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- 10 Ways to Teach Like Ted Lasso: Part I - March 12, 2021
- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teachers: Habit 3 - First Things First - February 26, 2021
Some of the most vocal teachers today are self-professed Badass Teachers, or BATs for short. They're full of opinions with action to match. We at TER sat down with Marla Kilfoyle, Executive Director and Melissa Tomlinson, Asst. Executive Director to learn more about this movement.
Jake Miller, The Educator's Room: How did Badass Teachers begin?
Marla Kilfoyle: There were 2 co-founders - Priscilla Sanstead and Mark Naison. Priscilla is one of the hardest working people I've ever met. She's an Oklahoma educator with an unparalleled work ethic. I joined not long after she launched the Facebook and have been managing it for a while not long thereafter.
Melissa Tomlinson: As soon as the page was launched, I thought to myself - "Oh my god, I'm not alone!" I messaged them right away with ideas and ways to help. I became a more prominent member of the organization when Chris Christie pointed in my face in 2013. Afterward, it was fun to appear on a multitude of networks to show how anti-teacher some politicians can be.
JM: What happened to Mark Naison, one of the co-founders?
MK: Sometimes people just have differences of opinion. We believed that this organization needed to be run democratically and filled with respect by valuing everybody's opinion. Collectively, everybody in the leadership felt that Mark needed to take a leave of absence, and he agreed. Eventually he left for good in April 2014. We wished him luck and parted ways.
MT: Since then we've become a registered non-profit 501(c)4 and have been growing strong since.
JM: How many Badass Teachers are there, exactly?
MK: We have approximately 70,000 connected on our social media outreach.
MT: New York, Florida, and New Jersey are easily our biggest.
JM: Why the name? Most teachers aren't this profane.
MK: Priscilla's favorite thought involves a bunch of teachers raising their hands asking questions don't necessarily equate a movement or give us the momentum we need. Mark and Priscilla actually hatched the name after meeting the Badass Parents group, which is ironically strongly libertarian in comparison to our progressiveness.
MT: We're not going to quietly be raising our hands anymore. We're going to give them action.
JM: You talk about the social movement in a political way. Do you feel that you're doing to teachers, unions, and progressives what the Tea Party is doing to the Republican establishment?
MK: We see ourselves as a counterbalance to the Tea Party. Our members are very involved in issues both inside and outside of education. We're able to foster reactions from entities that are very politically connected with the Democratic party.
MT: That said, we're strongly attacked by both sides. We want to take back the party for the progressive side.
MK: We think we've done a pretty good job of moving lots of people. Hate to compare ourselves to the Tea Party, though!
JM: I see that you fund raise on your site. What does the money go towards?
Both: We paid to file an amicus brief with the Supreme Court over the Freidrichs v. CTA case on collective bargaining rights. That cost us $3,100, but we're proud of that. We just sent out an ad for the Washington Post Express, the free newspaper you see on the subways in D.C. We donate to grassroots groups that are trying to get public education friendly people, like the elected school board in Chicago. We have scholarships for students. None of us draws pay.
JM: What bumps in the road have you hit?
MT: One is in growing as fast as we can, people have tried to portray us however they see us and it's often not correct.
MK: We've been accused of being union sympathizers or not union enough. We've been labeled too progressive and not progressive enough.
MT: Our baseline is that if somebody does something we don't agree with, we're going to call them out on it.
MK: That includes unions, politicians, and even single school districts.
MT: Teach For America (TFA) and reform groups have tried to discredit us, but that's what keeps us focused. We're very goal-oriented and can produce quick movement and change.
MK: We always take what we call the "BAT High Road" and do what we think is right.
JM: How has your mission changed through the years?
MK: We just rewrote it this summer. We wanted to encompass more issues but wanted to fine-tune our focus.
MT: In the beginning, we believed that teachers shouldn't have to accept the blame of failing students when so many other variables affect their lives, oppose testing, and ridding ourselves of Common Core.
MK: Today we try to expose all those groups who try to remain hidden in the business of testing, like the Gates Foundation and others, and are negatively affected education.
JM: What message do you have for teachers who have turned away from or are on the fence about your organization?
MK: People have turned away for a few reasons, one being how we ran the group in the beginning. Those people would probably be surprised and pleased when they saw how we run it today.
MT: As far as the name, it is what it is. In some ways, the name does hinder us, but in others, it's helped.
MK: We've met with the U.S. Dept. of Education at least 6 times, and we helped to change educational policy and promote educational law.
MT: Some have left the group because we're too progressive. We don't believe that we can be effective educators and not care about what goes on in the communities that our children live in.
MK: So we've taken firm positions on social justice issues like police shootings of young men of color. People didn't like it and they left, and frankly we don't want them back. There are other organizations with nice fuzzy names they can belong to.
JM: What positive changes do you think you've helped spur?
MK: Melissa dealing with Chris Christie was certainly helpful to bring attention as to how politicians portray and treat teachers. We added a quality of worklife clause to the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).
MT: We were very successful at the NEA Representative Assembly in Orlando this past year; Becca Richey and the 250 members we had there helped punch most of the 40 New Business Items we had there through.
MK: We've presented at many places that would have us, such as AFT Teach, United Opt Out, Network for Public Ed, Nycort, Netroots, and others.
MT: We also filed that amicus brief for the Freidrichs trial, among other things.
JM: What positive changes do you hope are yet to come in the short- and long-term?
MK: In the short-term, we're working on rolling out a toolkit for the states to work with the ESSA and help teachers to engage in the common fight at the state level.
MT: Long-term, we're trying to not have a continuous battle and make public education what it's supposed to be - meeting all the students needs. We would then run BAT as an advocacy organization that could support rather than combat things.
JM: Where do you see BATs 20 years from now?
MT: When we first met in person, we sat and had this vision as to where BATs is going to go.
MK: We envision being together in an office, tracking on a big board where things are going in different states' education legislation and practice. We're certainly building towards it.
MT: However, that's a long time away.
MK: Hopefully by that time we can pass the baton to the next group, continuing to support communities and teachers so that all kids have what they need to be successful. We're getting there and we're going to get there.
MT: And hopefully by then people won't have a problem with the name.