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Teachers: Let Your Voice Be Heard

Posted on Monday November 12, 2012 by Michael Keathley

Most educators know that one of the best kept secrets about the American education system is that in reality, it is much more successful than the general public, media, or politicians are aware of or willing to acknowledge. Certainly, there are obstacles to any large endeavor; however, each and every day we see academic accomplishments. Achievement, for example, in the student who finally grasps a difficult concept, or a graduate who returns to visit and shares news of his or her successes. Some of this may be shared collectively as an entire class with the guidance of a teacher explores a subject, making new discoveries together, or a faculty member overcomes an unfunded pedagogical need by with a bold invention.

The question is: Why are these successes and achievements kept secret? Although the privacy of students must be protected, certainly the successes of education may be shared. Certainly venues are readily available for sharing the good news about education, especially by utilizing social media.

Now more than ever we must stop playing the martyr and letting others who know much less about our profession and its many successes dictate unsound policies to us. It’s time for teachers to stand up and speak up. Here are some steps you can take to let your voice be heard.

Build a Strong Local Presence

One of my earliest frustrations as a teacher was that it seemed nearly impossible to get the good news out about my program and our school. Back in the archaic decade of the 1990s, when online options were barely even fantasies, we would try to get parents, the media, and other local members of the community to visit, participate in, and/or report on some of the wonderful activities going on at the school and in our classrooms. Reponses were almost non-existent.

However, back then and even today, teachers must pursue such opportunities as they eventually do help get the word out about the great things taking place in our classrooms. For example, when I read Lisa Capretto’s “38 Ways for Parents to Get Involved in the Classroom,” (18 June, 2010), her reference to the research showing that just three hours per academic year of parental involvement has long-term benefits for students seemed an obvious way to build presence locally. How many parents can not and/or would not devote three hours over the course of an academic year? We teachers know that within those three hours, those parents will witness and most likely share with others some of the wonderful achievements going on in our classrooms.

Similarly, schools at all levels must be an integral part of local communities. There are some excellent resources, such as Dr. Howard Adelman and Dr. Linda Taylor’s Fostering School, Family, and Community Involvement (September 2007), which not only provides some ideas for motivating local engagement in the safety and success of our schools, but also some ideas on how to do so.

Be relentless in pursuing local involvement and communicating about the good things going on in your classroom. It will pay off. For instance, after a few years of inviting local media to report on my school and foreign language program, the local newspaper finally assigned a reporter to sit in on some of our classes for a series of articles. Not only did this series extol the benefits of my somewhat unique Latin program that was growing in popularity and improving the literacy of inner city and at-risk youths (c.f., The Iris Project), but also some of the other achievements of my students, such as the large mural one 9th grader had painted after being inspired to do so by our study of Roman foundation myths.

Who better to represent education and students than those who are on the front lines each and every day? No one is more knowledgeable than our teachers.

Construct a National Presence

Clearly there are educational issues that go far beyond the local school and community. Teachers must make their presence known in national forums as well. Here is where it’s important that faculty join together to make their voices heard. There are several ways to do this.

    • Participate in professional organizations: Some of these professional groups focus on a specific field of study, while others focus more strongly on advocacy for teachers. Be sure to search carefully for newer advocacy groups, such as the The International Association for K-12 Online Learning, New Faculty Majority, and Adjunct Nation.

    • Apply for administrative and other leadership positions: At the college level, for example one-third of the top administrative positions are currently held by individuals who have never been a classroom instructor ( “Why Academic Outsiders Shouldn’t Be Education Leaders,” 19 July, 2012). Although the administrative situation is much better at the K12 levels, there are other leadership positions that would benefit from classroom teacher involvement (e.g., within the professional organizations listed under the first bullet).

    • Get involved in politics: Those holding political office tend to be the most vocal about education; however, most have never spent years as a classroom teacher. Politicians make decisions about what is good for students, budgets for schools, and other such concerns in spite of this lack of experience. Who better to fill these positions than you?

In general, teachers must look for ways to get involved on the national level, not only individually, but also collectively. If you don’t wish to be directly involved personally, support those who are.

Engage in a Global Presence

Today we have it very easy in terms of getting the word out about the successes of education, especially within our classrooms. With appropriate permissions and privacy right protections adhered to, we can quickly post information in a variety of media formats and via a host of venues to the entire world. The desire to share the successes I was seeing and participating in as a classroom teacher translated in part to my desire to write for this blog. With posts such as “The Glass (More Than) Half Full,” (18 January, 2012), my hope is that I could share good news, successes, solutions, creative approaches, and similar types of stories with the world.

Another recent example is Teachers Speak Up! developed by Steve Zemelman, Harry Ross, and Marilyn Hollman. Here they invited educators to share their voices in four main ways:

    1. Speak up yourself. Inform parents, local community members, and public officials about your teaching and how it makes a difference in kids’ learning.

    2. Spread the ideas in this blog. Encourage the teachers you work with to learn and use the thinking and strategies for speaking up. Pass these ideas on to other teacher leaders so the ideas spread still further.

    3. Share your stories with us. Sign up on the “Contact Us” page to tell us your successes and challenges with speaking up, using comments on this blog. We’ll add the most helpful of these to our permanent blog content.

    4. Join in this effort. It’s a huge undertaking to help teachers across the country to actively build support for great education. If you’d like to help, tell us on the “Contact Us” page and we’ll e-mail about ways you can do this. (2012)

Social media sites such as blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc. make it very easy to make your presence as a classroom teacher known. In fact, I would say it has never been easier to become the teacher voice heard around the world.

Faculty complain about the negative ways they are portrayed and the control that outsiders have over their profession. However, as Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” It’s time to get involved. It’s time to stand up. It’s time to be heard.

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