When I was a teacher, I bristled at the age-old adage that said: "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach." I knew that my colleagues and I weren't merely the passive implementers of scripted curriculum or state and district policy reforms. In fact, all too often, we were designing and testing new programs in our schools and doing so with little support or resources. All too often, we teachers were swimming against a powerful tide -- the status quo -- that drowned out the needs of our students or our ideas.
On May 3rd, our nation celebrated Teacher Appreciation Day. However, at Educators 4 Excellence, a teacher-led nonprofit organization, we spend every day -- and particularly the entire month of May -- celebrating and thanking teachers for being the mighty and fearless "doers" of public education. In California and across the country, teachers are innovating, leading and advocating on behalf of students and their profession.
Here are just five reasons why I'm thanking our teachers.
1. Thank you to educators like Donia and Tunji for creating a more welcoming and positive school environment for our students. Our teachers know that our education system has been overly reliant on punitive discipline policies that fail to acknowledge -- let alone address -- the needs and challenges our students face. As data has revealed, "zero tolerance" discipline policies don't work and have led to disproportionate numbers of black and brown boys being suspended instead of supported in schools. Responding to this data and the demands of our parents and students, some teachers have begun pushing for innovative alternatives, such as positive behavior programs and restorative justice practices. Today, pilot programs are springing up across the country, and teachers at E4E have been engaging district, union and legislative leaders to invest in and support improving school climate and adopting restorative justice practices.
2. Thank you to teachers like Phylis and Andrew for highlighting that fighting for the teaching profession means fighting for the reason you teach--students. As Vergara v. California continues to make its way through higher courts, teachers aren't just sitting by and waiting for a lawsuit to determine the fate of their students and profession. Instead, they are articulating a set of ideas on their own for a meaningful tenure system that focuses on the growth and achievement of both students and teachers. Education policies like tenure must evolve with the changing needs of students and teachers. As the people who know their profession best, teachers from across Los Angeles came together to call for a tenure system that is reflective of a commitment to growth -- rather than a low bar to be stepped over once -- and focused on the impact teachers have on students, schools and their profession.
3. Thank you to Lovelyn and other teachers for taking on leadership roles both within the classroom and in the arenas where education policy is debated, negotiated and legislated. Since E4E launched four years ago, teachers have had dozens of meetings with leaders in their school board, union and legislature to share teacher-created and research-based recommendations to address issues such as school climate, Common Core, tenure and accountability. They have rallied outside of several school board meetings, shared their perspective in local papers and walked the halls of Sacramento to demonstrate their support for, or opposition to, specific education policy changes. The President chose to honor one of these teachers recently, inviting her to travel to the White House and be celebrated for her great work.
4. Thank you to teachers like Debbie Siriwardene for partnering with education leaders to bridge the gap between policy-making and policy implementation. With the difficult rollout for the Common Core State Standards over the past few years, it would have been easy for all stakeholders -- students, parents, teachers and administrators -- to throw up their hands and say the system isn't working. On the contrary, many teachers and administrators have doubled down to smooth out the implementation and ensure their students benefit from the new, higher standards. Teachers who were part of the team that authored One School of Thought, E4E-Los Angeles' policy publication on implementing Common Core, recently partnered with a local superintendent to transform their white paper into actual policy changes and budget line items within their district. To celebrate and uplift this practice, they wrote a fascinating piece about their ideas and this collaboration.
5. Thank you to E4E teachers for uncovering and uplifting what's possible in our schools. As an organization working on education policy change, it's easy to focus on critiquing broken policies and practices. A myopic focus on failure, however, won't help teachers and school leaders to uncover the hidden gems and best practices in our schools. Our team at E4E-Los Angeles has had the pleasure of studying these best practices at more than 60 LAUSD schools seeing measurable gains in student achievement. These teachers have generously and candidly shared what is and isn't working for the students and teachers on their campus. The results of these conversations have been published in reports entitled, True Grit: The Game-changing Practices and Practitioners Lifting Student Achievement in LAUSD.
The teachers I meet every day are the true "doers" and change makers of education. They are innovators, creators, activists and advocates. They are leading the charge for a better education system for kids and profession for teachers. And for this heroic effort, we should all be thankful today and every day for these mighty teachers.
Ama Nyamekye is a former classroom teacher and the Executive Director of Educators 4 Excellence-Los Angeles.