by Félix Pérez
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
– Margaret Mead
When it comes to advocating for what our students and schools need and making sure the voice of educators is included in decisions that affect our classrooms, now, more than ever, it’s no longer enough to assume someone else will step up. We are the experts. We know what our students need. We are trusted members of our community. People listen when we speak.
Michigan education support professional Robert Gaines III puts it this way:
Public education is under attack in states across the country. We need political action. No matter what side of the aisle you’re on, as educators, our focus has to be on supporting students, teachers, and education support professionals. Being involved in advocacy and political action is a good way to do that.
So even with all the responsibilities you have, the question, more urgent than ever, is, ‘How can I, one person, make a difference or find the time?’ Perhaps the question should be, ‘Can I afford not to act?’ For deciding not to act or not finding the time results in the kinds of blatant disregard of student needs, dismantling of public education, and de-professionalization of the teaching profession that have become all too commonplace.
Here, then, are five ways you can stand up for your students, yourself, for public schools:
- Find your passion. Is it childhood poverty? School funding? The corporatization of public education? The overuse of standardized tests? The lack of charter school accountability? Time spent on test preparation and test-taking? Electing candidates who support public education? It’s people with passion who have the power to change the world for the better.
- Get informed. Sometimes challenges seem so big, we don’t know where to begin. Start by finding out about existing efforts and consider how you’ll join in. Whom can you contact? What can you learn? What can you do? What is the time commitment? Ed Votes is a good point of entry; sign up for the Ed Votes weekly email updates. State and local education association websites are also ideal places to begin.
- Figure out what you can do. For some people it’s cyberactivism, such as sending a letter to an elected official, signing on to a petition and sharing it on social media, or writing a letter to the editor of their local newspaper. For others it might be phone banking, door-to-door canvassing, attending meetings and rallies, or face-to-face conversations with members of your community. Whether big or small, inside your school or outside your home, every action counts. And remember to rest and recharge.
- Stick to what works best. In this day of ever-expanding online interactions, face-to-face conversations are still the most potent tool for engaging others. Activism starts with the everyday conversations you have with friends, your family, colleagues and people you meet. By knowing your issue and actively listening to what others have to say, you are more likely to encourage others to get involved.