August 29, 2017

Teachers Talk Back: Christina Pressley

Christina Pressley teaches Kindergarten at the Mattapan Early Elementary school in Boston. This summer, Christina testified in front of the Massachusetts State Legislature’s Joint Committee on Education in favor of increasing funds for school counselors and psychologists. In this conversation with E4E-Boston Outreach Director Amanda Prouty, Christina speaks about advocating for vulnerable student populations.

Amanda Prouty (AP): What issues in education are you most passionate about?

Christina Pressley (CP): I am passionate about supporting the social and emotional needs of children and increasing and improving services for students with special needs and English Learners. Often, these are the students who are overlooked, or they are the ones that are stereotyped as being the “bad kids” in the classroom. As an educator, we often lack the competencies or resources to really give these kids the attention and targeted support they deserve. Policymakers need to think about how students can best be served by teachers and the supports teachers and students need to ensure that students don’t get left behind..

Many of our student’s social and emotional issues can be overcome or  managed with coping strategies. It’s not uncommon for teachers to be in the dark about some of the issues students are struggling with, such as poverty, exposure to violence, or food insecurity, and only begin to find out when students begin exhibiting symptoms of these issues. I believe that increasing guidance counselors, social workers, and training is important to help teachers support their students holistically. I really think we need a more hands-on deck approach in schools with high concentrations of vulnerable populations, and we need to ensure that educators are well-trained to meet students’ social and emotional needs.

AP: Have you ever taken part in any advocacy efforts?

CP: At the school level, I’ve advocated to have my students receive better screening assessments for English as a Second Language, and at the district level, I have asked for more staff supports to better serve our English Learners. t is my first time advocating with other teachers and at the state-level, which I have been doing through E4E.  

AP: What was your experience like testifying with other teachers?

CP: It was exhilarating to realize we are all fighting for something we believe in for our kids. As teachers, we get caught up in our own classroom and our own kids, but is powerful to work with other teachers in your district to advocate for all kids.

AP: What advice would you give other teachers that are new to advocacy?

CP: Just do it! As teachers, we study education, teaching, learning, and curricula. We need to also learn how to advocate for our students. Don’t be a bystander teacher. Speak up when you see issues. We have to do what we preach to our kids and we need to speak up when things need to change. Don’t ignore your conscious. Even if it is advocacy that isn’t publicized. You can write letters and sign petitions and bring about change!

AP: What do you think would be possible if more teachers were involved in advocacy?

CP: Decision-makers would have a clearer picture of education because we are leaders in our field. Policymakers often don’t have an accurate picture of what is happening in classrooms on a day-to-day basis. They know the big issues, but the issues that are happening at the student level is not in their line of sight. When teachers don’t speak out, inequity in our schools flourishes and goes unnoticed Even parents don’t have the same line of sight into these issues. We have to speak up about our jobs and share the non-pretty side of teaching.