by Colleen Flaherty
The election may be over, but education activists are still pulling together to fight for students across the country. Alexis Ploss is an activist and a college sophomore in New Hampshire, where she is studying to become a science teacher.
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“It’s so important to be an activist because you can’t just sit there and expect change,” said Ploss. “Even though it isn’t an election year, I’m still doing my part.”
According to a survey of more than 1,500 future educators and student activists, there are several social justice issues weighing on them this year, including the DREAM Act, student debt and the achievement gap between high and low income students. However, the issue rated with the highest importance was working to ensure student safety in public schools.
David Tjaden is a recent graduate of the University of Iowa and the chair of the National Education Association Student Program, an organization of more than 60,000 future educators across the country. He said he wasn’t surprised by the results.
“On the survey, keeping kids safe in schools was clearly the number one issue. I think it reinforces the fact that our members are very much driven by wanting what’s best for the students they’ll be teaching some day,” said Tjaden.
This issue is particularly important to Ploss, who, in addition to being a future educator, volunteers her time at a nonprofit that is pushing for violence prevention education.
“I’ve been a very big supporter for students feeling safe in schools,” said Ploss.
Ploss remembers her time in school and how she strived to be an ally to her friends who were victims of bullying. As an educator, she hopes to do the same.
One of the biggest issues is that students don’t feel like they can report bullying. I think it’s important to create a connection with your students so that you can create a safe space. That way, students can get the help they need, said Ploss.
The second most important issue to the students surveyed was the alarming rise in student debt. According to an analysis by Fair Isaac (FICO), the average student debt load has grown 58 percent from 2005 to 2012, from $17,233 to $27,253. New Hampshire – where Ploss is studying – is number one in the nation for student debt, with an average of $32,400 per university graduate, according to the Project on Student Debt.
Ploss and other student activists are trying to raise awareness about what this amount of unsustainable debt means, especially for the teaching profession. Ploss thinks it’s important that those who want to become teachers aren’t held back by tuition costs.
You have a degree, you can do anything with it, but personally and with other people I’ve met who are planning to become teachers, they’re so passionate about it that that’s really all they want to do with their career. That’s their end goal. They want to become a teacher. They want to inspire students. I know that’s going to create some phenomenal teachers, but because of debt it’s getting more and more difficult.
People can get other jobs and pay down their debt, but it’s not the same as being in a job that you truly love, and I feel like that’s one of the biggest problem with the student debt crisis.
Even in the face of debt and uncertainty in teaching, Ploss and her fellow activists continue to work hard to raise awareness and promote positive change.
“It’s especially important for us to get involved,” said Ploss. “Politics controls everything that happens within schools. If you see something’s not working, you need to make that change for you and especially for the kids who will be in your classroom.”
Ploss remains hopeful for the future and hopes that other aspiring teachers do the same.
“I would like to encourage anyone who is getting their teaching degree to not to give up. It is going to get better. There are really great people out there working hard to make sure that it does. They are truly inspiring people, and I know that their passion and hard work is going to make great things happen in education. There is something to look forward to.”