Heidi Nance, a teacher in El Paso, Texas, tells the story here of a decision that changed her life. She decided to stop pretending that policy and politics had nothing to do with her. She would stop passively supporting policies that she knew were wrong. She made a decision to become an active advocate for her children and her profession. She made a decision to take an active role in shaping events and being a leader. Learn how she reached this turning point in her professional and personal life.


Today, there is a war against education. Men in offices are actively making decisions that will affect the way we teach. Today, there is a war against children. Men in offices are actively making decisions that will affect the way children learn. Today, we are their foot soldiers. Every day we march into our classrooms and do the work of these men in offices. These men know nothing of children, or teaching, or education. These men believe they have found the answer: accountability.

I am so blessed. I have an amazing administration that allows me to do what is best for my students. The great Sir Ken Robinson gave an interview and in that interview he explained that for the children we teach, we are their educational system. The children know nothing of policy or politics; all they know is what we do in our classrooms. I took great solace in that, and I decided to make sure that I always did right by the children in my class. But recently I started thinking of all the children in other schools, other cities, and other states. What about those children? And I realized it is not enough. I cannot say I hate what is happening in education and continue to passively support bad policies every day in my classroom.

In March I went to the Network for Public Education National Conference. I met educators, parents, activists, and journalist from all over the country. We all shared a common goal – to take back public education. Public education is paid for by the people and belongs to the people. It belongs to us. And I had forgotten that. I lost my voice, but there, in Austin I found it. It is loud, and it is great. It is my teaching voice. You know the voice I am talking about. The other day my daughter came into my classroom while I was teaching. Later she told me “Mama, you sound weird when you teach.” I joked and told her that when you are a teacher you can have no fear. Children can smell fear. So today, I am using my teaching voice.

I am not afraid.

When I was at the conference, I felt so empowered. My mind raced with ideas. My body vibrated with excitement. I returned from the conference, and all the joy and energy drained from my body, and I thought “now what?” How do I take all my ideas and turn them into action? So that is what I am doing today. I do believe in accountability for teachers, and today I am holding myself accountable. I am accountable to the children I teach.

On Monday, I will walk into my classroom and remember that every child is different. Just like every child walks when he is ready, every child learns he is ready. I will not shame children for not following the time table set forth by politicians. Instead, I will cheer and encourage because I know that every child starts at a different point and that as long as they are moving forward, all the great teachers at my school will help each child to reach his or her full potential.

I will make sure that I only have the highest of expectations for my students. But I will remind myself that the burden of high expectations falls on me. It is my job to make sure that everything I ask of my students is developmentally appropriate, and I will speak up when it is not. It is up to me to support and scaffold the learning of my students. I will make sure everything I say and do in my classroom is supported by research. I will realize that high expectations, without the research to back it up, is the mantra of politicians who support high stakes testing.

I will set individual goals for each of my students. I will realize that by setting inappropriate goals, I will only discourage my children who need encouragement the most. I will demand that every day my students smile, laugh, play, and learn.

I am accountable to myself. I will continue to educate myself. I will read books by great educators and historians like John Kuhn, Alfie Kohn, and Diane Ravitch. I will scrutinize the policy decisions of our state legislators and our Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. I will be outraged when he bullies our state into tying teacher evaluations to test scores. I will support organizations like Network for Public Education, Fair Test, Defending the Early Years, and Texas Children Can’t Wait. I will spend my weekends writing letters to the editor, letters to my congressman, and letters to the president.

I am accountable to the public. I will speak up when people make false statements about public schools and education. I will explain to them that the dialogue about public schools has been hijacked by people who intend to dismantle and profit off of it. I will tell them that our schools are not failing. Instead, movies like Waiting for Superman are propaganda used to promote an agenda that will only hurt our minority and special needs students.

I will speak out when people reference our schools’ international ranking. I will inform them that when we account for children living in poverty, our students are ranked among the highest in the world. I will point out that 23% percent of children in the United States live in poverty. The second highest of any industrialized nation. Our schools are not failing; our society is failing.

I will educate people about the failures of high stakes tests, merit pay, VAM, and retention. I will explain to them why charters and vouchers are not the answer. Every child deserves a high quality, neighborhood school. No child should have to put his hopes and dreams into a lottery. I will inform them that researchers already have the answers to help low performing schools. They include preschool for all children living in poverty. The earlier, the better. Prenatal care for mothers. Safe homes and safe neighborhoods. Wrap around services like school libraries, school nurses and school councilors, smaller classes, and a well rounded curriculum rich in the humanities and the arts. I will remind people that our country has only been successful because we are a country of innovators and that standardized tests stand to crush every ounce of creativity our children have. I quote Robert Schaffer who said, “Believing we can improve schooling with more tests is like believing you can make yourself grow taller by measuring your height.”

I am accountable to my fellow teachers. We must allow our teachers to collaborate, not compete. It does not benefit children to have teachers competing for bonuses or the highest test scores. We cannot set up a system where teachers are afraid to work with the neediest students for fear of losing their jobs. High risk students should not equal high risk employment.

I am accountable to my students’ parents. I will support and educate the parents who are unable to help their children. I will provide them with materials and compassion because they are not the enemy. Inequality and inequity in schools is the enemy. Segregation is the enemy. Years of bad bilingual education policy is the enemy.

I will even have compassion for the so called helicopter parent. I will realize that my silence has allowed for them to lose all faith in public education. The media has fed them a steady diet of failing schools, failing children, and failing teachers. With our unstable economy and a shrinking middle class, it is not surprising that parents are fighting tooth and nail to help their children succeed. Every time we are silent we allow for the continued distrust of educators and for the deprofessionalization of teachers.

I am accountable. I am accountable to myself, the public, my colleagues, my parents, and my students. But even more I am accountable to all the students in classrooms across this vast and diverse country. But I am not afraid. I am a teacher.

I stand before children every day and I teach them. I teach them things they need to know and things they never dreamed of knowing. I teach them to believe in themselves and each other. I teach them to question, and push, and explore. I teach children with no parents and no home, and children with 4 parents and 2 homes. I teach children that they are the difference this world needs. They are amazing and creative and on the verge of excellence, all while being only a small piece of the puzzle that is humanity. I am a teacher.

And so on Monday I will go into my classroom, and I will teach. I will use my teaching voice with my students, and when I leave I will use my teaching voice with anyone willing to listen, and even those who refuse to listen, because I am not afraid.

I am a teacher.

Heidi Nance