The War for Education is being fought on two fronts – in legislative chambers and the classroom– and our students are the casualties. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Even at an event that should have been aimed at solutions, the Teacher Town Hall at NBC’s Education Nation, wasn’t. The topics this year were teacher evaluation, common core and rigorous testing. As I sat there listening, the passionate teachers in the room stood up to lament their frustrations and received emotional support from the crowd in the form of applause, nodding heads, and fervent outcries in agreement.
In retrospect, if the point of the day was to educate the viewing audience about what frustrates teachers, then the day was a success. If the purpose was to brainstorm new ways to combat challenges in education, then as the kids would say, “Epic Fail.”
As I sat there listening, I was struck that I have heard all of this before in the teachers’ lounge and on the VIVA platform. I was there to hear something new. I wanted these teachers to realize the power of their platform and share their ideas for making education better.
The event ended before I got a chance to speak. If I had, I would have pointed out that a poll showed that 71% of the public already trusts teachers. I would have asked: Why, then, are we investing so much energy in teacher evaluations and testing to prove to the public that teachers
are doing their job? I would have challenged the teachers in the room to pose real solutions not just keep lamenting the problems we face, such as:
- Politicians attempt to make legislative decisions based on the advice of researchers and constituents who have an opinion about education.
- Then teachers have to figure out how to continue delivering high quality education while meeting the requirements of the new mandates. Even if these laws go away (the desire of many educators), they would just be replaced with new ones.
- The politicians must prove to the American public that the policies are working so they require more and more data as “proof.”
- Teachers feel more and more overwhelmed by policies that yield them little control but require much of their energy.
Since the beginning of the school year, I have sat in meetings from Michigan to New York – both formal and informal; I’m hearing a consistent plea from my colleagues. How can I make this work? Where do I find the time? How can I continue doing what is right for kids although it is not tested?
Here’s my solution – a teacher Town Hall meeting with a panel of experts in TEACHING (unlike the soon-to-be-first-year teacher who was featured on NBC’s Teacher Town Hall). Imagine the rich discussion about what teachers can control facilitated by the likes of Wormeli, Danielson, Ravitch, Rice and Wong (just to name a few).
By shining a spotlight on the creative solutions that teachers – the real experts – use to deal with the mandates of new laws and the dynamics of a changing society, we will elevate teachers to be the experts in their profession. We can show the public how teachers have come to deal with problems that the general public and lawmakers never even realized schools face. For example, did you know that simply changing the way a teacher passes out materials can yield two extra weeks of instructional time per school year? That is a process teachers can control which will give them back valuable instructional time now taken away by standardized testing.
A meaningful Town Hall would spotlight the ingenuity of teachers instead of continuing to paint the profession as a bunch of whiny people who complain about everything.
It doesn’t matter whether the teacher is inner city or rural. We all have to cope with poverty, parents who are not involved (or over involved), a litany of legislation, too few resources and too many demands.
Teachers need to use vehicles such as VIVA to provide meaningful solutions while spotlighting the challenges legislation has created (thus showing people who write policy how their decisions have complicated – and arguably hampered – student achievement). That’s how teachers can provide policy makers with ideas for laws that would improve teachers’ lives and, therefore, increase student achievement.
Lesley Hagelgans teaches Language Arts at Marshall Middle School in Marshall, Michigan. She was a member of the National VIVA Task Force.