Angela Staples 2“How do you find the time to do it all?” I frequently hear this question from several colleagues, co-workers, and friends who wonder about the balancing act of being a teacher, mother, and advocate for students through the SCORE Tennessee Educator Fellowship.  My usual response is, “I have absolutely no idea.” As I reflect on the question, I realize the best response is not about “how” but “why.”

It’s true that my schedule is packed as a teacher – planning lessons, attending school events, sponsoring a club – and a single mom – taking kids to sports practice, making sure they get a good dinner, helping with homework. But I made time for the Fellowship because our students need their teachers to speak up for them. The Fellowship has provided opportunities for teachers to advocate for education policies that lead to professional and academic growth and success for all Tennessee students.

Educational policies directly impact my classroom and students. I first realized the need for teacher voice in policy creation about 2010 when I worked on the Teacher Effectiveness Initiative with Memphis City Schools. Teachers were brought in to help develop the evaluation model alongside district officials. Engaging teachers in policy work that would directly affect them was unheard of! I sat at the table with district policymakers, who looked to me for input. That initiative, facilitated by the Gates Foundation, helped me realize I was more than “just a classroom teacher.” But my first experience as a teacher leader was overwhelmingly because I had not been trained on how to be a more valuable contributor to the conversation.

As a Tennessee Educator Fellow I have become more knowledgeable of what advocacy entails and how to utilize teacher voice. I have become more empowered with the tools to speak intelligently about policies and issues that arise at the state and local levels of education. I have also learned how make action statements that provide the listener with goals to be accomplished in regards to the issues presented.

Tennessee has demonstrated record academic growth since 2011 according to data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress. This year we are introducing the TNReady assessment, a test aligned to our more rigorous standards for English language arts and math. Because of the SCORE Tennessee Educator Fellowship I have been working with the district on gathering data and making informed decisions about what professional development for TN Ready should look like for us teachers.

This has been my first experience in this district providing teacher voice under the guidance and assistance of the members of the fellowship. This time I feel more prepared and confident while sitting at the table. My voice is being valued and added to the discussion which in turn will benefit our students in the end.

With the toolbox provided by the Fellowship I now feel empowered to lead the educational policy discussions. My voice is valid when it comes to the needs of students and preparing them for a life of success. As a result of my involvement in student advocacy, I have a clearer understanding of the immediate effects that policy has not only on the students I serve but also on those all over the state. The fact that I can serve as their voice supersedes the daunting task of balancing work and home life with advocacy.

The opportunities to provide teacher voice in educational policies that lead to professional and academic growth and success for all students in Tennessee is a commitment that is too valuable to be omitted from my responsibilities as an educator.  We educators today are producing the college and career ready students of tomorrow. Our voices serve as the bridge from policy to practice. I invite teachers who share this perspective to apply for the Tennessee Educator Fellowship for 2016-2017 and become an effective voice of our students today.