The most important school year ever
by KNEA President Blake West
Each August, students, teachers, and parents are at the top of the list of people who look with anticipation and enthusiasm to the school year ahead. Some years are more profoundly important than others, though. What about 2009-2010?
For a brand new group of students, this is the beginning of their public school education – a time when doors of opportunity for success in life and career for decades to come begin to open. Some students may be getting a second chance this year, a chance to leave past struggles behind and start anew. Some students may be getting yet another second chance after several that went before.
As teachers, administrators, and education support professionals, we offer hope each and every year. It is the characteristic of our profession that we, too, are renewed by a fresh chance to help each and every student have that “aha” experience of learning each day… to engender that profound transformation when a student begins to realize her/his potential for success now and in the future.
For some of us, this is the start of a new career. Even in these difficult times, some new teachers are entering their classrooms for the first time and others are taking on new roles or switching districts. Each one of these career changes is a landmark event.
Even if this is your umpteenth year at the same school, though, each of us is confronted collectively by a host of challenges in the year ahead. Beyond the obvious task of being the best possible educator we can, we have our work cut out for us.
Last year, the unified efforts of KNEA members were crucial to preserving significant dollars for education when some policy makers wanted to make far deeper cuts. Even as more cuts loom next year, legislators created new tax breaks and allow gaping loopholes for the richest corporations to rob our schools and communities of the resources they need. Will we stand by and allow the cuts to grow deeper, the tax breaks to expand or will we stand as a united profession, ready to raise the call for positive action to fix school funding in the coming year?
As Kansas competes for limited federal stimulus dollars, it is likely that the Kansas State Department of Education will work to create new structures to measure teacher effectiveness and new structures to pay teachers differently in the future. Our members work in the classrooms each and every day; our members are the ones whose livelihood depends on how educators are compensated. Will we stand by silently while external forces create the new evaluations and pay schemes or will we stand as a united profession, ready to bring our expertise and wisdom to bear on these issues?
Nationally, forty-nine states (including Kansas) have signed on to a movement towards “voluntary national standards.” When it comes time to determine what “national standards” mean for teaching in Kansas or how assessment must be transformed, will we remain on the sidelines or will we stand for genuine 21st century skills infused in a rigorous curriculum and assessments that measure growth and are used for improvement rather than punishment?
Consider these three KEYS to Success:
“We” cannot succeed in creating our desired future without greater teamwork than ever before. Consider, for example, that there are many fewer jobs in education because of budget cuts. That’s why we must work together as never before, and ask each of our colleagues to join KNEA, even those who have previously been reluctant to join. Their very jobs may depend on it!
For us to have strength in our numbers, we must initiate conversations with every non member about the importance of their KNEA membership. If you know someone with questions they need answered, have her/him ask one of your local association leaders – or have them drop me an email, if that will help.
In truth, we need more than members who just sign their names on a form. We each need to understand the issues AND come together as the most effective network of activists Kansas has ever seen. We must be a united force with a clear vision for great public schools for each Kansas student, a commitment to a strong teaching profession that fosters and oversees our own pursuit of excellence. Each member can start by signing up for KNEA’s legislative updates (www.knea.org) AND responding when called to action.
3. Professional Voice
Last of all, KNEA has a new “social network” for members called InsideKNEA. Unlike Facebook, InsideKNEA will be a center for discussions on teaching and learning topics, a place to learn about challenges facing public education, AND a place to express YOUR voice on a new major topic each month. Discussion forums will serve as a foundation for KNEA’s work with policymakers so your participation is crucial! Sign up for one or more focus areas on the KNEA website.
The most important year: Is this a pivotal year for your career? Is it the turning point in the life of a student in your classroom? I invite each of you to join me in this momentous time of unity in pursuit of our common vision. And I hope each of you finds professional success, personal fulfillment, and joy in the new school year.