freedom

You Have Changed. Now What?

Jess Ledbetter Current Affairs, Education Policy, National Board Certification, Parent Involvment, Social Issues, Teacher Leadership

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Epic week, right? And it just keeps going. AZ educators have been on fire, passionately advocating for AZ kids. We have sacrificed time and taken big risks. We’ve been criticized by people who don’t understand what we’re fighting for. We’ve been attacked by people who want to silence us. Looking back at this historic week, I’d venture to say many teachers have been changed forever: Arizona teachers have unified and found their voice.

Three years ago, I read a book called Pedagogy of the Oppressed (Paulo Freire). Initially, I had a hard time connecting with the text as Freire talked about helping illiterate people in Brazil learn how to read and write. It seemed like a story from a far-off land in a time long ago. I think I was okay with that. No one wants to believe oppression is part of their own life. But as I read further, ideas from the text kept connecting with my real-life experiences. I started wondering: Are AZ educators oppressed? It seemed like a revolutionary idea. After some more reading, I couldn’t dismiss the nagging thought that teachers are oppressed by a political system that determines our educational environment without our input.

Have you ever heard teachers say they have “no control” over educational policies that directly affect their classrooms? Have those teachers said, “No one will listen to me” or “There’s no point in trying?” I’ve heard these comments many times in 15 years teaching. Freire calls this feeling a culture of silence. In a culture of silence, individuals believe their opinions and actions are useless. I think it’s important for AZ educators to pause and consider whether we are being silenced on purpose while Arizona lawmakers defund our schools and privatize education. As I write this, there are rumors the AZ Legislature is delaying today’s scheduled budget vote until tomorrow when they think many teachers will be back at work. Perhaps it is far reaching to call AZ educators “oppressed”—or perhaps this recognition helps us identify barriers and determine strategies to save a public institution that promotes learning, opportunity, and equity for AZ kids. So what can we learn from Freire as we struggle onward?

Freire writes that people must develop critical consciousness to rise up out of oppression by joining together with others. Sound like something you’ve seen this week? I sure think so! Now that we are united, we must continue to work together engaging the community. Freire writes that oppressors use a strategy of “Divide and Rule” to discourage unity by creating competition and distrust between the divided people so they cannot rise up in liberation together. I have witnessed this in the past week. Some individuals have questioned the motives of AZ educators and intentionally tried to divide the community. We must find ways to move forward together with the community in the future. There is a massive group of wealthy, intelligent people who will continue their efforts to destroy public ed. It would be a big mistake to underestimate them and return to our classrooms like the work is finished. Sadly, our work has barely started. We must remain engaged, aware, and connected.

Freire writes that transformation is possible when reflective conversation is paired with action. This week, Arizona educators have engaged in conversation with policymakers, fellow teachers, and concerned community members. Teachers have taken actions like writing their lawmakers, meeting with AZ Senators and Representatives, and speaking in legislative session! We are starting to find out how we fit in the process, and these actions must continue. I once heard David Berliner say something like: Once a week, stamp all those papers with happy faces, leave school on time, and go engage with the community to advocate for education. As we move forward, I think this is great advice to consider. The ongoing engagement of Arizona teachers is needed going forward. And we have a lot at stake.

Freire writes, “In order for the oppressed to be able to wage the struggle for their liberation, they must perceive the reality of oppression not as a closed world from which there is no exit, but as a limiting situation which they can transform.” As we move forward, we must identify the limitations and take action to transform them. And we must believe that we have the knowledge and skills to make transformation possible. Elizabeth Warren once said, “If you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re probably on the menu.” We are in a critical time. Teachers must continue working with lawmakers who value our involvement. We need to get public education off the menu, so we must ensure the right people are at the dinner party. And I can think of a couple people who need to be removed from the guest list in November.

So when this week wraps up, what will you do next? Will you sign up and regularly use Request to Speak to share your opinions about upcoming legislation? Will you continue the dialogue with your legislators through in person meetings or email? Will you help others register to vote or commit to voting yourself? Will you actively support November candidates who value education by raising money, hosting meet and greet events, or canvassing on their behalf? Will you start blogging to share your perspectives and stories about your classroom? Will you begin the National Board Certification process to hone your skills and describe your educational pedagogy to others? Will you attend leadership events like AZK12’s Teacher Leadership Institute or Arizona NBCT Network’s Annual Convening? Will you continue to connect with the teachers you have met at events? Will you find other ways to continue this work?

What will you personally do next? How have you been transformed and how will you take action going forward? I invite many responses in the comments below!

Image credit: https://pixabay.com/en/freedom-silhouette-woman-back-light-2053281/

 

Jess Ledbetter

Glendale, Arizona

When given the opportunity to choose a six-word memoir, I carefully selected these words: Everyday leader taking intentional steps daily. This vision guides my goals and actions as an educator. For me, leadership is about the everyday decisions we make, the opportunities we embrace, the example we set, and the people we influence. In today’s educational and political landscape, being intentional is more important than ever. Teachers must make strategic, reflective instructional decisions in their classrooms. Further, teachers must take intentional steps to participate in conversations about educational reform. I believe that real-life stories from our schools should inform the policies that affect students, teachers, and their communities. Therefore, I am very grateful to have the opportunity to share my stories here. I teach preschool students with developmental delays in a Title I school in Glendale, Arizona. I am a National Board Certified Teacher (ENS-ECYA), and I deeply believe that all teachers should take the opportunity to explore their own unique teaching pedagogy through the National Board Certification process. I earned my doctorate in Educational Leadership and Innovation at ASU. My research explored how early career special education teachers collaborated with peers in a Community of Practice to increase their team leadership skills working with paraeducators in their individual classrooms. I am passionate about nurturing collaborative relationships between special education teachers and their paraeducators to utilize all team members and maximize student progress. Further, I am passionate about retaining teachers in the field and encouraging their leadership to advance the profession. I believe that all teachers are leaders in their classrooms and possess the skills to be leaders within their schools, districts, communities, and greater context. I welcome your comments on my blog posts and hope that we can advance the dialogue together.

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  • Leah Clark

    I am riding the post RedforEd high along with many of my colleagues. We are celebrating the victories we achieved and planning how we will continue our fight for students. This week taught us many things. In many ways, we were the students. Now that we are educated about this grueling process, I believe many educators and advocates are prepared to do whatever it takes, whether big or small, to keep our voices heard and as you said, have a seat at the table. Thank you for this post!

    • http://storiesfromschoolaz.org Amethyst Hinton Sainz

      “Grueling process.” For sure.

  • http://storiesfromschoolaz.org Amethyst Hinton Sainz

    This piece really resonates with me.

    We must stay focused on our goals and continue to work. I love the concrete examples you give of actions people can take! Our district is allowing us to offer the National Board precandidacy class during the extra six work days this summer– I cannot think of a better use of the time, honestly, if it is not going to be with students.

    I absolutely love your gem from David Berliner. Over-work is a form of oppression. It keeps us busy and silent. Nose to the grindstone. Making us feel that this is our due and what we signed up for encourages us to internalize the martyrdom, and even take pride in it. This has got to stop. Teachers will always put in a few extra hours during the school year, but the resources need to return to schools so that we can have time to be vibrant members of our communities and civically engaged.

    Great blog!