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From the Classroom to the Capitol: Teachers Can Make A Difference

April 26, 2024

From the Classroom to the Capitol: Teachers Can Make A Difference

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By José Luis Vilson and Dan KliberOur guest authors José Luis Vilson and Dan Kliber are accomplished National Board Certified Teachers and activists.

The battle over the federal budget has dire consequences for schools across the country, particularly for those most in need of funding. Recently, some federal legislators have proposed extremely draconian cuts. The last education funding proposal from the U.S. House of Representatives would have slashed federal support for education by 30%, including an 80% reduction to Title I, which supports low-income schools. Had this proposal passed, public education as we know it could have been completely dismantled, putting over 200K teachers out of a job.

As veteran educators in urban districts, we see how our students, colleagues, and families would feel the drastic effects of fiscal cuts to school budgets. Threats to cut education funding would be detrimental to everything we preach, from decreasing achievement gaps for students of color to providing fair and equitable education to economically disadvantaged students. Without pushback from educators, these threats could become a very bleak reality.

Leaders across the political spectrum ought to work towards a fully funded education system, but they may never do so unless they hear your voice as an educational expert. We have learned this lesson countless times as educators, but at this moment in history, it is imperative that our voices finally be heard. It is our expertise and wisdom as educators that can help our nation secure the future that our students and colleagues deserve – as National Board Certified Teachers (NBCTs), we invite you all to demand action with us.

Elevating the Profession

In a time when two-thirds of teachers would not recommend their careers to others, we, as NBCTs, have sought to elevate the profession in the way that doctors and lawyers do. Since society has not given the teaching profession the respect it deserves, we must elevate it for ourselves, our students, and our country.

The National Board Certification process was not just the most effective professional development we have experienced as educators, but it also enabled us to become advocates beyond the classroom in ways we would not have imagined. For Dan, this includes becoming a Policy & Advocacy Fellow through the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (National Board) to devise effective and equitable policies for more teachers to become Board certified in Pennsylvania. For José, becoming Board certified led him to become a member of the National Board’s board of directors, including the chair of its Policy & Advocacy Committee. 

Late last year, we joined a group of National Board Certified Teachers from around the country to engage policymakers in the U.S. Congress as part of our National Board Day of Advocacy. Across more than 30 meetings with legislators and their staff, we advocated for the future of the teaching profession, including better access to and support for National Board Certification.

Most of us had little to no experience talking about policy-- it was through our stories about students, schools, and our local communities that we found common ground with legislators across the political spectrum. Every teacher possesses the skills to be effective as an advocate, no matter how daunting the politics or policy may seem – we are excellent at conflict resolution and have a robust set of skills for authentic and engaged leadership.

These meetings have already paid off. In January, Congress introduced the first-ever resolutions recognizing National Board Certified Teachers and calling on states and districts to expand access to National Board Certification to more teachers. The resolutions had more than 40 bipartisan co-sponsors and even passed the Senate unanimously.

Call to Action

Our experience on Capitol Hill proved that, together, we can fight to ensure that every student, regardless of zip code, has access to an exceptional education. You don’t need to be a policy expert or have an opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C., to make it happen, either. There are ways, big and small, that you can begin or further your advocacy journey. For example:

  • Write or call your local, state, or federal policymakers and ask them to make a change or solve a specific problem.
  • Schedule a meeting in your legislators’ local offices
  • Organize or participate in an advocacy day in your state capital
  • Invite policymakers or their staff to visit your school
  • Speak at a local school board meeting
  • Write an op-ed in your local paper

Don’t hesitate to lean on your colleagues for help and support. Seek out organizations like the National Board that can guide you and lend you policy expertise. Together, as a profession, we can make a real difference as advocates for change.

Republished with permission from the Albert Shanker Institute.

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Albert Shanker Institute
The Albert Shanker Institute is a nonprofit organization established in 1998 to honor the life and legacy of the late president of the American Federation of Teachers. The organization’s by-laws commit it to four fundamental principles—vibrant democracy, quality public education, a voice for... See More
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