by Karen Sams, 2020 Texas Teacher of the Year
Every morning, when I walk into my classroom, I look up and read a quote that I have posted by Dr. Rita F. Pearson.
“Every child deserves a champion — an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection, and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be.”
This quote has become my daily mantra in the classroom. It resonates with me because it encompasses my “why.” In spite of the demands, challenges and obstacles of teaching, educators still show up, put a smile on our faces, and champion for our students every day because we believe in the power of public education.
Public schools welcome all students, no matter who your parents are or where they come from, no matter what language is spoken in your home, no matter what side of town you live on, no matter how many adverse childhood experiences you have endured, no matter your disability or capability, no matter what needs you have — whether seen or unseen … NO MATTER! We educate every child who walks through our doors.
Public schools are the backbone of a community, and a free and public education is the last great equalizer in our society. It’s what sets us apart from any other place in the world and empowers students to be whatever they want to be.
In the last few decades, we have allowed others to change the narrative about public education. We have all seen the false assertions that all public schools are failing and need to be “fixed.” We must change this narrative and develop a shared focus on the importance of public education and the many ways in which public schools are advancing our children, our communities and our country.
Tell Your Story
Is there anything more compelling than a great story? Stories have the power to take us to new places, to make us laugh and even cry. But the real power of a story goes even deeper. Stories trigger emotional responses, put a face on an issue, connect and humanize us. Great stories build a rapport between public educators and our communities that can change perceptions and begin to change the narrative.
One year I had a student in my class who was so smart but had a hard time believing it. This student was dyslexic and struggled with self confidence. All year long, we worked so hard and she made incredible growth, but no matter how many times tried, she still doubted herself. This student was the living embodiment of grit. No matter the task, she worked hard, was determined and persevered.
It came time to take the state reading assessment. I could tell this student was anxious, but she gave it her all. When the assessment results came back and I analyzed the scores, she was the highest scoring student in my class and the third highest student in all of third grade. I sat at my desk and cried. I called her mom and she cried, then I cried again. When I told this student how well she had done and how proud I was of her, she beamed with confidence and finally she believed what I knew about her all along.
Amazing stories happen every day in our public schools, but many people don’t know our students or have the opportunity to see the innovative and inspiring work that we do in our classrooms. It’s time to tell our stories and celebrate our successes. Flood your school and district websites and social media accounts with inspiring and engaging stories about the amazing work that we do every day. We have a responsibility to create a new narrative about public education. Master the art of the #hashtag and get our message out there!
Participate in the Process
There are more than 350,000 teachers in the state of Texas. That number doesn’t include the thousands more who are administrators, support staff, paraprofessionals, custodians, bus drivers and cafeteria workers. As members of the public education profession, we have an obligation to become educated about the candidates running for political offices and the issues facing the Legislature. We have an obligation to participate in the election process where we have the opportunity to cast our votes for candidates who support what is best for students. We have an obligation to advocate for legislation that could strengthen public education.
A democracy of the people, by the people, and for the people only works if the people make their wishes known. As members of the public education profession, we must register to vote and exercise our right to vote in local, state and national elections.
Let your representatives hear your voice. Tell them about the teacher who stays late for weeks to make sure the holiday musical is a success. Tell them about the principal who comforts the family who lost a child. Tell them about the assistant principal who stays well after the school dance ends so they can be sure all students get home safely. Tell them about the school custodian who builds relationships with students and teaches them soft skills such as kindness and respect. Let them know that sometimes, small numerical gains reflect huge steps forward in learning and growth.
We have the opportunity, and the responsibility, to be the authors of the greatest chapter in the story of public education.