Opinion
Education Opinion

On Serving Two Masters

By Susan Graham — March 17, 2008 2 min read

I’m thinking about getting out of the classroom. There is a job that sounds really interesting. According to USAJOBS

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) is looking for the best and brightest to ensure equal access to education and to promote educational excellence throughout the nation. If you are a highly motivated, creative individual who would like to work for an agency that establishes policies on federal financial aid for education; distributes as well as monitors those funds; collects data on America’s schools and disseminates research; focuses national attention on key educational issues; and prohibits discrimination and ensures equal access to education; ED is the place for you! The U.S. Department of Education is recruiting to fill up to 5 temporary (not-to-exceed one year) positions under the Intergovernmental Personnel Act (IPA). The positions are located in Washington, DC. We anticipate that the positions will be filled in June/July 2008 and that the work will extend through July 2009.

It seems that, with less than a year to go, Secretary Spellings has decided to bring some teachers on board as Teacher Ambassadors. There will be twenty Ambassador Fellows and five resident Washington Ambassadors.

Teachers with successful strategies for increasing student achievement are encouraged to obtain principal support to apply for Teaching Ambassador Fellowship positions with the U.S. Department of Education through the Intergovernmental Personnel Act (IPA) for the 2008-2009 school year. Teachers will be chosen based upon their record of leadership, impact on student achievement, and potential for contribution to the field. All Fellows will complete a collaborative project to contribute to the field of education at the national level, and will be encouraged to work with their principals and with government liaisons throughout the year. The program offers two tracks: Classroom and Washington Fellows.

Bess Keller and David Hoff of Education Week wrote that Secretary Spellings offered this rationale of the program.

It’ll be very useful in both directions for teachers to understand what the issues are at the macro level,” she said in a recent interview. “But it’s also hugely beneficial for us to make sure we know: Is this policy implementable, doable, realistic, and righteous by the classroom teacher?”

I spoke with Bess on the phone, and she asked me what was driving me to consider the job and what might make me hesitate. Why is easy. I’m within commuting distance and in a place in my life where I could do this. I named this blog “A Place at the Table” and I’ve been advocating for teacher perspective in education policy. Part of me argues that not applying is sort of the same as not voting—I lose the right to complain about who is appointed and what they say and do.

So why am I hesitating? I have some unresolved concerns:

Why did it take the current administration seven years to decide that teachers should be part of the process?

There are over 2 million teachers in America. Are 5 full timers and 20 part timers really adequate sample of teacher voice?

Which teachers are going to be able to apply?

What is the criteria for choosing these teachers?

What are the job expectations?

Here are the criteria and the job expectations the application overview offers:

Teachers with successful strategies for increasing student achievement are encouraged to obtain principal support to apply for Teaching Ambassador Fellowship positions with the U.S. Department of Education through the Intergovernmental Personnel Act (IPA) for the 2008-2009 school year. Teachers will be chosen based upon their record of leadership, impact on student achievement, and potential for contribution to the field. All Fellows will complete a collaborative project to contribute to the field of education at the national level, and will be encouraged to work with their principals and with government liaisons throughout the year. The program offers two tracks: Classroom and Washington Fellows.

But there will be a new administration in January and regardless of who wins, there is likely to be a new Secretary of Education and some major adjustments in the DOE. Realistically, how much real impact will these Ambassadors have with their time on the job split right down the middle of two administrations? Will this matter more than time spent with students? And finally, if this is about teacher leadership, doesn’t it seem a little paternalistic to require that I get my principal’s permission to apply?

I was in a movie theater watching Elizabeth: The Golden Age when I finally figured out what was gnawing on me from the beginning about this job prospect. Up on the big screen, I was witnessing betrayal, intrigue, and dead bodies at every turn. And right smack in the center of this political chicanery was... the Spanish ambassador. That was it! The job title!

Ambassador: a diplomatic agent of the highest rank accredited to a foreign government or sovereign as the resident representative of his or her own government or sovereign or appointed for a special and often temporary diplomatic assignment.

An ambassador is a liaison of sorts, but he is not a disinterested one. Who does a Teacher Ambassador represent? Teachers -- or the Department of Education? If teachers, then it would be teachers doing the choosing. But USDOE is doing the picking, and it’s logical (and not unfair) to assume that the ambassador will represent the interests of DOE. Does DOE want to know what teachers really think or do they want teachers to validate and promote DOE’s positions?

I have 20 days to left to apply. Is this the opportunity for which I’ve been waiting? Or a sell out? Or something in between? What do you think?

The opinions expressed in A Place at the Table 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.