Message from a former teachers union employee: Embrace school choice

Editor’s note: This commentary from redefinED guest blogger Valeria Gurr, who serves as director of external relations with the American Federation for Children, appeared Monday on washingtonexaminer.com.

Education has always mattered to me. As a first-generation immigrant of a single mother who didn’t graduate from high school, I know firsthand how difficult it is to escape poverty without an education.

Before graduating with my master’s degree, I decided that education was where I wanted to pursue a career, so I was excited when a teachers union hired me. I thought I had a real opportunity to help bring change to the education system.

This country does a disservice by not empowering educators to lead in their classrooms. I remember the countless conversations with my former colleagues about how to help teachers manage burnout, large classroom sizes, and professional development. We worked long and hard at finding ways to prevent teachers from leaving the profession within their first two years of employment. The system was awful.

It’s challenging to make unhappy teachers happy with a system that fails them constantly. I left the job and found myself reflecting on why I left. Originally, I bought into the idea that I could bring change to the classroom and positively affect students and teachers, but the reality was that nothing ever changed.

Even after taxes brought in more revenue, teachers had to face salary freezes. The money never got to the classrooms. It wasn’t entirely the union’s fault — district mismanagement plays a big part. However, at the union, we fought for taxes in exchange for education improvements, which never became a reality, and we kept right on asking for more tax increases.

I became unmotivated and lost confidence in my purpose. Then, I found a new purpose and a passion for empowering families with additional high-quality educational options. Every day, I am motivated to fight for families who, like me, are searching for the American dream.

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