Teachers having a voice, being heard

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There is no better indication that teachers are fighting to be heard in the context of education reform than the impending Save Our Schools March, which takes place this Saturday, July 30th in our nation's capitol. Educators and activists from across the country are convening to make a grand gesture: that it's time for this country to listen to teachers if we want to make progress in improving educational opportunities for our children.

As an organization that focuses all of our time and energy on teacher policies, NCTQ has spent the past 10 years following the frustrations of teachers while taking a hard look not at teachers themselves, but at the institutions that shape the teaching profession: school districts and teachers unions; state legislatures; and teacher preparation programs.
During this time, the dialogue between educators and policy makers has become increasingly charged with tension, anger, and mistrust, providing a space for such movements as the Save Our Schools March to emerge. We see teachers struggling to be collectively heard while defending themselves against what are often described as outright attacks on their ability to do their jobs well.

It is clear that there are teachers out there who do not receive the compensation or the status they deserve. Meanwhile, efforts to better compensate those teachers or to address those who aren't doing as great a job in the classroom are often construed as attacks on all teachers.
The collective "they" of the teaching profession is worth examining when it takes on this defensive posture, as it's actually the mirror opposite of what happens among other, often more well-regarded professions. For instance, if a doctor is sued for malpractice and ends up losing his/her medical license, the medical profession and doctors at-large are not deemed to be under attack. Yet, when a state or district seeks to dismiss those teachers deemed "ineffective," and therefore doing an injustice to the students they fail to teach, this is taken as an attack against the profession writ-large. 

NCTQ is not just listening to what teachers have to say; we hear them loud and clear. But as we listen, it's important to distinguish this collective voice from the individual teachers that work with students each day. Yes, tests need to be reliable and fair for all teachers, and evaluations should use multiple measures to assess teacher performance. We need these safeguards in place, just as we need to see a picture of each teacher's classroom performance, not assumptions about a collective mass. Looking for better ways to prepare, recruit, compensate, support and retain (or dismiss) those who teach will move us past the political noise clouding a profession that should arguably be the least politicized, given the high stakes involved. 

Sarah Brody and Derek Wu