In the wake of the presidential election, dozens of the best teachers in the nation have banded together to say with a unified voice that public schools are valuable and that they must be safe places for students of every background, ethnicity, immigration status, sexual orientation and gender identity.
“You are all our kids, no matter what,” says the group, Protect Public Ed, in a video posted this week on its new website, protectpubliced.org.
The 44 teachers are all state teacher of the year award recipients. They said they were moved to speak out after a rash of troubling bullying incidents — at their own schools, in some cases, and in news reports nationwide — following Donald Trump’s presidential election victory on Nov. 8.
“Right after the election, we started seeing people inside and outside of the classroom feeling emboldened to say racially charged things to many of our students,” said Ryan Kaiser, Maryland’s teacher of the year. “That really started galvanizing how quickly we needed to get something done and get the message out there.”
Daniel Jocz, of California, said even in liberal Los Angeles, his students expressed fear of harassment and deportation.
The Southern Poverty Law Center documented nearly 900 hate incidents in the 10 days following the election, many of them in schools. Because the organization wasn’t tracking incidents before the election, it’s impossible to know whether Trump’s campaign — marked by anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric and by allegations that he had sexually assaulted multiple women — coincided with a rise in such acts of hatred.
Many teachers have reported a change in the tenor and intensity of harassment on their campuses and in their communities. Talya Edlund, an elementary school teacher from Maine, said she and her colleagues wanted to create “a launchpad for teachers to feel like they could talk about some of what they’ve seen.”
The video was created with resources donated by Kentucky filmmaker Roman Lane and ed tech start-up Curio Learning, helmed by Kentucky Teacher of the Year Ashley Lamb-Sinclair. Here’s the transcript:
Teachers across the U.S. aim to make every student feel at home in their classrooms … every single day.
In our classrooms we celebrate diversity, teach kindness and empathy, challenge stereotypes. We question the status quo, provide role models, speak honestly, open minds, rebel and take risks.
We collaborate, uncover each other’s stories, believe in something bigger, encourage thoughtful debate, listen and show compassion.
We stand for one another.
We do it every day and we won’t stop doing it for you, our Spanish-speaking, hijab-wearing, transgender-living, gay, straight, black, brown, white, tan, rural, inner-city, suburban students and everyone in between.
You are all our kids, no matter what.
The classroom is your home and you deserve only the best from it.
We will stand tall for you, beside you, with you until the day you’re ready to stand on your own.
Join America’s teachers of the year, along with thousands of others who work hard to protect the beautiful young people in our public schools.
In the long term, the teachers hope that they and their website will provide other teachers and communities with resources not only to protect students but to protect public schools at-large. Their mission is to “promote positive discussion about what is working in America’s public schools, challenge misunderstandings, and encourage action from citizens to support them.”
Asked whether the push to protect public education is a response to Trump’s embrace of private school vouchers — and to his pick for education secretary, Betsy DeVos, a voucher advocate — teachers said they do worry about policy initiatives that might drain public schools of the funds they need to serve low-income children and children with special needs.
“This isn’t a political thing, to say that students should be safe in our buildings. There’s nothing political to me that our public schools are institutions of our democracy and should be protected,” said Nate Bowling, Washington state’s teacher of the year. “To me, these are apolitical things, these are matters of justice,” he said. And if they become political matters within the next four years, he said, “I welcome that debate.”
Ashley Lamb-Sinclair, of Kentucky, said she and her colleagues work hard for their own students every day. But they want to do more.
“We’re in our classrooms, and we’ve got those four walls and kids within them to protect. But we also have a bigger mission and a bigger purpose in terms of protecting the system, and protecting the ideals of what public education means,” she said.
Several state teachers of the year are not participating in the project. Most did not reply to request for comment; Roger King, of Wisconsin, and Ernie Lee, of Georgia, both said they support the group’s message but — given their classroom workload — hadn’t had enough time to participate.