Being “Badass”: Identity of a Teacher Activist Organization

Being “Badass”: Identity of a Teacher Activist Organization

Brianne N. Kramer (Southern Utah University, USA)
Copyright: © 2022 |Pages: 12
DOI: 10.4018/IJPAE.315602
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This article focuses on a case study of the Badass Teachers' Association, the largest nationwide teacher activist organization in the United States. The theoretical framework of social movement theory and community organizing provides a structure upon which to better understand the organization. Ten members of leadership participated in this study, which utilized a series of three interviews focusing on different aspects of leaders' beliefs and the role of the organization, while document analysis provided historical context for the development and evolution of the organization. Two themes—strength of identity and role of the organization—were found in the analysis of the data. The importance of the organization in furthering teachers' voices and expanding the organization's influence is discussed in the findings.
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The Badass Teachers’ Association (BATs) is the largest teacher activist organization in the United States. The group emerged on June 14, 2013 as a Facebook group focused on teachers who were opposed to educational reforms during the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations. Founders of the group were frustrated that the Obama administration did not overturn the punitive policies aimed at teachers that were put forth in No Child Left Behind (NCLB). In the weeks after the group’s origination, moderators were adding thousands of people onto the Facebook page (Kilfoyle & Tomlinson, 2015). State groups also formed for each of the 50 states, Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico. At the time of the study, the national group consisted of 63,000 members from every state and several territories and countries (Badass Teachers’ Association, 2017, April 19). As of January 2022, the group had grown to over 68,700 members (Badass Teachers’ Association, 2022, January 17). BATs has several additional special interest groups that members can also become part of such as content-specific groups (math, English, etc.), new teachers, and committee groups. To become a member of the main Facebook group, interested persons are required to request admittance into the group and answer a few questions particular to the organization’s mission and rules. The organization also has social media accounts on Twitter and Instagram.

The social media-based group is maintained by many people who moderate comments and oversee the community’s functions. These administrators, called admins, approve and monitor members’ posts and comments, post information about actions, and share links, articles, and blog posts. There are specific posting guidelines that members must adhere to, such as no racist/sexist/homophobic language and no parent or student bashing posts (Badass Teachers Association, 2020, October 10). Having such rules for members allows the group to respect opinions and maintain a shared identity.

There are several different positions that make up the larger leadership structure of the organization. The two most prominent positions are the Executive Director and Assistant Executive Director. At the time of the study, Marla Kilfoyle was the Executive Director, and Melissa Tomlinson was the Assistant Executive Director. Currently, Melissa Tomlinson is the Executive Director and Dr. Denisha Jones, Esq. is the Assistant Executive Director. BATs leadership also consists of a board of directors with five voting members and directors that chair various steering committees. The steering committee members support the overall mission of the organization through their respective roles. Members of leadership meet regularly using Zoom to conduct organizational business and planning for actions. The national BATs leadership also provides support to state group organizers, especially for on-the-ground planned actions.

The Badass Teachers’ Association has successfully completed both social media-based and on-the-ground actions. Some of their social media-based actions include pushing Subaru to cease donations to Teach for America (TFA), the #EvaluateThat campaign to draw attention to how teachers regularly go above and beyond their contracts, and the campaign to keep Betsey DeVos from being confirmed as the Secretary of Education (Kilfoyle & Tomlinson, 2015; Platanitis, 2014). The BATs on-the-ground actions consist of a 2014 March on the United States Department of Education, a 2015 rally and Teacher Congress in Washington D.C., a 2016 March on Washington and conference in conjunction with other organizations, and a 2017 conference and Restorative Justice circle in Seattle. There are also numerous social media-based and on-the-ground actions various BAT state groups conducted throughout the years.

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