‘As Educators, We Must Tell the Truth’


“As educators, we must tell the truth — to ourselves and then to our students,” writes Deaunna Watson, director of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging at a Montessori school in Cincinnati. Sometimes, though, the truth can be difficult to face and uncomfortable to talk about.

Over the past nine months, our editors have had the privilege of collaborating with a group of eight talented educators and school leaders who bravely reflected on their lived experiences and shared their truths through a collection of powerful personal essays as part of the EdSurge Voices of Change writing fellowship.

Our most recent cohort of fellows included educators across a variety of grades and content areas, including a high school principal, an elementary school paraprofessional, a math and computer science teacher, and a school and community engagement manager, to name a few. With diverse perspectives, backgrounds, geographies, identities and areas of expertise, these writers offered a wide range of important stories — each one unique in its own way.

Watson’s line about truth came from a personal narrative essay about her experience with book bans and curriculum restrictions, which have become critical issues facing educators today. Other essays published by fellows examine pressing themes related to the intersection of teaching, learning and identity including embracing identity, leading with joy, teaching through grief, feeling undervalued in the profession and rethinking classroom culture.

Fellows practiced deep reflection, allowed themselves to be vulnerable and drew upon their own strength and the power of their communities to pen these honest essays, which give readers a glimpse into their lives. We are so grateful for our fellows’ willingness to share these stories with the EdSurge audience and we are energized by their dedication to creating a hopeful future for teachers and learners.

Here’s a look at some of the urgent themes fellows covered:

katie wills evans

Through personal narrative writing, katie wills evans, a high school humanities teacher in New Orleans, reflected on helping students understand their bodies and make informed decisions that support their well-being, questioned the value of standardized tests and explored the emotional toll of teaching through grief.

“My students will continue to walk an incredible variety of paths and experience many beautiful aspects of life after they leave my class — but some will continue to die. No matter what happens to my students, the relationships we are able to have when I prioritize these commitments cannot be taken away from us. The experiences we have in my classroom and the community we build are about more than preparing for a certain kind of life. They are meaningful, in and of themselves.”

Michael Paul Ida

Michael Paul Ida, a high school math and computer science teacher in Hawaii shared insights on the importance of bringing a healthy dose of skepticism to edtech and how teachers are disengaging from professional development. He also dove deeply into explorations on embracing identity in the classroom and the sense of responsibility he feels for carrying the stories of his students and community to spaces where there’s little understanding of their experiences.

“We are a multi-ethnic community living in a small geographic area and we know a thing or two about building relationships and respecting differences. In order for that perspective to be heard, teachers must form the vanguard; teachers who are willing to listen — and I mean, really listen — to the voices of Asian American teachers like me.”

Sachin Pandya

From rethinking classroom culture and calling for a revamp of the traditional school model, to considering the impact of artificial intelligence on the teaching profession and opening up about aging gracefully through his career as an educator, Sachin Pandya, a fifth grade teacher in Wisconsin, has offered wisdom on the challenges and opportunities of transformation.

“I’ve struggled to balance representing the history and culture of my school with my desire to support our ongoing and ever-more-pressing need to adapt. Aging gracefully is difficult for all of us, but as a teacher, it’s been trickier than I expected.”

James Parra

Paraprofessionals have been referred to as the “backbone of the classroom,” but it’s a voice that often goes under the radar. James Parra, an elementary school paraprofessional in New York, gave readers a glimpse into the lived experience of holding this critical role. While he shares that it’s a job that is too often undervalued, he shines a light on how meaningful it can be, especially in building strong relationships with students, families and teachers.

“…With the expectations that are placed on the backs of paraprofessionals like me, how much longer can a system continue to disregard our voices, pay us insufficient wages and fail to adequately prepare, train and support our sector of the education workforce? How much longer will the status quo suffice?”

Amanda Rosas

Through her essays, Amanda Rosas, a high school teacher of Spanish and women’s studies in Minnesota raised awareness about the importance of human connection, gratitude as a pedagogical practice and the impact of perfectionism on language learning. Rosas also shared her experience equipping young people with the knowledge to transform our society into one that values the inherent dignity of women.

“As educators and students, we must strive to center our humanity and uplift one another as we bravely navigate the possibilities of the dreams we carry inside — the dreams of our ancestors.”

Damen Scott

Damen Scott, a high school principal in New York, used his voice to explore the power of centering joy in schools, the steps he’s taken to ensure that school staff reflects the diversity of the student body at his high school, and why codifying self-love and identifying ways to capture growth is important for student success.

“To lead a school where kids love themselves unapologetically and succeed academically, we need national recognition of the importance of self-love and guidance for how to codify, measure and track this aspect of development in America’s public schools.”

Keely Sutton

As a school and community engagement manager at a middle school in Atlanta, Keely Sutton thinks a lot about collaboration and community. Sutton has written on the power of family engagement, the experience of healing together from trauma as a community and the cost of compassion for educators.

“To sustain in this field, you must possess a level of mental toughness and tenacity to endure. It is hard, and I, along with so many others, question whether our compassion for our students is enough to fix the state of our education system and keep us in the profession.”

Deaunna Watson

The essays penned by Deaunna Watson, director of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging at Mercy Montessori School in Cincinnati raised core questions about some of the systemic issues facing schools and educators today. Watson examined what it takes to create safe spaces for students, families and staff who have been historically marginalized — and how centering joy can help. She also shared about her experiences designing curriculum to support and encourage liberation for Black students — and the courage it takes to do that at a time when many educators are navigating restrictions and bans on literature and curriculum.

“To create a more diverse student and staff population, we have to do the work of building and nurturing a culture that creates a safe and courageous space for students, families and staff who have been historically marginalized.”

As we wrap up our work with our third cohort of fellows, we are excited for what lies ahead as we bring in our fourth cohort.

Interested in applying to become a fellow or know someone who might be? Apply now.

Need convincing? Here are five reasons to apply and answers to the most frequently asked questions about the fellowship.


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