Massachusetts Teachers Association member and fifth grade teacher Kathleen Sullivan talks about the challenges of teaching in a low-income community with a big achievement gap and why teachers should take the opportunity to share their ideas for improving education policy.
By Kathleen Sullivan
I feel strongly about teachers letting their voices be heard. I believe that teachers are afraid to speak out. Many times, teachers will read the ideas of colleagues but are resistant to putting their name with any ideas of their own. As you know, teachers, especially in Gateway communities, are under fire publicly and politically. The movement is to push urban schools toward charter models and many believe the reason is to break unions.
It’s interesting, teachers in Gateway communities face some of the most difficult challenges due to higher populations of English language learners, poverty, low parent involvement, larger class sizes, higher SPED populations, and high student turnover rates, yet these same teachers are demoralized and devalued because their scores don’t match more affluent communities.
All of those factors affect student achievement significantly. Often local urban charter schools educate only one sector of the neediest populations and their student enrollment is more or less set in place a year in advance through a lottery system. In my community, the morale of many teachers is very low because they feel demoralized and devalued as professionals even though we are making gains and showing progress against some very difficult challenges.
But ultimately, this is our profession to which we have dedicated our lives. I do feel that the statement, “If you don’t vote, you can’t complain,” holds true here as well. If we don’t put our ideas out there for others to hear now, then we can’t say that no one ever listens or asks for our opinions.
Education is changing rapidly. It’s very important that teachers take part in these changes which will shape our profession and the methods of instruction for our students.
Classroom teachers who work in Massachusetts’ Gateway Cities currently are sharing their ideas about ways to close the achievement gap. If you teach in one of those cities, join the VIVA MTA Teachers Idea Exchange. The exchange will be open for only a short time.