Recently, I got a call from a Teach Plus teacher in Boston. With uncompromising racial tensions flaring up in our cities, she’d been thinking a lot about educational equity and what it means for Black and Latino boys. I want to write an op-ed, she said, but it’s kind of daunting. I’m a teacher, not an op-ed writer. What if it doesn’t come out right?
Sara has lived her subject. A Latina from a tough neighborhood in Brooklyn, she had earned two education degrees and went on to a successful career as a teacher in Massachusetts. Things were different for Sara’s brother. He skipped school and was placed in the first of many juvenile correction facilities when he was in middle school—prison followed. At the age of 22, he was murdered.
Getting her story down on paper was emotionally tough for Sara. It took weeks and many drafts. But as we worked on her op-ed, Sara’s absolute belief in education as the ultimate equalizer and her commitment to changing the trajectory for boys like her brother shone through.
Wow, I thought, as I read the final draft. In just 700 words, I understood what equity could look like if more teachers like Sara were leading the way. Sara’s recommendations in her op-ed—gaining insight into the student’s life outside of school, getting teachers and administrators out into local communities—seemed to me the kinds of commonsense solutions that would lead to much-needed compromise, and some healing.
And what if more teachers wrote op-eds sharing their stories, stories of their students, and the challenges they were solving in their classrooms, schools, and communities? Without a doubt, our understanding of the issues facing teachers and kids, and our public dialogue about education and education policy would be far richer.
Luckily, teacher voice in the media is on the rise. You can now read op-eds by educators in the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, U.S.A. Today, and many other national and regional newspapers and blogs. But we need more. We need more not just because of what we can learn about classrooms from the real experts, but because writing an op-ed can be a commanding step for the writer in recognizing their own potential as a teacher leader.
In the past year alone, I helped our teachers write and publish close to 100 op-eds. “Writing an op-ed helps me organize my thinking and have real clarity about solutions,” one teacher told me.
“If I really believe something, I have to dig deep and come up with specific examples that illustrate my point. In a school system, my ideas often fall on deaf ears. But when I published my ideas in an op-ed, people responded. A state legislator reached out to say that he liked what he read and was going to share my recommendations with his colleagues.”
“I know that what matters most,” another teacher said, “are my students’ stories.” “When I share my perspective as one teacher, I am sharing the experience of 100 students. At the very least, I want policymakers to remember that and to use these stories to inform their thinking, especially when education policy is being made.”
After Sara’s op-ed was published in Education Week, it caught the eye of the Department of Education. Sara was invited to be on one panel, then another. Her passion for equity made her a powerful speaker. She traveled, spoke with other teachers and education leaders, and developed trainings for colleagues around learning standards and equity.
Sara has always been a leader; what the op-ed did was help her find her voice. There is no stopping her now.