Who Speaks for Teachers?

Surely the past few years we have heard people speak about teachers, and they have had plenty to say. Most of it was negative. Most of it was demeaning to the people who chose teaching as a profession. In 2009, the media featured Michelle Rhee with a broom, sweeping out teachers that were not wanted. The assault on teachers continued with the LA Times picking up the pace, and we learned about teacher evaluations. Here’s a thought: I kept wondering who would speak up for teachers. That discussion was very slow in coming. Incredibly, Diane Ravitch and Larry Cuban picked up the baton.

I was waiting for the groups that teachers support to come forward, but teacher unions were under the gun and had to circle the wagons in their own defense, and the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) was shocked at the defunding of ETAN and they were circling their wagons, mounting a defense for the funding of ETAN. And then CoSn came to the fore, with the Horizon report and some good data about education.

Missing in the discussion were other groups, but we as teachers have so many groups and layers it is hard to think who speaks for us. So we ask you, as teachers, professors, principals, technologists: Who has the clearest vision for the future that speaks to our concerns?

I used to love being a teacher even though I knew that I was economically challenged. In Washington, you see, if you say you are a teacher — and I’ve seen this happen — people turn to speak to the next person. It is more that they don’t respect you as an individual. Even when I was an appointed member of a commission, the people often looked right over me, and I learned to collaborate with the people they listened to. That would be the NEA, ISTE, COSN, SITE.org and some other groups like NSTA, NCGE, and NCTM. But in this administration, I am not sure I know who speaks for me, to me, cares about me, or my profession. I am very pleased that the President has taken up the banner for STEM and that he seems to understand that NCLB is not working.

I still am not sure who speaks for me as a person. Not as a lobbyist, but for the profession and what we try to do. I am pleased with the breaking down of silos with the SITE.org organization and the outreach from groups like CSTA.org and the National Geographic. I am concerned about ISTE moving away from a teacher organization in which teachers held the reins of leadership, but I may not understand the purpose behind this move.

What is your call on this?

6 Responses

  1. I don’t have your answer. So, don’t misinterpret my musings on this subject. That’s all they are.

    Lots of people blame teachers for our problems because they’re an easy target. It’s not so simple. I see several sides to this discussion.

    On one side, you have hard-working, capable teachers who just cannot cope with all that’s going on. Their class sizes have exploded, and their budgets shrank. Meaningful learning is hard to create under these circumstances except for the most talented and motivated (at the same time) teachers.

    Another side shows us teachers who have chosen the wrong profession for whatever reason. Their personalities just don’t fit the necessities of teaching. Most of these will self-select themselves out of the profession, but some remain.

    Some teachers have been assigned classes for which they were never trained. You see this problem in science where a life science teacher is given physical science classes or where the science teacher was trained in mathematics and not in science. Someone recently pointed out that only about 10% of K-12 STEM teachers have adequate training in their subject.

    Some teachers really have stagnated. They have their lesson plans from ten years ago and keep to them (the “tried and true”) no matter what. They’re pretty good at basic teaching but do not renew; they become stale. It’s hard to rebuild lesson plans when you barely can keep up with an increasing workload. Yet, ways must be found.

    As I think about these ideas, I keep coming back to the conclusion that part of the problem is administrative and part is political (yes, local, state, and federal politics). I shouldn’t have to elaborate.

    What happens in this environment? Gradually, year by year, the cachet of teaching as a profession degrades. It becomes harder to get college graduates to choose the profession. Salaries haven’t kept up with other, alternate professions, especially in math and science. I hate to say it, but the pool of potential teachers becomes less capable. No matter how hard they try, more and more just cannot do the job as it must be done. The profession gets more negative reviews. People respect it less. They choose to pay them less or provide fewer benefits. And the downward spiral continues. Our political will, as a country, is inadequate to address this problem by raising salaries and benefits and by having higher standards for hiring. In addition, the help that a new teacher must have to succeed is missing. The colleges of education don’t have enough real teaching opportunities for students, and the schools don’t create adequate mentoring programs.

    The old saw that “Those who can do, and those who can’t teach” becomes a self-fulling prophecy. This phrase need not be true and isn’t in many countries. In fact, it’s often just the opposite. In some, those who can teach, and the rest are left to do regular work. Teachers are held in the highest esteem. In South Korea, teachers are called “nation builders” are are highly respected.

    Several U.S. Presidents have said that education, especially science and math, is a national priority and even a matter of national defense. However, until our representatives stand up and tell the American people that they must pay higher taxes to ensure that our country can remain competitive and our children have the best possible careers instead of ending up on welfare or in prison, things are unlike to change much. The wealthy don’t care, for large part, because their children go to expensive private schools with tuition that can exceed $40,000 per year, while public school students often get less than $10,000 per year spent on them.

    Good education costs lots of money. For our country, the lack of a good education costs us all much more and the price will continue to rise unless something changes.

    Blaming the teachers will not change anything. Disrespecting the teaching profession only makes things worse. Teachers that aren’t doing well in their jobs either were selected poorly or were trained poorly or have inadequate support or have been put in untenable positions or many of these. None of these issues are the teacher’s fault. It’s the fault of the system. Blaming the teachers is like burying your head in the sand in order to avoid facing up to a broken system that will take lots of effort and money to fix.

    Believing that charter schools or school vouchers or NCLB penalties will fix things make a mockery of our intelligence. These and other similar “fixes” will not help, except around the edges, and some will actually make things worse.

    Until our country can stand up and respect education and be willing to invest heavily in improving it, nothing will change significantly. I happen to believe that some technology ideas can help out a great deal by elevating the base line of learning. But that’s not nearly enough. We have to make fundamental changes to our public education system and do so without destroying it. These changes involve funding, recruiting teachers, training teachers, reducing class sizes, allowing for a different curriculum structure, improving school administration, and educating the public about education.

    We can do it if we care enough. Do we? Will we?

  2. National Council on Teacher Quality Data on Who Speaks for Teachers

    A few months back, we decided we’d ask the people most directly affected by teacher preparation – teachers themselves – what they thought of the training they received and whether they thought more information about teacher prep should be made available to the public.

    We spread the word about our survey through our network of policy makers and wonks, union leaders and classroom teachers. And we broadcast the link to the survey on Twitter, where it was retweeted many times over. All told, we heard from over 4,200 teachers. To all of you who responded and who encouraged others to respond, we offer our thanks.

    Today we’re releasing a summary of what we heard from teachers. Here are a few of the main findings:

    81 percent of respondents think there should be a national review of teacher preparation.
    59 percent of all teachers felt “very prepared” or “prepared” in their first year in the classroom.
    Respondents gave teacher prep good marks for teaching them how to manage classrooms, but felt they weren’t as well equipped to use student data to differentiate instruction.
    While the main reason teachers chose their teacher preparation program was location or convenience, they would have liked to have known ahead of time more about the coursework and practical experience their teacher preparation program provided.

    Now, we make no claims that the survey is drawn from a representative sample of teachers. We won’t be using the findings as part of the national review that we’ll be publishing next year. But we do think it’s a good way to start the conversation with teachers about what teacher preparation should focus on and what the public should know about it.

    Here’s the link to the survey results:


    Share the link with others and let us know what you think about it. You can visit us on our Facebook page or comment on our blog.

    Thanks again for your help.

  3. Accomplished Teaching From NCTAF

    This is a site that is speaking for teachers.


    How People Learn
    By Suzanne Donovan, National Academy of Sciences, Presented at NCTAF Summit on Transforming Schools into Strong Learning Communities. The powerpoint presentation illustrates not only what helps or hinders student learning and application of knowledge, but also how teachers can adjust to situations in which students are not learning.
    National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS)
    This page provides information about NBPTS, the standards they have developed to define accomplished teaching, and the National Board Certification process.
    Teaching for Equity and Excellence: What it Will Really Take to Leave No Child Behind (2003)
    By Linda Darling-Hammond, Presented at 2003 Annual NCTAF Commissioners and Partner States’ Symposium. Links are active on the site.

  4. The shoes are beginning to fall on Michelle Rhee.This from the Atlantic. http://www.newrepublic.com/article/113096/how-michelle-rhee-misled-education-reform#. This is one of three articles that have been a catch on on the subject of transformation of education.

    This article is even more interesting. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/05/19/is-it-time-to-kiss-michelle-rhee-goodbye/.

    Why did it take so long for education’s reporters to read the tea leaves?

    What kinds of over site or use of the inverted v are there in educational journalist. Surely the people who saw the original
    proclamation of Rhee as a Joan of Arc in education should weigh in and inform their audiences.

    It would be nice if those who brought us the ” story of Rhee” and who so inflamed the conversation of education , would recant , with remorse for ruining many people’s lives and for inflaming the rhetoric within educational circles.. a conversation that is still going on.

  5. This is overkill I know. But so many people were hurt by this woman.

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