Wednesday, September 23, 2015

To all Washington teachers (and those beyond...),

You weren't chosen for Washington State Teacher of the Year today. I wish I could say I'm sorry, but really, I'm not.
I'll get to that shortly.
First, let me begin by congratulating the WA TOY. It's an honor to be recognized by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction based on whatever qualifications are required of the political system that runs our public schools. You'll have the megaphone through which you can push for equity in our schools, for the full funding of education, and to remind the legislature that they are required to reduce class sizes for our students and teachers. I hope that you avail yourself of the opportunity to speak on behalf of all teachers and fight for the good of Washington’s public schools. This would include the fight against standardized tests, public funding of charter schools, the use of student test scores in teacher evaluations, and the multitude of other corporate education reform efforts that are strangling our profession.
However, based on the track record of OSPI in choosing the WA TOY, I fear that the exact opposite will occur.
But that's not why I'm writing. I want to thank the rest of you for what you do. For your efforts every day. For your sacrifices that will never be rewarded. For coming to work every day- when you're ill, when your children are ill. When life has built up and the stresses are tearing you down, you still show up and you are there for your students every day. Your work day begins before your start time and ends long after the final bell. Yours is the first car in and the last car out.
Thank you.
You know that your students rely on you being there for them. For some of you, you are a more stable figure in their lives than their families. They count on that steadfastness. You feed them. You clothe them. You comfort them when they need a shoulder, and are the first one they run to when they have good news to share- often right when you're in the middle of a lesson or lecture. But you stop and listen and share their lives with them. You're there for every step- from the transition to middle school or being there during their freshman year of high school when they're nervous and lost- they come back to your middle school science or math or art classes for a friendly face, a smile, or a place to be welcome. You’re there at graduation as they cross that line into adulthood.
Thank you.
For the special education teachers who spend more time than I can fathom working with families, filing paperwork (and more paperwork and more paperwork and more...) so your students are assured that we are doing the most we can for them. Your patience and caring are unmatched. For the coaches who spend countless hours watching video to help that lineman understand how his stance can lead to a better jump off the line, how the swing of the racquet can help her overhand serve, or how the swing at the tee can drive the golf ball deeper down the fairway. For the librarians who students rely on for far more than books and movies, for the nurses who tend to things I'm not sure I want to imagine. For the art teachers, the music teachers, the dance teachers, the math teachers, the science teachers… all of you make a difference every day that should be recognized.
But you may never be that person shaking the State Superintendent’s hand. Why? Because you’re too busy being there in your classroom. Grading papers. In meetings. Advising extracurricular activities. Listening to a student’s latest heartbreak, helping make the poster to help him ask that one girl to Homecoming. Being their role models and advocates. The list of what you do every day far surpasses what can ever be recognized by politicians.
I have a lot of upperclassmen in my room. I’ll be honest- I often reap the rewards of your hard work. The foundation you lay for your students does not go unnoticed by those of us who teach juniors and seniors. You’ve helped build some amazing young men and women.
Thank you.
And thank you for your countless hours spent writing letters to politicians. For Town Hall meetings, phone calls, trips to the capitol to lobby for our public schools. For giving up your summers to bargain for the best contract you can get for us. For fighting against the wave of corporate education reformers that are trying to take away the system that creates the best future possible for the students that we care for every day.
Thank you.
I wish I could say that I’m sorry that you may never get the official title of Teacher of the Year. But I’m not, not really. Because you’re more than a great teacher for a year. You’ve been a great teacher for ten years, fifteen, twenty- or more- years. You’ve watched your students grow up and become women and men, husbands and wives, mothers and fathers. You’ve been to quinceañeras, weddings, bar mitzvahs. You’ve been to your student’s funerals, grieving their loss. You’ve held the children of students that once were your students themselves, and you’ve had those kids in class continuing the cycle of making a difference in their lives as well. What you do can never be measured or quantified. It can’t be evaluated. It can’t be tied to a test score or determined by an algorithm.
But please- I need you to keep doing it. For all children. For my own children. Because I know that you’ll be there for them when they need you. I trust you. I count on you. I believe in you.

And I thank you.

Michael Pena


  1. Thank you Peña. Truth be told from every precipice and high place.

  2. Excellent post and a message that must be told and retold again! Only when we make our voices heard loudly with strength and with pride can we begin seeing respect for teachers and for our profession. I wrote a similar blog asking teachers to tell their own stories