Monte F. Bourjaily: Some Politicians Count on Teachers Staying Silent. We Can’t Afford To
At Education Week, teacher Monte Bourjaily makes a plea to his fellow teachers to speak up in this era of restrictive legislation.
I want to make a practical appeal to my fellow teachers: Could you take an hour to write as few as 250 words to your state legislators (you can find them here) that open the door to your classroom, to share the important work you do, why you do it, and what concerns you as a constituent? Think of it like Back to School Night for legislators, only without the stress of staying late and meeting with students’ families.
When you address your legislators, begin with a clear request. For example, ask them to support or oppose specific legislation, or ask for money for an educational need like Wi-FI access or a building repair. Share the powerful connections with students that you made and how much they value your commitment to them. These connections probably echo in your memory, from your students’ goodbyes and cards at the end of the year.
I want my representatives to know what’s at risk from laws aimed at undermining my professional judgement of how and what to teach my students. If they were to drop by my classroom at the start of the year, they’d get to see some of the cool things my kids worked to build familiarity with content and skills. In AP U.S. History, they’d discover a combined class, as my English 11 teaching partner and I brought our English and history students together to introduce our question for the year: “What constitutes American identity?” Our guests might even be drawn to participate as students began exploring this question by analyzing and comparing Emma Lazarus’ “The New Colossus” and Langston Hughes’ “Let America be America Again.”
How many people outside the classroom realize that this kind of engaging work—tailored to the specific students in a specific classroom—is the norm in public schools across the country? Through lessons like these, teachers develop relationships with their students that communicate respect.
Restrictive legislation is a threat because it reflects distrust of the creativity and professional care teachers take to develop these lessons. The restrictions are not even clear about the problem they are intended to solve.