Teachers Speak

My ?`Great Teacher' Trap? (GTT) post from last week elicited some comments from teachers that I think warrant some more discussion.? The GTT was my take on the Carnegie Corporation's ?talent strategy? initiative and the Education Writers Assocation conference about it.? I have links to some teacher blogs in my post, but here are some comments from teachers that are worth highlighting

John Thompson:

You don't hear much from teachers about policy disputes, but you get an earful on them from union reps. Of course, most teachers don't pay much attention to policy. That's one reason to pay union dues to people who do. How is that surprising? How is that a criticism of union leaders?? I think my union leaders have conceded too much on seniority, and test-driven ?reform.? But I know that they are the experts in the nitty gritty of making deals. I'm paid to teach, and they are paid to keep the wheels from coming off school systems.

This makes sense.? Teachers are supposed to teach. We shouldn't expect them to be policy wonks.

Stephen Lazar:

In terms of teachers' relationships with labor in terms of having our voices heard on policy issues, I imagine this is much more of an issue of journalists going to the union for responses as opposed to teachers. Most teachers I know with more than a few years of experience are well versed in all major policy issues, and would be very happy to have people asking them what they think.

This takes the discussion a bit farther ? to where I think we need to go: let's get teachers directly involved in policy discussions -- but outside the contractual or collective bargaining arena. Even if, as John Thompson suggests, we shouldn't expect teachers to know policy, we need to find a way to put teachers ? not their union reps! ? in the same room as the journalists and the policy experts.

Teacher Jose Vilson addressed the lack of teacher representation on the teacher quality conference panels.

Jose Vilson:

[W]hile the panel was great, our main concern, as always, is that people want to speak for us and not let us speak, as this essay indirectly exhibited. Yes, many of the panelists were great, and gave a perspective in line with many of the teachers there. It just seemed from some people's perspectives that teachers as a whole aren't experts in all facets of their profession, which Stephen Lazar obviously proved otherwise.

Indeed, while I do not believe that there are many teachers out there who know much about curriculum development (which I consider very much a policy issue; in fact, I consider it the policy issues), this surely doesn't mean that aren't a lot of teachers who know a lot about teaching ? and we need to hear from them.

Stephen Lazar:

I agree with you that we need to spend more time discussing what teachers teach and how they teach it. I have found the latter to be a discussion topic that most teachers are scared of engaging with. For what it's worth, the position of the UFT [United Federation of Teachers] is that the current NYC administration has done way too much on assessment and accountability, and not nearly enough on curriculum. Klein even eliminated the Division of Teaching & Learning.

While I can't speak for other programs, I know most of my prep was around curriculum writing, and that it is also the majority of the professional development work we do in my school. Every one of these conversations starts with what the national or state standards are that have to be dealt with, which in history, are nearly always fairly clear and elaborate. Of course, you and I both are unhappy with these standards, though for very different reasons, but to suggest that there is not clear content that is to be taught does not seem accurate.

So, there we have it: some voices from the trenches; voices worth hearing.

--Peter Meyer, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow

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