For Teachers To Thrive, They Must Be Empowered

Late last year, National Teacher of the Year Juliana Urtubey used her platform to talk about the importance of young people seeing teachers “thrive.” In a recent op-ed, my state’s education commissioner, Dr. Jason Glass, expounded upon what thriving as an educator could mean. He writes:

Seeing teachers thrive would mean that they have a professional and livable wage, where they can support their families and build toward a stable middle-class life. They would have access to the health care and mental health support they need, and where they can retire with dignity and stability.

Seeing teachers thrive also would mean that they have the support they need professionally, including quality curricular materials they don’t have to buy out of their own paychecks, manageable class sizes and a dependable and quality network of other education professionals around them.

Broadly speaking, these are the kinds of goals that should garner sweeping approval. There’s a reason why politicians always make it a point to praise educators for the hard work we do, even if their agendas fail to translate to meaningful improvements in our working conditions. Public support for increasing teacher compensation has been high and increasing each year, at least before the pandemic, and the demand for high-quality materials and smaller class sizes have been well-documented.

Thanks to the American Rescue Plan, school districts have received a $125 billion boost that can help address some of these needs in the short term. But for educators to truly “thrive,” it will take more than hollow platitudes and a one-time infusion of federal dollars. We need dedicated, responsive policy that centers educators as the professionals we are—and we need to start making specific demands about what such an agenda would look like.

It’s easy to make empty platitudes about teachers deserving more, but until there are clear goalposts that can help illustrate what “thriving” actually means, we’re left with a prayer where we need a plan.

Think about some of the most popular social and political movements in our recent memory: Black Lives Matter, Love Wins, Fight for $15, Medicare For All, and so many others. These campaigns didn’t notch their wins from vague messaging and unclear intentions. Their aims were specific and actionable; their demands had an expected end.

Their successes were strongly connected to their leaders’ ability to turn “bystanders” into “upstanders” and words into action. If we really want to turn this moment into a movement for teachers, we need to do the same.

So why not “Fight For $50K”? If our leaders agree that teachers are underpaid for the complex work they do, let’s champion a campaign to establish a $50,000 minimum salary for all educators.

Or how about “Curriculum For All?” If rogue teachers and a lack of curriculum really are fueling culture wars in our classrooms, why isn’t every state education agency fighting for high-quality resources for every teacher?

Our profession is filled with creative people with bold ideas. If policymakers truly want to see educators thrive, they should empower us with new opportunities to engage with them directly about policy agendas that will center our needs.

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