By Andrew Hawk
It is almost 2016, and that means a presidential election year is almost upon us. At this point, campaigns are not yet in full swing, but candidates on both sides of the aisle are already vying for their party’s nomination. One thing that educators can be sure of is that at some point in the election process, education reform will be mentioned. Here are some things to keep in mind as well as some do’s and don’ts that will help educators navigate through the political crosshairs.
Keep in Mind
- Politicians are trying to get elected. This is usually accomplished by campaigning on changes that will improve the country. Often incumbent politicians will campaign on keeping things the same. However, most challengers develop a platform meant to improve the country. Education has been a hot topic for years, and it does not look like this will change any time soon.
- Parents are concerned about their children’s futures. Most parents want their children to have a secure future. This is a fact that is easily exploited by politicians who are trying to gain an office.
- Education statistics never show the whole picture. Politicians often present statistics that show that American schools are behind other countries, especially in the areas of math and science. What’s not clear is whether other countries test their entire student body. In the United States, standardized tests evaluate everyone. This includes special education students and students that have emigrated from other countries and are still learning English.
- Many people are critical of teachers. This can make it very difficult for teachers to speak out about education reform. Whenever teachers go public with complaints, one of the first replies circulated in the media is that teachers have no reason to complain. Many Americans think it’s unfair that teachers don’t work during the summer and get most holidays off. It’s a common misconception that teachers are paid for all of these days off. They don’t understand that even if we have our paychecks spread out over twelve months, we’re only being paid for the days we work.
- Reform is necessary . . . somewhere in our country. I am fortunate enough to work in a well-run school district. When I hear politicians criticizing public education, it’s hard not to take it personally. On the other hand, when reviewing files for students that have moved to my school district from another state, at times I have been appalled about some of the practices that are going on in other parts of the country. This is especially true regarding the criteria that some states use to qualify students for special education services. When teachers read about a reform and think it is unnecessary, we should consider ourselves lucky. Politicians, especially the ones in Washington, D.C., have to view the country as a whole. If reform is being suggested, it is necessary somewhere.
- Change will come at some point in your teaching career. Teachers get comfortable with the policies and practices in place when they are in college. The problem is, change is guaranteed to take place sometime in your career. Even if politicians do not make changes to policies, new practices are being developed or recycled every year. This is especially true regarding technology in the classroom. Teachers should expect change and be ready to embrace it.
Do’s and Don’ts
- Do stay informed. Whether you get your news from the television, newspaper, or Internet, pay attention to what is being said about education reform on both the state and federal level. Do not wait to hear about something from your colleagues.
- Do get involved. Some people are satisfied to wait and have policies dictated to them. This is fine, but I do not see how these people can complain after something happens that they disagree with. If you are informed, you will know what policies are on the horizon. If you disagree with these policies, send an email to your congressman or woman stating your concerns. It’s also a good idea to join a professional organization that is aligned to your personal views.
- Do embrace change once it comes. Once a policy is put in place, complaining about it is a waste of time and energy. Educators were incensed by the No Child Left Behind legislation, but the policy endured. Any time spent complaining about policies could be spent helping your administrator(s) formulate a plan to move forward.
- Don’t get defensive. Most negative things said about schools and teachers are a result of political posturing by politicians. If you hear something that does not apply to your school, keep in mind that you are fortunate. If it does apply to your school, you may want to consider if there is anything you can do to improve the situation.
- Don’t complain all the time. A loose definition for a toxic environment is an environment that is resistant to change due to its employees’ attitudes. One person complaining all the time can have a huge impact on the morale of an organization. It’s great to voice concerns and oppositions to changes in policies or practices, but restating the same complaints multiple times is redundant and irritating.
- Don’t forget why you became a teacher. No matter which education reforms are put in place, children still need good teachers. Most teachers I have spoken with say that they became teachers because they love working with young people. No politician can take that away.
Andrew Hawk has worked in public education for fourteen years, starting as a teaching assistant in a special education classroom. He has taught first, second, and fifth grade as a classroom teacher, and for the past three years has worked as a resource room teacher, providing services for fourth and fifth grades. Working as a special education teacher has given him the opportunity to work with a variety of age groups and exceptionalities. In 2011, he earned his master’s degree in special education from Western Governor’s University. When Andrew is not preparing for school, he enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter.
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