Teacher Advocacy: Raising Our Voices, Making Them Heard

Posted on March 6, 2016



The role of the classroom teacher extends far beyond the classroom. It is not enough that I know my disciplines: English and American Language and Literature, Drama/Theater for the Young, Written Communication: The Teaching of Writing, and Secondary Education. It is not enough that I master teaching strategies, community-building, classroom procedures, assessment and evaluation practices, school-home communications, parent-teacher conferences, data collection and analysis. It is not enough that my students pass courses, graduate from high school, pursue college and career after high school. It is not enough; it is never enough.

It’s not enough that I am a teacher. Along with my desire that my students become powerful readers, writers, speakers, listeners, and researchers, I want them to know that they are safe at school, that I will work to insure that their human and civil rights are protected at school and in the community. As an educator, I have an ethical obligation to my students to be their advocate. As a classroom teacher, I have advocated for students who:

refused to be coerced into taking a non-required U.S. military placement exam

founded a Gay-Straight alliance

wanted to advertise a student-led club with posters in the hall

founded a Secular Student alliance

wanted to participate in the Homecoming Parade

wanted to wear the color of graduation gown in accord with their gender identity

wanted to be free from harassment and bullying

wanted to avoid misrepresenting themselves as religious believers in a musical performance

wanted to identify Safe Zones, where they know that teachers will advocate for LGBTQ youth

wanted to perform their poetry for the public in an evening event

wanted a student-centered ELA curriculum that allows them choice and voice in their reading and writing

For me, being an advocate means knowing and understanding the law so that students’ human and civil rights are protected. It means listening to students and parents with compassion and helping them find ways to have their concerns addressed. It means knowing what developmentally-appropriate literacy practices are and advocating for them in my school.

While it receives little attention in the mainstream media, for many teachers today, Teacher Advocacy is a big part of what it means to be a teacher–a big part that is little acknowledged or appreciated. Being an advocate means to see our work as literacy educators within the larger framework of peace and social justice work.

DSCN5727Since 2014, I have been working with a team of amazing Teacher Advocates, from around the state and nation, as a result of taking part in Cathy Fleischer’s Teacher Advocacy Workshop at EMU. Along the way, Cathy has been thinking about how to reach out to other teachers who haven’t been able to attend the workshop. Now, she’s announcing the launch of a great new Teacher Advocacy resource: NCTE’s web resource, Everyday Advocacy, “a site devoted to helping teachers enter the public conversation in order to create change.”

I am really excited about this website and looking forward to seeing how my Teacher Advocate colleagues are using their classroom research and experience to join the local and global conversation on literacy education. If you are a classroom teacher who is concerned about an issue and looking for a way to take action and make change, I invite you to join this network of powerful Teacher Advocates who are raising our voices and creating change.