By Amanda Menas
Educators across the country are looking for a new beginning for their students and school communities with the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on January 20. They will be sworn in on the steps of the United States Capitol building, which just weeks ago was attacked by insurrectionists.
Hundreds of educators responded to NEA’s call to offer well-wishes to the incoming administration. Among them were many history and social studies teachers who are using this historic moment to help their students learn about democracy.
“If democracy is messy, then we should be educating our students as to how to navigate as a citizen of a democratic republic,” said Melanie D., a retired educator from Arizona. She hopes President Biden will reach out to educators to help grow an informed citizenry. “The number one issue would be the importance of teaching truth and integrity in history. The role of racism and disenfranchisement must be taught with a rigorous curriculum based on equality and respect for all.”
Following four years of anti-public education policies under former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, many educators asked the Biden team to reverse course.
Rochelle W., a retired educator from Oakland, California said specifically, “Please put a halt to federal support for charter schools!” Her school district saw decreased funding for public schools, which she says harmed students in special education classrooms, immigrant students, and more.
With the COVID-19 pandemic still impacting students and educators, many still teaching remotely and the effects disproportionately harming communities of color, Kathleen P. urged the new administration to designate educators as essential workers. Already the incoming administration has said they would prioritize educators during vaccine distribution.
“Please make getting vaccines for teachers a priority. We are risking our lives everyday to educate the children of our communities,” said Nicky N. in Washington state. In many states, younger educators will wait months to receive the vaccine – many others may be asked to return to classrooms without the protection of the vaccine.
One of the significant calls to the Biden-Harris administration over the last year has been for increased mental health professionals in schools. With dual crises of the COVID-19 pandemic and systemic racism impacting students of color, support of funding for more school counselors has skyrocketed.
“Please support our efforts to normalize and make more accessible mental health services – both for youth and for adults. More school counselors and other mental health professionals are desperately needed, particularly at the elementary level,” said Ellie K., an educator in Maryland.
In addition to the support of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, educators will also have first lady and NEA member Dr. Jill Biden in their corner, and Secretary-designate Miguel Cardona heading up the Department of Education. Cardona has advocated against using testing during evaluations, has experience holding charter schools accountable, and has kept a focus on equity during the COVID-19 crisis.
“It is time to end mass testing and time for teachers to be involved in curriculum decisions. Get big money companies and politics out of education. Allow teachers to do the job they were trained to do,” said Joan B. from Florida. Deborah R. from Georgia said, “We need an education secretary who understands that schools are in the middle of a pandemic and it would be a huge waste of money and time to try to require federal testing this particular school year. The data will be flawed, and the money that could be saved from not testing could be spent in much better ways.”
Overall, educators are excited to have a voice in the White House, and advocates for their students and profession across the administration. From higher pay to increased funding for PPE upon the return to the classroom, educators know Joe Biden will support and respect public school educators.
“I am so excited to have leaders in office (including first lady and educator Jill) who recognize our dedication, devotion, and never-ending work. Instead of the constant attack on teachers and public education, I’m looking forward to more support for our profession, more funding (both for public schools and teachers’ salaries), and more educator voice. Excited for at least the next four years!” said John D. K. of Ohio.