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Are Ed Leaders Members of Professional Organizations?

September 4, 2010

The California Council of the Social Studies organization, of which I am fortunate to be a member, recently held its fall board meeting to begin planning for its Golden Anniversary in 2011.  Plans are underway to recognize 50 years of education excellence in the field of Social Studies education, leadership, and advocacy.  At the state conference in March, a plan is in place to humbly honor the Past Presidents, Teachers of the Year*, and other award recipients of this esteemed organization.

Yet as recently as this week, the media has sought to push forth a theory asserting that teachers are in the dark about what constitutes excellence in the classroom, success in education.  Teachers are lost and desperate individuals who think they know what they are doing but have no evidence to prove it.  U. S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan stated,

“Too often our systems keep all of our teachers in the dark about the quality of their own work.  In other fields, we talk about success constantly, with statistics and other measures to prove it. Why, in education, are we scared to talk about what success looks like?”

It is true that teacher recognition and teacher success stories are rarely talked about in the general public or portrayed in the media.  This is one reason that professional education organizations like CCSS, the National Council of Teachers of English, the National Middle School Association, and the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards embarked on their own initiatives to ascertain what good teaching looks like a very long time ago, and on a regular basis.  National Board certification is on a whole different level; many educators call it the professional development experience of a lifetime.  But for the regular classroom teacher who focuses on daily life with his or her students, recognition for their hard work and innovation simply is not expected, discussed, or received.  And most are okay with that.  For many educators, the reward comes in the letters or visits from former students who went on to enjoy successful lives, and who believe their teachers played a role in helping them attain that.

Professional organizations do know what success looks like and know the importance of celebrating it through Teacher of the Year ceremonies all over the country.  Not only does it give the teacher winner the rare opportunity to receive praise for their work, but it allows other educators in the field to learn about what award-winning techniques look like.  Professional education associations are not the only ones who know the importance of supporting those that educate the nation’s children;  the Milken Family Foundation has a long history of saluting educators who have an “engaging and inspiring presence that motivates and impacts students, colleagues and the community.”  For a long time, the Disney American Teacher Awards were like the Oscars for educators, where winners were flown in to  Hollywood to share their stories, the awards dinner broadcast throughout the nation.  CCSS selects top teachers all the way from student teacher ranks through the high school level and beyond, using criteria developed by teacher leaders from throughout the state, and affords them a small monetary prize with a one year free membership to the organization.

Which leads me back to my original question about whether today’s education leaders are even members of professional organizations.  In California, many bureaucratic positions have existed in education with titles such as education expert, and subject specialist.  Whenever I would work to organize local and state conferences I always expected to see these leaders at the conference but was always disappointed to find that most were not even members of the organization itself.  How can leaders lead if there is no effort to define or strengthen yourself in your field of expertise?

Times are hard for professional organizations like CCSS.  Many teachers have faced layoffs, furloughs, or reduction in pay, in the past couple of years.  When it comes time to cutting expenses, membership dues are the first to go.  It is unfortunate because these groups are usually some of the few who still advocate fiercely for their discipline or the profession, and who demand that students continue to be educated in a well-rounded manner.  Not being a member is something teachers truly can’t afford, but given the circumstances, understandable.  The same does not hold for our education leaders, however.  They, of all people, should  know that students learn by watching the things we do, seeing the steps we take.  Words are cheap, and students know it.  The teachers know it too.

*disclosure-I was awarded CCSS Teacher of the Year, Middle Level, in 2009!

5 Comments leave one →
  1. September 4, 2010 4:28 pm

    This reminds me of the $300 million going toward new assessment systems (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/03/education/03testing.html?_r=1&ref=education) and the talk about how these tests will help educators get a better gauge for where their students are – as if excellent teachers weren’t doing that all the time already. They’re so freaking removed from the classroom, their words are worthless to real teachers.

    • September 5, 2010 4:53 pm

      Or, I think an effort is being made to label anything done by teachers to help each other as the “status quo,” a failing one at that. If everything that has been done up to now is a failure, then it makes it justifiable to destroy, remove, or reform.

  2. David B. Cohen permalink*
    September 4, 2010 11:30 pm

    I’m glad you disclosed your award! I would have had to do it, otherwise.

    Great point made here, too. Arne Duncan saying we’re in the dark? If he didn’t have so much power and influence right now, we could all have a good laugh at that. He’s confusing quantification with knowledge.

    Maybe I should be more open-minded, and try his approach, though. Maybe even expand it. I think I’m a pretty good husband and father, friend, colleague, and neighbor. But truth be told, I have been operating in the dark. I will gather data to calculate all these things and then I’ll know for sure.

  3. Jim Davis permalink
    September 9, 2010 11:31 am

    I opened this just after copying the form to join a professional organization related to my field and work if not directly to my job. I wish our professional organizations had more teacher members, despite the impediments many exoerience to active involvement, but I concur about the absence of self-proclaimed leaders on membership rolls and at conferences. This has long been true of the state Department of Education subject area “specialists.” Consequently, as they have sailed with the winds of the next alleged innovation, profound change or revolutionary program, we have seen far more “list” than “special.” JSD

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