Teacher Appreciation Week is May 6–10, as good a time as any to take stock of how teachers are viewed by the public at large.
Not that long ago, in any policy discussion of public education, teachers were vilified. They were to blame for all the shortfalls in the classroom. Never mind that public schools were underfunded, leaving teachers to work in crowded classrooms with outdated textbooks.
The teacher walkouts nationwide over the past 15 months have been game changers for a simple reason: It was always about more than teacher salaries. Teachers raised their voices to demand funds to repair crumbling school buildings, to buy new textbooks, to hire more social workers and to obtain more resources for special education. And they raised the alarm about the damage to neighborhood public schools when public funds are diverted to privately run charter schools that have little accountability. They raised the consciousness of a nation and changed the tenor of the dialogue about teachers and public schools. The blame game was over. Teachers could no longer be scapegoated.
Even in states where demonstrations over funding did not occur, teachers spoke up about the issues that matter to their students and their communities. They protested the proposal that they should bring arms into the classroom — a jaw-dropping idea after the horrific Parkland school shooting in Florida. And teachers stood up for the right of undocumented students to a public education and made sure immigration agents did not set foot in their schools.
That’s what happens when teachers join together in common cause to amplify their voices on behalf of their communities.
The public, at long last, gets it: Teachers are fighting for everyone.