I first heard this essay as a powerful ignite session at a Utah Teacher Fellow convening. Author, Michele Jones, has graciously agreed for her words to be published on this site.
Let me introduce myself, I am Michele Jones, a 9th grade mathematics teacher, and this is my 6th year teaching. I earned my secondary teaching license and Masters of mathematics at the University of Utah. I have a big mouth. I come from a long line of strong, activist women. My mom instilled in me an unwavering sense of civic duty. She taught me by example that inaction and silence are equivalent to supporting the status quo.
I am an activist because I love my country and the promise of freedom and opportunity it gives. I firmly believe that education is the life-blood of true democracy and that education fulfills the promise of opportunity. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, “A democratic society depends upon an informed citizenry.”
I am a teacher activist because I love my students and see the amazing potential they possess. I see this potential in my students who have Natural Beige, Warm Beige, Arabesque, Toasted Tan, Honey Glow, Warm Brown, Caramel, Rich Walnut, Creamy Cocoa and Dark Chocolate skin. (I took a walk through the makeup aisle.) I see this potential in my SPED, Regular, GT, ELL/ESL, honors, twice exceptional and AP students. I am a teacher activist because all of my students deserve to learn at high levels and have access to the educational and socio/emotional resources they need to feel safe, loved and challenged.
Our students deserve great teachers. It is not hard to find great teachers. What is hard to find is to find teachers who have had great training. To increase the number of amazing teachers in Utah we need to require all educators to participate in amazing teacher preparation programs. I believe in the necessity and effectiveness of high quality education for both students and aspiring educators. Through requiring high quality education programs our students will be given high quality teachers. All teachers want to inspire their students, it is just that more and more of our new teachers have not been taught how to, yet.
Being a Hope Street Group/NNSTOY Utah Teacher Fellow has challenged me to reflect on my beliefs, clarify my passion, and refine my teacher voice. I have learned how to organize and lead focus groups, further honed my beliefs, and identify the networks I belong to and my spheres of influence. Through the Teacher Fellows program, I have made connections and friendships with an amazing group of individuals. The Fellows feel like a family, it is just in this family, every single member of it is an inspiring, passionate and hardworking teacher who is also a true model of what excellence in education looks like. I am humbled to be a member of this incredible group.
As a Fellow I have been invited to and given opportunity to move my activist voice from my personal spheres of influence to being given a public audience. Through Tabitha Pacheco’s (Program Director) kind, but persistent, suggestions I wrote down my beliefs, observations and insights on teacher retention. I am proud to say that I am now published!
Thanks to the training provided to the Fellows I am now social media savvy – or at least competent. I know how to share, retweet, use hashtags, like and have even used a Twitter Deck. Before the Fellows I had no presence on social media. I now have 212 followers and counting!
Being part of the Fellows has helped me amplify my voice by showing me the impact a single teacher can make. This is not because I suddenly have more individual influence, it that my voice has been joined with other dynamic educators and together we are a force! We, collectively are the change we want to see in the world: teacher voice guiding education policy, teachers uplifting and edifying our school systems, teachers creating caring and inspiring classrooms for all students.
Being part of the Fellows has connected me with other well-informed teacher advocates. Being part of this group has helped expand my perspective, feel supported in my causes, and be part of a community that uplifts and advocates for high quality school systems.
I make ripples of change. Though I am only a drop of water in a sea of teachers, I have learned that when I keep abreast of education issues, current research and recent changes in education policy I can help inform my colleagues and lead conversations that truly have students at the heart. Through simply developing relationships with my community, my drop starts to create ripples of awareness and change when I join others, my ripples turn to waves.
Being part of the Fellows has helped my ability to be a ripple maker by making me more educated and aware of the political side of education. The focus groups and resulting data analysis has broadened my understanding of educational policy with regards to licensing and teacher leadership positions.
I am excited to begin my second year as a Teacher Fellow. My plans for the coming year include advocating for true teacher leadership positions to be defined at the local, District and State level. At the school level, I have initiated conversations with my principal to find creative ways to fund teacher leader positions. I am excited to continue advocating for and model peer coaching, mentor related activities and funding for PLC leads.
At the District level, I have started making waves with my activist voice by going to District Board meetings and emailing my Superintendent and Board members. I will continue this work by using the Fellows data collection analysis to meet with the Superintendent to discuss the Fellow’s findings and begin conversations about teacher leadership positions within the district. I will further the impact of these conversations by making sure that fellow Fellow and Granite School District Teacher, Deborah Gatrell, is sitting by my side.
At the State level, I will continue to develop relationships with my elected officials. As I learn to better navigate the pathways of influence I will also take advantage of my networks and spheres of influence to open doors and find hidden entryways.
I am so thankful to Tabitha for facilitating the Fellow’s to be a part of the Utah State Board’s focus groups and organizing opportunities for us to speak with our legislature during the session. I will continue to grow these initial contacts into relationships and use these relationships to spark conversations that help edify the education profession and support the needs of my students.
I have hope for the future of education. I believe that positive change is occurring at the local, district, and state level. I feel these things because I have a strong, relevant, informed teacher activist voice. I want to thank the Utah Teacher Fellows for uplifting me, challenging me, and inspiring me to make some waves!