Educators Don’t Have the Luxury of Being Apolitical Outside the Classroom

When I first entered the classroom as a teacher, one thing was made crystal clear: I was not allowed to express my political views to my students. And, as a public servant tasked with shaping young minds, I agree with this rule. My role as a teacher is to help my students build their own critical thinking skills, not dictate their beliefs.

But while I am strictly neutral in the classroom, I’ve come to realize the importance of my political role in my community, state, and nation. As an educator, I don’t have the luxury of being apolitical outside the classroom. What I’m doing inside the classroom is too important not to speak up.

The vote of an educator is a vote for the future. By failing to recognize the political nature of our classrooms and profession, educators are missing a great opportunity to share their expertise with the world. Educators choose, or are “called to,” a career that centers on the fair and equitable distribution of power to the future of our society. Through our profession, we’ve built a unique understanding that this can only happen within a free public education system. Because of this, educators should never be apolitical. We are an active part of a political system that’s foundational to our democracy, and we must express that at the polls.

We are a political force.

The 86th Texas Legislature was one of the most impactful for public education in recent times. The many pro-public education wins were borne out primarily because educators and our allies made ourselves heard at the Texas Capitol and at the polls. Texas lawmakers are beginning to understand how meaningful a unified pro-public education voice can be. But our wins—the extra funding, pay raises, etc.—can be taken away more easily than they were given to us.

Educators must take our strength, passion, and understanding of how important an educated society is to the voting booth. By taking a few minutes to cast informed votes, educators can participate in the political conversations happening now around school funding, teacher compensation, standardized testing, and more. Through voting, educators can fulfill our legacy as stewards of our nation’s future, and it’s more important than ever that we do so.

As the experts in our schools and classrooms, we must speak up and fight for what is best for our students. If we remain silent, we stand to lose out. Worst of all, our students stand to lose out on the best education we can provide.

Everyone—educators, parents, grandparents, concerned citizens—has a stake in a strong Texas public education system. Educators should be the guiding voice that ensures the futures of Texas schools and schoolchildren.

This week early voting for the primary elections in Texas began and runs through February 28. Primary election voting day is March 3. Mark your calendars.

I urge my colleagues and all citizens to find time to learn more about the education positions and voting records of the candidates on your ballot. There are plenty of resources available to help you. For example, ATPE members have a wonderful resource in TeachtheVote.org, its nonpartisan education policy website, but—however you get your info—the important part is to get educated.

See you at the polls!

Tonja Gray is a K-5 Literacy Success teacher in Abilene ISD. A 31-year education veteran, she is the 2019-20 state president of ATPE.
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