Just a few weeks ago, I had an opportunity to attend a meeting in Washington about the Common Core State Standards. Several national education groups gathered to share their efforts on CCSS implementation. Of the 20 people in attendance, I was the only teacher, which I unfortunately have found to be the norm rather than the exception. Here are some lessons learned as a teacher leader advocating for my profession—which might help other teachers take their much-deserved seats at policy tables:
- Remember you are never “just” a teacher. Own the fact that you are the single most important factor in student achievement, and know that your perspective is critical in any conversation about education.
- Keep your students in the forefront of your mind at all times. The fact that you interact with real, live students 176 days a year is what sets you apart. Being able to “see” education policy through the eyes of actual students and present a perspective that is formed by first-hand experiences is powerful.
- Don’t be intimidated! I have to admit that I am often daunted by fancy heels and business suits, not to mention titles: Director of Public Policy, Director of Teacher Quality, Associate Director of Teacher Initiatives. How does a teacher leader fit into that group? The fact is, I don’t, and truthfully, I am fine with that. Teachers’ bonuses come in different forms, such as students leaving handmade valentines on our desks. I can’t imagine that receiving a promotion in the business world could match the feeling of accomplishment teachers get when that student who has been struggling with a math concept looks up and says with a huge grin, “Oh, snap! I get it now!”
- Check your emotions at the door—but not your passion for education. Don’t be surprised if you hear negative comments about teachers. Even though I feel like screaming when I hear statements like, “We need to jolt teachers into new behaviors!” and “If teachers just believed that all students can learn ... ,” it is so important to remain calm and focus on moving the discussion forward. I want policy makers to see classroom teachers as knowledgeable, innovative, and very ready to embrace change that would improve student achievement.
The fact that I represent—and therefore must advocate for—my profession ultimately is what gives me the courage to jump right in to policy conversations. And truthfully, my comments are usually well-received. I have found that when teachers have the opportunity to have honest, solutions-oriented conversations with stakeholders, the expertise shifts to the classroom teachers. Policy makers truly value teachers’ abilities to make connections from discussions to what actually might happen in classrooms.
My hope is that when stakeholders consider policies that will affect teachers and students, they will take a moment to visualize a real teacher with real students, which will only happen if real teachers are included in conversations.
Alison Crowley is a National Board-certified teacher in Lexington, Ky., where she teaches Algebra 2 and AP Calculus.
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