The Courageous Teacher Responds to Governor Christie
OK, people! If you haven’t already seen it, here’s how the teacher herself — the one who had Governor Chris Christie yelling in her face — responded in a letter on her blog. (Incidentally, if he was one of her students, what would be the consequence of such behavior in her class? Actually, I’d hope he’d be sent to a peer jury for a restorative justice experience — perhaps it would help him rethink his relationships with the citizens of his state.)
To tempt you into reading the whole letter, here’s just one juicy highlight (in response to his remark that ‘You people always want more money’:
What do I want? What do ‘we people’ want? We want to be allowed to teach. Do you know that the past two months has been spent of our time preparing and completing paperwork for the Student Growth Objectives? Assessments were created and administered to our students on material that we have not even taught yet. Can you imagine how that made us feel? The students felt like they were worthless for not having any clue how to complete the assessments. The teachers felt like horrible monsters for having to make the students endure this. How is that helping the development of a child? How will that help them see the value in their own self-worth. This futile exercise took time away from planning and preparing meaningful lessons as well as the time spent in class actually completing the assessments.
Christie should receive HUNDREDS of such letters on his website. Of course, his staff will keep them from displaying — but they’ll know we are out there!
Lots of people saying it right now. Here’s blogger Beth Shaum saying it cogently in a post on her site, Use Your Outside Voice. Happily, she includes a brief portrait of an outstanding classroom for adults. Then there are a string of comments responding to the blog post, “Why Teachers Should Educate the Public About the Profession,” which we just featured in a post ourselves last week. A typical comment on this appeared on ASCD’s LinkedIn site . Here’s another on that site. And yet another essay, this one by Kevin Meuwissen, on Education Week’s site Oct. 15th saying that teachers have an important role to play politically, since education is inevitably political.
So more and more voices say teachers must speak out but we need the teachers. So I challenge every one of these commentators and bloggers to take steps themselves to actually make it happen, rather than just saying it’s a good idea. Get a teacher to write about his or her work and help get it published on the web or the print media. Write a portrait of a great teacher yourself and get it published on the web or in print.
I figure that I had better be doing the same myself, or I’ll be guilty of the same talking-the-talking-but-not walking-the-walk. So take a look at my latest effort — teacher Catherine Clarke’s lovely piece that I posted on my blog, “Teachers Speak Up,” on http://evanston.patch.com .
Yeah, I’ve been working away on planning for the TEDxWellsStreetED event in Chicago, scheduled for Sept. 28, so it’s been quiet here at Teachers Speak Up. But I saw yet another great Atlanta teacher portrayed by Peter Smagorinsky in the Atlanta Journal Constitution blog hosted by reporter Maureen Downey. So please read about Atlanta teacher Dave Winter. But as Smagorinsky points out, he’s not unusual even though he’s won many awards — there are loads of teachers like him everywhere.
So even if you’re hesitant to brag about your own great teaching, you can pen a portrait of an outstanding colleague. Do this NOW, before the busy-ness of the coming school year closes in.
And do it because school districts like Chicago’s are de-funding strong public schools at a disastrous rate.
Need help getting your story into the public media? Contact me here and I’ll help you.
Perhaps you’ve noticed that I’ve been writing fewer posts lately. The reason: I’ve been a little busy leading a team to organize a TEDx talks event. TEDxWellsStreetED on Teacher Voice is coming Sept 28 in Chicago. Our theme: “Exploring Teacher Voice Beyond the Classroom.” Our purpose:
This event will feature a wide range of speakers sharing powerful stories, ideas, and proposals about teaching and learning, and the role of teachers’ voices in education policies. Our aim is to better inform the public and decision-makers about the important work teachers do and the impact of practices and policies — existing ones or those proposed by the speakers — on the classroom. And we hope the talks will encourage more educators to speak out and join the local and national conversations on public education issues.
The event is named after the 2nd superintendent of Chicago Public Schools, who served 1856-1864 and worked to replace rote learning with “a variety of intellectual and physical recreations,” and to reach out to immigrant populations.
We invite Chicago teachers to apply to speak at the event. We seek inspiring, solutions-oriented speakers with stories and ideas about effectiveness and in the classroom and teacher leadership — not just political arguments, as justified as those may be. Talks will be maximum 15 min. long, and will be video-ed and uploaded on YouTube. The invitation links to an online application form.
In addition to teacher speakers, a variety of Chicago citizens will provide perspectives on teachers’ communication with various community constituencies.
More on this to come!
So the blogger Eduwonk has noticed that more teacher voices are making themselves heard — through advocacy groups like Educators 4 Excellence. You or I might not agree with all of the stands that they take, but these are teachers speaking up, 7500 in all, in Los Angeles, Minnesota, and New York. They form teams to study issues and write recommendation reports on them, in each of their areas. Eduwonk especially appreciates that these teachers are busy proposing solutions to education challenges — as compared to the politicians who make policies without consulting teachers who have expertise on the issues, and then rescind them in mid-flight, or fail to come to agreements to achieve anything at all.
So take a hint! contact E4E about creating a chapter in your community. Or start pulling together a teachers’ education policy group of your own. Yeah, it takes work. But public education needs SOMEONE — lots of us, really — to speak for it.
And thanks to Marilyn Hollman for reminding me about this group and noticing the Eduwonk post.
I’m back after summer travel & work with our Illinois Writing Project Summer Leadership Institute — to find lots of news on the Teachers Speak Up front.
Here’s just one item for people to keep on their radar: another educator who promotes teacher voice — teacher/blogger Lillie Marshall proposes to form a “teacher PR corps.” So read her post, comment there (as I’m about to do) to encourage her, and let’s see this get going!
On May 4, 2013, Barnard College hosted a conference titled, Reclaiming the Conversation on Education at which a series of outspoken educators (and one outspoken student!) addressed the concerns that policies, funding, and testing are undermining effective teaching and learning in schools. Groups and events like this are developing with greater and greater frequency, now. While not every teacher will agree with every position espoused at that conference, it’s a hopeful sign that increasing numbers of teachers are realizing that their voices need to be heard and their expertise made a significant part of the decision-making about education in this country.
So watch some of the talks. And then step up to tell your own story — of the great things that happen in your classroom (don’t worry about bragging – everyone else in the world does it, and it’s needed), the obstacles you have to deal with, the support and the policies you wish you had — and perhaps you’re even in a great school that is doing engaging and creative things for kids, and could be a model for others.
It can be challenging to get teacher voices into the public eye and ear. So we were especially pleased to learn how NPR in Florida is highlighting teacher perspectives in a series of reports by Miami-Dade teacher and education analyst Jeremy Glazer. His latest piece describes how a fellow teacher, now retired, recalls discovering the desire of her struggling students to read real books instead of plowing through the shortened, cleaned-up stories in a textbook. As Glazer observes,
Whenever advocates call for measuring teacher value beyond the test, there is a response by testing proponents that this other stuff is too soft or too touchy-feely. They say it isn’t rigorous. It isn’t academic
. . . The experience Ms Roberts and her students had was an intensely academic experience; it was part of what good English teaching is. And while it may or may not have had any measurable influence on their subsequent test scores, such experiences must be a part of what we talk about when we talk about good teaching.
It’s so important for the public and policy-makers to hear this!
Now that the long July 4th holiday is over, I’m back and up to no good. I just posted a writing prompt at National Writing Project iAnthology site, inviting teachers to write about a student who changed. I hope you’ll visit the site, but if you aren’t already a member you’ll need to sign up (which is a good thing) to read the prompt, posted in the “Writing Into the Week” group.
To be helpful to the iAnthology writers, I’m re-posting the minilesson on writing a teacher story about a student’s transformation, something I provided in a post here a few weeks ago. This process would also work well for someone writing about a great teacher he or she had. Here it is.
- First, it’s a good idea to think about the audience and purpose for your story. If it’s going to a wider public (which I think is really important) here’s what I suggest: Avoid education jargon. It needs to be vivid and grab people’s attention. It ought to have a clear point that non-educators can relate to. And it shouldn’t sound whiny – sure we have plenty of obstacles, but let’s inform people about what good teaching really entails and why it matters.
- Now, think of some very specific, concrete moment in your teaching experience — a student who was a real challenge but who made a breakthrough during the year, or a class that was disengaged and you found a way to reach them. Want examples? Visit my blog on the Patch.com Evanston news site for three great stories. Or read this piece at Education Week Teacher just the other day.
- Next, try to picture one or several very specific moments when this student or class was struggling, resisting, or having a lightbulb go off. One of my favorite examples is in teacher Megan Allen’s testimony to Congress. Write a chunk of narrative to describe this moment (or moments). Ralph Fletcher’s books on teaching writing talk a lot about the power of focusing on such moments.
- Next step: Talk about what you learned from this professional experience — or what you’d like a reader to learn from it, or what it tells us about education policies or practices. This chunk will probably go at or near the end of your piece. You could hint about it at the start, but don’t go into a lot of theory or explanation there because that will bog things down.
- Finally, there will be some trimmings to add — introducing yourself and/or the scene at the start, adding a punch-line at the end, some connective tissue along the way.
Rachel Naomi Remen, is an outstanding doctor, medical reformer, and author. This doctor offers teachers a lesson about the importance of story. She gives us this lesson in a story in the DailyGood website. “In medicine,” she explains, “is often dismissed as ‘anecdotal evidence,’ a sort of second class data.” However, stories are the engines of change, as she elaborates: “One of the most skilled activists is a genius of change, a woman who can enter a room of people who have held opposing positions for years and . . . enable them to work together as colleagues. I asked her how she manages to do this. ‘Simple,’ she said. ‘You just change the story they hold about themselves and each other.'”
We teachers need to listen to Dr. Remen and learn to do this too.