Our final presentation is from assistant director Amber Jensen.
Teacher Voices in the Public Sphere: Educators as Writers, Speakers, and Leaders for Change
We’ve been focusing a lot on teaching practices in the classroom. Now we’re going to zoom out and examine what a teacher’s voice looks like in the public sphere. Amber sets up a value line going Class – PLC/Dept – School – District – State – Public. We all write a sentence on an orange sticky-note explaining how and where we feel our voice is valued. We group up by our place, share out our experiences with our group, then come back to share with the group. Jigsaw!
How do we feel our voices are heard?
Classroom folk: Our voices are shut down trying to do things beyond the four walls of our class.
PLC/Dept folk: We wanted to have a larger voice but there was no room to be heard outside of the department. Too many voices in leadership going in too many directions.
School folk: Many of us are on committees which helped us gain influence outside the class.
District folk: We’re able to speak at conferences and have our programs pushed through.
“Even though most English teachers are accomplished writers and love the written word, they have not yet, as a group, made substantial contributions to the public debate about education.” -Peter Smagorinsky (awesome English academic)
I would add here that this statement applies equally across other disciplines. Perhaps what Peter is getting at here is that English teachers (along with math teachers) are inarguably the teachers most affected by the wholesale takeover of education by media/private companies/politicians.
So, what can we do?
Paying ‘mere attention’: Read blogs, follow blogs, be active on social media, even if you’re not ready to put stuff out there! Amber gives us two articles from Education Week (subscribe to EW, btw). As we read, we annotate for the following question: How can teachers engage as leaders to influence decision making and policies with their colleagues and administrators and with the greater public?
We talk out about what we could relate to from the articles: You can’t be neutral on a moving train. No matter what we’re doing, teachers are political. Even shutting out doors and doing what we’re told is a political action, one that politicians and education CEOs like, btw. That we shouldn’t be angry and complaining. Purge it out and then move forward. Amber discusses that there’s too much finger pointing in education policy. That we get stuck in hamster wheels of complaints. So don’t simply complain.
She then has us do the ‘Great Google Docs Silent Discussion Experiment. Everyone in the room logs into a Google Doc and answers collectively in boxes. I’ve done this sort of activity before and students love it. Here’s a snapshot of us at work:
This is cumulative. A way to have all student voices heard. There’s no way for the dominant voice to control. Think equity in discussion.
Next, we read through what’s in the list. Then we make comments about what we see on the doc. For instance, “I wonder…”, or “This is…” The room goes silent as everyone comments on each other’s points. This is an excellent way to foster any sort of conversation in the classroom.
Question 1: Is becoming politically active worthy of my time? (yes!) Amber talks to us about how becoming more involved has helped her stay vitally interested in her profession.
-Motivate/inspire our professional growth; engage as a lifelong learner
-Reflect on and influence our own classroom practice
-Avoid teacher burnout. Wider engagement can help us stay fresh and connected.
-Find your friends. Ignore the haters (you probably won’t change their mind). Invest in those with open minds.
-Reclaim the teacher’s voice in the wider public discussion about education
-Stay current on issues that pertain to our jobs
-Influence decisions on local/national levels
-Find meaning and connections in our profession
-Act as a leader and mentor among educators
-Network with like-minded educators
-It’s our responsibility
Question 2: What’s holding you back?
This is topic near and dear to my heart. I also don’t know if I’m able to answer this question without getting into my own personal situation. I struggle to find other teachers who share my views. That’s really the short and quick of it.
We share out about what might deter or intimidate us from engaging? Answers include: what’s so unique about my views? Who am I to share my opinion? Many of us feel powerless. Not worthy of being heard. The amount of energy you exert vs. what actually ends up happening.
OK. So what are our options? What are some examples of things Amber and Jen have done?
-Collaborative groups around key issues
There’s so many opportunities! Like, really. Tons. Email department heads. Get in touch with anyone who might know something. Look on your county’s website.
For the wider public:
-read and write blogs
-write articles for professional journals
-join professional organizations
-attend presentations and conferences
-join and contribute to listservs