I am alternately hopeful, terrified, and jubilant. I check Twitter obsessively. My anxiety is easily triggered. It must be time for the Arizona legislative session. Even in a state known for wacky and colorful political antics, it promises to be a doozy. We’ve already seen blatant attacks on our profession as punishment for taking a stand for our students last year.
On the other hand, we’re seeing school funding bills coming from unexpected sources. I’ve heard policymakers using words I haven’t heard in a long time, like surplus, compromise, and collaboration.
At first, I didn’t know what to make of the variety of sentiments. Then I remembered the Russian proverb made famous by President Reagan, “Trust, but verify.” You may call me a naïve Pollyanna but as I teacher I have learned to trust people and give chances before judging. If you’ve been burned too many times, skip the trust part and just verify. But no matter your outlook, we all need to practice a spirit of watchfulness this session. If they break our trust, we will hold them to their word.
Zora Neale Hurston wrote in Their Eyes Were Watching God, “There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” Last year we asked a lot of questions:
- How do we achieve equity of resources across the state?
- How many students in one classroom is too many?
- What is a reasonable student to counselor ratio?
- What are reasonable and competitive wages for certified teachers and classified staff?
- How do we return school funding to 2008 levels with a sustainable revenue source?
I still don’t know the answers to all these questions, but I’m ready to move beyond talking and find some answers. I’m ready to do the work and expect policymakers to work, too. It’s time to collective focus on the large, systemic issues plaguing our state’s education system.
Andy Hargreaves noted, “people are experiencing a crisis of community and schools provide one of our last and greatest hopes for resolving it (p. 5).” Nowhere is that crisis of community more apparent than here in Arizona. We are ground zero for the war on public schools. We stand poised on the brink of a wasteland of for-profit charter schools, sanctions on teachers’ first amendment rights, and public dollars used for private education. We must take this opportunity to save our public schools, our profession, and our democratic society. The spotlight is on Arizona, what part will you play?
I know my role. I am going to do what I do best and teach. I’m going to teach policymakers what life is like in Arizona’s classrooms today. I’m going to explain the difference in my impact on a class size of 24 versus 38. I will tell my students’ stories of trauma and mental illness and explain that my school doesn’t have a single counselor. I’ll tell the stories of countless colleagues who’ve left the profession. I’m going to use the same strategies with policymakers that I use with my students – I will be positive and solution-based. I will not stop fighting for public schools, teachers, and students until our demands are met, still, when they are, I’m going to trust, but verify.