The Awesome and Awful 2017: Your Highlights

student and teacher high-fiving in class

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was 2017, a year that many public school educators are ready to close the composition book cover on. (But it wasn’t ALL bad, was it? No, it was not!) We asked, you answered. Here are five of your A-plus moments from 2017, plus one, big “see me, needs work” moment:

  • “No more vouchers in the Douglas County, Colorado, district!” says Colorado teacher Michele Becker. Yes, after parents and educators worked to elect anti-voucher, pro-public education school board members this past fall, the Douglas County school board voted in December to end a private-school voucher program that would have allowed the school board to send tax dollars to private schools.
  • “We won our recertification vote!” says Iowa teacher Kim Williams. This is probably not what Iowa state legislators hoped for, when they passed a union-busting bill in 2016 that mandates annual recertification votes for every one of the state’s 1,203 public-worker unions. But instead of silencing educators, they fired them up. In the first round of votes this September, 13 Iowa State Education Association (ISEA) unions voted overwhelmingly YES to recertify. “It was a no-brainer for teachers to say, ‘of course I want my contract!’” said Shane Peterson, president of the West Lyon Education Association.
  • “The fifth-graders at my school came together to plan fundraisers for Puerto Rico…on their own,” says Naperville, Ill., teacher Rebecca Gamboa. Across the country, students opened their hearts—and pantries—to their peers in Puerto Rico whose homes and schools were devastated by Hurricane Maria. “We had over 11,000 diapers that were donated, over 17,000 bandages and almost 200 cans of formula,” Mt. Prospect, Ill., school social worker Lisa Ryno told a local TV station.
  • “It was the first time I got teaching experience in a classroom!” says NEA-Student member Rich Stange of Hawaii. (Yay, Mr. Stange!) This fall, hundreds of thousands of new teachers entered U.S. classrooms, and many relied on mentorship from union colleagues or other union programs. (Check out NEA’s SupportED for the latest in education resources that are especially helpful to new-ish teachers.)
  • It’s not just one moment, but millions of lightbulbs-on, warm-my-cynical-heart moments that happen every day in public school classrooms, on school buses, and in school libraries: It’s the ninth grader in Maryland teacher Amy Clark Cox’s classroom who told her, “I respect everyone’s opinion except when it diminishes the existence of others.” It’s the second and third graders in Maine teacher Jennifer McFarland’s classroom who told her, “I feel safe in this room.” Or, when Kansas teacher Beth Maloun’s “non-reading second grader read (and sounded out) his very first book! I nearly cried!” Every day, something amazing happens in our public schools!

And the one, not-so-wonderful, “needs work” moment from 2017? Many NEA members said it was the appointment of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who was confirmed by Vice President Mike Pence after a 50-50 Senate vote—and after NEA members and allies sent more than 1 MILLION emails, telling Congress to reject DeVos’ pro-privatization, anti-public education agenda. It was an incredible show of solidarity by public school educators, parents, and community members.

Which brings us to 2018… As Congress hammers out a tax bill that puts hundreds of millions of dollars in state and local funds for public schools at risk, our work continues. Check out the NEA Legislative Action Center for more.

So, how awesome or awful was 2017? Share the best and worst things that happened this year to your classroom or school community in the comments below.