David Tjaden (pictured above) is chairperson of the National Education Association-Student Program, which consists of over 60,000 future educators. He is on the 2013 list of “Forbes: 30 Under 30” in the category of education. Follow him on Twitter @TJADEN2012 and follow the NEA-Student Program @NEAStudents.
As chairperson of the National Education Association Student Program, I have the best job in the world: representing 60,000 college students and future educators—men and women who are some of the most altruistic and inspiring people in the country.
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Most of us are going into teaching for one reason: to be that one astounding teacher who makes a real difference in the lives of each of our students. We want to spend our careers inspiring our students to pursue their passions and challenging them to think critically. Unfortunately, our generation of educators is also faced with challenge.
Somewhere between volunteering to supervise yet another extra-curricular activity and staying up until 2 a.m. writing lesson plans, public school teachers—those who are most qualified to speak to the art and science of teaching—have lost their voice. Maybe it happened when corporate reformers realized that there is a mountain of education tax dollars out there up for grabs. Maybe it was when billionaires recognized that they can make a quick buck from privatizing a public service. Or, maybe it was when these same corporate players set out to convince parents that they have the best interests of children in mind—not us greedy, thug teachers. Whatever the case, while teachers have been investing every ounce of energy to help students achieve at their highest levels, corporate reformers have hijacked the conversation about public education and our profession.
So our generation—this new generation of educators—has a choice.
We can be the teachers who stay up at night stressing over bubble sheet scores. And we can hope our students have successfully met some arbitrary algorithm that now defines our teaching. We can do this while praying that our school doesn’t take the advice of some “consultant” to close us, then open a charter school staffed only by hotshot Ivy League grads with five weeks of training who want a life-changing experience and a shiny star on their résumé.
Or… Or… We can be the generation of teachers who reclaim the discussion about our profession and the students we teach. We can be the educators that acknowledge that great teaching is more than being the content expert, the pedagogical master, and the classroom management wizard. We can be the ones who understand that in today’s world, great teaching also means advocating for our students, and being activists for our peers and our profession. For us, the definition of “great teacher” requires that we are influential inside and outside our classrooms’ four walls.
We are a generation of educators who must stand collectively together and loudly proclaim that every child deserves to have a quality teacher who has gone through a rigorous teacher preparation program. We must stand with community leaders and parents to say “yes” to great public schools in every neighborhood and “yes” to a well-rounded education that includes history, music, and art. We stand for giving teachers the tools they need to help every child succeed—no matter their background.
But we also stand up and advocate for things that happen beyond the four walls of our schools. This year, I witnessed hundreds of our members fight for a fair deal as Congress negotiated a bill determining student loan interest rates. The cost of college is increasing at unprecedented rates and public funding for higher education is being cut. At the same time, the federal government raked in more than $40 billion from students paying student loan interest. And that’s just this year alone. This issue is important to us as future educators because we want the best and brightest college students in the country to join us in our teacher preparation programs. But we know it’s difficult to recruit those students into such a humbly paid profession when they are going to be graduating tens of thousands of dollars in debt. As a future teacher, the last thing I want to see is one of my students putting aside a college acceptance letter because they know they cannot afford to be shackled by student loan debt for the rest of their lives.
These are the issues that motivate us and the change we want to create. But we need your help. These conversations must be fueled by students, parents, and communities. We must all make it a priority to be outspoken advocates for our neighborhood schools and the teachers and education support professionals who dedicate their lives to their students. It is a mountain of money and influence we are up against, but I assure you that our collective voices will win the day.
Help us be the new generation of educators and education leaders. Join us as we raise our hands to advocate for our teachers and students, to reclaim our profession and the education reform debate, and to teach a new generation students who are creative, critical thinkers and leaders, not standardized test-taking zombies exploited by corporate reformers.
Find out more and get involved in the Our Schools Day of Action at EducationVotes.org/OurSchools.