Teachers, you are on the front lines as defenders of truth. Our students need you more than ever.

I can’t begin a new season of a podcast called TRUTH for teachers without acknowledging the changes that have occurred since Season 4 ended two months ago. I think we had all hoped that after the US election, some of the division we were feeling in our country would die down a bit, and the constant political drama and onslaught of outrageous, embarrassing news would trickle down to a more manageable pace.

This…did not happen.

And it’s tiring. I know this. I know that it is wearisome to hear about serious issues all the time. It is tempting to want to return to the days when our social media feeds were mostly pictures of babies and puppies, when we collectively questioned the popularity of the Kardashians, and the most controversial nationwide debate was whether that dress was blue or gold.

But the truth is that we’ve been too comfortable. For many years, most Americans have been asleep. We’ve not been paying attention to the systemic injustices that were building and led us to the point we’re at. The mistrust and dissatisfaction that we’re seeing from many groups of people for many different (and often opposing) reasons–this unrest didn’t come out of nowhere. It’s been building for a very long time. It’s a result of many different groups of people feeling like they weren’t being heard, and their concerns weren’t being validated. There was a pressure building up over the course of many years.

And most of us preferred to pretend that it wasn’t happening, and to go on Facebook to share recipes and cute classroom pictures instead.

Click to play the audio, or download the episode & listen on the go

This post is based on the latest episode of my weekly podcast, Angela Watson’s Truth for Teachers. A podcast is like a free talk radio show you can listen to online, or download and take with you wherever you go. I release a new 15-20 minute episode each Sunday and feature it here on the blog to help you get energized and motivated for the week ahead.

We cannot avoid discussing this, because teaching is inherently political

Let me get a little more specific about what’s happening with teaching in particular, since we’re all educators here listening to this. We’ve allowed corruption in our government and injustice and inequity in our laws. We’ve sat on the sidelines as authority has been taken away from teachers and our students have been short changed, time after time after time. We saw it happening, but didn’t know what to do, or didn’t want to get uncomfortable, or didn’t think it was appropriate to get political or be an activist as a teacher.

Here’s the truth. As educators, we cannot avoid politics. That’s because teaching is inherently political. Our funding, our class sizes, our lack of materials, our testing regulations, our salaries–all the issues we discuss daily with our friends in person and online–these are all issues related to politics. From things decided at the national and state level all the way down to what’s decided by your local school board, politics influences it all.

The curriculum companies your district purchases from? Politics influenced that choice.

The way your students are tested and the way those tests are created and scored? That’s political.

Your district’s official plan for suspending and expelling students? You better believe that’s political. It all is.

So we have to be paying attention to politics if we want to understand our daily lives as educators. We’ve spent far too much time focusing on the symptoms rather than identifying the problems. We’ve complained widely and loudly about the outcomes but refused to take a closer look at how we got there.

Teacher-bashing + disregard for facts = disaster for our schools

We have to be seekers of truth, and defenders of truth, or we will continue to fall lockstep into a narrative that ultimately sees us (as educators) as part of the problem. We’ve watched with dismay as the American people lost respect for teachers–somehow it’s we who have become the enemy. (I’m still baffled as to how we came out of the 2008 recession with teachers being labeled as the greedy ones who don’t care about kids while bankers and corporate executives continue to hold the power and respect.)

Teachers have been increasingly vilified not only by the general public, not only by the left and right wing media, but also by our government. This was mostly done by ignoring our voices and expertise (I mean, when was the last time we had an appointed Secretary of Education with actual teaching experience, or a real understanding of what’s best for kids?) I’ve been concerned about this anti-teacher, anti-public school sentiment that’s been rising for years, and I’ve been speaking out about it for years.

However, there seems to be more blatant attacks directed at public school teachers, and our work is being intentionally maligned in many cases. And when you couple this tradition of teacher-bashing with a stated agenda to withdraw funding from our public schools, and you add in an utter disregard for facts, the results for our schools and our kids could be disastrous.

Dig deeper to find out WHY truth is being manipulated

This is the larger issue: right now, the truth is up for grabs. People are defining it in many different ways. There are facts, and there are now apparently, alternative facts. There are easily disprovable lies coming from the lips of leaders in our highest offices–lies that contradict what we have collectively seen with our own eyes and heard with our own ears. Which means that our leaders don’t care about getting caught, they care only about discrediting the truth.

It’s not that they believe what they’re saying–the goal is to get the American people to believe a set of alternative facts that weave together a specific narrative. This narrative will then allow the government to justify the extreme measures they plan to take next. It doesn’t have to really be true, as long as enough of the American people believe it’s true.

In order for us to believe them, they cannot encourage us to be people who think for ourselves or listen to any reports apart from those issued directly from the White House via press conferences and the president’s Twitter. They don’t want us to look beyond the little bubble of information they’re disseminating to consider a broader perspective or listen to other viewpoints. They’re openly decrying the media as the “opposition party” and any critical reflection is labeled as “dishonest press.” Not a day goes by that we don’t hear this viewpoint being reinforced from our highest offices so that the American people begin to believe the White House has a monopoly on the truth.

This is an incredibly dangerous road we’re headed down, and that’s just one reason why so many people are openly outraged now when they’ve been largely silent about corruption and lies perpetuated by government representatives in the past. We’ve never before had a president attempt to turn us against the free press, and openly, repeatedly attack those who attempt to fact check or voice dissension. We’ve even seen that those in government who dare to question whether his orders are constitutional can and will be fired for doing their jobs.

We’re seeing a disregard for our constitution, for checks and balances, for the fundamentals of democracy, for dissent, and for truth. That is un-American and really quite frightening when you consider what happens to a country when representatives have the power to do whatever they want without scrutiny from the people or press, and when any dissenters are terminated. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Are we practicing what we preach to our students?

We as teachers cannot fall for this narrative. We have to do all the things we teach our students to do:

  • Be critical thinkers.
  • Look for primary sources.
  • Read up on how checks and balances and our democracy are supposed to work.
  • Understand the difference between websites that have a bias and those that do not.
  • Differentiate between fact-based reporting and editorials/opinion pieces on the same website.
  • Recognize point-of-view (which, by the way, is not a bad thing).
  • Distinguish between fact and opinion.
  • Know how propaganda has historically been used by leaders to push false information.
  • Understand how media and journalism have historically been used to fact check and hold leaders accountable.
  • Develop an appreciation for nuance, and let go of the binary that any one person or movement is all good or all bad

Insist on truth-telling from those in charge and hold them accountable

We cannot settle for propaganda. We cannot keep within the bubble of party lines or go along with what everyone else is thinking. We cannot blindly accept what ANY our representatives say as truth–not our president, not our governors, not our district leaders, not our school boards.

None of them are above scrutiny. This is how democracy works. Patriotism is loyalty to the country, not to a particular representative. It is our job as citizens to be actively involved in our government and hold them accountable for what they say and do.

And this goes for non-government leaders, too. We cannot blindly follow celebrities or figures in religious movements or bloggers or podcasters. No one (including myself) is infallible. No one is 100% right about everything. No one has the complete picture or a monopoly on truth. We have to be continually seeking truth and discerning it for ourselves.

If you like our president’s policies and are that happy he’s doing exactly what he said he would, you can still choose to hold him accountable for telling the truth and allowing our system of checks and balances to function correctly.

It does not betray your vote or your party to say, “I choose to think for myself. I do not not see any government leader as the voice or representation of God. I do not blindly follow any one person or take their word as gospel truth. I research for myself. I listen to and learn from opposing views.”

No time to finish reading now? Download the episode & listen later:

Teachers are known for love of knowledge, but for not for challenging the system

Defending knowledge is a part of our collective identity as teachers. Historically, we educators are known for our love of facts, our love of accurate information and our passion for communicating that information to others. We seek out knowledge ourselves and we impart knowledge to our students. This is what we love. This is what we do. This is who we are.

But what we are not known as, historically as teachers, are revolutionaries who challenge the system.

Instead, we are rule followers.

We are people pleasers. We like things to be peaceful and orderly–in fact, we’ll usually take order over justice most of the time. We see ourselves as largely powerless when it comes to creating change within systems that are not designed to support us or our students.

And that is how and why we’ve seen our rights be taken away. This is how we’ve allowed ourselves to be stripped of our funding, our respect as professionals, our ability to make decisions about what’s best for our students.

We don’t like to fight. We don’t like to be uncomfortable.  

Teacher friends, it is time to get on board the truth train here. We cannot only be passionate about decorating our classrooms and finding fun activities for our students. We have to be passionate about truth. We have to be lovers of truth and defenders of freedom.

Refuse to ignore troubling patterns or normalize deception

Truth is a bipartisan issue. It is something we should all care about and all seek.

The election is long over and the issues we’re facing now have nothing to do with whether you’re a registered Democrat or Republican. This is a battle for all Americans, for all people, to fight together.

This is a fight for truth, because truth is what sets us free. Fighting against ignorance and uncovering truth is how we advance together as one nation to end hate and division.

My challenge to you today is to discern truth. Look for patterns. The news is moving quickly right now but none of it is irrelevant or a distraction–it’s all part of a pattern, a larger agenda. You don’t have to try to keep up with everything that’s happening, but seek out the patterns, the larger narrative that’s being pushed by our leaders and analyze it critically.

Fact check the statistics you hear. Question what you’re told. My friends, we need you right now. No matter who you voted for. No matter where you stand on the various issues. We need you to be a warrior for truth. We need you to be a thinking, actively involved citizen. We need you to teach students to THINK.

Teachers, you are on the front lines as defenders of truth. Our students need you more than ever.

Get out of your comfort zone and take a stand on issues affecting our students

We need you to fight back against anything that’s not best for our students and the families we serve. Equity for students should be a bipartisan issue. Stand up for yourself, for your school, for kids, for families in your community. You have a voice and can amplify the voices of your students and families.

Be okay with discomfort.

Have the hard conversations instead of discussing “safe” topics that are less controversial.

Let your choices be guided not by fear or fear of discomfort, but a love of truth.

Don’t make decisions by asking yourself, “Am I allowed to do this?”

Instead ask yourself, “Is this the right thing to do?”

I know this is battle that many of us did not want to fight. But here we are, teachers, on the front line as defenders of truth. What we teach influences the way the next generation sees the world, and leads the world.

Seek truth and fight for justice.

And remember, it’s not going to be easy, it’s going to be worth it.

Truth for Teachers podcast: a weekly 10 minute talk radio show you can download and take with you wherever you go! A new episode is released each Sunday to get you energized and motivated for the week ahead.

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Angela is a National Board Certified Teacher with 11 years of classroom experience and 7 years experience as an instructional coach. As founder of Due Season Press and Educational Services, she has created printable curriculum resources, 4 books, 3 online courses, the Truth for Teachers podcast, and The 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club. Subscribe via email to get her best content sent to your inbox!

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Tamara Russell February 5, 2017 at 12:21 pm

I thank you so much for saying what has been on my heart. I appreciate your voice and your leadership. We have a long road ahead of us as educators and it is way past time for us to come together, regardless of political affiliation to find ways to help the kids that we love.
Thanks for using your platform to speak truth!

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2 Sherri February 5, 2017 at 12:23 pm

Thank you for this post and podcast, Angela. So many of our students are marginalized, confused, and frightened. Teachers are being blamed and shamed. Public education — one of the cornerstones of our democracy — is being disparaged. As teachers, we cannot be silent bystanders. We must figure out how to talk through the discomfort, build bridges with colleagues, students, and parents, and be advocates for and agents of change! Thank you for having the courage to talk about difficult things and encourage us all to dialogue about these things thoughtfully and meaningfully and to take action . . . our students deserve nothing less!

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3 Alyssha Swanson February 5, 2017 at 12:58 pm

OMG! Tears! There is so much truth here! Thank you for verbalizing so much of what I wish I could say AND for opening my eyes on new things to think about.

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4 Allie Szczecinski February 5, 2017 at 2:20 pm

This!!!! Thank you for using your platform to share a hugely important call to action. No longer does our job stay in 4 walls, for anyone.

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5 Mary F February 5, 2017 at 3:11 pm

Angela thank you SO MUCH for this! Every morning I wake up and read the news and I feel fear, exhaustion and despair. Thank you for energizing teachers to fight the good fight and for making us feel like we are not alone! You are a treasure!

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6 Claudio February 5, 2017 at 3:42 pm

Angela you have expressed what needs to be said out loud and loudly. If we are responsible for educating the next generation and the future of this country, then we also need to be their champions and protect them from harm that comes to them in many ways throughout our society. Whether it’s advocating against a woman who is nominated to be the next Secretary of Education and is completely and utterly unqualified to do so or to speak out against policies which harm immigrant families, we need to educate our students and their families to stand up against tyranny, oppression, and injustice. Our forefathers did and founded this country on those ideals. If we see injustice, scapegoating, name calling, belittling, disrespect, of our students or our profession, it is our moral and ethical responsibility to speak up and take action.

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7 Sarah February 5, 2017 at 5:10 pm

I love that you said teaching is political. Getting access to an education is a right that people fought for. 70 million children go without an education in this world. We have forgotten that, even in America, education is a right that can be taken away at any time. We are mandated to fight for our students because we are also fighting for our souls as educators.

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8 Virginia Gibson Pratt February 5, 2017 at 8:27 pm

Angela, I am a recent “graduate” of the 40HTW, and I’ve listened to your podcasts for over a year. The one today was SO spot-on. I wish I could require everyone I know to listen to it, but that would kind of be anti-democratic, huh? Seriously, I couldn’t agree with you more on every point. We have been complacent for too long, and we have been used to letting others take away respect and power from our position as teachers. It took a very opinionated and very loud, brash president to wake most of us up. Today’s podcast goes very well with your lesson on positive and negative peace that you shared for MLK day. I used that with my kids, and I’ve thought about it a LOT since. Thank you so much for being a voice for positive peace, for teachers, for students, and for our country. I appreciate you!

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9 Robert Berkman February 5, 2017 at 10:10 pm

Angela – exactly what needed to be said, and I hope millions of teachers read and reflect on what you’ve stated. I am currently reading “Hidden Figures,” and its amazing to think that so much of the change that came about our country started in the schools: from the women who used their education to work their way up the ladder in a white, male dominated field, to the civil rights lawsuits that desegregated the universities. It’s the schools that will lead us into a better future, if we were just allowed to teach the core values of democracy, citizenship, the rule of law as well as respect the fundamental values of diversity and liberty.

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10 Iris February 6, 2017 at 7:01 am

Thank you, thank you, thank you! I especially like the way you framed these ideas in the perspective of the skills we want our students to exhibit; critical thinking, point of view, etc. A newcomer to our small town recently attacked our teachers and school system in the paper. We were so angered, but God bless them, several ladies who know better praised what we do as teachers and a system.
I have never called my lawmakers before, but I did last week to ask that they would not confirm someone who knows nothing about public schools.

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11 Lark Salter February 6, 2017 at 8:55 pm

I want to shake your hand. I hope I get to meet you one day…you said everything that needed to be said…well done! God bless you!

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12 Margo Batha February 6, 2017 at 8:56 pm

Angela,

Thank you for putting into words what I believe from the bottom of my heart. We must stand up and speak the truth. We must teach the students in our care to dig for the truth and stand up for the truth.

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13 Nancy Kaplan-Biegel February 7, 2017 at 2:14 am

Thank you so much for this post. As a teacher of journalism, I feel your message acutely. And I love that I genuinely could not tell if your political persuasion is Democrat or Republican. As you pointed out, all Americans should care about and must safeguard the truth. I’ll keep this short, but please know I agree with every word you said. Thank you for your bravery and call to action.

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14 Michele February 7, 2017 at 10:42 am

Thank you so much for writing these very words. So many of us are filled with anxiety over what could transpire in our great nation, and you beautifully provided us a calm through the storm with your very true and thought-provoking post.
Critical thinking is such an important skill, yet so many seem to think they can rely on the Internet or on their collection of information from a single source and take that as truth. Hopefully, your words can inspire teachers to teach this skill in greater depth to their students, creating future generations that can better evaluate information and better determine the path our nation will take for us all.

Michele :)

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15 Lisa Johnson February 7, 2017 at 8:14 pm

We must stand up!

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16 Gaye Murphy February 7, 2017 at 9:09 pm

Thank you for writing such an excellent piece. Like you, I have been a NBCT for 12 years and I know what is happening in education is wrong. There are children who are counting on us to step out of our comfort zone and stand up for truth. We will not let them down.

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17 Lori February 7, 2017 at 10:15 pm

Wow!!! You have written something so powerful and true I hope teachers everywhere read it. I will be sharing it with my colleagues and anyone else I can! Thank you for your courage and commitment to truth and doing what is right.

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18 Pamela February 7, 2017 at 10:46 pm

I have photographed the teachers of Oaxaca, Mexico striking for better teaching conditions. It amazed me how they would spend months sleeping, cooking, protesting on the streets–often times, marching in the middle of the night until some smidgeon of improvement came there way. I wonder if teachers in this country would be willing to do the same: sleep on hard cement sidewalks, cook over propane stoves, live in the same clothes for weeks at a time until some kind of positive change came their way. I left there each time wondering if the teaching profession ever really improved. I don’t say this to dissuade teachers, as I am a teacher myself. I just wonder if we have what it really takes to change what’s ahead because it’s going to get really hard. We need to brace ourselves.

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19 Martha R. WoolridgeWelch February 7, 2017 at 10:52 pm

Thank you a million times over…………

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20 Sagaree Sengupta February 8, 2017 at 6:58 am

Thank you so much for speaking up. It would be nice if people higher up in the organization would speak up for teachers– instead we are criticized for trying to handle situations we are place in by the system. We do need solidarity in staying impartial around our students, and keeping our heads enough to keep teaching critical thinking.

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21 Sagaree Sengupta February 8, 2017 at 6:59 am

I meant “placed.”

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22 Bridget February 8, 2017 at 3:23 pm

YES! Yes, yes, yes. Thank you!

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23 Lisa Wood February 10, 2017 at 6:14 pm

I really appreciate your well worded perspective in this first podcast of your 5th season!! When the election winner was announced I was blindsided and had to take pause to ask myself how I would react. What in the world could be done? Of course the answer was to teach. We as teachers certainly cannot lobby, but we can teach our students to be citizens who ask questions and hold themselves and others accountable.

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24 Susan K February 15, 2017 at 8:39 pm

Thank you for this, Angela. This has been one of the best pieces I have read yet concerning our current political climate and how it concerns teachers and teaching. I applaud your wise words.

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