A tide is sweeping across the nation. We are witnessing a new wave of teacher activism unfolding, state by state.
West Virginia teachers were the first to stand, demanding better wages. Prior to the strike, West Virginia ranked 48th in teacher pay, making it difficult to recruit and retain teachers and making life unbearable for the most selfless of public servants.
Oklahoma ranks even lower, 50th on some lists, for teacher pay and per pupil spending. Not surprisingly, they went next, emboldened by West Virginia’s example.
In many states, teacher pension plans are seen as a ‘money trees’ by legislators who wish to skim off and redistribute well-placed funds needed to shore up retirement for some of the hardest workers. Kentucky teachers were not hearing it, so they took the next stand to protect their futures.
Now, with Arizona and Colorado teachers joining in, the rest of us cannot sit idly by.
Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy.”
In this vein, we, the 2017 State Teachers of the Year listed below, refuse to ignore the plight of our brothers and sisters. We stand with them, even as they face judgement and ridicule for their courage and action. We choose solidarity regardless of the current context in our own states.
While some states have fully-funded education for the first time in decades, it is still our responsibility as professionals invested in the well-being of our students and democracy to stand in support of our colleagues whose struggles are more urgent.
The words of Ida B. Wells ring true, “The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.”
West Virginia. Oklahoma. Kentucky. Arizona and Colorado. We see you. We see you pouring your heart and soul into your classrooms during the day and organizing at night. We see you meeting with legislators to advocate for fair compensation, even as you spend your own money on supplies and stock your desks with snacks for hungry students. We see you on the picket lines, standing up for this profession, pushed to the brink because your cause is just and long overdue.
Every day in America, educators are asked to be instructors, counselors, social workers, nurses, coaches and sometimes parents. We have seen you do all this with smiles on your faces.
We see you and we want you to know that we support you. We have your backs. Your bravery to speak up and courage to hold your ground amidst political taunts and intimidation have inspired a generation of educators and students to create change.
As educators, we believe in the power of yet. When our students haven’t mastered concepts, we don’t give up on them. Instead, we find new approaches and persist in our instruction until the lightbulb moment.
We can do the same for our elected officials. In cases where our officials don’t acknowledge or prioritize the need for more funding in education yet, we must teach them. We must demonstrate the value of having textbooks that aren’t crumbling, stand up for our colleagues who are working extra jobs to make ends meet and expose the areas where facilities are inadequate, until our officials experience their own “a-ha” moments.
Whether we teach in affluent suburban districts or inner-city schools without grass to play on, in Oklahoma or Montana, Kentucky or Maine, we are in this together. We remain steadfast for the good of all students and the good of our democracy.
In the meantime, we encourage everyone to support teachers. Wear red in defense of public education. Write your elected officials and share your concerns and hopes. If you are a teacher, invite the community into your everyday work to help others understand the profession. If you are a legislator, we charge you with visiting the schools in your area and with committing to volunteer, partner and build the foundation of our communities—even if you don’t have children in school.
James Harris, @Alaska_TOY2017, 2017 Alaska TOTY
Michelle Bugh Doherty, @AZteacher9, 2017 Arizona TOTY
Courtney Cochran, @2017ArkansasTOY, 2017 Arkansas TOTY
Megan Gross, @MegNGross, 2017 California TOTY
Sean Wybrant, @CraftingHeroes, 2017 Colorado TOTY
Lauren Danner, @ScienceDanner, 2017 Connecticut TOTY
Wendy Turner, @mrswendyturner, 2017 Delaware TOTY
Kelisa Wing, @kelisa_I2teach, 2017 Dept. of Defense Education Activity TOTY
Jessica Solano, @2017FLTOY, 2017 Florida TOTY
Casey M. Bethel, @2017GATOTY, 2017 Georgia TOTY
Mary Spiker, @rekipsm, 2017 Idaho TOTY
Ricardo Castro, 2017 Illinois TOTY,
Joni Smith, @ScienceTeach83, 2017 Louisiana TOTY
Tamara L. Ranger, @TamaraRanger, 2017 Maine TOTY
Sydney Chaffee, @SydneyChaffee, 2017 Massachusetts & National TOTY
Tracy Horodyski, @TraceyHorodyski, 2017 Michigan TOTY
Jodi G. McKenzie, @jodi_mckenzie, 2017 Mississippi TOTY
Darbie Valenti, @Miss_D_Valenti, 2017 Missouri TOTY
Kelly Elder, @keldermt, 2017 Montana TOTY
Pam Ertel, 2017 Nevada TOTY
Tate Aldrich, @NHTOY2017, 2017 New Hampshire TOTY
Argine Safari, @arginesafari, 2017 New Jersey TOTY
Stephanie Gurule-Leyba, @SGuruleLeyba, 2017 New Mexico TOTY
Amy Hysick, @hysickscience, 2017 New York TOTY
Gerard van Gils, @mrgstoy, 2017 Northern Mariana Islands TOTY
Kate McCann, @kmccannu32, 2017 Vermont TOTY
Toney L. McNair Jr., 2017 Virginia TOTY
Toni Crofford Poling, @tmpoling, 2017 West Virginia TOTY
Chris Gleason, @GleasonCMP, 2017 Wisconsin TOTY
Ryan Fuhrman, @WY_Fuhrman, 2017 Wyoming TOTY
Beth Dewhurst, @MsDewhurst, 2017 Wasington, D.C. TOTY
Beth Kaltsulas, @BethKaltsulas, 2017 South Dakota TOTY