So, what a loaded question! Among the social and political turmoil, teachers appear damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Are you a test giver, a test criticizer, a challenger of students, a compassionate caregiver, a voice for the quiet, a healthcare advisor, a coach, a snack giver, a listener, an imparter of discipline, a scheduler, a multi-tasker, a clothes provider, a furnisher of school supplies, an academic counselor, a recommendation writer, a job creator, a community member, a technology specialist, a writer, a planner, a musician, an athlete, an artist, a portfolio creator, an evaluator of data, a reader, a professional, an expert in the field, a life-long learner, a drinker of coffee or tea, tired, energized, intelligent, certified, diligent, multilingual, prepared? Yes! How many more nouns, verbs and adjectives come to mind? And what does it matter if no one appreciates educators anyway?!
It matters because there is a lot of misinformation circulating about our schools: about educators, leaders and students. We are bad; we are devoid of morality; we are lazy; we earn too much money; we are never fired for poor performance; we have all kinds of vacation; we don’t say the Pledge of Allegiance; we give too many bad grades; we give too many good grades; we don’t ever do our work; we are always disrespectful; our parents are always antagonistic.
So if the emerging question is-what is a teacher, really? If it is all or most of the first paragraph, isn’t that a great list and can’t we just do our jobs? How many times do folks say, “If I could only just teach?!” So we don’t and we can’t but how do we show what we do, what we’re proud of and what we’d like to do to transform schools? Is money the answer? Yes, and no. Research shows that money is not the end all; however, textbooks or computers, safe buildings and salaries are necessary and so as we are suffering multiple years with budget cuts and no raises, money would help, but what else is needed? Targeted goals are great but test scores are not proper educational goals and have no impact on educational readiness in the first place. If reading matters, we must all read. Teaching parents to read with their children, having library activities, staffing reading specialists that have time to talk with classroom teachers, parents and students is key. Fostering a combination of reading for pleasure and for information is vital. Do we want students to be ready for a global economy? Then we need teams-of language, history, math, science and elective teachers who don’t feel like they have to compete for students and jobs. This requires insight-not top down, latest fad, write a grant and then use the money for other purposes kind of insight. No, just ask a teacher. Just ask some students. This is such a simplistic response, yet it can be so profound. Look how a student responded when he was asked to look at community maps and data (mappingthenation.net) from around the U.S. and create a community public service announcement.
Watch how the same student responded when he was asked to speak at graduation. This is only one of many intelligent, creative students we’ve worked with in just one school year; this is not an isolated case of achievement. Think how his teachers must have inspired him and others and how we should take time to talk.
If people at the federal, state and community level would really listen to teachers and students (i.e. listen, then honestly discuss and implement some of the proposals-regarding budget, school climate and academic structure) after posing certain questions:
How can we improve this school?
How can we improve the profession?
How can we improve our community?,
I believe we would be astounded at the real changes that could occur. We would not be perfect, but we would be better. It’s starting (CTQ and teacherpowered.org) but we must consistently and loudly raise our voices above the din, and when the extraneous noise threatens to overwhelm and destroy a spirit, we must think of the good we know and push for these new teacher and student-centered models. And then we will have to come back and continue to tell our stories: loud and clear so that the world would know what schools, educators and students are really all about. And yes, this takes time, so give teachers time -for their students, their schools and their communities -not just for their tests.