School board elections: A Halloween nightmare

What scares you this Halloween?

I’ve been having nightmares lately. They aren’t because of paranormal activity or scary movies. The culprit: local school board elections.

I have worked in my district for eleven years. I love it here. I have flourished as an educator and as a teacher leader. I have grown as a teacher through the support and mentorship of the fabulous teachers and administrators who surround me. Our community has been engaged and encouraging. Life has been good.

Until last year.

Last year, all by but two of our school board members decided that it was time to stop listening to teachers and to start listening to special interest groups with seemingly anti-teacher agendas. Under the guidance of voices from outside our district, these board members have worked diligently to dismantle the contract, undermine the local association and create policy that “protects” students from teachers.

With two seats available this election season, I felt hopeful that our community would acknowledge the undue strife that has been caused by board members who are listening more to outside influences than to the members of our community.

Unfortunately, those influences are powerful and incredibly invested in their vision of education reform. One week before the election, an anonymous tip about boundary disputes has managed to disqualify one of the candidates who threatened their majority voice on the board.

This is the stuff of nightmares.

Things that go bump in the dark…

Unfortunately, our district isn’t alone—we’re just one more example of a trend affecting districts all over the country. Instead of including all stakeholders in important discussions about improving our schools, small groups are propagating rhetoric of fear. Fear about standards, assessments …and (yes) teachers.

It scares me how much credence these messages have received. Have those who buy into these messages had a conversation with a student or teacher recently? Do they even connect the word “teacher” with their next-door neighbor who is fiercely committed to her students and fighting hard for the kind of system she knows will benefit them?

But it scares me even more to think of the results. Whose interest is served by refusing to listen to teachers about instructional practices and policy reform? Certainly not children’s. Ignoring the special perspective and expertise of teachers who work with children every day is detrimental to the future of education.

…Don’t look so scary in the light

Thankfully, after a night of nightmares, the morning always comes. And this morning, my nightmares were replaced by the sunshine of engaged learners: Juniors participating in incredible dialogue about Harlem Renaissance poetry. Sophomores analyzing significant passages from Othello. Their enthusiasm and joy reminds me that I can’t give into my nightmares and throw my hands up in defeat.

Tackling your fears begins with acknowledging what is scary and then learning to look at that fear from a different perspective.

Yes, I am nervous about what an anti-teacher board could do to the district that I love. That’s why I will spend time over the next few days researching the remaining candidates for my school board: so that I can vote for those who seek to include all voices in the decision making processes of our district.

I worry about groups who are trying to rescind state decisions to implement Common Core State Standards—and who are doing so out of a misunderstanding of the standards and how they translate in classrooms. So I will do my research and speak to the state board of education next week about the value the standards to my students and their learning.

I have anxiety about what feels like a lack of trust in my profession. So I will have conversations with people in my community so that they can hear the great things that are happening in my classroom and recognize my professionalism as they gain a greater understanding of what I do.

Will my nightmares about my district recur? I’ll have a better sense of that on November 5, when election results are announced. No matter what happens, it is important for me to redirect my concerns, to invest my energy into being hopeful. My students deserve this from me. They deserve this from of all of us.

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