Seriously, the only way that I can think of starting this post is by saying “Y’all.”
Southerners almost always start serious conversations with “Y’all.” I can’t think of a thing much more serious than what I am about to tell you.
Y’all, Mississippi’s teachers have been beat down the past few years. We’ve heard how our schools are “abysmal failures” from Phil Bryant. We’ve been hearing how our schools are so bad that parents need school choice to get their kids away from them. I mean, this post by Sanford Johnson implies that students who attend traditional public schools never grow up to be anything worth recognizing (like soldiers, teachers, pastors, or nurses).
These implications and bold statements alike reflect upon what is thought of our teachers. The people saying these things might not even realize this. I don’t really know if they do. I do know, however, that as a teacher, it is offensive. How can I not take that personally? How can any of Mississippi’s 37,000 public school teachers not take this personally? Essentially, all of that talk is like saying since you think the schools stink, then the teachers must stink. I mean, whether you mean it that way or not, the logic of those arguments implies that someone must be stinking up the schools. So, it must be the teachers.
Mississippi’s schools do not stink. It is bunk. You can read all about how this rhetoric is being used across the country to hurl us toward privatization of the public good we know as public education. Just check out Diane Ravitch’s or Anthony Cody’s blogs. Follow the Badass Teachers Association or the Network for Public Education on social media. There is a movement to privatize our schools. It is strong (think Betsey DeVos), and not going away.
Some Mississippi teachers got together and planned the first ever ECET2 (Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teaching) event for the state. The ECET2 website lists six key beliefs:
- Nurturing trust among teachers
- Focusing on each teacher’s potential for growth
- Inspiring both the intellect and the passion that drives teachers in their work
- Providing time for collaboration and learning
- Putting teachers in the lead
- Recognizing teachers as talented professionals
It is supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has been criticized as contributing to the privatization movement. Thus, I was leery of participating at first. However, I really do share those same six key beliefs and understand that there is no possible way such an event could be held in Mississippi without support from this organization. So, I decided that it was a worthwhile thing to do. Since the event, which was January 27-28, I’ve been doing a great deal of reflecting. I really wanted to be able to share my biggest takeaway from the event. There were so many incredible sessions and speakers. Let me just list a few of those speakers and sessions:
- John Stocks, Executive Director of the National Education Association, gave a keynote address and challenged us to be more active in the policy that impacts our field.
- Shannon Eubanks, of Better Schools Better Jobs, joined Representative Jay Hughes and Kelly Riley from Mississippi Professional Educators on a Legislative Panel that was quite eye-opening.
- Mississippi Superintendent of Education, Dr. Carey Wright, spoke about teacher leadership.
- There were sessions on grant writing, Genius Hour, and even cultural competence.
Yet, my biggest takeaway didn’t come from any of those. My biggest takeaway was that Mississippi teachers are starved for affirmation and praise.
I had so many teachers tell me how much they needed this event. They said they needed this to recharge their batteries. They needed to be treated with respect. They needed to be treated as professionals. One teacher told me she’d never been able to attend a conference where she stayed in a hotel and had her food provided.
These are basic things that other professionals enjoy in their fields on a regular basis. I am talking to you about teachers who have multiple degrees and certifications. These are teachers who have won awards for their work.
We should be doing more to lift them up.
Mississippi’s teachers are awesome. We are professional and smart. We work hard. We care about children and the future of our state and nation. We want to see children grow as whole human beings. We care about humanity. We are leaders. We are change-makers. We are nation-builders.
We are going to have to change what we are doing. We have to start telling our side of the story. We have to start sharing the awesome, the marvelous, the strong, the wonderful, and the remarkable things that are happening in our schools. We have to make sure we are lifting Mississippi’s teachers up, not tearing them down. I believe that we can lift our students by lifting our teachers this way. I believe that if we build each other up, our nation will be strong.
This has to be done through our words.
I challenge myself to continue to write about the successes I see. I challenge myself to continue to say thank you. Will you join me? Parents, teachers, administrators, students, citizens, will you join me?
Amanda Koonlaba is an elementary art teacher in Tupelo, MS. She is a contributor to MSEdBlog. Her views are her own and do not represent the views of any other entity.