As we begin this new 2016-2017 school year, my earnest desire (and I hope it to be yours as well) is to uplift the teaching profession the way the teachers throughout my life have uplifted me. I pay homage to them because, outside of my family and friends, no other entity has poured into who I am today more than my beloved teachers.
Just thinking about them and penning these words fills my heart with such love and brings literal tears to my eyes and a smile to my face. To this day, I can vividly hear my 12th-grade Film Studies teacher, Mr. Jeff Laffell, shout from the back of the classroom, “Look at the sunflowers!! Remember the sunflowers!!”, as we watched “Dr. Zhivago.” The power of symbolism was embedded in me forever because of him and his prolific teaching passion and style. I’ve never experienced movies the same way since.
Just like each marine captain steers his or her own ship, New York’s teachers like myself need to be at the helm of our profession’s ship. For too long, others, oftentimes those who have no idea what we do day in and day out, are making decisions that directly impact our lives’ work, and that of our students.
I need for the voices of teachers to resound the most at that collective decision-making table and be heard the most by the politicians enacting educational law. There needs to be a collaborative spirit that spurs reaching out to teacher-leaders often, particularly when it comes to important topics like teacher evaluations, tenure, pre-service teacher preparation, and standardized testing.
I need for President Obama, Governor Cuomo, Commissioner Elia, district superintendents, and building administrators of our country and our state, respectively, to stand up for and set the record straight about the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). (They are not a curriculum, people!) The conversation about the CCSS needs to evolve and meaningful plans of action need to be discussed and implemented around the Standards so that we can best meet the academic needs of our students.
The voice of parents is very much needed in this arena because, the fact of the matter is, if they don’t understand the Standards and the need for them, they will continue to have difficulty assisting their children in meeting them. This is counterproductive to the goal of global competence and competitiveness that we, as Americans, desire for the next generation. If we know that it takes a village, then the collective voices of the members of the village need to be heard, respected, and considered.
There’s a lot going on in education right now in NY, much of which is bringing down the moral of the teaching profession. We need tangible recognition that goes beyond lip service. We need to be better financially compensated for our higher-education credentials that we continuously develop, as well as for the professionals that we are. This begins with an informed re-examination of the very way in which we are perceived by our fellow Americans.
At such a time as this, with an evident paradigm shift underway, I want to advocate strongly for teachers of New York. The time for change is now.