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Teacher Voice

These Teachers of the Year Stand for Those Who Choose to Kneel

This submission comes from 2017 Teachers of the Year who were inspired to write about their decision to stand for the national anthem during their recent appearance at the 2017 College Football National Championship Game.

On the surface, we look very different: We have different races and ethnicities, come from different parts of the country, and even count ourselves as members of different generations. Some of us are veterans, some historians, some scientists. But while our pasts are vastly different, our present circumstance unites us: We are each Teachers of the Year. We have been honored to represent our colleagues from all across the country this past year. We have spent these twelve months elevating the incredible work that teachers do by sharing best practices, recruiting and inspiring new teachers, and working with lawmakers to influence educational policy. As we have travelled, struggled, and grown together, we have discovered that we have more in common than it may first appear. We understand the plight of inequity in our schools, we are passionate about diversifying the teaching pipeline, and we are dedicated to closing the achievement gap. Most importantly, we believe it is our responsibility to use our newfound platforms to advocate on behalf of teachers, students and disenfranchised communities. This work has not always been easy or comfortable. But part of our commitment as ambassadors for the teaching profession has been to step bravely into difficult conversations about issues that affect our students and their families, like school choice, DACA and racial justice. So when we were invited to participate in this year’s College Football Championship celebration by being recognized on the field during the national anthem, it was posed to us whether we would stand or take a knee. And so, we, the undersigned, began one of our most audacious conversations to date.

We Had ‘The Talk’

One thing that has been certain over the course of our relationship is that we have developed a deep respect for one another. Whether we came to a consensus or not, we wanted to explore our options together and work to understand one another’s perspectives. Behind the scenes in the days leading up to the game, our discussion mirrored the national conversation about the protest begun by Colin Kaepernick and the reasons behind it. We talked about whether ‘taking a knee’ during the anthem could communicate our support for marginalized people in this country who have been systematically mistreated and misrepresented. We debated whether this event was an appropriate venue for protest or if doing so would unfairly take the spotlight off of teachers’ work around the country. We worried that the gesture could be read as disrespectful of the flag, the police and our armed forces. As our conversation widened, we studied the genesis of Kaepernick’s protest, which began because of the idea of “liberty and justice for all.” Again and again, we returned to a common refrain: “We support everyone’s individual decision. Whatever we do, let’s show the country that we love and support one another.” We have grappled, together, with whether to tell this story. We worried how people might view our decision to have such a discourse: Would they think us ungrateful? Misguided? Disrespectful? At times, we felt divided, but we worked through it—together. Ultimately, this discussion allowed us to come to a common understanding of the broader conversation we need to have as a nation and as a people.

Why We Decided Not to Kneel

We are immeasurably grateful to the College Football Playoff Foundation, Dr. Pepper, and the Council of Chief State School Officers for giving us the once-in-a-lifetime experience to wave at 78,000 cheering fans from the 5-yard line of a national championship game. Even more than that, we are grateful to these organizations for valuing teachers and for believing that our voices matter. In the end, we realized that it would be impossible to come to a consensus on a matter of personal conviction. None of us took a knee during the anthem, although we have deep respect for the athletes, like Colin Kaepernick, who choose to kneel. We stood on the field while 12-year-old Carly Ortega signed the national anthem in memory of her mother, who recently lost her battle with cancer. That moment underscored why we are in the position we are in as Teachers of the Year because of children like Carly and the children across this nation. Some of our colleagues locked arms; others placed hands on their hearts. We hoped that our unity, mutual respect, and love were apparent as we proudly represented our fellow teachers. After we departed the field, we held hands as we walked back through the tunnel, and for a brief moment, we locked eyes, proud of the opportunity to stand this year in the face of adversity. Whether or not you agree with our decisions, we commit to continuing to advocate and have courageous conversations for students and teachers at every chance that we are blessed enough to have.

Every Day We Stand for Those Who Kneel

Too often, recently, our country has felt divided. Our conversation highlighted our differences, but it also illuminated our shared convictions. Ultimately, as teachers, we hope to inspire our students to become active citizens—those who will lead from within their communities, those who will work to make the world a better place, those who will engage with one another in respectful debate about issues that matter. What better way to help our students become those kinds of active citizens than by modeling that hard work ourselves? What better way than to model for them how to stand in the face of adversity? We want you to know that every day we stand. We stand for kids. We stand for teaching and learning. We stand for justice and equality. We stand for the power of education to unlock doors for students and to give them sledgehammers to create their own doorways where none exist. We stand for the importance of differing opinions and perspectives within a democracy—and for the belief that we are wiser and more powerful as a collective. We stand for those who kneel. Signed, Casey Bethel, @2017GATOTY, 2017 Georgia Teacher of the Year  Kelisa Wing, @kelisa_l2teach, 2017 Department of Defense Education Activity Teacher of the Year  Sydney Chaffee, @SydneyChaffee, 2017 National Teacher of the Year  Tamara Ranger, @TamaraRanger, 2017 Maine Teacher of the Year  Kate McCann, @kmccannu32, 2017 Vermont Teacher of the Year  Amy Hysick, @hysickscience, 2017 New York Teacher of the Year  Camille Jones, @farmtableteach, 2017 Washington Teacher of the Year  Jason Sickel, @sickelj, 2017 Kansas Teacher of the Year  James Harris, @Alaska_TOY2017, 2017 Alaska Teacher of the Year  Michelle Doherty, @AZteacher9, 2017 Arizona Teacher of the Year  Darbie Valenti, @Miss_D_Valenti, 2017 Missouri Teacher of the Year  Megan Gross, @MegNGross, 2017 California Teacher of the Year  Beth Kaltsulas, @BethKaltsulas, 2017 South Dakota Teacher of the Year  Wendy Turner, @mrswendymturner, 2017 Delaware Teacher of the Year  Beth Dewhurst, @MsDewhurst, 2017 Washington D.C Teacher of the Year  Sean Wybrant, @CraftingHeroes, 2017 Colorado Teacher of the Year  Gerard Van Gils, @mrgstoy, 2017 Northern Mariana Islands Teacher of the Year  Tate Aldrich, 2017 New Hampshire Teacher of the Year  Dustin Weaver, @DustinCWeaver, 2017 Ohio Teacher of the Year  Stephanie Gurule-Leyba, @SGuruleLeyba, 2017 New Mexico Teacher of the Year  Lauren Danner, @ScienceDanner, 2017 Connecticut Teacher of the Year  Courtney Cochran, @2017ArkansasTOY, 2017 Arkansas Teacher of the Year  Chris Gleason, @GleasonCMP, 2017 Wisconsin Teacher of the Year  Pam Ertel, 2017 Nevada Teacher of the Year Kelly Elder, @keldermt, 2017 Montana Teacher of the Year  Valerie Gates, 2017 Utah Teacher of the Year  Dr. Toney McNair, 2017 Virginia Teacher of the Year  Jodi McKenzie, @jodi_mckenzie, 2017 Mississippi Teacher of the Year  Nikos Giannopoulos, @beaconMrG, 2017 Rhode Island Teacher of Year  Ron Skillern, @ronskillern7208, 2017 Kentucky Teacher of the Year 
Photo courtesy of National Network State Teachers of the Year.

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