Teachers go into education to make a difference in the lives of students – not only help them learn subject matter, but also to guide them on their path to becoming productive, well-informed citizens who believe in our democratic principles.

Those principles include the right to speak out as an individual, to engage in collective action and to participate in the political process. Whether that means supporting or opposing a bill or supporting or opposing a particular candidate, we feel an obligation to speak up for our students, ourselves, and public education.

Teachers feel a responsibility to show students that our democratic principles must be upheld and to model the behavior of engaged citizens who exercise their right to vote. And by working collectively as a union we can show our students that it is possible to have a voice in their government.

Some want to say that unions should not participate in elections. But we say we must. We must stand up for the needs of our students and carefully review the education platforms of candidates. We must alert the public about education needs and help explain what candidates we see as helping students and protecting public education.

How can we sit on the sidelines when a candidate calls for severe cuts in education funding?  When funding is cut, our students suffer: larger class sizes, loss of music, art, and other electives due to fewer resources.  How can we remain silent when politicians propose policies that make it more difficult to attract and retain the best teachers? Our students absolutely deserve strong advocates who can contribute to the public debate.

The Illinois Education Association (IEA) doesn’t take our political involvement or endorsement process lightly.  Years ago, as a young teacher, I learned that all politics is local, and IEA believes the views of local members are important. Every member can participate in interviews of candidates who are running in their area. And these local members then vote on whom to support. A candidate’s education views stand out as essential for review, as well as their views on the right of the union to engage in what is needed for public education and the rights of educators.

This process has led us to endorse both Democrats and Republicans up and down the ballot.

We, as concerned citizens who educate students, know that we have the right and the responsibility to engage fully in that work. Anything less would be a disservice to our students, our communities and our state.

We are blessed to live in a country where we have the freedom to choose our leaders. So no matter what your political stripes are, GO VOTE! And when you’re casting your ballot, I encourage you to think about who would be the best leaders for our students.