When I was recently asked if I thought teachers today needed to be activists I didn't hesitate in my answer. "Being a teacher, almost by definition, means being an activist."
That might come as a surprise to those teachers who have never wrote a letter to the editor, marched in a rally, retweeted a Diane Ravitch tweet, or "Occupied" anything but their classrooms. But I'm holding to my belief, as firmly as some teachers hold their protests signs declaring things like, "Let Teachers Teach" and "Protect Our Students": being an activist is an essential part of being a teacher.
For most teachers activism is an everyday thing because students and their needs are every day. There's a lot to watch out for in a classroom -- even on good days they are a moil of energy -- aside from whether a lesson is hitting home. A student who can't read the board because her family can't afford glasses. A cough that doesn't go away. A young boy who refuses to go to rec. because he gets picked on. A nasty bruise on the arm of the girl who doesn't meet your eye. The immigrant student struggling with a new culture and a new language. The issues are real -- poverty, neglect, abuse, poor health and nutrition, bullying, depression, low self-esteem -- and they are all a part of an average school day.
Good teachers don't complain, they just act, doing what needs doing to help their students learn. It may be a home visit, a talk with a school counselor, an offer to tutor after school, a walk around the playground at lunchtime, or a spare change collection in the teachers' room for eyeglasses. Some teachers (and it's a growing number) feel the need to address these concerns in a broader context, "taking to the streets" to confront such issues as health care, drugs, physical and sexual abuse, bullying, immigration, the current educational policy itself. But whatever teachers do, they take action, becoming activists for their students.