“I bought bouncy bands for my high school seniors,” said Lindsay Aikman, a teacher at Champaign Centennial High School. “You know, the big rubber bands that go around chair legs to help preschool kids with trouble sitting still. This is how anxious our schools are making students.” Aikman was one of 24 teachers and school leaders, mostly NCTE members and ranging from early childhood educators to high school technology coaches, who gathered last month at NCTE Headquarters in Urbana, Illinois, to share their concerns. This post is the first in a series of four blogs about this gathering.
The educators were joined by one of the US Department of Education’s Teacher Ambassadors, Matt Presser, a literacy instructional coach at the King/Robinson Magnet School in New Haven, Connecticut, who has been tasked with helping the Department understand teachers’ perspectives on educational policy. Presser was in town as part of the Secretary of Education’s annual Back-to-School Bus Tour, in which he and the Teacher Ambassadors tour a region of the country to hear directly from students, teachers, and community members.
The discussion was lively and wide-ranging. Presser expressed his agreement with much of what was said and promised to reflect it back to policy makers in Washington. While it’s not possible to share the full richness of the teachers’ perspectives in this brief post, over the course of the next couple of days, I’d like to highlight some recurrent themes and point to related work NCTE has underway.
Theme I: Teaching in an Inequitable Society
The educators gathered that night wanted to make sure that officials in Washington understood the challenging context in which they are working, stressing the fact that students’ literacy learning is powerfully shaped by factors outside of their schools’ control, such as high levels for poverty, increasingly visible mental health issues, uneven access to developmentally appropriate early childhood education, and a growing diversity of student ethnicity, nationality, and home language.
In its policy platform and statements, NCTE highlights the tremendous impact these fundamental social inequities have on students’ literacy learning. In the area of early childhood education, the Council has funded the highly successful PDCRT project (Professional Dyads and Culturally Relevant Teaching), which supports early childhood classroom teachers of color working in classrooms made up predominantly of students of color from low- or no-income households. It recently issued its Statement about the Role of Early Childhood Education and Racism and the importance early childhood educators have in forming the outlook of children.
Although issues of financial inequality and racism in its many forms are difficult for our organization to take on directly, we work to support members in building students’ cultural competence and understanding of equity through our position statements, guidelines, and statements about policy. Examples include the recent NCTE Statement Affirming #BlackLivesMatter, Guideline on Expanding Opportunities: Academic Success for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students and NCTE Position Paper on the Role of English Teachers in Educating English Language Learners (ELLs).
In its 2015 Education Policy Platform, NCTE emphasized the importance of equity in education: “Equity is essential to meet America’s promise of equal opportunity for all citizens. Equity serves the common values of fairness, opportunity, and social good. Disparity in Iife circumstances should not result in a disparity of access to a quality education.”