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