You Have Changed. Now What?

Epic week, right? And it just keeps going. AZ educators have been on fire, passionately advocating for AZ kids. We have sacrificed time and taken big risks. We’ve been criticized by people who don’t understand what we’re fighting for. We’ve been attacked by people who want to silence us. Looking back at this historic week, I’d venture to say many teachers have been changed forever: Arizona teachers have unified and found their voice.

Three years ago, I read a book called Pedagogy of the Oppressed (Paulo Freire). Initially, I had a hard time connecting with the text as Freire talked about helping illiterate people in Brazil learn how to read and write. It seemed like a story from a far-off land in a time long ago. I think I was okay with that. No one wants to believe oppression is part of their own life. But as I read further, ideas from the text kept connecting with my real-life experiences. I started wondering: Are AZ educators oppressed? It seemed like a revolutionary idea. After some more reading, I couldn’t dismiss the nagging thought that teachers are oppressed by a political system that determines our educational environment without our input.

Have you ever heard teachers say they have “no control” over educational policies that directly affect their classrooms? Have those teachers said, “No one will listen to me” or “There’s no point in trying?” I’ve heard these comments many times in 15 years teaching. Freire calls this feeling a culture of silence. In a culture of silence, individuals believe their opinions and actions are useless. I think it’s important for AZ educators to pause and consider whether we are being silenced on purpose while Arizona lawmakers defund our schools and privatize education. As I write this, there are rumors the AZ Legislature is delaying today’s scheduled budget vote until tomorrow when they think many teachers will be back at work. Perhaps it is far reaching to call AZ educators “oppressed”—or perhaps this recognition helps us identify barriers and determine strategies to save a public institution that promotes learning, opportunity, and equity for AZ kids. So what can we learn from Freire as we struggle onward?

Freire writes that people must develop critical consciousness to rise up out of oppression by joining together with others. Sound like something you’ve seen this week? I sure think so! Now that we are united, we must continue to work together engaging the community. Freire writes that oppressors use a strategy of “Divide and Rule” to discourage unity by creating competition and distrust between the divided people so they cannot rise up in liberation together. I have witnessed this in the past week. Some individuals have questioned the motives of AZ educators and intentionally tried to divide the community. We must find ways to move forward together with the community in the future. There is a massive group of wealthy, intelligent people who will continue their efforts to destroy public ed. It would be a big mistake to underestimate them and return to our classrooms like the work is finished. Sadly, our work has barely started. We must remain engaged, aware, and connected.

Freire writes that transformation is possible when reflective conversation is paired with action. This week, Arizona educators have engaged in conversation with policymakers, fellow teachers, and concerned community members. Teachers have taken actions like writing their lawmakers, meeting with AZ Senators and Representatives, and speaking in legislative session! We are starting to find out how we fit in the process, and these actions must continue. I once heard David Berliner say something like: Once a week, stamp all those papers with happy faces, leave school on time, and go engage with the community to advocate for education. As we move forward, I think this is great advice to consider. The ongoing engagement of Arizona teachers is needed going forward. And we have a lot at stake.

Freire writes, “In order for the oppressed to be able to wage the struggle for their liberation, they must perceive the reality of oppression not as a closed world from which there is no exit, but as a limiting situation which they can transform.” As we move forward, we must identify the limitations and take action to transform them. And we must believe that we have the knowledge and skills to make transformation possible. Elizabeth Warren once said, “If you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re probably on the menu.” We are in a critical time. Teachers must continue working with lawmakers who value our involvement. We need to get public education off the menu, so we must ensure the right people are at the dinner party. And I can think of a couple people who need to be removed from the guest list in November.

So when this week wraps up, what will you do next? Will you sign up and regularly use Request to Speak to share your opinions about upcoming legislation? Will you continue the dialogue with your legislators through in person meetings or email? Will you help others register to vote or commit to voting yourself? Will you actively support November candidates who value education by raising money, hosting meet and greet events, or canvassing on their behalf? Will you start blogging to share your perspectives and stories about your classroom? Will you begin the National Board Certification process to hone your skills and describe your educational pedagogy to others? Will you attend leadership events like AZK12’s Teacher Leadership Institute or Arizona NBCT Network’s Annual Convening? Will you continue to connect with the teachers you have met at events? Will you find other ways to continue this work?

What will you personally do next? How have you been transformed and how will you take action going forward? I invite many responses in the comments below!

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Jess Ledbetter

Dr. Jess Ledbetter teaches preschool students with developmental delays in a Title I school in Glendale, Arizona. She is a National Board Certified Teacher (ENS-ECYA), an Arizona Hope Street Group Teacher Fellow Alumni, and a Candidate Support Provider for teachers seeking their National Board Certification. She earned her doctorate in Educational Leadership and Innovation at ASU in 2016. Her mixed methods research used a Communities of Practice model as a strategy for early career special education teachers to collaborate with peers to increase their team leadership skills working with paraeducators in their individual classrooms.

Dr. Ledbetter is guided by the belief that all teachers are leaders in their classrooms and possess the skills to be leaders within their schools, districts, communities, and greater context. She hopes you will contribute to the dialogue by leaving comments about your own experiences, opinions, and insights so that real-life stories from our schools can inform the policies that affect students, teachers, and their communities.

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