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The Untapped Power of Teacher Voice

  • Carlos Leon
    LEE member Carlos Leon says teacher voice is critical to ending educational inequity.

On any school day, Carlos Leon (10’) walks into Richard Green Elementary in the Twin Cities as a teacher-leader.

His days are divided between co-teaching 3rd and 1st grade and coaching his fellow teachers as a teacher-leader. Carlos strives to inspire his students the same way his elementary teachers Ms. Montoya and Ms. Eichhorst inspired him -- a child of undocumented immigrant parents in Southern New Mexico.

These teachers got Carlos to see his full potential and embrace all that he was capable of doing. That experience led Carlos to want the same for all his students. But he knows that there is more at stake than just providing his students with a great education.

“The reality of being in the classroom every day is you a get sense of what policies and decisions could have the greatest impact on your classroom,” he said.

Students in Carlos’ school have parents that are facing deportation – something that touches close to home. “It made me reflect on the struggles my mother faced as an undocumented worker and now 23, 24, 25 years later there’s a student going through the same process,” he said.

It’s that personal experience that has inspired Carlos to step up for his students in another way: as an advocate with Educators 4 Excellence (E4E).

“A lot of teaching is being frustrated by structures and situational occurrences that happen inside and outside of work,” he says. “You can choose to ignore it completely and go on with your everyday life or really think about it.”

As a founding member of E4E in the Twin Cities, much of Carlos’ work at the organization is focused around recruitment. “We want teachers to know the organization is here for them and how they can get engaged,” he said.

Inspired by his own experience as a teacher and an undocumented student, Carlos is working with other members of E4E to pass the DREAM Act and other policies that directly impact students and teachers in the classroom.

The work has not been easy, and Carlos says there are often not enough hours in the day. However, he says, the educational opportunities and circumstances that hold many of our students back will only be changed with teachers at the table.

“The biggest detriment to education right now that the people who make the majority of the decisions for educators are not educators,” he says.

He continues, “Ten years from now our conversation and our policies will not have moved to where they need to be without teachers [serving] as a critical voice.”

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The reality of being in the classroom every day is you a get sense of what policies and decisions could have the greatest impact on your classroom