By: Megan Jenny, NBCT and Lauren Jewett, NBCT
There have been more than a few documented instances of lawmakers excluding classroom teachers from discussions and deliberations—including the No Child Left Behind legislation of 2001. And we all know how disastrously that turned out, ushering in an era of excessive standardized testing, commodification of education, and teachers as scapegoats.
In our current moment, a host of bills and legislation in states across the country have continued the dangerous pattern of censoring teachers. This time around, the bills are diminishing teacher autonomy and restricting what can be taught about race, class, history, gender, and sexual orientation. Many of these bills are written with language that is intentionally vague or broad which allows the laws, if passed, to become blatant tools for discrimination of teachers, students, and students’ families. These bills attack the humanity, identity, cultural value, and brilliance of our students, their families, and our educators.
NBCTs and candidates are in a constant cycle of reflection as practitioners as we respond to student needs and new information in the world. We embody the National Board standards for our certificate areas. Accomplished teachers embrace equity through creating learning environments and materials that value the dignity and worth of each individual student. As educators, it is our responsibility to teach and approach our work with inclusion, acceptance, and empathy—not exclusion and oppression. We know that teaching the whole child means providing them the space, as well as the human and dignified right, to be who they are in the face of bills and legislation that uphold a status quo that marginalizes their identities.
The National Board of Professional Teaching Standards articulated its obligation to equity in June 2020 following George Floyd’s murder, stating: “[We are an] an anti-racist and inclusive organization. We believe that educators must help students consider their role in a diverse world, value individual differences, and—especially in times such as these—we believe in the power of the teaching profession to defend what is good and right for all people.”
The current reality and our obligation to equity beg the question of how can NBCTs and National Board candidates impact current legislation and public policy in regards to education?
Be aware. Use the internet to your advantage. Most state legislative offices maintain websites. Follow legislative offices and your representatives on social media. Often unions and other teacher groups offer newsletters that track current legislation of interest to teachers and school systems.
Get to know local and state legislators. Most laws and policies that impact schools are made at the state level. Find out who your state representatives are and introduce yourself when they are campaigning, fund-raising, or holding a “town meeting.” You can also introduce yourself by email. Your legislator is determined based on the district and boundaries where you live. You can identify your legislator usually through the Secretary of State website for the state where you live.
Advocate. Offer your opinion and share your personal story and views with your legislators. Writing and sending a letter or email takes very little time. It’s surprising that some legislators consider receiving comments from as few as a dozen constituents an overwhelming response to an issue.
You can follow legislation in most states as it goes through the committee and floor votes. Some committee and floor meetings are live streamed. Commenting on proposed legislation at this stage can make a critical difference in what legislation is passed or not passed. Public input is frequently allowed and often appreciated. While the process differs in every state, some states have comment cards, and others allow for testifying before a committee.
Run for Office. Consider running for elected offices on school board, city council, or state legislature. Oftentimes teachers are the recipients of policy decisions rather than the architects or creators of those policies. However, teachers have deep knowledge and transferable skills that make them excellent candidates and potential elected officials. Teachers are proactive planners and have an effective ability to handle challenges everyday. They know what it takes to communicate, listen, collaborate, build relationships, show empathy, and continue learning and growing. Organizations like Elect Educators Everywhere and Run for Something have helped current and former teachers on their journeys to elected office.
Join Like-Minded Groups. Start with joining a National Board network. There are 75 networks across 39 states that provide opportunities for NBCTs to broaden their influence as teacher leaders.
It can often feel hopeless when our rights as teachers and the rights of the students, families, and communities we serve are threatened. However, we know that it is imperative to prepare our students to interact with our ever-changing world in curious, courageous, and empathetic ways. We believe that with educators taking some of these steps, that we will have policies that authentically affirm, uplift, value, and honor the contributions and identities of all of our students, their communities, and their cultures.