‘I will not be discouraged.’ Coral Reef teacher is optimistic despite political rhetoric | Opinion

·4 min read

Twenty-five years ago, I entered what I perceived to be one of the most noble professions one could endeavor: education.

Fresh out of my undergraduate studies from the University of Florida, I was a young, vibrant, and idealistic scholar just five years removed from the population that I had been entrusted to nurture, mentor and educate. Like so many before me, I believed in the endless possibilities that education provided.

I engulfed myself in scholars like Horace Mann, who believed that education was the great equalizer and that through education, we could experience the American dream of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, regardless of your race, color or creed.

As a career and technical education teacher, I was keenly aware of the importance of developing a well-rounded student who not only was academically astute, but also possessed the leadership and career skills needed to enter the workforce upon graduation from high school. Equipped with a wealth of education pedagogy and countless lesson plans developed in the final semesters of my study, I was ready to assume my role in preparing the next generation of leaders and scholars.

While formal training provides the tools to develop your craft for teaching and learning, there is no course that prepares you for the day-to-day realities of being a teacher.

As a teacher, we give so much of ourselves, working hours beyond the contract — including weekends and holidays — to make sure that we are affording our students every opportunity to learn and thrive in the real world. We expend our own resources to make sure that our classrooms are innovative communities where students are free to live and embrace their truth, while learning their role in society as global citizens, protecting and defending marginalized groups and being good stewards of our earth and its natural resources.

Nyree Washington in her Coral Reef Senior High classroom, as she gets ready for the beginning of the new school year on Friday. She has been a teacher for 25 years. Classes start Wednesday for Miami-Dade Public Schools.
Nyree Washington in her Coral Reef Senior High classroom, as she gets ready for the beginning of the new school year on Friday. She has been a teacher for 25 years. Classes start Wednesday for Miami-Dade Public Schools.

We counsel, celebrate and share in the heartbreak of our students at some of the most memorable stages in their lives. With the normalization of mass shootings in American society, now more than ever we pray for the well-being and safety of our students, faculty, and staff. In addition to all of that, we prepare our students to excel academically and socially in the global workforce, with little praise and often an excessive amount of criticism.

I am often asked what I like most about being a teacher, and I immediately think of the students that sit in my classroom every single day and the joy, laughter and sometimes defiance that’s exhibited by them when learning a new concept or experiencing something meaningful.

I think of the amazing parent support that I have enjoyed over the years, how their personal and professional networks have enabled me to provide local, state, and national opportunities for students. I also think of the parents who through the partnership in their children’s education have made the impossible possible regarding their children’s learning outcome.

Nyree Washington stands at the entrance of Coral Reef Senior High School on Friday as she gets ready for the beginning of the school year. School starts Wednesday for Miami-Dade County Public Schools.
Nyree Washington stands at the entrance of Coral Reef Senior High School on Friday as she gets ready for the beginning of the school year. School starts Wednesday for Miami-Dade County Public Schools.

My greatest joy, by far, comes from witnessing students experience success beyond their wildest imagination and knowing that I played a minuscule role in planting that seed.

Conversely, I am asked what brings me the most disdain when I think of our profession, and I immediately think of the culture wars instigated by local, state, and national leaders. They demoralize teachers like myself who give so much to our children. I have always considered the classroom to be a safe space for all stakeholders. Instead, the classroom has become a platform to magnify the most hateful and divisive rhetoric and ideology espoused by so many in positions of authority.

As a professed Christian, I am deeply troubled when I hear, without merit, political operatives falsely accuse teachers of being groomers, blatantly attacking our character and livelihood without adequate response or protection for teachers from such accusations.

We teach our children to model behaviors that even those in positions of authority do not adhere to themselves. This is hurtful and reckless to the thousands of teachers in our district who work tirelessly to educate the children of Miami-Dade County. I am also troubled when I think of the many laws created that threaten the safety of our children and teachers alike for mere political talking points, as well as the constant threats of defunding amid an already underfunded public education system.

The lack of support, the new laws perpetuating culture wars and claims of defunding our schools are exacerbating challenging times, causing educators to leave the teaching profession. I never imagined a time when our workforce would be relegated to unskilled and untrained personnel to teach and inspire our most precious commodity, our children.

Nyree Washington at the entrance Friday to Coral Reef Senior High School, as she gets ready for the beginning of the new school year, which begins Wednesday for Miami-Dade Public Schools. She has been a teacher for 25 years. Despite Florida’s new education laws and politicians criticizing teachers to score political gains, she remains optimistic about the future of her profession.
Nyree Washington at the entrance Friday to Coral Reef Senior High School, as she gets ready for the beginning of the new school year, which begins Wednesday for Miami-Dade Public Schools. She has been a teacher for 25 years. Despite Florida’s new education laws and politicians criticizing teachers to score political gains, she remains optimistic about the future of her profession.

Despite this current state of our politics, I remain optimistic about the future of our profession and our incredible students.

I will not be discouraged by the bigotry and racist idolatry that is designed to divide us. Instead, I aspire to help my students and colleagues see the beautiful diversity that exists in each and every one of us, and how we all have a role to play in creating a more loving and inclusive community in which we can all thrive.

Nyree Washington is a teacher at Coral Reef Senior High.