Education Opinion

Missing the Teacher Voice

By Peter Greene — August 20, 2014 3 min read
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One of the most striking features of the ongoing debate about the future and direction of American public education is the absence of teacher voices.

No Child Left Behind (the Hobbit to Race to the Top’s Lord of the Rings) was launched without any serious teacher input. It took a decade for legislators and bureaucrats to notice that the Lake Woebegonian goal of making all students above average was educationally (and statistically) impossible, but teachers had noticed the problem from Day One. We even said something about it, but nobody in the halls of power was listening to us.

Common Core was more of the same, with no teachers at the table to whip up the new set of standards. CCSS boosters must have known it was an issue-- why else create and repeat the fiction that teachers had been significantly involved in creating the Core. But that story started unraveling almost immediately.

And as Common Core and its related programs have shambled across the landscape, we’ve encountered more and more not-teacher voices. We have thinky tanks like Fordham and philanthropists like Gates and advocacy groups like StudentsFirst and FEE, plus groups like the US Chamber of Commerce that have suddenly discovered a passionate interest in schools. All with strong, well-financed, PR-fueled opinions, and all without the voices of teachers included. We have had groups like TFA and TNTP pushing the narrative that anybody can claim the name “teacher,” at least for a year or two, that kind of trained professionals that we used to call “teachers” aren’t really necessary after all.

Underneath it all, we’ve had the suggestion that American teachers are in trouble, that they’re failing, that they have no real expertise to offer, that they are, in fact, the problem.

And as reform after reform is proposed, nobody ever seems to turn to actual teachers and ask, “So, what do you think?” Yes, we occasionally hear from Teachers of the Year and other carefully selected and screened teachers. But by and large, leaders have been trying to remake the entire education world without involving the people who have devoted their lives to working in it.

That brings us the long way around to the question of what I’m doing here.

Unlike most of Education Week’s bloggers, I have no extra credentials to wave. I’m not associated with a think tank or advocacy group. I have no special honors or grants or nifty plaquage mounted on my wall. I did receive a cement apple with a clock in it from a PBS station years ago, but that was because one student wrote a nice essay about me.

I’m a teacher. That’s it. I’ve been teaching English for about thirty-five years. I was a union local president for a few years, and I advise the yearbook, student council, and stage crew at my school, where we have about 650 students (9-12). I live in a town of about 7,000; my back yard runs up against the river, and in the summer I walk up picturesque streets to the city park where my wife and I play trombone in the town band. Yes, I live in that place.

I am far from the halls of power. I have been blogging for about a year (at Curmudgucation, where I’ll still be typing away); I’ve emailed and tweeted with some of the big names in the education debates, but I’ve never met one of them face to face. I am, as the title says, out in the cheap seats. As the great opera about American public education plays out, I am, like most classroom teachers, watching from the back rows of the balcony.

But we classroom teachers are the ones who have to live with the effects of the many policy decisions and debates. We see what those decisions look like on the ground, and we are the experts, the people who chose to devote their lives to educating the young people of this nation. We should have a voice.

I do not pretend to speak for all teachers. I speak for just one teacher-- me. But we live in an amazing age, an age in which teachers from all across the country can network and talk to each other, an age in which one teacher armed with nothing more than a web browser and a mild talent for stringing words together can speak with and to other teachers all around the world. A world where technology can amplify any voice.

Teacher perspectives have been missing from education policy discussion in this country. My goal here is to rectify that just a little bit. I’m excited about starting this new venture here at Education Week. I hope you’ll check in with me in the months ahead.

The opinions expressed in View From the Cheap Seats are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.