In 2015, when I was fresh out of college, I made my way down South as an Americorps member in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I taught in a program that provided educational services in small group settings to fourth-grade students — and I saw firsthand how kids in this country are falling through the cracks. My students were shockingly behind, far below grade level and in desperate need of the one-on-one attention our program attempted to provide. It was painful to see how the low quality of education they had received was impacting their lives. They were facing the harsh reality of time, and the fact that it was running out for them. Their teachers cared very much, but the poor instruction and low expectations were setting their students up for lifelong struggles. Today, my students from Baton Rouge are never far from my mind, and the thought of how their schools failed them continues to drive me forward in my work.
When I finished my service with AmeriCorps in 2016, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to continue teaching. But when I moved back East, I came across Success Academy. The model seemed exactly what my former students had needed, but what attracted me even more was the dual mission. It wasn’t enough for the kids in my own classroom to learn well; I wanted to be part of an organization working toward bringing great education to all students. What about my students’ younger siblings? What about their friends? Every single one deserves to be challenged in the classroom, to know that they can solve a math problem with confidence, that they can teach themselves anything with books, and that there is an entire world to explore if you have the right intellectual tools.
It wasn’t enough for the kids in my own classroom to learn well; I wanted to be part of an organization working toward bringing great education to all students.
What does it look like to advocate for educational equity on a day-to-day basis as a teacher? For me, it is first and foremost a mindset and it starts in our own house. The bottom line is that I must continually work to serve every scholar in my building to the best of my ability. I became a grade-lead teacher so I could hold myself accountable for my own students, but also to serve students across our grade and school. I strive to help our teachers set up every scholar for success. If the data indicates that we are falling short, we don’t make excuses — we adjust. For me, a core piece of being a teacher advocate is modeling what we want for all children so we can demonstrate what is possible and inspire others to use the model themselves. This collaborative, learn-from-each other approach is a big part of the dual mission. It’s about constantly improving the model and sharing it with others.
The second part of being a teacher advocate is, well, advocating. Advocating means sharing my story and encouraging others to do the same. I try to keep myself grounded in my own experiences and speak frankly about the reality that not all charter schools are great, that not all DOE schools are great, and that all teachers will fall short at some point. But I want others to know about the things I am doing in my classroom that are working. We have stories to share that counter negative myths about charters. We can talk about that student who was constantly in trouble — before we took time to build his confidence; or those parents who regularly show up for town hall meetings to speak out for children, even when the outcome won’t affect their own child’s schooling. But most of our stories are about our scholars who love coming to school — who are so excited to share their ideas with us and who are eager to learn more. These are things that you don’t see at every school, but that you should. As teachers, we are powerfully positioned to be extremely strong voices in the fight for educational excellence. We live and breathe the why behind advocating.
I see my current scholars thriving, but I never forget my former students in Louisiana. There are so many children who need us to take a stand for excellent education, and that’s what I’m trying to do each day at Success. It’s my belief that we can succeed — and that if all of us fight for it, one day all students will receive the education that is their right.