Last week, I had the pleasure of participating in a panel discussion with teacher leader (and Teaching 2030 co-author) Ariel Sacks, CTQ President Barnett Berry, and Dean of the College of Bank Street Jon Synder, moderated by Ronald Thorpe of WNET. The discussion on the future of teacher preparation interested members, held at The Ford Foundation headquarters, touched upon the issues with the current teacher preparation system. Even after re-reading the book we helped co-author, I didn’t know what to expect. Would the audience receive our messages of current teacher preparation well? How do the audience members’ own interest mesh or clash with our thoughts about the future of education, wrought with enough mixed emotions that it’s truly hard to predict?
Having said that, I’d say it went very well.
While Dr. Snyder and Dr. Berry definitely had their pieces to share, including our beautifully done video from Sunni Brown, the audience took particular interest in the teachers’ thoughts on teacher preparation. They hummed when Ariel described her vision for teacherpreneurship, in light of her own experiences as a teacher leader in her school. They paid close attention as I described my own thoughts about alternative certification, particularly with my experience as an NYC Teaching Fellow. For a second there, Ariel and I felt that we were being heard.
Now, if only we can spread that throughout the nation to some of the most vested citizens in education we have.
Teacher voice is critical in any discussion about education. Whether we’re in our schools or in think tanks, the progress we make as educators depends highly on whether the experts within the classroom can determine the parameters of their professionalism individually and collectively. Some people fear this, wondering whether too much teacher voice will elicit petulant jabber or nonsensical “union” talk. They ignore teachers en masse when they step out of the superhero / surrogate parent stereotypes. They pinpoint the one “bad” teacher they had in their lives even when they owe much of their present successes to the plethora of average to terrific teachers who outnumbered their one or two bad experiences.
Interestingly, they treat teachers like politicians in that they love the ones close to them, but detest the whole body of people who consider themselves politicians, even when they’re simply serving their constituency. Unlike politicians, however, teachers lean more towards collaboration and reflection because it’s part of their profession. They see themselves as crucial pieces to the Jenga puzzle that is a school building, and if teachers can’t voice their opinions, then the pieces continue to rumble against the players’ fingers.
There is hope, though. Representatives from all walks of life want to hear teacher leaders speak on how to improve their section of the education world. Principals want to get involved with better preparation for the principals, who are in essence the teacher of teachers. Education thought leaders want to hear what teachers think about how their research and policies might work in practicum. Colleges want to hear how they can improve their programs to better prepare teachers for the realities of the classroom and giving every teacher the opportunity to assume a teacher leader position, and infuse a bit of initiative and spirit into school staff.
As Barnett Berry mentioned in the panel, there’s evidence of our models for teacher leadership right in our schools, pointing to the couple of co-panelists who currently work in the classroom and assist in pushing their schools further. If the evidence is there, we should push for further professionalization, with the ability to discuss our concerns on an equal footing with other allies (and contrarians).
Judging from the conversations at the panel, the teacher voice is something we can all endorse.