This year I’m excited to announce that I have taken on a new role outside of my normal teaching position. I am the Teacher for Transformation in the state of Missouri for the organization Students First. I am really excited about this position, because it means that I get to work more closely with teachers, parents, and community leaders to promote educational reform all over Missouri.
There are many reasons I chose to join Students First and it started before I was even working in a classroom.
My passion for education reform actually started in California, when I was a graduate student at Stanford University. There I received my Master’s of Arts degree in education with teaching certification. My program was a cohort of around 100 people who were all very smart, highly-motivated people who wanted to make a difference by becoming teachers. We were a diverse group from all over the United States and even some from other countries, which made for an enriching education experience.
My program at Stanford was much more reform-based because the education issues in California are a major problem to their extremely large economy. I actually student taught at a charter school, in fact one specifically captured in the famous movie “Waiting for Superman.” The conditions at my school were much different than in public schools in California which continue to face large class sizes (caps of 40 students), low budgets, and diverse student populations. Nonetheless, I went to these public schools and also learned a lot from working in a charter school environment. That is not to say that the charter school was perfect, because it faced its own challenges too. So I gained a lot from learning about and experiencing firsthand these educational issues in a state very different from Missouri.
My classes at Stanford also instilled in me a passion for education reform because of the climate in the California schools. My professors and fellow students inspired me to think outside the box of what has been done in education. One particular class about social justice really pushed me to think about major issues in education regarding equality and great education for all. When I reflected on the achievement gap based on income and race, it bothered me that more wasn’t being done to change the outcome so that all students had an equal opportunity to a high-level education. The quality of the program at Stanford shaped my expectations for myself as a teacher which followed me back to Missouri.
Then I started teaching. I teach in a school outside of St. Louis with a diverse population that focuses on student learning. I absolutely love where I teach, but after a few years I became disillusioned with the educational inequity that existed all around me. I came to learn about the especially large gaps in equity around the St. Louis area, because it is one of the most segregated cities in America. It is so obvious how income and background translate to better educational opportunities which then perpetuate the cycle of inequality.
So I started researching reform movements and how I could get involved to change this. The summer after my second year of teaching I came across Michelle Rhee’s book Radical at my local library. I read it very quickly and became immediately drawn to the organization she founded, Students First, because of its mission to not only expand educational opportunities for all but also to elevate the teaching profession as a whole in order to attract and retain higher-quality teachers. I firmly believe these two things are critical in education and I think that Missouri lags behind other states in recognizing this when forming educational policies.
For all of these reasons, I am thrilled to get involved with Students First this year and help find other people out there interested in education reform. I think that teachers especially need a conduit through which they can get connected to educational issues, because teachers need more of a voice in shaping the policies that affect us in the classroom. If Missouri is to succeed educationally, we need to get the people involved who have a say in making that happen.