Today, I’m excited to be sharing a letter written by my cousin Kate. Kate is a teacher herself by trade and by heart – she has worked as a classroom teacher (fifth and sixth grade) and as an instructional coach to assist teachers in instruction, curriculum, data use, etc. in high-poverty schools – and is currently pursuing her Ph.D. at University of Virginia in Educational Leadership. There, her research is focused on Critical Race Theory and Teacher Leadership (sounds pretty official, huh?). She’s also a mama herself to a bubbly two-year old little girl, Selene, and knows first-hand the challenge of juggling many roles and many passions… I’m so inspired by her commitment to the field of education and for the work she is doing to make that world world a better place for all of us! Please read on and give her a warm welcome to the blog!!
I am excited to be with you today talking a little bit about teacher advocacy. Wondering what the words “teacher” and “advocacy” are doing in the same breath? You’re in good company! When talking to my teacher friends about teacher advocacy recently, almost every single one said that s/he didn’t feel like an advocate. Sound familiar? I’ve been thinking about those conversations a lot lately, and I think we—educators from all over the map—can expand our thinking about teacher advocacy. Indeed, I think we need to. Our students need us to, whether we realize it or not.
So, what is teacher advocacy? Sounds so political, right? Scary, maybe? There are plenty of folks who define advocacy in a very formal way that is absolutely enmeshed in politics. I’d like to propose a different definition for us, though. I’d like to propose that advocacy is a practice of passion. Advocacy is the work that we do for the issues that keep us up at night and the issues that get us out of bed in the morning. The work of advocacy might be participating in a political conversation with a formal organization, but it also might be really casual conversation in the hallway about an issue that makes us come alive.
When I think of my “get out of bed” issues, I think about my core identity as a teacher. Teaching is not just what I do; it’s who I am. I am a teacher because I believe in social justice. I am a teacher because I believe in relationships. I am a teacher because I believe in voice. I am a teacher because I believe in community. It is in these core beliefs that my practice of passion lives. For me, my passion is ensuring that students from low-income backgrounds achieve at high levels in a joyful and creative community. My teacher advocacy practice can be heard in the conversations I have with colleagues at our data meetings about how we can better support our most struggling students through better instruction. It is practiced in a meeting I had with a principal about how the band schedule design meant that my students missed 70 minutes of math a month. It lives in my unwavering belief that, given the appropriate support, my students can and will (and have!) achieve at exceptionally high levels–even when they’re hungry, even when they’re tired, even when they’re stressed—and that their achievement can happen through engaging, authentic experiences.
Teacher advocacy is the practice of what makes us come alive. It’s not “one more thing” that we have to do; it’s who we are and why we do what we do. When thinking of teacher advocacy, I am reminded of a quote by Howard Thurman that I have loved for many years: “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” What education needs is educators who have come alive in their practice. What our students need is teachers who will advocate for the issues that make them come alive. This is no small task. Indeed, it’s hard and sometimes uncomfortable work. It’s hard to schedule an appointment with the principal and uncomfortable to challenge her master schedule. It’s hard to confront disappointing data and uncomfortable to talk about it purposefully with colleagues, some of whom are good friends. But it’s important work. It’s worthy work. It’s the work that keeps us alive.
So, fellow teachers, what do you think? Do you see yourselves as advocates through the definition I’ve proposed? What are the issues that make you come alive? In what ways do you currently advocate or do you anticipate advocating?
I, for one, feel a little rallied up – don’t you? I didn’t realize it before, but I can totally add “Advocate” to the growing collection of hats I wear both professionally and personally these days… As Kate said, being a teacher advocate simply means speaking up and speaking out about the things that are already passions inside us. For me, that’s issues like creating authentic student learning opportunities despite the emphasis on high-stakes testing, bringing more young adult literature into the traditional English classroom, and not being afraid to “ruffle some feathers” with real-world content that speaks to teens today. What does being a teacher advocate mean to you? I’d love to start this discussion…