Karen Magee: Your Vote And Your Voice

Sep 23, 2014

Aretha Franklin’s 1967 hit song “Respect” is on my mind these days.

Out of, well, “respect” for Aretha and listeners to this month’s commentary, I’m not going to sing.

But, I am going to note one of the song’s most meaningful lines. Of respect, Franklin’s booming voice calls out, “Find out what it means to me.”

With primary day behind us and the November elections approaching, educators across the state don’t feel respected. They are ready to show what “respect” means to them.

Teachers and school staff regularly tell me they are angry about budget cuts and the devastating impact of the property tax cap.

They are furious about glaring inequities in how the state funds its poorest and most vulnerable school districts.

They are deeply frustrated about over-testing, the broken teacher evaluation system and the impact of ‘reform’ on their students.

And, while there is steely resolve to defeat Campbell Brown and rebut the many lies about tenure and due process, teachers are also livid about what I call the “blame the teacher” crowd.

You know… those people who are quick to blame teachers for everything that ails our public education system, while never acknowledging the root causes – chronic under-funding and societal influences like violence, broken households and the unrelenting cycle of poverty.

This election, teachers and parents who support public education have a unique opportunity to send a message in the voting booth.

No matter the political party or the office being sought, what’s important in this election is how candidates view public education and the important role played by teachers and paraprofessionals in moving our schools forward.

In Albany and in Washington, the “right” candidates regularly seek out and trust the opinions of teachers.

They don’t just nod amiably when we bring our concerns and aspirations to their offices. Instead, they stand shoulder to shoulder with us and speak out publicly in support.

They respect what we do on behalf of students and the knowledge and experience we bring to our jobs.

They innately understand and respect the vital role public education plays in a democratic society. And, they vote in ways that demonstrate that understanding and respect.

In that same vein, they also respect the voice of parents, who are natural allies in the fight against the state’s over-reliance on standardized testing and data. And, the “right” leaders we elect to office also respect students -- those who we know are ‘more than a test score’ and those struggling with the ever-rising cost of attending college.

So, this coming election is all about “respect.”

Those candidates who have respected teachers, public education and organized labor will find that respect is a two-way street.

Candidates who take educators and public education for granted will learn about respect in a new way. As Aretha Franklin put it, they’ll find out what it means to me… and all 600,000 of NYSUT’s members and their families in every zip code of the state.

Karen Magee, a former elementary and special education teacher in Harrison, is president of the 600,000-member New York State United Teachers.

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