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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, Peter DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. Former superintendent Michael Nelson is a frequent contributor. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Why We Need ‘Badass’ Teachers

By Peter DeWitt — June 23, 2013 5 min read
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The problem is that if people just keep walking into the slaughter house of reform movements like NCLB and RTTT nothing will ever change. And that is why we need Badass teachers...

On June 20th, on Education Week Teacher Anthony Cody posted Badass Teachers Association Shows a New Spirit of Defiance. In the post he wrote, “A closed group on Facebook called the Badass Teachers Association has added more than a thousand members a day since its launch less than a week ago, rapidly approaching the 8000 mark, showing no sign of letting up.” He’s right, because as of Sunday they had close to 12,000 members.

Anthony wrote, “Mark Naison, a professor of African American studies at Fordham University in New York, founded the group with the help of two activists, Priscilla Sanstead and Marla Massey Kilfoyle.” The truth is, it’s awesome to see a group of educators showing a little defiance, and they are growing day by day.

I am fortunate enough to work with some teachers who should join the group because they are speaking up against educational reform. We are all tired of the standardized reform that is pushing creativity out of the school system and defining everyone, including students, teachers and administrators, by a number.

As a school principal, I had the chance to speak to a large crowd of parents at our fifth grade moving up ceremony a few days ago. It was an awesome group of kids and parents that I will miss next year, and I let them know that. They have such unique personalities, and very special interests, and I don’t want to see them choose a private school over our public school system (some of them have done missionary work at a young age!) due to the fact that we are becoming too standardized and are losing resources.

I know most of the students K-5 by first name, and these fifth graders have left a lasting impression...in a good way. I get a lot of credit for knowing all of their children’s names but it’s worthwhile for me to know them all. It makes them feel like they are a true part of our school community.

As I ended my speech I said, “Your children never have been, and never will be, a number to me.” Unfortunately, that is feeling is at risk because of standards-based report cards and state assessment scores that have gotten out of control.

Millions of educators feel the way that I do but frankly, they have not been standing up. Nor have their school leaders and Badass teachers is a group of principals, teachers, teacher aides, college professors, substitute teachers, parents and students who want to have their voices heard.

...and they’re growing by the day.

The Status Quo?
Paul Hoss, a gentleman who has said many times that he likes corporate reform, commented on Anthony’s blog. He used a statement that Diane Ravitch wrote in one of her books in early 2000. Since that book was written, Diane wrote another book about why she has changed her mind about her earlier opinions. It was called The Death and Life of the Great American School System but Paul must have missed it.

The reality is that we have all had opinions that have changed after we saw the true nature of what was behind the reform. As a teacher in early 2002 I enjoyed having a palm pilot that would sync to a computer-based program created by Wireless Generation. It gave me access to colorful graphs that I could use at parent conferences and share whether their children were making growth. Then, it became all about the numbers, and numbers don’t tell the whole story.

Another reader in support of Paul wrote, “The incumbents will do everything they can to protect the status quo instead of trying to collaborate on innovative solutions. Education is no different.” That is such an empty argument because the building may be the same, but the teachers and students within it have changed. I happen to work with many of them.

In many schools, the only status quo is the fact that we still have policymakers, politicians and state and federal education leaders who believe that they can force one-size-fits-all reforms upon teachers and students. I think it’s strange that we have all been living with, and fighting against, laws and reforms like NCLB and RTTT at the same time they use the status quo argument, and yet none of these readers use the status quo argument for those reform movements.

Badass Teacher Lessons
The movement is about saying enough is enough. The movement seems to be about fighting against administrators and other larger-scale leaders (and wealthy corporations) who only care about numbers and ignore the fact that there is so much more than numbers when it comes to teaching.

These badass teachers fight for the civil rights of students, and in support of social justice issues. They want more for students living in poverty, children facing abuse at home, or LGBT students who get abused in school while other educators and administrators look the other way.

Unfortunately, even in the words of those in favor of corporate reform that we disagree with, there are lessons to learn. When educators fight against everything, it will seem as though they are in favor of the status quo. Any group that fights against reform has to be clear what they are fighting against (i.e high stakes testing, testing being tied to teacher and administrator evaluation, etc.) and they must listen to the voices of all stakeholders.

There are students who leave our schools feeling as though we didn’t care and there are parents who feel as though they never had a voice because a teacher wouldn’t listen or an administrator never called them back. We have to do a better job of listening to those stakeholders, because we can’t say we are fighting for them if we are not listening to what they say.

For too long, teachers and principals complain about issues behind closed doors and do nothing about it. They are complacent because they feel as though nothing will change. The problem is that if people just keep walking into the slaughter house of reform movements like NCLB and RTTT nothing will ever change.

And that is why we need Badass teachers...

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Peter contributed a chapter to De-Testing and De-Grading Schools which is edited by Joe Bower and Paul L. Thomas and published by Peter Lang USA. Introduction and chapter by Alfie Kohn, along with chapters by Anthony Cody, Monty Neill and many others.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground 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.