When I was named the 2017 National Teacher of the Year, many people assumed that I must be a naturally and magically gifted educator. “We need more teachers like you in our schools,” a school administrator recently told me. In a hushed, conspiratorial voice, he added, “I wish there was a way to clone you.”
Seductive as all of this may be to my ego, I am sorry to have to disappoint: I am not a magically great teacher. I have built my skills over a decade of hard work, research, collaboration, and learning from my mistakes. And although I am honored to be recognized as the Teacher of the Year, I know that I have so much more to learn.
President Trump and the House of Representatives have recently proposed cutting funding for Title II of the Every Student Succeeds Act, which supports professional development for teachers. The effects of this cut would be tragic for teachers and students—and ultimately, for the future of our country. I urge members of Congress to fund Title II when they vote on the proposed funding bills, and to follow the lead of the Senate Appropriations Committee and fund Title II in the federal budget.
One of my favorite units to teach in my 9th grade Humanities class centers on the history of the United States’ relationship with Puerto Rico. Each spring, my students grapple with the implications of Puerto Rico’s status as a U.S. territory. They read and write and debate about big questions like, “Is Puerto Rico a colony of the United States?” and “How should the U.S. reconcile with Puerto Rico for past injustices?”
These are complex questions for 14-year-olds to wrestle with. By the end of the unit, my students have studied bills, written letters to Congress proposing next steps, designed new flags to represent their visions for Puerto Rico’s future, and analyzed Puerto Rican literature to deepen their understanding.
Ten years ago, as a new teacher, I would not have had the skills or the confidence to undertake a unit like this one. Through professional development, though, I have become a better teacher.
At my school, Title II enables us to fund our ongoing work with EL Education, a national network of schools that focuses on the mastery of academic content and skills as well as character and high-quality work for all kids. Through EL Education, I get to meet with other teachers in Massachusetts and across the country to share ideas. My peers have shared best practices with me to help my English learners engage in class discussions or get struggling readers to carefully annotate complex texts. I have participated in hands-on workshops to analyze state academic standards and find ways to revamp my own curriculum to engage students in meeting these standards, such as our deep dive into our country’s relationship with Puerto Rico. This funding also has given me the opportunity to work closely with other teachers in my building and our administrators to evaluate my quality of teaching and to work together as a staff to plan next steps to help all students succeed. All of these experiences have made me a more effective teacher, and all of them were supported through Title II funding.
If we believe that today’s students are tomorrow’s leaders, then we must advocate for teachers. The number one predictor of how much a student will learn and how well they will perform on standardized tests in a given year is that student’s teacher. Not family income level. Not race. Not special education status.
Eliminating Title II sends the message that helping teachers become more effective is not worth funding. It sends the message that our country does not value teachers as professionals who will benefit from ongoing development based on the latest research about how students learn. It sends the message that our students, who are tomorrow’s leaders, do not deserve access to the best teachers possible.
Great teachers aren’t born. They’re made. That means lawmakers don’t need cloning to fill schools with incredible educators who will change kids’ lives. They just need to fully fund Title II.