“While they’re trying to single out our most vulnerable students, we’re rolling up our sleeves to actually solve problems and get our kids on track to succeed. While they’re tearing things down, we’re building them up, and while they’re hurling abuse, we’re healing minds.”
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, delivered this statement during her first back-to-school campaign stop in Pennsylvania in August.
The campaign is part of the “What Kids and Communities Need” campaign announced in July, an initiative aimed at helping kids and their families recover academically.
“We’re hopeful and excited about this year because we know we can turn this around by focusing on what our students need rather than putting politics before the things that we know work: literacy and reading programs, community schools that wrap services around children and families, empowering teachers and staff, and expanding community partnerships,” said Weingarten.
However, politics continue to creep into the classroom. According to Weingarten, politicians are weaponizing public education.
The AFT president visited Florida Wednesday and addressed the recently implemented policies enacted by Governor Ron DeSantis, such as the Parental Rights in Education bill, otherwise known as the “Don’t Say Gay” law.
“The people who are standing behind me,” she said, amongst Broward Teachers Union members, “they want to teach kids, they want to make a difference in kids’ lives. They didn’t come into teaching to be demagogues, to be dehumanized, to be smeared.”
Her visit came shortly after the removal of four Broward County School Board members based on a grand jury report addressing their “neglect of duty and incompetence” in regard to the Parkland school shooting in 2018.
“It is my duty to suspend from office when there is clear evidence of incompetence, neglect of duty, misfeasance or malfeasance,” DeSantis said in a statement. “This action is in the best interest of the residents and students of Broward County and all citizens of Florida.”
Laurie Rich Levinson, one of the four board members who was released, said the governor’s decision was uncalled for. “What Governor DeSantis did is un-American and undemocratic,” she said. “He doesn’t care about democracy and overturned the will of the voters. This action is authoritarian-like and has no place in the United States of America where the voters decide who represents them.”
Educators in several states are feeling the effects of overreaching politics that have crept into America’s school systems. In Florida, according to Weingarten, the state’s teacher shortage is linked in part to its education policies.
In an interview with CNN, one former high school teacher quit her teaching job in Palm Beach, Florida due to political pressure. “The public was actually saying that teachers were trying to indoctrinate students,” she was reported to have said. “It affected my health and my stress in a huge way.”
In Texas, teachers reported feeling like they’re caught in a crossfire amidst cultural wars in a survey released this month by the Charles Butt Foundation. According to the results, 97% of teachers believe a positive work culture and environment would motivate them to teach longer. Yet 77% of those surveyed said they seriously considered leaving the profession in 2022.
How can schools instill hope in their educators during uncertainty? Across much of the research targeting teacher dissatisfaction, respondents overwhelmingly say they desire more respect.
“Why do we have a teacher shortage?” asked Weingarten in a statement. “Because we have a shortage of respect for educators. A shortage of the professional working conditions that allow teachers and other staff to do their best for their students.”