March 25 — 1:27 pm, 2011

Teachers: Wager that shoulder chip

tag src event Photo: Teacher Action Group

In this current climate of educational reform many teachers are carrying big chips on our shoulders.

Follow the local and national news, and you will see attacks against teachers from both the liberal and conservative establishment. In addition to politicians weighing in on how we are doing our jobs, parents, students, wealthy donors, and ordinary taxpayers are spewing a narrative that most teachers in “low-performing schools” are ineffective. The concept of teacher “accountability” could easily be translated to “it’s the teachers’ fault for failing schools.”

Our teacher chips have evolved out of the anguish teachers feel for the treatment we receive, justly or unjustly.

It’s easy to create a narrative that teachers in poorly resourced schools are ineffective. When a school is labeled “low-performing" what results do you expect? Tell a person they are a failure time and time again, and what type of attitude do you think this will cultivate? 

We are bound to become defensive. Sometimes teachers become defensive against the very stakeholders that hold the purse strings or resources to improve schools. Teacher resentment can even fester toward peers and school administration that do not seem to appreciate our efforts and value. This resentment can quickly backfire and hurt our ability to work effectively with our students or gain allies to support our cause.

It is no secret I have a chip on my shoulder. I previously blogged about how I think President Barack Obama, has thrown teachers under the bus to push his education agenda. Therefore,  I won’t brood over the recent proposed cuts in education budgets or attacks on organized labor in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, and other states around the country.  

In February, I attended a conference hosted by the Education Writers Association and the Carnegie Foundation in New York City. It brought together a diverse group of education reporters, teacher bloggers, and education policy "experts" to discuss the topic of teacher effectiveness. (Read a series of posts from teacher bloggers who attended the conference.)

At the conference, the proverbial chip on a teachers’ shoulders surfaced during some question and answer sessions. Actually, the chip had percolated prior to the conference. Several of the teacher bloggers wondered why teachers were not included as expert panelists. 

I didn’t make much of a fuss. I was honored to attend this conference. Typically, teachers are not invited to attend these types policy forums. Journalists in turn generate content and news coverage based on the narrative of the well-endowed foundations. 

I don’t think Carnegie knew what to expect. Including teacher bloggers who passionately advocate for our profession was an open invitation for us to challenge the narrative of “ineffective teachers.”

One exchange in particular stands out. Dan Brown a D.C. teacher and the author of The Great Expectations, captures the details of this exchange in his blog “My Teacher Recruitment Rant.” In essence, Brown took issue with the position that in order to improve teacher quality, teachers need to be recruited from the top third of college graduates. In his calculus the “top third” was code for socioeconomic status. He wanted to counter the notion that we primarily need people of affluence to choose to become teachers.

Brown’s “rant” was not well received by some of the journalists in the audience. I noticed one of the Carnegie officials become visibly upset when Brown and other teachers challenged panelists’ “expert” positions on improving the teaching profession.

I didn’t have to attend a conference in New York to reflect on our collective chip on the shoulder, real or perceived.

I have attended few local meetings where teachers challenge educational policy or reform plans and the reaction is often to malign or dismiss teachers or students who question school or government officials. I will not to weigh in on Hope Moffet’s firing, not firing fiasco. (I want to keep my job!)  

However, as teachers we need to better leverage our “chips” in order to counter the current narrative which attacks and vilifies teachers as being “ineffective."

I proposed that teachers wager multiple chips on our shoulders.

  1. The “wired chip” teachers can use our online platforms to inform the public that “teacher effectiveness cannot be measured by test scores.” Teaching is a human enterprise and our products (students) are more than test scores.
  2. The “bargaining chip” teachers need to understand what’s at stake in collective bargaining fights across the country. Some of the teacher bloggers who attended the EWA conference participated in EduSolidarity Tuesday, to encourage more teachers and the public at large to support unions.
  3. “Chip in” teachers need to advocate that local, state, and national funding be restored for education programs that make an impact on teachers’ practice and student engagement. Many education programs – including high-profile efforts focused on literacy, teaching, and learning such as the National Writing Project – are at risk for permanent federal funding loss after a stopgap budget bill cut funding temporarily.

Teachers need to galvanize support to save our profession. We must create our own narrative, restore our bargaining power, and advocate for funding that promotes innovation and teachers leading the way in improving our profession.

Until teachers direct the narrative of what makes an "effective teacher," we will  need to maintain the big chip on our shoulders.

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