All educators are busy. Between planning and assessing their curricula to assessing their students and being assessed themselves through high-stakes testing and myriad other means, the daily demands on teachers and all who serve students reach far beyond the school bell.
Fortunately, many teachers are so passionate about their calling that they go not just one extra mile, but many, dedicating even their scant so-called “spare time” in service of students.
Jessica Tang is one such educator.
A graduate of Harvard University and Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, Tang has served in many capacities as a member of the Boston Teachers Union. Among these are Executive Board member, building representative, and, most recently, Director of Organizing. In these capacities, Tang has helped develop and implement a strategic plan to build community relations both among members and with the communities they serve. She has helped create the Boston Education Justice Alliance (BEJA), a community coalition that unites parents, students, community members and teachers in support of public education. Tang has also been instrumental in bringing FirstBook to Boston (see August/September, 2015 issue) and working with other organizations to promote BTU programs and support public education.
“Public education is a core component of democracy,” Tang maintains, “and working towards a quality, equitable public education system that serves all students is why I do what I do.”
During her “regular” work hours, Tang was a sixth grade social studies and humanities teacher at the Young Achievers Science and Mathematics K-8 Pilot School in Boston through 2013 (when she stepped down to take on the organizational role at BTU). There, she taught six units of integrated and inclusive ELA and social studies classes and also lead field study experiences outside of the classroom as well. During her tenure at YA, Tang always received a summative teacher evaluation rating of “exemplary” in all categories and was even selected as a BPS History and Social Studies Fellow. In this capacity, Tang not only supported colleagues at monthly cohort meetings; she also contributed to district initiatives on curriculum, assessments, and instruction. Dedicated to all students and all ideas, Tang serves on the Boston Public School’s Teacher Diversity Work Group and is a former co-chair of the Massachusetts Asian American Educators Association.
“I’m a social justice unionist and activist,” Tang replies when asked to take a moment to describe herself. “I believe that labor and teachers unions have played, and continue to play, a really important role in advancing social, racial, and economic justice, as well as creating sustainable teaching and working conditions.”
Tang’s dedication to her colleagues and her community has not only been recognized by BTU, but by AFT MA as well. In fact, she was recently hired to write curriculum for the AFT Innovation Grant for 21st Century Lessons (see October, 2013 issue). A member of the Facing History and Ourselves Teacher Advisory Group since 2008, Tang was also one of a dozen educators selected to serve on the College Board and National Writing Project’s Young Men of Color and Literacy Work Group. She was also awarded the Frederick Sontag Prize for excellence in urban education in 2012.
Despite a list of accomplishments and achievements that would please most departments, Tang is always on the lookout for more ways to support her students and the public education community at large. The past May, Tang was elected to the AFT MA Executive Board.
“I ran because we are facing so many challenges and attacks to public education,” she explains, “and many of these issues are statewide.”
As she has accomplished so much in Boston and had opportunities to collaborate with and learn from colleagues from other districts and other states, Tang hopes to bring her ideas to bear on the issues facing others and also to take best practices from elsewhere and introduce them here.
“I hope to learn from other locals and share my experience with and passion for organizing, coalition building and activism to continue strengthening AFT MA,” she says. “I [also] hope that I can share some of the work we are doing in Boston to organize and mobilize our members and community allies so that, collectively, we will prevail.”