March For Public Education Speaker: Mary Cathryn Ricker

July 22, 2017. Washington, D.C.

Part of a series highlighting speakers at the March for Public Education.

AFT Executive Vice President, Mary Cathryn Ricker, speaking at the March For Public Education

Thank you for having me here today. And thank you for showing your commitment to public education by coming out in this blistering heat.

My name is Mary Cathryn Ricker and I am a National Board Certified middle school English teacher currently serving as the Executive Vice-President of the AFT — the American Federation of Teachers. We represent K-12 educators, paraprofessionals, nurses and healthcare professionals and higher education faculty, adjuncts and staff.

In fact, I just snuck out of our bi-ennial TEACH conference up the street — with more than 1400 educators — to come here to be with you and to let their voice be heard. Randi really wanted to be here with you today but her Dad fell and she and her sister have been taking turns caring for him. She had to leave this morning to go to New York.

Any AFT members here?

Public school teachers?

Who here believes in the promise of public education?

Like this march, our members all over the country are fighting for these same goals of this march in their classrooms everyday:

Equitable public education

Meaningful inclusion

Testing sanity

The kind of school funding that supports the schools our students deserve

And the right for all workers to organize!

Public education still remains the great equalizer, the best way to give all children the chance to climb the ladder of opportunity — a true PUBLIC good.

So we must fight back on anti-public school initiatives and fight forward with strategies that will preserve, strengthen and improve the public schools our students deserve.

We recognize that our current political climate nationally –and in many of our states and communities — endangers public education: its schools, students, educators, and communities.

Betsy DeVos and Donald Trump want to take a meat cleaver to public education. Their budget is cruel to kids and catastrophic to public schools.

They plan to cut $9 billion from our schools to fund massive tax breaks for the rich while also peddling failed privatization and voucher schemes.

They want to cut Medicaid funding for special education students, cut funding that help shrink class sizes, cut funding that keep poor kids safe with after school programs and cut student loan repayment programs from students who get saddled with debt for pursuing a college degree.

They are pushing a budget that rewards the powerful at the expense of the vulnerable.

So are you ready to combat these attacks and fight forward? At the AFT, we fight back against these attacks, but we know we must fight forward with ideas we know work — the four pillars of great public education — the common traits that you’ll find in high-quality public schools, regardless of where live.

Our children deserve an attention to children’s well-being so that all children can have a level playing field. For a school and its community partners to provide healthcare, social services, guidance counselors and social workers, before- and after-school programs and other enrichment.

Our students deserve powerful learning — learning that is powerful and engaging without a focus on testing. Kids learn to apply their knowledge through project-based instruction, presented with a broad curriculum that includes foreign languages and the arts.

Our students deserve teachers who have opportunities to grow as professionals, with skills training to hone their craft and hone a voice on the job and real decision-making power to shape our teaching and learning conditions.

And our students deserve a culture of collaboration, among teachers, families, and school leaders and the community.

Before I was elected Executive Vice President, I was president of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers.

There, we pioneered a new way of bargaining — a collaborative, community-engaged way. I made it my mission to tap on what I call our wealth of solidarity.

We saw students and families as partners in fighting for the schools our students deserve.

We held listening sessions across the city asking, what are the schools our students deserve? Who are the teachers our students deserve? What is the profession those teachers deserve?

Together, we shaped the sort of bargaining for the common good that makes us stronger, more formidable.

Rather than just asking for support, we sought our common interests and worked alongside each other and we’ve accomplished great things: reasonable class sizes, culturally relevant curriculum, high-quality professional development, access to art, music, world language, physical education, a school nurse for every school, librarians, counselors and social workers.

My work now is to work alongside all 1.6 million members of the AFT to fight for the schools all students deserve: Strong, vibrant, well-resourced public schools whose mission is to give all children, not just some, a high-quality education.

We cannot just fight back, playing defense and protecting our rights. We need to fight forward even if we feel like the lion’s share of work is fighting off bad ideas.

Our vigilance must be acute, and participatory democracy and civic engagement have never been more important.

As a union leader, I still see these moments as opportunities — opportunities to plug into the unprecedented grassroots movement that’s growing around us and to build on it. This is what the labor movement does.

It’s never been more important to harness this energy and recognize the common values we share with the movement.

It’s incumbent on us to stay engaged in this fight and mobilize alongside our allies.

We must reclaim the promise of public education for every student in every community.

Are you public school proud?

Are you ready to reclaim the promise of public education?

The AFT is ready to work alongside of you to do this work together.


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