Last week I was in Florida at the Imagine Solutions conference - a gathering of 600 community and business leaders discussing solutions to some of society's most pressing challenges - explaining why it is important for educators to be part of policymaking. Although research shows that classroom teachers are the single most important in-school factor to improving student achievement, their voices are consistently left out of education policy decisions. This is why at E4E we work together to leverage the expertise of teachers to identify the most pressing issues that impact our schools, create solutions to these challenges, and advocate for the policies and programs that will best address those problems.
On the very same day I made my case, and in the same state, legislators huddled in the Capitol to discuss the possibility of arming educators in response to the horrific school shooting in Parkland, Florida that left 17 students and staff dead.
But these lawmakers did not invite teachers to be a part of this discussion to make them carry a deadly weapon. They were not even in the room. Instead, teachers gathered outside with students and parents, standing in the rain, asking for fewer guns, not more. But their choruses pleading for their representatives to ban the assault weapon that wreaked havoc at Marjory Stoneman Douglas fell on deaf ears.
When I saw this in the news, I was shocked but not surprised. Policymakers at every level of the system frequently talk about teachers, but they rarely talk with teachers.
Teachers have voices, and there is nowhere those voices are more critical than in conversations about school safety. This is a difficult and important topic that we as a nation must address in order to protect our children. Educators across the country are eager to share their knowledge to make sure our leaders make the right decisions at this critical juncture. And yet, I am outraged whenever I read about a policymaker who hasn’t set foot in a classroom since he or she graduated high school, offering empty gestures or even calling for changes in schools that are outright dangerous.
Going forward, legislative action needs to happen. But teachers, students, and parents must be a part of that change, from determining steps to stop school shootings to creating safe and supportive school environments.
But this problem of leaving out teachers goes way beyond the school safety debate. Educators are most proximate to our students, and to the host of challenges we face in schools every day, and therefore, they are also the leaders closest to the solutions we need. E4E’s nearly 30,000 members will work tirelessly in the classroom and beyond to imagine solutions, and ensure that educators have a leading voice in the policies that impact their profession and their students.