I spent my first year out of college recruiting tutors for an after-school program, and while I loved it, I certainly didn’t expect it to direct me to my life calling. But the days I spent as an AmeriCorp Vista volunteer helped me understand the inequalities in our education system, bringing to life the challenges students from low-income communities face in and out of school, as well as the incredible drive and perseverance they exhibit in the face of adversity.
These moments inspired me to become a teacher and advocate for students. There’s truly nothing better than watching young people learn and grow in ways they never imagined they could. To maximize that kind of growth for students, teachers work hard every day to provide a learning environment in which kids learn content while finding their true talents and passions.
It’s also important that teachers have an opportunity to learn and be heard, and now, as the state finalizes our new education plan under the Every Student Succeeds Act, teachers must be more informed than ever and share their voices. The new law allows all of us — educators, parents, students, community members — to have a say in what education must look like for our students.
For me, that means holding all students to high standards and providing the resources teachers and students need to reach these benchmarks. It also means expanding career pathways for students through internships and community service opportunities so that students gain career-ready skills and identify their passions through real-life experiences, as I did through volunteer organizations in high school, college and beyond.
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While some states submitted their ESSA plans to the U.S. Department of Education in early April, Kentucky will be submitting its plan in September — affording our department of education more time to learn from other states’ plans and for educators, parents and others to be sure their voices are heard.
Unfortunately, a recent report from Educators for High Standards found that across the country, too many teachers haven’t felt included in their states’ ESSA plans. That lack of voice is a detriment to educators and students.
Being involved in the ESSA process has given me insight into the many perspectives that have been included in the new law, and I’m encouraged that it can be an effective vehicle for change in our education system — particularly for students from low-income communities.
I encourage all teachers to find opportunities to have their voices heard on ESSA. You don’t have to be an expert in policy to know what’s best for kids. You just have to be bold enough to advocate for your students.
As a teacher, I know how hard it can be to get involved in activities outside of the school day. The good news is that the website KYEdPolicy.org — including ESSA resources and contact information for policymakers — makes it simpler than ever to be informed and to be heard.
Kari Patrick teaches high school English at STEAM Academy in Lexington. She is a Hope Street Group Kentucky Teacher and was named the Kentucky Council of Teachers of English 2015-2016 Teacher of the Year.