“What if we weren’t afraid?” My friend Jess Ledbetter wrote this blog reflecting on that question for educators in January 2015. In the article she gives a call to action for more advocacy of public education.
Fast forward to summer of 2017. I met Jess at the first Convening of Arizona Hope Street Teacher Fellows. A collaboration between Hope Street Group and Arizona K12 Center for Professional Learning to bring educators and policy makers together for the purpose of developing sustainable education reforms. I had been in Arizona for one year, teaching elementary general music in the small northwestern town on Kingman (generally a rest stop on the way to Las Vegas). I had certified with the National Board, and was seeking to connect with teachers across Arizona who were passionate and solutions minded. The Arizona Hope Street Teacher Fellowship was the perfect place. We are 25 strong, all wanting to advocate for better schools, the needs of our students, and the importance of high standards for our profession. We all needed focus and tools for engagement. The Hope Street Fellowship gave us all of those tools, and the support to use those tools.
We had convened 3 times, and participated in multiple online meetings and trainings. Yet we were all still struggling to schedule that all important meeting with a state legislator. March of 2018, Arizona Educators United was born and thousands of Arizona educators signed up to be part of a collective voice. We organized stand outs and walk-ins, wrote letters to editors, organized our schools and districts to fight for education. We voted, then courageously did the unthinkable, we walked out.
During the walk-out school districts reacted in different ways. Some shutdown completely, others shutdown for students letting staff work or use leave time, and some simply stayed open. Regardless of how a district responded to the walk-out, one thing was common: doing what was best for students AND the community.
The first day of the walk-out at least 50,000 teachers marched from Chase Field to the Capitol ending the march with a demonstration on the capitol lawn. For another week, the demonstrations continued. Some educators were able to meet with their legislators, others asked and were refused. Educators packed the Senate and House galleries and committee rooms wearing red and speaking out for the needs of students. At the end of a full week the legislature held budget floor debate all night and into the next day, and educators took shifts sitting in the gallery, convening on the lawn, and watching online. In the end an appropriations bill for $477.4 Million was passed ( $309.8 million OVER what was originally proposed).
Those Hope Street Teacher Fellows I mentioned, were in the middle of this flash flood of a movement. They were site liaisons, speakers during committee hearings, leaders of teacher groups meeting with legislators, and behind the scenes supporting each other. They were canvassing web sites, researching current bills/amendments, pushing out up to the minute changes to each other, and providing support to everyone around them. They were no longer afraid.
How will you add to the collective educator voice rising in Arizona? If you are not registered to vote, get registered (servicearizone.com). Then VOTE in August and November. Research candidates and support those who are true education supporters. Sign up on the Request to Speak system so that when bills are in committee you can register your position (you don’t have to be willing to speak in person to use the system). Write to your representatives, or better yet, meet with them in person (or support a friend by going with him/her to a meeting). If you were not active during the Red for Ed demonstrations, talk to people who were and get involved. You can find your legislators here.
So, to answer Jess’s question, “What would happen if we weren’t afraid?”
- We would engage with a political machine systematically working over time to dismantle our educational system, and MAKE them not only notice us, but respond to us.
- We would fight for our students, and get SOME of what they need.
- We would come together, support one another, join our voices, and become a force for change.
- In short: WE WOULD CHANGE THE WORLD!