By Paul Toner, President of The VIVA Project
Last weekend in The New York Times, Mokoto Rich wrote that “school districts have gone from handing out pink slips to scrambling to hire teachers,” thanks to an improving US economy.
In an op-ed to the Times three days later, Can We Interest You in Teaching?, Frank Bruni countered that “Teaching can’t compete. When the economy improves and job prospects multiply, college students turn their attention elsewhere.”
Bruni’s three-pronged approach to making the teaching profession more attractive to college students—“more money, more independence, and more respect”—is on-target.
However, while better pay and higher prestige are crucial, increasing teacher autonomy by involving them more directly in the policy-making process and school management is the most straightforward solution we can achieve today.
That’s right: teacher autonomy and leadership is not a mirage-like vision of the future. It’s already happening now, via organizations like The VIVA Project, NEA, AFT, Teach Plus, Teach to Lead, NNSTOY and numerous other teacher voice and advocacy groups.
Further, Mr. Bruni notes that “Education leaders disagree over how much of a voice” teachers should have. But The VIVA Project’s history proves that education leaders and policymakers—from Secretary Arne Duncan to governors, district superintendents and school boards—are all eager and willing to hear from classroom educators.
They want to capitalize on teachers’ wisdom and expertise. They’re ready for a new breed of teacher leaders to step forward.
If we want to draw the best and brightest to teaching, providing them with good salaries and bestowing more respect on the profession are both critical steps. But if we want those teachers to remain in the profession, we can’t keep leaving them out of education policy decisions.
Policymakers must continue to work with organizations like The VIVA Project to engage teachers in leading their profession through policy-making at the local, state and national levels. If those teacher leaders continue to step forward, and policymakers continue to listen, higher salaries and increased respect will surely follow.