“…he responded by saying that the piece sounded like I was just another disgruntled teacher complaining about the system” (California Teacher, who sent a published editorial she’d written to her Congressman.)
Teachers do have a (partially deserved) reputation for (let’s not put a rhetorical flourish on this) whining. We’ve got a lot to whine about, after all–things are going in the wrong direction: the income gap increasing, decades of neglect for schools and kids in poverty, media’s propensity to criticize teachers whose work is the most difficult. We need to come to all discussions with lots of information, data, honed arguments–as well as the one thing teachers can provide that policy-makers lack: personal stories.
I am on hiatus from a PhD program in Education Policy at Michigan State. In my cohort, I am the only person with extensive teaching experience, although MSU actively recruits and fully funds PhD Fellows out of Teach for America. I am two decades older than anyone in the cohort, most of whom had undergraduate degrees in public policy or political science. Members of my cohort have boundless confidence in their ability to solve problems in education, because…well, because they’re smart. They got into MSU’s competitive program!
I am amazed–dumbfounded sometimes–by the ideas my youthful colleagues have about education and the kinds of policy they believe would have a positive impact. I actually lived through four decades of being directed by education policy, good and bad, and can provide a ground-level perspective on initiatives and changes that are nothing more than a chapter in the text for them. Still– most of them continue to pigeonhole me. Teaching special education in rural Alabama as an unprepared TFA teacher for two years? Great background. Teaching music in exurban Michigan for 30 years? Must be a union loyalist, and probably burned out.
I remember the night I explained National Board Certification to my seminar–although nobody would admit to knowing nothing about it, it was a radical concept for them: teachers voluntarily sitting for standards-based assessment of their own practice, knowing that the likelihood was that they would not certify in the first round. Then the Alabama TFA guy said: Don’t they get a lot of money?–and immediately the conversation turned to carrots and sticks, the be-a-winner motivations that guided their career aspirations.
I have seen even fabulous, award-winning teachers whine in public–and think it’s a disastrous mistake, one that has cost us dearly in our quest to be serious players. Not that I think we should be trying to catch flies with honey–or serving as doormats. Only that every time we whine (kind of like I did when describing my doc cohort–laughing), we need to be careful of who’s listening.