Karen Moore wanted to be a teacher since 4th grade. She loved her fourth-grade teacher Ms.
Hambric and she felt loved by her, too. That love for children is what is at the heart of everything Karen does, from her work as a resource teacher, to her work for racial and social equity. “In everything I do, I’m advocating for children. I can’t stand to see a child mistreated.” For 26 years, Karen has been showing up with children in mind.
Early in her teaching career, Karen did not always feel empowered to speak up when she saw injustices occurring, but that didn’t mean she didn’t see them. “Not every school is the same. They should be but they aren’t. I would visit other schools and think why don’t we do that? Why don’t our kids have that? In her school, metal detectors had been installed at the middle school level and the children were grouped in pods. While students bringing weapons to school had been a concern, Karen knew this was an overreaction. Students were not prisoners and yet she felt the language and tone towards them was hostile. With nobody else seeming to support her in her concerns, Karen became quiet, but that didn’t last.
Calling it her “baptism by fire”, Karen was approached by local union members to put her name on the ballot to attend the Representative Assembly. Attending her first RA, she was overwhelmed and awed. Upon returning home and learning more, Karen became convinced that having a role in the union was something she wanted to be a part of. And she has been expanding her role ever since. From building rep and local secretary, Karen has added to her list of leadership roles at the region, state and national levels. “Members have a voice in the association. We have a vote in how it is governed.” Karen notes that members are using their voices for equity in many ways. One way is by working with communities and elected officials to pass fair equity funding laws to ensure schools are funded equitably regardless of zip code.
Along with these leadership roles have come tremendous opportunities for networking with like minded people. Witnessing her passion for equity as a chair on the Human and Civil Rights Committee, Karen was approached by the Opportunity Coalition Network to begin and facilitate cohorts of the Leaders for Just Schools Program. Facilitating these cohorts, Karen uses her wisdom and training to help members begin foundational work to understand equity, and to challenge themselves on their own hidden biases. Once the foundation is laid, members identify areas of inequity in their own schools and with the support of cohort members and begin conversations with administration.
Karen explains that the second year of LFJS is when members really have a chance to challenge an equity issue. “Community involvement is everything. The school should be the centerpiece of the community but often the community doesn’t feel welcome to be part of the school.” Leaders for Just Schools stresses the crucialness of reconnecting the community and the school and listening to the community’s voice while advocating for change. If you don’t understand the culture, you become an oppressor.” LFJS brings the important issues to the community’s attention and works with the community to find equitable and long lasting solutions that are community driven.
Even with all the leadership roles Karen has, her joy is in working with the students. “When I talk to them, they know it is with love. And as IEA president AL Llorens says, ‘Students can’t be who they can’t see.’ How can they be a teacher if they don’t see teachers that look like them?” With her determination and her example, students are seeing the power of a teacher and a leader that looks just like them.