by Félix Pérez; image courtesy of Jim Strickland
If you’re like most educators, your mind is busy transitioning to the beginning of the new school year — from organizing your classroom and planning new lessons to getting to know your students and keeping current on school policies, education news and issues. The last thing on your mind are elections that are 91 days away, even if it is the presidential election.
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But those who demean educators and would dismantle public education are always busy at work. That’s why it’s essential for educators, parents and supporters of public education to stay informed and engaged.
The excerpt below is from a 2016 tele-town hall with thousands of educators and Lily Eskelsen García, a Utah teacher who is also president of the National Education Association. Her thoughts about the importance of educators making their voices heard in elections are as relevant today as they were then, perhaps more so.
Educator: Is now too early to start thinking about the next president?
Eskelsen García: One of them is going to win, and right now we’re not sure who that’s going to be. Usually folks aren’t thinking about a presidential election until a week or two before…. A lot of people don’t think of politics when they think of a high class size, or more test prep, or somebody that wants to destroy their retirement plan or Social Security, but the people who are elected make those decisions and that’s why I’m encouraging educators to make their voice heard starting today.
Educator: What are some ways I can go about taking action to shape the issues of the 2016 presidential campaign?
Eskelsen García: Go to Education Votes, take a look at how you can sign up to get alerts, send letters to Congress, and find out if there’s an event or rally in your area. You can also write letters to the editor, show up at rallies, and go door-to-door educating your neighbors about the issues.
Educator: How can educators go about getting the conversation going?
Eskelsen García: You can begin with your circle of influence, your colleagues around the lunch table, by saying, ‘Do you realize that almost everything about our school, some politician – whether that was your elected school board, a governor or state legislature, the president of the United States, a Senator or Congressman – someone is in charge of making some major decisions?’
And a lot of these major decisions are around funding or testing, and how those test scores are going to be used in something they call “accountability” – which usually means which teachers to blame, how to label a school, or how to punish a child who didn’t have a good score on a standardized test.
That’s why it’s so important to discuss these things and to care about who’s elected. We’re never going to agree with 100 percent of what any candidate says, but what we need to do is to say this decision is crucial to what it means to teach and what it means to learn.
Educator: Is it important for students that educators get involved and speak up now?
Eskelsen García: We can’t do everything but we can do something. Don’t let anything stop you from doing something. We don’t have anyone who’s super rich working in an American public school, college, or university; what we have are millions of good-hearted people who can take the passion in their voice and who can put it to work for their students.
BONUS: If you are an NEA member and are ready to make a difference, visit StrongPublicSchools.org. You can create an account and learn how you can take action from your home or wherever you have a computer and a phone — by yourself, with your friends or colleagues.