Once again, we faced the surging spread of Covid. But that did not dampen our hope or stifle our resolve to make the start of school the best it could be for our students. There still was excitement in the air when the back-to-school season rolled around.
Students and educators alike committed to being their best and resolved to leave behind the things that have held them back in years past. We planned and prepared. There were backpacks and notebooks to buy; dorm rooms to decorate; lesson plans to review; parents to contact; decisions to make for that first impression; tears to hold back, if you are packing up your 18-year-old for his/her first year of college or getting your kindergartener ready for their new adventure in learning.
Back to school has always been one of the biggest milestones in everyone’s lives. It is the promise of opportunity that is ahead for our students, our families and our communities.
Even in the time of Covid, no matter if you are teaching prekindergarten or graduate students, the first days of school are filled with hope and a sense of renewed purpose. It is a time when we are reminded of the greatness of American public education. Public education is built on the mission of teaching every student who walks through our schoolhouse doors, regardless of where they come from, what they look like or where they live. We believe, without reservation, that each of those students deserves a world-class education and the opportunity to pursue their dreams.
Our students are individuals with various needs. They come to us with their own life experiences: wonder, fear, joy, and sorrow. When we know our students’ history, their background and their culture, we are light years ahead in helping them learn. When we are allowed the freedom to design programs and lesson plans to meet our diverse students’ needs, we exceed in our mission to reach and teach each student.
Unfortunately, many of the policies created by lawmakers and the education commissioner ignore those differences. Those same politicians have been diverting resources from our public schools for decades, funneling more and more public money to pet projects, political contributors and the corporations that run charter and voucher schools. As funds have been drained from public education, our teacher and staff shortage has gone from bad to severe, and class sizes continue to expand.
The politicians try to create ways to blame educators and our unions, to distract us from the failures of the policies they have implemented. They try to divide us and weaken our unions, because they know that when we come together, we are powerful.
Together, we have the power to demand that leaders do right by all students. Joining together, we can demand that our schools have the resources to meet each student’s needs, with well-trained, supported educators and a curriculum that helps them reshape our nation.
Nandi Riley is secretary-treasurer of the Florida Education Association. Previously, she taught English at Florida A&M University and high school in Gadsden County, where she first began her FEA journey in 1999. Nandi has served in numerous union roles since and was elected FEA secretary-treasurer in 2020.