This week, as we wrap up another school year, we teachers are filled with mild dread (The heat! The restlessness! The cleaning!), as well as satisfaction and nostalgia. Once again, I'm filled with pride to see how my seventh-graders have grown in historical thinking, analysis, reflection, and empathy for each other and all people.

Teaching constantly reminds me of the impermanence of our world. Everything—and everyone—changes. My students have changed and grown before my eyes this year, and next fall, I’ll have 150 new students before me, all completely different from this year’s group.

As students change, so do teachers. With next year’s students, I’ll have new challenges and goals. This year, I focused on integrating art into U.S. history lessons, and through teacher evaluations and support, I also worked on pacing my lessons to better maximize learning time. I am not the same teacher now that I was at the beginning of the year, and I look forward to growing more next year to better serve my future students.

Yet despite constant growth in students and teachers, our public school system remains relatively unchanged. Minnesota is blessed with ardent public schools supporters and numerous education advocacy groups, and yet we continue at a snail’s pace to systemically address the achievement gaps that have already impacted an entire generation.

Ever hopeful, my colleagues and I yearn for solutions that will help ensure all students achieve at high levels. But, too often, we struggle to find seats at the table where legislators discuss and decide policy that directly impacts our classrooms.

We need to accelerate meaningful school reform, and we teachers need to lead the process. That’s why I'm calling for partnership and collaboration, and for teachers to make their voices heard in the classroom and at the Capitol.

And that’s also why I’m thrilled to announce my new partnership with MinnCAN, as the nonprofit’s first teacher policy fellow. In the coming year, I’ll work alongside the MinnCAN team and their partners to help develop campaign goals and strategies that will immediately impact Minnesota students, like the ones I’ll teach next year.

Only by increasing teacher voices in the public sphere will this work move forward to truly improve our schools. We teachers need to be active in our unions and also partner with groups like MinnCAN, Educators 4 Excellence, Generation Next and any others that can get us a seat at the policymaking table. We must connect with legislators to reform stagnant funding structures, to revise status quo teacher preparation programs, and to eliminate old policies that do not treat educators as professionals, nor increase student achievement.

I congratulate Minnesota’s teachers on wrapping up another year of hard work. Now, as you reflect on this past year and prepare for the year ahead, ask yourself: how can you not only improve next year as a teacher, but also lead the change to improve all Minnesota public schools?

If you have ideas, please reach out.

Holly Kragthorpe teaches seventh-graders at Ramsey Middle School in Minneapolis, where she is a union steward for Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, a school captain for Educators 4 Excellence, and a teacher blogging fellow and teacher policy fellow for MinnCAN.


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