Nearly 20 years ago, as we were preparing to launch this magazine, we talked to hundreds of teachers across the country about their careers and about their aspirations, concerns, and daily challenges. Our working title for the magazine was Professional Teacher, and we were determined not to treat teachers as tall children, but rather to address them as experts whose work is as important to society as that of doctors, lawyers, and other professionals. We would provide them with articles about teaching and learning, research, ideas, innovations, and the larger issues that shape education.
Essentially, what teachers told us was that they weren’t treated as professionals. They didn’t feel adequately prepared for their challenges. They didn’t have much decisionmaking power outside the classroom, and had little control over their professional lives. Neither their working conditions nor their compensation were conducive to their work. But most relevant for us, they said they probably wouldn’t read our magazine because they had little time or energy for anything but the practical demands of the job.
Despite all that, we launched Teacher Magazine because we believed then, as we believe now, that teachers are the key to successful schools and students. None of the many reforms floated in the past two decades will improve schools without competent, committed teachers who are treated as professionals. There has been general agreement that the teaching career path needs to be radically changed. However, that is a daunting challenge that society seems unable or unwilling to meet.
But what if there were another way to make teaching more of a profession? Suppose teachers were in control of their own destiny, empowered to practice their craft like other professionals. Imagine that they could form partnerships, much as lawyers and doctors do, and make their services available under contract to “clients” (i.e., schools). They would hire an administrator to handle noninstructional matters, but teachers would make the educational decisions and would bring new teachers into the “firm,” evaluate them, decide on compensation, and—when necessary—discharge them.
That “imaginary” situation became a reality with the creation of EdVisions Cooperative 13 years ago, when a small group of teachers in Minnesota concluded that “a new model of ‘educational entrepreneurship’ was not only possible, but necessary.” They believed “that teacher leadership is not about power, but about mobilizing the largely untapped attributes of teachers to strengthen student performance by working collaboratively in a shared capacity.”
The founders’ goal was to empower teachers, but they recognized that teaching is not an end in itself. The ultimate goal is to help youngsters grow and learn. To “stay in business,” teacher partnerships must satisfy their clients. That means they must be at the leading edge of their profession, always looking for new, innovative methods.
EdVisions first offered its professional services to the Minnesota New Country School in 1994 and it has become a nationally recognized model for project-based learning. Today there are more than 30 EdVision schools across the country and nearly 2,500 students who are actively engaged, excited, and performing at high levels.
The EdVisions people are the kind of teachers we had in mind when we started this magazine. America desperately needs teachers like these, and we should do whatever is necessary to produce them.
For more information about EdVisions, including a video on project-based learning that made Ron Wolk want to go back to school, visit EdVisions. Several relevant books are also cited on the Web site, including Teachers as Owners, edited by Edward J. Dirkswager and published by Scarecrow Press.
A version of this article appeared in the May 01, 2007 edition of Teacher as Doctor, Lawyer, Teacher