Emerging Trend: Teachers as Advocates
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Emerging Trend: Teachers as Advocates

Emerging Trend: Teachers as Advocates

(This piece was originally published at Cooperative Catalyst.)

I keep waiting on the invitation:

Who: Teachers

What: Education Reform Policy Party

Where: Wonk Circles All Over

When: NOW!

Why: We want YOU to help envision & shape the next generation of schools.

The paradox, of course, is that as the reformation of education garners greater and greater media attention, teachers — the unrecognized professionals — continue to find ourselves left out despite the fact we have one of the largest stakes in the debate.

While it would be fun to point fingers at others, the truth is that we have a long history of grudgingly accepting whatever comes down the pipe at us, so it may well be of our own doing. Fortunately, that is changing, and none too soon.

However, thanks to the Race to the Top and the unprecedented funding by the federal government, the reform effort has amassed a following of armchair experts who all seem to sing from the same hymnal:

  • Market driven solutions will work.
  • Increasing competition among teachers will improve their “performance”.
  • Firing teachers must be a first priority.
  • Threats achieve results, especially if the threats involve closing a school.
  • Standardized tests are effective measures of success.
  • More standards = more learning.

Yet the most egregious (albeit tacit) tenet of the movement seems to be that reform should happen to teachers rather than with teachers.

While nearly everyone intimately involved in the reform effort would publicly deny this, the fact is that teachers remain the underutilized voice on how to improve our schools.  The most recent example of this was in the New York Times Sunday Magazine’s May 23rd piece, “The Teachers’ Unions’ Last Stand“.

The over 8,000 word education reform article did not quote one teacher.  Not one!

It’s outrageous! When an editor from one of the world’s most powerful newspapers does not insist that a teacher’s voice be included in such a premiere education piece we learn a lot about the esteem teachers are held in. It’s the The-emperor-has-no-clothes moment of truth. Finally, we see and we should be livid! After all, we have the most profound of roles in our schools — we teach the children.

Imagine for a second a comparable examination of banking reform that does not quote from at least a single banker. It would never happen.

Fortunately, the letters in response to the article raised this concern, perhaps most poignantly by 2nd grade teacher, Emily Miller.

There are many things in Steven Brill’s article that trouble me, but my greatest concern about the education-reform debate is the absence of teachers’ voices. When the country was debating the economic-stimulus plan, policy makers asked economists for advice, and the press frequently provided a forum for them to express their opinions. Yet when discussing education, the experts — those who work with children every day in classrooms — are rarely consulted. Many of those who were interviewed for Brill’s article said that they want what is best for children. It seems to me that if this is a genuine concern, those who best understand the challenges and problems in our schools, namely teachers, should be asked what they think.

The fact is, teachers have little history making or getting our voice heard. We are the unrealized professionals.

Thankfully, change is in the air.  Through social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, & ASCD Edge educators are building networks that turn up the volume on their ideas, concerns, and potential power of their numbers.  This ability to make our voice heard is an important first step toward being substantively included at the table.

It is a start, but we still need to do more. But how?

As with most grassroots efforts, it begins at home: Think Globally, Elect Locally.

Our local officials and state representatives need to know our names, not just the names of the union reps.  During the summer, we can make calls to our elected policy makers, write letters to the editor calling out publications for misrepresenting us, and learn how to advocate. We can interact with politicians running for office and insist they answer questions about education.  And if their answers seem copy-pasted from the Reform Hymnal, we help educate them, or deny them our vote.

Perhaps Jessica Luallen Horten said it best in her piece, “Calling Teachers to Action Beyond SB 6“:

I implore you to think about your beliefs about how children learn, what have you discovered in your years of experience? Write it down, share it, speak it and continue to examine it every day. If you truly want to advocate for children, you will become active in the process that will shape their tomorrow.

We have an opportunity to capitalize on the press and the widespread focus on education, even if we never get an invitation to the party. It’s time to bust down the doors and demand to be heard. As the experts in the field, we have a civic responsibility to speak truth to power and to armchair experts everywhere.

Change will happen.  However, the onus is on us to either be recipients of it or agents in it.

Additional places to get started as a teacher advocate: ASCD Educator Advocate program and Tim Furman’s idea of micro-lobbies.

How else can teachers get involved? What other ways can we help shape the debate?

Image: alli coate
  • Teacherconfessional
    Posted at 16:00h, 15 June Reply

    Why is it a novel idea that teachers have a hand in education policy? Unfortunately that's the way it has been. I don't know why teachers have such a bad name but if you read comments on articles about education, the comments are vile and insulting. Apparently all teachers are inept whiners.

    I think the biggest problem here is that the public and the government demand statistical data about student progress but standardized tests do nothing to enhance students' education. This is especially true of tests tied to funding. Teaching to tests does not encourage teachers or students to go above and beyond. It encourages everybody to pass a test where acceptable is around a 50%. This is not an intended consequence of testing but when it's tied to funds the teachers are forced to work harder to bring up the struggling students at the expense of higher achievers.

    Teachers need to start running for Board of Education positions. In fact, I think all BOE positions should be comprised of teachers. That's the first step in giving teachers a hand in local education policy.

  • Jason Flom
    Posted at 14:28h, 16 June Reply

    @tbfurman Referened your micro-lobby post in this Teacher as Advocate post. http://bit.ly/d3zsgK Loving that idea. Cheers.

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