‘You Can Do This’ – Keep Making Your Voices Heard

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May 10, 2022

When I began the journey of Michigan Teacher of the Year back in August, I was incredibly nervous about this new and unknown experience. My colleague and dear friend Don Green saw me the day before I was officially stepping into the role, and he could sense my anxiety was high. Late that night, as I was preparing for the next day, my work email pinged. I opened it to find a message from him. At the end of the email, he wrote these words to me.
“I believe education is the path. I believe that education can be our silver bullet – to end systemic inequities, to level the playing field and give everyone the tools they need to make a better life.
“It is why your work this year is so important. Lift up students, lift up teachers, and in the process ... you can tell me next year what lifted you up.”
I have come back to this email countless times over the past several months. His words wove into my heart as I worked to find the balance to the myriad educational challenges in tandem to wanting to embrace hope for the beauty and magic that this profession creates.
Last week, before heading to Washington, D.C., with the state teachers of the year, my class (with the encouragement of my co-teacher Lynne Cobb) painted pictures with inspiring messages for me. They were all beautiful, but one stood out. The picture was of a bridge, and next to it, my student painted the words “You Can Do This. Make your own path.”  
These messages, written months apart, feel like the rallying cry that all teachers need to hear as we wrap up this school year and imagine what the next one will bring. When I reflect on all the educators I have encountered across Michigan and the United States, one resonating and true fact is braided within all of them: 
They all want to be respected and build classroom environments that allow students to be themselves while they grow, connect and thrive.
Teachers are the ultimate community builders. We know what it takes to create a community for our students. It is now time to use our collective voices to advocate for the educational system that students and teachers across the state and nation deserve.  
There are over 87,000 teachers in Michigan and over 3.2 million across the United States. We can make the change; it is right there on the horizon, if we only would work together collectively to reach it. 
I know this may feel like an insurmountable task. I imagine many of you are reading this thinking of that time you tried to use your voice and were silenced by those who think they know better.
Believe me, I have been there, too.
One voice can be silenced. A collection of voices cannot be ignored.
Last week, I heard Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona speak these words to a group of educators:
“When you walk in the room, you are the expert on education. Don’t ever think you don’t belong there.”
I know that often the voices of teachers are ignored or demeaned. Your voice is important, and it matters. This may be the most crucial time in education across the United States. We are at a fork in the road, and the decisions that will be made in the next several months will determine structures for years to come. Our silence right now provides the opportunity for those that have little to no experience in the classroom the autonomy to decide what they think is best for public education. 
Let's use our voices to elevate students and educators. We must fight for the changes that are greatly needed. No one is going to do it for us. We can build the bridge together and forge a new path for education across Michigan and beyond by doing the thing we teach every day to our students – to work together in a connected community.
About Leah Porter: I am a third-grade teacher at Wilcox Elementary in Holt Public Schools. As an educator for over 15 years, I strive each day to help students develop into their most authentic selves. I value providing instruction that helps create leaders and competent, critical thinkers who will be strong voices and caring citizens in their community. As Michigan Teacher of the Year 2021-2022, I strive for all my work to be seen through the lens of equity and accessibility, and how to build educational systems for learners that will transform the trajectory of education across the state of Michigan and beyond.