National Teachers Day is a day where we celebrate the women and men who change the lives of millions of our children every day. During my 13 years as a teacher and a few years as a coach at East Boston High School, I worked with many other dedicated educators who poured their hearts and souls into the success, learning and achievement of our youth.
I always saw teaching as a calling where I could give back and affect real change. Every teacher knows that the classroom is a place where small miracles happen and there is nothing more rewarding than helping to excite young people about learning and seeing their growth as students. However, I encountered several roadblocks and challenges that stemmed from a lack of critical resources and policies that were failing our kids.
I threw my hat into the ring and ran for one of the four seats for Boston City Council At-Large in 2013. In that first campaign, I used my network of teachers and moms to build a citywide organization. When the votes were counted, I was one seat shy of victory and lost out to better-funded candidates with higher name recognition. Nonetheless, we successfully engaged tens of thousands of Boston Public School parents and thousands of teachers, and my campaign showed them that they had a real voice in how our kids are educated.
When I ran again in 2015, Boston’s political insiders didn’t think I had a chance. I ran against 4 well-established incumbents – all of whom had significant advantages in fundraising and institutional support. I was not deterred, and doubled down on our campaign’s strategy of organizing parents by school community and mobilizing a network of teachers to push our message across Boston’s 254 precincts and 22 neighborhoods. Our strategy focused on activating and engaging education constituencies to give parents, teachers, and students a voice in government. I was elected in November 2015 and defeated an 18-year incumbent.
Leaving teaching to be a full-time City Councilor was tough, but having the ability to bring my experience as a teacher and a parent into the actual operation of our urban school district has been transformative. As the first teacher to also serve as the Chair of the Committee on Education in City Council, my work in the Council has fostered a more inclusive environment for teachers, parents, and school communities. From changing the way the City Council tackles the annual City education budget process, to giving parents and teachers a voice in the selection of the next Superintendent, to putting a spotlight on the challenges that over 4,200 homeless students face every year, and through our daily work to close the achievement and opportunity gap, the work has made a real difference have made a real difference. As a teacher, I have made a real difference by empowering the voices of teachers in decision-making that affects our schools.
My work on the City Council is defined by my perspective as a former teacher and my overarching priority to empower the people in my community who are directly impacted by the decisions made in government. The more teachers engage in the public policy debate, the more our kids will benefit. Getting involved in state and local elections, organizing your school community and neighborhood, or running for office – whether it’s part-time or full-time – allow for children to have you as their advocate – both in and outside of the classroom.
Annissa Essaibi-George is a Boston City Councilor At-Large. She is the mother of triplets and an older boy, all in the Boston Public Schools. Annissa is a former high school teacher in the Boston Public Schools.