I met with a few senators at the state Capitol this week who asked me if there were better things I could have been doing with my time on a Monday afternoon. My first thought was “sure, I would rather be with my students.” Then in a blink of an eye, I rethought that answer. Actually no, using my teacher voice to remind my senators of what’s at stake for my students and me is exactly what I needed to be doing. So to recap our conversation, senators, let me reiterate why this day was so important.
This day was a time for me and my fellow teachers to speak to you on behalf of our students, many who don’t get opportunities like this to speak for themselves. It was a time to ask for help to fund critical services for them so that they are not hungry, they are safe, they have access to the mental health services they need, and the resources they need to learn. You have the legislative power to make choices about our budget. So please hear me when I say, we need more funding for those who are most vulnerable in our society, and children are part of that group.
This day was a time for us to speak up for our profession. To ask legislators to stand by the promises made to schools and districts so that they can not only attract and retain high quality educators, but also support us with a livable wage so that we can maintain a roof over our heads, acquire healthcare, have access to better working conditions, and know that there is a solvent retirement system in our future.
This day was a time for us to advocate for all of our futures. We must fund every classroom so that teachers have the resources to teach every child, from every zip code, not just those who can afford it. We must ensure that there is equitable funding to address deferred maintenance in our crumbling schools, provide resources that allow children to learn in a 21st-Century economy, and give students a safe place to learn that can open up a world of possibilities.
After our meetings, I walked into an evening class to teach 38 aspiring educators. One of them asked why I was wearing red. It’s what many might have called a teaching moment; others would call it uncomfortable. Looking back, I’d call it perfect.
You see, senators, it was a perfect opportunity to let them know what I did with my time at the state Capitol. I talked about what they will be facing in the education field. I shared your voting record and that of your colleagues on education initiatives. I shared our funding realities across the nation and in our state. I shared all of this and more so that they could understand what the roles and time commitments of a teacher really are, because today a teacher is not just a teacher. We are much more than that. Teachers are nurses, food providers, counselors, and sometimes a mother or father when no one else is there. Today it was a time for us to also be an advocate.
Senator, teachers across the nation understand that the time to act is now. Our students need us now more than ever. Our nation is at risk. As Thomas Jefferson said, “An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.” You have the power to make a difference. Our students are the next generation – maybe you should be voting for legislation that shores up their future not just your own.