Why teaching is political and why it’s worth it

Working together with some incredible colleagues today, I shared a thought that occurred to me years into my work as a teacher and a coach, that much of teaching and being a teacher leader was a matter of navigating politics. This often feels secondary, like a distraction, like ugly business and irrelevant to the real work of teaching kids. In many ways it is. But I came to understand at one point that working on those politics, building bridges with those lone ranger teachers, tactfully speaking up to or finding common ground with admins with different imperatives, working in solidarity with your union even when their protections require creative workarounds… Yes, it can be a lot of politics piled on to 8 hours of teaching plus evenings of lesson planning and grading.

But it is in fighting for the things that matter for kids in the midst of those politics, for the sake of the kids, that collective change and growth happens. As teachers we should have the ideal situation to support meaningful collaboration and colleagues ready to share the best they have, so that our focus is utterly on great instruction, assessment, and relationships with kids.

But in reality, those politics that seem constraining are the very territory over which the relevant battles are fought. The stakeholders don’t always have the best motives compelling them at each moment, but they very often have good intentions that you can appeal to. And even where people are the enemy, they are wolves we must protect our flock from, and worth our efforts. These stakeholders impact our kids. To engage them with integrity, strategy, commitment to equity and humanity, and love, is often to serve the kids and communities that are our bottom line.

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