by Shelbi Simeone-Montoya│Tuesday, September 11th, 2018
Often when education is discussed or debated, vital and necessary voices are left out: us teachers. Who better to provide perspective on schools than those of us working with students every day? Who better to speak about teacher pay, class sizes, educational spending, and many other topics than those of us who personally grapple with these issues?
It seems as though some policy makers want teachers to use their voice, but only while we are in the classroom. I’ve seen first-hand that those days are over and the time for direct teacher voice has arrived.
During our most recent legislative session, I had the opportunity - as a Teach Plus New Mexico fellow - to meet with many elected officials. I left feeling that the time is now for teacher voices to not only be heard, but cherished and valued.
As a career educator, I am dedicated to my craft and ensuring more teachers get the opportunity to influence and make education policies in New Mexico. That’s how I came to find Teach Plus New Mexico. Teach Plus launched a fellowship across New Mexico in 2016. The program coaches and mentors highly-effective teachers through a yearlong fellowship focused on statewide policy issues and amplifying our voices on important topics.
This was perfect for someone like myself who wants to do more than simply criticize educational issues in New Mexico. I want to be a part of real solutions from real teachers. Through research I helped conduct, an executive policy brief was published about an area I am passionate about: maintaining high quality teachers in New Mexico. My group’s research was captured into House Bill 177, which sought to make an additional pathway for excellent teachers to be paid more while remaining in the classroom.
What policy makers often forget is that we educators are amongst the most educated in the Land of Enchantment. We not only learn and constantly hone our practice, through numerous theoretical and hands-on applications, but many of us go on to obtain Master’s degrees in the field. Most teachers are curious and lifelong learners. Teachers are rarely invited directly to the table when big decisions are made. Instead, others lay claim to our voices and strip away the diversity and first-hand experiences we’ve collected in the classroom.
Thankfully, direct perspectives and actions from teachers are taking root nationally. Around the nation, teacher led walkouts have taken shape from West Virginia to Arizona. While increased pay is a big part of the demand, teachers also want more voice in public education and increased opportunities to further our craft without leaving the classroom.
Also, policy fellowship groups, such as Teach Plus, advocate for their input to be taken into account when making policy or policy changes. It is because not only do teachers deserve to be heard, but we want to be listened to. Personally, I am continuing my work with Teach Plus due to the tremendous progress made in the last year.
Legislators have reached out in a desire to continue the work my group did last year. We are looking at how to make changes that can be enacted in the forthcoming elections, while also continuing to recognize the need for maintenance of high-quality educators in New Mexico.
This is only the beginning of what will and is to come in regard to teacher voice being used, heard, and championed. If we look across the nation at the ways in which teachers demanded their proper platforms, we can see that this is a movement on the verge of busting out.
With this said, teachers, it takes us accepting these invitations with pride. Accepting opportunities and knowing that we are a crucial, if not the most necessary, piece of the conversation. We know what students need. We see the issues day in and out. We should not accept things we do not agree with, without letting our voices, opinions, and knowledge be heard.
We must accept the fact that we are the generational game changers who will shift the minds and lives of the future generations. And we are just as diverse in our experiences and views. There is no “one teacher voice”. We are a chorus of educators with the will and knowledge to lead New Mexico to new frontiers. We are the leaders to change the face of education here, reimagining what’s possible for all our students.
Shelbi Simeone-Montoya - Las Cruces Public Schools
Shelbi is currently an Administrative Intern for Las Cruces Public Schools. She is a
Teach Plus New Mexico Teaching Policy Fellow.