In August of this year, I resigned my position as a teacher after 13 years. Why would I do that you ask? Why would I give up the rest of my retirement and a job at school that I loved? It was definitely a difficult decision. The decision that took some soul searching. Yet it was one that I felt I had to make. It was my belief that the fate of teachers and students in Texas depended on it.
Over the past few years, the treatment of teachers has taken a drastic turn. We’ve faced sky-high insurance rates, with terrible coverage, retirement insecurities, and a growing feeling that teachers are not in control of their classrooms.
Teaching for many has become canned lessons with no originality. Creating lessons seems to be something that some in administration feel can’t be trusted to teachers. The bureaucratic mess is getting to be too much. Across the state, teachers are complaining of low morale.
As teachers complain about new software, insurance rates, faulty curriculum and whatever else was coming from our districts, I kept hearing other teachers say: “I wish there was someone that would stand up for teachers.”
Oh sure there are associations for teachers and I was a member of a great one. It did a great job if a teacher got in trouble and it helped to keep us informed. But what about a next level of assistance? What about an organization that would take the voice of the teachers straight to the legislators on key issues? An organization that would take a holistic view of education and educators. I wondered if such an organization already existed. News flash: it didn’t.
It was then, I thought, what if I created it? What if I helped other teachers make their voices heard? I knew I could help bring the needs of teachers into the light and focus on things that teachers truly want to see happen. So I did.
With a leap of faith, I started building plans for a new organization and reaching out to anyone I thought would lend a hand. For months I went back and forth between taking a leap of faith and starting this organization, or going back into the classroom. At the end of the day I just knew I was called to step out and take a stand for Texas teachers, my choice was clear.
With the support of my principal, I quit my job teaching seniors and I became a person willing to stand up and lead others. To fight for and with my peers, my students and for the greatest state in the greatest nation.
Fast forward to now. I have quickly learned about writing by-laws, forming a non profit corporation, and filing for 5051c4 status with the IRS. That wasn’t exactly in my wheelhouse of lesson plans, classroom management, and grading papers. But it has all been worth it to have the opportunity to help teachers and indirectly to help students. We now have approval for a new organization, The Travis Institute of Educational Policy.
But I need your help! I can not do this alone. I will need help from everyone in education. If we want to change education, and improve it, then we have to be the change. We have to stand up for what is right.
We are the ones that are drawing a line in the sand for education. We will fight for the students of Texas. We will be the ones that will get education going in the right direction.
So how will we do it you ask? Our first initiative is called, Teachers for Texas. Through this initiative, we can unite around four key legislative priorities and get teachers involved in shaping policy. On the new website, www.teachersfortexas.org you can sign petitions for legislation that will help fix four of the top issues we currently face. The four priorities are:
- End the STAAR Test. We must end the massive assessment schedule we currently place on students. The STAAR is a test of minimum knowledge. Passing the STAAR doesn’t prepare students for success in upper levels or post secondary education. We need for the Legislature to pass legislation eliminating the STAAR and empowering districts to choose what assessments, if any, to replace it with.
- Secure Teacher Retirement. We must pass legislation to merge TRS with the State Employee Retirement System (ERS). And we must fully fund the retirement system to ensure solvency. Teachers are afraid that they may have worked 20, 30 or even 40 years in a career they love only to not be able to trust their retirement will be there for them or that it will be adequate to live on. The State of Texas must fulfill its promises to Texas teachers, and that means securing our retirement system.
- Fix TRS Care. There are several different approaches to fixing TRS Care. One option would be to allow teachers to have the same insurance that state employees have currently. Another option is to allow districts to opt out of TRS Care. This would allow for competition and lower costs with better benefits. Healthcare costs are extreme and many families see half their paycheck going to healthcare premiums for insurance with lousy coverage. This problem must be solved. We must find solutions that lower costs and improve quality.
- Give more money and power back to teachers in the classroom. We must ensure that teachers have creative control over the lessons that will work for their students. Not all students are the same. Why do we continue to use the same cookie cutter system for every classroom? And not all teachers are the same. Yet we continue to ask teachers to fit in the same cramped box. We must also ensure that more of the money from state and local taxpayers goes into the classroom.
This is a lot to work on, but together I know we can get this done. We and our students and our state have too much to lose if we fail. How many great teachers have we lost because they can’t afford to remain in the career that they love? How many great teachers have been driven out of the profession because they didn’t feel like they were empowered to do their job?
We have to band together now. We have to let the legislature know the problems we face and the solutions we demand. Over the next few months you will have the opportunity to become involved. I look forward to coming together with great people to strive for improvement in education.
After the legislative session, our job will not be finished. We will be creating professional development opportunities to help teachers become better at our jobs. We will be working together to give our colleagues more tools for their toolboxes. We will be providing lesson plans and curriculum as well. We will share best practices so teachers can take those back to their classroom and use what works with their teaching style.
In addition to our website, we have recently launched Facebook and Instagram pages for Teachers for Texas. I also will be hosting happy hours around the state to help teachers get to know each other and share ways to get involved. Together we can build a great community and make lasting change for Texas.
I look forward to meeting you!