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Millennial educators Arun Puracken (pictured above, left) and Yan Yii (right) may be young and shiny but they’re already savvy political campaigners. NEA EdJustice caught up with them this week fresh from their mock campaign wins as NEA President and Executive Committee member at NEA’s minority and women’s leadership training. They told us they were there to gain the experience and skills they’ll need for the challenges ahead. Here’s what they had to say about public education, power brokers, and political nominee Betsy DeVos.
Do you have an urgent message for your fellow educators in the current political climate?
Yan: Everyone needs to speak up—to take action and not be complacent. We cannot remain silent on the issues that matter, like education, constitutional rights, women’s rights, and health care. If you haven’t already, check out Lily Eskelsen Garcia’s blog to stay up to date on issues affecting our students.
Arun: And don’t forget to stay active in your local school board races—campaign, knock on doors, volunteer, just get out there.
As early career educators, how do you feel about the prospect of Betsy DeVos as your Secretary of Education?
Arun: When this election campaign started, it was like “Must See TV.” Now it’s real. We need a strong Association and confident educators to stand up to people like Betsy DeVos want to dismantle our public education system.
What’s the most recent social justice issue that’s moved you to action?
Yan: The Muslim ban. We are a country built on people being able to escape persecution. It concerns me that we are potentially repeating history and not learning from it. The Muslim registry idea is so reminiscent of the Holocaust, I wonder how long it will be until we are repeating the Japanese internment camps. How can we allow the actions of a few to justify labeling an entire group of people?
Name three top needs for today’s students and school communities.
Arun: Equitable opportunities and resources—I don’t understand why one public school wouldn’t have the same basic fundamental necessities as another public school. Also effective instruction for a modern age—we’ve got to figure out how to reach and teach our students in 2017. And cultural responsiveness—you don’t have to grow up in the community in which you’re teaching to be an effective educator. You just have to believe your students want to learn and be willing to alter your instruction to meet them where they are.
What would you like to say to all the decision makers who impact public education?
Yan: Please take a minute to think about the students. So much of education has come down to money and business people have forgotten that education is supposed to be about ensuring individual students get what they need.
Arun: The answers are in the classroom—they have to listen to educators, not just to themselves. There are great teachers everywhere you go. I don’t care if you’re going into the most challenging communities, you’ll see teachers who leave their blood, sweat, and tears in the classroom. They’re there for the right reasons, and they need your support.
Arun Puracken is a middle school social studies teacher in Prince George’s County, Maryland, and chair of his school’s social studies department. Yan Yii is an elementary school teacher in Canton, Massachusetts, and chair of her state association’s ethnic minority affairs committee.