Education Opinion

RESPECT Teachers, Don’t STICK it to Them

By Patrick Ledesma — February 18, 2012 5 min read
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Two important education related news events occurred this week.

On Wednesday, February 15th, the US Department of Education (ED) launched Project RESPECT. The day before on Tuesday, February 14th, in Virginia, the State Senate defeated the proposal to end teacher tenure protections where teachers could be arbitrarily dismissed without demonstrating just cause.

While both news events relate to different levels of governance, these events will be inevitably interconnected for future education discussions.

The US Department of Education’s Project RESPECT is an acronym for Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence and Collaborative Teaching.

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At Wednesday’s Teacher Town Hall, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan described that RESPECT is all about:

• Improving student outcomes.

• Continuously improving practice and recognizing, rewarding, and learning from great teachers and principals.

• Creating schools where principals and teachers work together with their peers, support each other, hold each other accountable and lift each other to new levels of skill and competence.

The Key Elements of RESPECT are:

1. Attracting Top-Tier Talent into Education and Preparing them for Success
2. Creating a Professional Career Continuum with Competitive Compensation
3. Creating Conditions for Success
5. Getting the Best Educators to the Students who Need them Most
6. Sustaining a New and Improved System

According to the Secretary, “The conversation will be on blogs, in the media, and in town halls like this one. We will engage our union partners at every level--national, state and local--as well as teacher reform groups, like Teach Plus, Educators for Excellence, and the New Teacher Project.”

“We’ll work with all of the subject matter groups in reading, math, science, history, and the arts--as well as the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards, which has been such a strong partner and leader in supporting and promoting excellence in teaching.”

“Our goal is to work with educators in rebuilding the profession--and to elevate the teacher voice in shaping federal, state, and local education policy.”

These conversations will be led by the Teacher Ambassadors, which are a group of current classroom teachers who work with the US Department of Education.

One of the more fulfilling aspects of being a former teacher ambassador was working with ED officials to engage teachers about education policy at various teacher conferences. This was an important opportunity to serve as liaisons between those who work with real students and those who write policies intended to improve student learning.

It is the duty of teacher ambassadors to amplify the teacher voices to inform policy.

The Power of the Voice of One Teacher

In Virginia, recent events continue to change the teaching profession at the state level. In April 2011, the Virginia Board of Education approved a model for teacher evaluation where student academic progress represented 40% of a teacher’s rating that includes multiple measures, including student growth data from the Virginia Department of Education.

The current proposal would have allowed administrators to fire teachers without demonstrating just cause. The proposal passed in the House, but in the Senate, two Republican senators, both with teachers in their families, abstained from voting, effectively denying passage.

According to the Washington Post,

Sen. Thomas K. Norment Jr. (James City) was one of the two Republicans who did not vote. He said during the floor debate he could not consider the measure without thinking of his daughter, a kindergarten teacher in Williamsburg.

“When she e-mails me this morning and says, ‘Dad, Happy Valentine’s Day, I love you. Don’t stick it to the teachers.’-- it makes me pause.”

According to CBS DC, Norment said “If it comes to a choice between voting with my family or the governor, I stick with my family.”

While the defeat of this proposal may be attributed to personal reasons from the Republican Senators, one would hope that family affiliations only go so far, that at the heart of this specific issue are the deep, unsettling feelings that one should not create conditions where power goes unchecked. The great state of Virginia, birthplace to so many US presidents such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Woodrow Wilson, should do better.

Due process serves a purpose. I remember a superintendent/professor in my administration preparation coursework remarking that just as there are great teachers, average teachers, and ineffective teachers, there are also the same ratios of great administrators, average administrators, and ineffective administrators.

Due process protects all educators who strive to do what is best for students. Improvements to tenure are needed, but not in a vehicle where due process is absent. The process should be made more efficient and supportive of students, not be destroyed.

Don’t S.T.I.C.K. it to the Teachers

So in the acronym spirit for RESPECT (Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence and Collaborative Teaching), the word STICK in “Don’t STICK it to the Teachers” should be an acronym for Sabotage Tenure, Income, Conditions, Knowledge.

Sabotage:"Treacherous action to defeat or hinder a cause or an endeavor; deliberate subversion.”

Tenure: Reward effective teachers with tenure, but protect the due process for both administrators and teachers to be advocates for children. This requires meaningful reform for teacher evaluation.

Income: As the Secretary pointed out, “Salaries should be more competitive with other professions.”

Conditions: As the Secretary pointed out, “We must create new career ladders for teachers so they don’t have to leave the classroom.... We need mentor teachers, master teachers, and teacher leaders supporting younger colleagues, and driving school decisions around curriculum, scheduling, and staffing.”

Knowledge: Teacher knowledge should be developed, honored, and accessed at all levels of education policy and reform.

Don’t Sabotage Tenure, Income, Conditions, Knowledge.

So, from the brave kindergarten teacher in Williamsburg, Virginia who says, “Don’t STICK it to the teachers"- these are the words of wisdom that need to be amplified in this upcoming dialogue to RESPECT the teaching profession.

RESPECT Teachers, Don’t STICK it to them... so the dialogue continues..

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