show everyone that public education is here to stay,” she said. “We all need to become involved as students, so that we’re informed and fired up early on, and start out being active in our profession.”

Patrick White, a Language Arts Education major at Hastings College in Hastings, Neb., and the president of the Student Education Association of Nebraska, echoed White’s passion for student involvement in the education profession. He hoped that student participation in the SOS March will make an impact on an older generation of educators.

“It sends the right message to parents and grandparents and mentors: you don’t have to worry about us so much anymore. We can handle our own futures,” he said. “If we show volunteerism and a drive to help others, then it takes a load off of the older generation.”

White believes that the most important message from the march is directed outside of the education community, however: education is important, so “stop cutting our funding.”

“It’s important that nationally, people know about what we’re doing as educators. I always try to spread the message that education doesn’t just affect students, teachers, and parents; even if you don’t have a kid in school, education affects us all,” he said. “If we don’t have students who are well educated, our economy can’t continue. Jobs that require a high level of education won’t be filled. I think people forget that sometimes.”

Although she lives across the country, Juliana Dauble, a fifth-grade teacher from Renton, Wash., didn’t hesitate to make the trip.

“It’s a rally that I don’t feel I could miss,” she said. “We have to make our voices heard because policymakers who aren’t involved in schools are making decisions that negatively impact our kids.”

Dauble is one of around twenty educators from Washington state who have come to the nation’s capital this weekend. Like Keith and White, she hopes the march will spread a message of strength and counter negative portrayals of teachers that have proliferated in the media this year. Beyond this political significance, Dauble believes the march brought a personal benefit, as well.

“Having teachers, support professionals, and other educators come together can be a type of therapeutic healing for us,” she said. “We’ve been taking so many hits in the public lately, and have been blamed for many ills, being physically present is a good way to realize that we do have the power we’ve forgotten we had.”

Many educators coming to the SOS March echoed Dauble’s concern for the way educators have been portrayed by media and politicians. Lee Dorman, a seventh-grade science teacher who has been teaching in Virginia schools for 40 years, is fed up with the way teachers have become a “big bad wolf” in the debate over education reform.

“Most of us are so unhappy about the publicity surrounding teaching profession in general, and teachers in specific. Sometimes it feels like we’ve been beaten over the head with a big bat,” she said. “I feel very strongly that the bashing educators have taken is unfair.”

The solution to pervasive negativity about teachers? Communication and solidarity within the education community, said Dorman.

“I think we need to bring publicity to the fact that schools do a wonderful job. Yes, there are problems, but we’re trying to address those,” she said. “We do wonderful work—look at all of the amazing women and men who teach, the custodians, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, every single one is a part of the education system. We take strength from one another.”

View Leaders’ remarks:

Photo: Patrick G. Ryan/NEA

Reader Comments

  1. I want to thank Matt Damon from the bottom of my heart for the extraordinary gift of his support for public school teachers. I am a first-grade, public school teacher at a rural county school in Florida. Every teacher I know is devoted to making a positive impact on the lives of children. The teachers I know work long and hard hours at school and at home, always going above and beyond to be the best they can be for the sake of the children. The attacks and criticisms that have been lodged against public school teachers have broken my heart. I hope that with the help of generous public faces such as Matt and the collective power of teachers and supporters we can save our schools and our children from the grave harm that threatens what is left of our public school system.

  2. The rally for Public Education in Sacramento, Ca. was a great success. A great job by the Student California Teachers Association. I, along with a number of retired CTA members were there to give support.

    1. I am so very happy that we, as educators, have finally found a voice. For too long we have sat back and just listened to politicians, the various news media, etc bash us. We have for too long let politicians make decisions about education, those who know nothing about public education. They just sit behind a desk and think up something that sounds good to them. Every politican ,while campaigning, talks about how important education is. However, after they get in office, nothing is done.

  3. I was among the thousands of educators, parents, and supporters of true educational practices who traveled to Washington, DC for the Save Our Schools rally. I am a long-time teacher of the deaf in RI, and I have made the painful decision to retire rather than subject myself to the irrational demands that our Commissioner of Education and the federal Dept. of Education are placing on our school, which was labled one of five “Persistently Lowest Achieving” schools in the state. Attending the rally was an inspiring experience–hearing one articulate and knowledgeable speaker after another explain why the current “education reform” regime of test and punish is not only ineffective and expensive, but also damaging to the teaching-learning process. I am disappointed that NEARI did not promote attendance at this rally and march more forcefully. I am also disappointed that this article mentions student activists and Matt Damon, but gives only brief mention to Jonathan Kozol, and fails to mention the many other education heroes like Diane Ravitch, Deb Maier, and Pedro Noguera who made outstanding speeches during the rally. We need to spearhead a powerful movement toward truth in advertising–who really profits from so-called education reform, like RttT? Who will educate the truly neediest students when teachers are terminated every few years because of low scores on standardized tests, which in no way measure the true learning and growth of so many of our students? It is not too farfetched to say that not only is our system of public education at stake, but that our democracy is at stake also.

  4. I’m tired of teachers and schools being blamed for the educational problems. Where is the responsibility of students and their parents? Our whole culture is a mess, with less emphasis on education and more on entertainment. Parents don’t support the teachers and education as they did when I was a youngster. If we got in trouble at school, we were in more trouble at home. Nowadays, when a child gets in trouble at school, the parent calls the teacher and “chews them out.”

    Kids spend more time on the cell phone or on video games than they do reading and doing homework. You can’t make a child learn and you can’t make a child care. Yet, teachers and schools get the blame for poor scores. There is such a thing as the “bell curve.” Not everyone is capable of the same learning. “No Child Left Behind” does not take that into account. Never will “All Children Wil…..l” happen!

  5. The upmost important thing is to tackle teachers union. Only if teachers union is resolved, our students and education will have hope and future. Teachers get automatically raise when they no longer paying union dues. Bad teachers can be eliminated when union is ot there to make this difficult. Student can learn more when union is no longer detecting the school hours. Only when the union culture dissolved, our education will have a hope.

    1. That is but one side of the coin! Just as bad teachers are protected by the union, so are good teachers protected so that an administrator or school board may unjustifiably remove teachers. It is always to see one side without knowing the other side.

      Second point–I am a teacher and I wonder if most people who do not teach ever walk the walk of a teacher or even spend time listening to what is really happening in some schools. It is easy to view life from the outside than go in and volunteer and see what teachers really go through.

      Third point–the major problem with schools is not because of the unions but on this emphasis of blaming teachers for everything under the sun in spite of the fact that many teacher are now being asked to be psychologist (for the children with emotional /behavioral problems), police (for the disruptive and disrespectful behaviors happening in many classrooms), parent (for those students who are not receiving the support and guidance they need). And yet many think we are getting paid too much!

      I could go on and on but many like yourself will continue to blame either the unions or teachers themselves because you are not willing to walk the walk with teachers or spend time listening to them. And to clarify the point–yes there are bad teachers but so are there bad doctors, bad lawyers, bad police–so on and so forth but only teachers are being blamed for everything under the sun.

      I commend Matt Damon for what he said because he understands that it is not easy to be a teacher today because everybody thinks that just because they went to school they can tell teachers how to do their jobs. I wonder what would happen if teachers began to turn around and tell lawyers or doctors how to do their jobs, what would that be like.

      1. Jane,

        I read your comment. I’m with you! I have been a teacher for over 20 years.
        First of all the district I work for is horrible. Their latest endeavor is to have extended school days from 7:30 AM to 3:45 Pm. They believe an extra hour and a hald a day will make the students better.
        Secondly there is no parent input and we(teachers) are blamed for everything!
        Thirdly I’d love to get out of my district but there’s no where to go and I have three children, husband, house, etc. I’m sure you know what I’m talking aboput.
        Lastly New Jersey’s governor is totallt against tachers! We have lost our bargaining rights, our pension is being attacked, and we now have to pay into our health care. All because of him.

        I can’t wait till I can retire.
        Sorry…. It felt good to vent.

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