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View from the Inside: an endorsement of voice and vision for teachers

August 19, 2012

 On August 8, I finished a four-week Fellowship at LAUSD Central Offices.The program is sponsored by Education Pioneers, a national foundation that takes MBA candidates and Teach for America teachers and puts them into policy-level offices in school districts and connected organizations for a time. This is the first summer that Ed Pioneers and LAUSD included school-based people. There were five of us – four classroom teachers and a principal. Here’s what I learned:

Lesson One: You’re not alone. Yes you are. But you’re not! But you are.
Lesson Two: What a great idea! We’ve thought of that.
Lesson Three: We want to get out of the box, but the (red) tape is really sticky.
And the biggest lesson of all: We think we have to be political, but we don’t have to be.

A couple of weeks ago, David wrote about teachers engaging in policy work (see Voice and Vision). I want to second David’s concern that more teachers insist on a place at the table, and share a little of what I’ve learned doing that. There hasn’t been a more important time for teachers to be outspoken in my lifetime.

Like many of us, my first week of teaching went unsupervised by administration. And then it was a month and then it was ten years. I became frustrated enough about being told what to teach and how to teach it by ivory-tower types that I looked for a way to get into the tower. I started talking with others and looking for places to get involved or at least have a seat in the room. I found out that “decision making” is called “policy.” And there were precious few classroom teachers involved.

School site council. The Partnership for Los Angeles Schools. NewTLA. UTLA. Accomplished California Teachers. Teach Plus. Educators 4 Excellence. And then LAUSD Fellow. A couple of these things are not the best fit. One fits pretty well. Another fits like a glove made by Shakespeare’s dad and still another is a Spanx bodysuit that grows with me and kind of holds me in (that’s you, ACT).

Now, some of the folks in Group A question the folks in Group B and some days, they really get into it. As long as it’s professional and centered on students, it’s a healthy dialogue. It’s necessary. And classroom teachers should be included in all of it.

I’m not kidding myself.  To others, these disparate affiliations look like splintered loyalty, and other much less-flattering things. Affiliation has meant hate mail and probably will continue to invite judgment. It doesn’t mean anyone is telling me what to do, or that I would listen if they did.  I want to say this, and I know you will get it, dear reader: My loyalties are to my classroom children first and my colleagues second. This coat of many colors equals access and information… isn’t that what we all need?

In 1970, UTLA was created. In 1989, teachers went on strike for nine days in response to policies that the policymakers were making without us. The yearning for “Voice and Vision” is a national trend built on a groundswell of real necessity. Some are calling it “New Unionism.”

You can call it frustration, catharsis or whatever you’d like. I’m calling it About Time. Time for all of us to find our place. Find one, please, and speak up. You won’t be alone, you will find someone else who thinks you have a great idea. Enough hands-on teachers together can get through, around, or past the red tape. And you may think you need to be political, but you really only need to be honest.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. Mary Porter permalink
    August 19, 2012 6:53 pm

    No, this is another case of going where the power and money are, and taking a place at that table. My students aren’t at the table, and neither are yours. I don’t want their patronage, and my voice is needed elsewhere.

    These are vulture profiteers, feeding on the education budget, stealing Title I funds from low-income children to pay their own fat fees.

    I just cancelled my subscription to this site.

    • August 20, 2012 9:00 am

      I don’t know if “Mary Porter” is a blogtroll or if she read a different article than I did….or if I’m missing a nuance of sarcasm? Am I missing some context behind this vitriol (and “cancellation”)?

      • David B. Cohen permalink*
        August 20, 2012 4:49 pm

        Mary has left some comments here and on other blogs that don’t seem like “trolling” to me. I think either she inferred something that others didn’t in this post, or perhaps is drawing a very sharp line against teachers participating with any organization sponsored by or linked to foundations, charter organizations, etc. If it’s the latter, I think Lisa’s post makes a pretty strong argument for engaging with a broad array of groups and organizations. Vigorous debate is welcome about those organizations, and I’m sure we all have our own comfort levels and our own decisions to make about engagement with those groups. Painting them all with such a broad brush and avoiding any further dialogue on the subject won’t help much, in my opinion.

      • Lisa Alva Wood permalink
        August 20, 2012 9:31 pm

        The UTLA newspaper came in the mail today with some editorial pieces about the Reed challenge and other things that affect all of us really deeply. It’s so worth hearing different viewpoints with an open mind and thinking about what motivates those with whom we disagree. Strongly. Really strongly. Sometimes the other perspective informs my thinking and enlightens a new angle on the issue. Other times it confirms my impressions. You’re right, David! The debate is as important as the actions we take.

        Lisa Alva Wood, MBA, NBCT CNMT at Roosevelt High School cell: 323-839-3952

  2. August 19, 2012 9:10 pm

    I love the voice of this blog, and it’s balanced and clever commentary. Is there room for balance in edreform today? There should be. We’ll see if those who reply to this blog allow for it.

  3. August 20, 2012 6:15 am

    I’d like to hear you expound in greater detail on the lessons you learned in the LAUSD Fellowship.

    • Lisa Alva Wood permalink
      August 20, 2012 10:12 pm

      George, check your email my friend.

  4. Patrick Guggino permalink
    August 20, 2012 5:30 pm

    I respect Lisa’s continued quest for a place at the table of decision-making. Having met her and seen the depth of her passion and tenacity, I have no doubt she’ll find that place – even if that means dragging a portable metal folding chair from three rooms over that doesn’t match the dining room set. But she’ll be at the table. My frustration, echoed by David and many others, is that the present design of the educational hierarchy makes Lisa’s efforts so necessarily revolutionary. I mean, if it’s “Children First” and “No Child Left Behind,” wouldn’t you want the folks who interact with and know those children to craft policies to best meet those children’s needs? We’re in a state of transition. Here’s to enlightened federal, stae, and district leaders who invite teachers to the table and to stubborn teachers who continue to demand that seat, regardless of the bureaucratic barriers thrown up by those who are not as equally enlightened!

  5. August 27, 2012 6:29 pm

    I also respect Lisa’s quest for a place at the table. Too many of us have been subject to the whims of policy makers whether at the federal, state or local level which have had a direct impact on the education of our children. The only way positive reform will take place is when those who are on the front lines have their place with bureaucrats, legislators, and let us not forget those who bring one sided agendas to the discussion. I like Anthony Cody’s dialogue approach with Bill Gates and I hope that more of us are afforded the opportunity to do the same. As many of us can attest to, we are at a crossroads more so now than in previous years. The battle seems to take place daily but onward we trudge.

  6. August 30, 2012 9:49 am

    There are lots of opinions in the comments. My first inclination is to agree with what Lisa said about the teachers having a voice. As far as the comment about the students not being at the table, don’t the teachers represent the students at the table?

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