Californians must support all students

May 9, 2017

Eric Heins reads to students at Highlands Elementary in Pittsburg Unified School District in the East Bay on the March 2, 2017 “Read Across America” celebration of reading.

In this new era of local control, a teacher’s role in school improvement is changing. Educator-driven school improvement works because what teachers do is an art as much as it is a science, and it is a lot more than a test score. The best teachers understand their students’ strengths and weaknesses, and adapt their practices to both.

Real education improvement capitalizes on the fantastic pool of talent California has in classrooms today, and the diverse approaches we offer our students.

California’s Day of the Teacher on May 10 has its roots in the community and is patterned after the celebration of the traditional “El Día del Maestro,” which is observed in Mexico and Latin America countries. Our California’s Day of the Teacher arose out of legislation cosponsored by the California Teachers Association and the Association of Mexican American Educators in 1982. Since then, as our student population has grown and become much more diverse, California has increased in prominence on the world stage, and is now home to the 6th-largest economy in the world.

As teachers, we know that our diversity makes us stronger. We see it play out every day in our classrooms and on the playgrounds, and that’s why we celebrate, embrace and protect it. Teachers know what works best when it comes to improving student learning, and the simple fact is…one size doesn’t fit all. Some students need more one-on-one attention that’s only possible with smaller class sizes. Some need after-school programs, counseling and health care so they can come to school prepared, healthy and ready to learn. Some will need access to music, art and sports programs to keep them engaged with a well-rounded education. And all will need opportunities to succeed. Educators create those unique opportunities every day, yet it can be difficult when students are too worried to focus on learning.

These days, many students live in fear their parents may be deported, are anxious about being bullied, and are uncertain they will be able to afford college. These are heavy topics and real problems that get in the way of learning. As educators, we want to make sure every student feels safe, supported and cared for. And we want to make sure that all students get the public education they deserve. It’s why we’ve taken a pledge to make every public school and college a safe place for all our students to learn and grow. It’s why we’ve taken a pledge to provide a well-rounded education with history, science, art, music and PE classes that build strong minds and bodies, along with the technical skills and career training that build brighter futures.

California communities share our goals for quality public schools and recognize public education is the cornerstone for strong communities. Students are at the center of everything we do and as committed, caring education professionals, we cherish relationships with parents, community organizations, local businesses, other unions, the faith community and senior citizens. We are all part of a community, and our students will succeed when we work together.

Teachers and educators live by a pledge – a pledge to deliver all California students the quality public education they deserve. It’s why we are active citizens, we speak up on issues that impact their learning conditions, and we engage our communities because we know that, together, we can determine the best education for the students in our neighborhood schools.

We can’t do this important work alone, which is why we are asking Californians to join us in taking our pledge on behalf of all students. We need parents, community members and lawmakers to join us in advocating for students and against policies that undermine their right to attend schools free of fear, bullying and discrimination.

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Eric C. Heins, who taught elementary school most recently in Pittsburg, Calif., is president of the 325,000-member California Teachers Association (CTA).

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