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“Unicorns of the Professional Arena”

As a native New Mexican, and proud teacher, my advocacy for students and education stems from my eighteen years of teaching in a number of settings. I’ve taught in both high and low performing schools that varied in size and demographic.  I know the struggles our students face, and I understand the culture of our state. I know I have the knowledge and expertise to speak about educational policy and practice in New Mexico objectively, putting political ideological beliefs aside.

I was recently selected to participate in a town hall forum where I helped develop questions for gubernatorial candidates in the upcoming debate. The process was informative but also highlighted some concerning ideas and comments made about the current state of education in New Mexico. Educational issues such as the PARCC assessment and the evaluation model for teachers (NMTEACH) were hotly debated.

Many participants expressed how they wanted to see a shift in education claiming, “Nothing good is currently happening”. Their perception was that teachers should be able to “focus on basics” and shouldn’t have to deal with political influence in the classroom. Daily political advertisements have reinforced that idea with statements like, “Our education system is broken,” and candidates promising to give autonomy back to teachers (even though we already have it).

The town hall exposed me to the disheartening reality that most people in New Mexico don’t think we actually have quality education in our state. It concerns me because this is simply not true. I provide my students with high quality learning opportunities that are aligned with standards, creatively engaging, and require high-level critical thinking. I believe this to be true for every teacher I know, and I wonder why others don’t see it the same way.

Teachers are unique to the professional arena, a unicorn of sorts, if you will. Despite societal misconceptions and compensation that undervalues our advanced degrees and specialized training, we still come to work every day on a mission. Teaching requires a certain level of intentionality and magic, with a smidge of planning, and a healthy dose of love that can be exhausting but worth it. We choose to do this job because we understand our responsibility of shaping young minds to think independently, critically, and innovatively.  We are educated, highly trained professionals who come to work each day because we have a deep desire to shape the future of the world.

I am making the conscious decision to advocate for my students, and for the continuation of policies that are working- like higher standards and aligned assessments, and meaningful teacher evaluation systems- because I have seen positive impacts on my colleagues and students. And I love my job as teacher in New Mexico and I know my voice is representative of my peers. I hope other “unicorns” in the professional arena of education take it upon themselves to debunk these myths and create a culture that everyone in your state would love to be a part of!

Dawn Bilbrey is a Middle School ELA and History teacher at Texico Middle School in Texico, NM