Education Opinion

Up and Coming? Who’s Doing the Real Work in Education?

By Nancy Flanagan — May 19, 2012 4 min read
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So--Sara Mead is again highlighting 17 “up and coming” edu-preneurs who will “lead the transformation of education in this country in the coming generation,” in her Policy Notebook blog. Mead says she:

...built this list by asking for recommendations from people I respect in the education field, including my Bellwether education colleagues, leaders of education reform and policy organizations, writers and analysts, and, most importantly, last year's list of Next Generation Leaders.

Her list includes many “founders” and “executives” of charter schools, non-profits created to demean collective bargaining and teachers’ control over their own profession, rising neo-liberal stars in higher education and psychometrics--and players in the USDOE’s efforts to “respect” teachers rhetorically, if not in policy. Those up and coming in the new “opportunity culture” of the wide-open education marketplace.

Who’s left out? Career teachers who want to restore their own autonomy and purpose. Creative public school administrators working tirelessly in challenging situations, under crushing policy constraints. Parents groups organizing to save their kids from endless, pointless testing. And of course, anyone who belongs to a teachers’ association--or questions the chipping away of America’s best idea: a free, excellent, fully public (not partially privatized) education for every child.

Why not create another list of Up and Comers, built on recommendations from readers’ respected colleagues, leaders in honestly progressive, grass-roots reform, National Board Certified and other recognized teachers, important voices speaking out about media- and money-fed policy myths? Wouldn’t it be much more balanced, not just edu-preneurs looking to build another start-up?

So I asked some folks that I trust to send names of up and comers “in the trenches” (a phrase I hate, by the way, as it perpetuates the false idea that schools are out-of-control war zones). Paul Thomas, an assistant professor at Furman University, reminded me:

Defining and recognizing up and comers perpetuates some of the most corrosive agendas in the current "no excuses" reform model: (1) Labeling, sorting, and ranking educators to divide and conquer (2) Marginalizing those who are "just a teacher"

Two excellent points. Still, I’m chafing at the idea that edu-preneurs are “leading the transformation of education.” I was a public school teacher for 30 years. I can testify: real transformations happen in classrooms and schools. Another friend commented that the nature of teaching is invisible--and that should stop: As long as real educators are invisible, their experiences, their insights, their “quiet” gains and contributions are surpassed by the Toddlers & Tiaras set.

How about naming some people who are transforming real kids every day? Here’s a (very short) starter list:

John Kuhn, Superintendent in his hometown, a small West TX district, who boldly stood on the statehouse steps in Austin, and declared “Send us your most difficult-to-educate children. We will not turn them away.”

Julie Cavanagh and Brian Jones, who created The Inconvenient Truth About Waiting for Superman (while continuously teaching in NYC schools and advocating for genuine social justice for their students).

Sara Ferguson of Chester, Pennsylvania, an elementary math and literacy teacher who worked without pay, after the district said it could no longer afford to pay its staff.

• The NY state principals who organized a well-researched and politically risky campaign to push back against junk science in teacher evaluations.

Annie Willis, a sixth-grade science teacher in Indiana who helped grow a social justice garden, which now serves fresh fruits and vegetables to community residents.

• All of the teachers who participated in “grade-ins,” demonstrating what teachers do after being on stage for six hours.

Peggy Robertson, spearhead mom of the United Opt-Out National movement, which has gone beyond supporting parents who want to save their kids from pointless testing, into researching the roots of the multi-billion dollar, for-profit testing industry.

Sonia Galaviz of Nampa, Idaho, a fifth grade teacher who takes an innovative approach to teaching tolerance using culturally responsive teaching, winning a Teaching Tolerance award from The Southern Poverty Law Center.

Jeff Duncan-Andrade, teacher in Oakland, California who said this in his YouTube commentaries on education realities: If you don’t live in the community, there’s a way in which you can lose track... If it’s not part of your own life, it’s remote, and more difficult to connect to the lessons and relationships you have with kids.

Rob Townsend, a HS physical science teacher in Clintondale, MI who figured out how to get kids to do their homework, using technology--and also coaches varsity Basketball.

Bloggers! The thousands of educators and parents who “make visible” the everyday work of classroom teaching, after reading assignments and designing lessons. Too many to even skim the surface, but here are a few:

Who is transforming education where you live and work? Whose name would you mention?

The opinions expressed in Teacher in a Strange Land 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.