Desktop version

Home arrow Education

  • Increase font
  • Decrease font

<<   CONTENTS   >>


Teachers have a unique position for demonstrating their commitments to public schools. In part, their professional knowledge of good teaching from their own experiences and their formal training can be used alongside their role as citizens to inform others about ethical practices for educating children. Unlike the contemporary focus on accountability, their focus here is downward toward children, and then the knowledge of those relations is extended outward toward other citizens. Using their insider perspective and local knowledge, for example, teachers might help inform public deliberations about schools by revealing problems related to the current accountability movements and shifts in forms of public schools that they see playing out in their classrooms, from the content they teach to the emotional reactions of their students. They might share these with citizen groups, media, or other outlets that impact or produce publics for public schools. They may offer helpful contributions by naming the issues they experience using their own terms from their classroom experiences or in terms relative to the values expressed by a public, hopefully prompting further discussion of and action on these issues. Some teachers are already sharing such knowledge and experiences, but struggle to be heard or acknowledged by the public or elected officials.32 While I hope they will continue to speak out and to explore new ways to be seen and heard, the onus surely does not fall entirely upon them, for we should actively invite, listen to, and respond to such contributions.

“Naming” is a political practice that invokes power and begins to frame how the problem should be understood, addressed, and solved, with shared goals guiding that process. Asserting professional knowledge in this way may satisfy some elements of teachers’ responsibility while simultaneously reasserting elements of professional accountability and teacher voice that, as I described in chapter two, are worthwhile but have recently been disregarded. For example, my neighbor, a longtime elementary teacher who took an administrative job in her district office following the implementation of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), told me of “puke day.”33 On that day, one representative from her office was sent with biohazard bags to collect and submit for scoring the mandatory standardized tests upon which children, feeling great anxiety and pressure, had vomited. Employing her responsibility to the children in her district and describing her intimate knowledge of this experience seldom seen outside of school walls through a colloquial and vivid term appealed to my human compassion. It framed the issue in a new way, which bore considerable power and motivated me to speak to others about whether testing that provoked such a reaction was really in the best interests of our children or of society, and whether it was a just measure of accountability.

One can be responsible for a problem or for the solution, or both. Teachers within the accountability environment, for example, are often seen as the source of problems. But teachers motivated by forward-oriented responsibility and care for improving the conditions of the children they teach can reclaim public spaces to offer solutions. When one takes on responsibility for solutions, the outcome is often positive and may better motivate oneself and others to get involved with an issue. The effort is one of crafting and implementing solutions and upholding a responsibility to an ideal of democracy and public education that can improve life in schools. This positive spirit of change and transformation as a form of responsibility may help to overcome the currently dominant spirit of negativity and skepticism regarding teachers propagated by the accountability era. Additionally, it is important that when those outside schools—in response to calls for responsibility toward public schools—propose civic initiatives and solutions, teachers are open to receiving them, engaging with them, and when appropriate, implementing them in their classrooms. They should assert their insider knowledge but also welcome outside suggestions as the practices of well-functioning public schools integrate citizens inside and outside their doors.

Like their citizen counterparts outside schools, it is important for teachers to engage in deliberations about public goals for education, from economic interests regarding future jobs to civic interests in a functioning society and more. But teachers may take on the important additional role of facilitating those discussions, or at least of informing them with knowledge of current classrooms, so that the discussions are deeply rooted in local experiences and reflect real struggles in schools. And after such deliberations, teachers may return to their schools armed with new ideas reflective of publics to share with administrators, elected officials, or education reformers. They may use the results of deliberation to better align their own classroom practices with the will of those publics.34 Finally, they may leave such deliberations feeling empowered to foreground the development of good citizenship in their teaching, across age ranges and subject matters.

Within deliberations, it is important that teachers be open to an array of educational goals. In the newest forms of charter-based teacher training described earlier, raising test scores and narrowing the achievement gap are often presented as the clear goals of schools presumably held by all. While there is much to be said for these goals, teachers should not narrow their practice or perspective only to these ends when working in a democracy. They must resist the tendency of those teacher training programs to see schools and society as distinct. Those programs seldom include coursework that makes those connections explicit. But teachers, often through their own experiences, enhanced by advanced study of the social and political contexts of schooling, identify significant connections between school and society. These are important for informing their own practice and are worthwhile elements to share with the public, who many not be aware of them. They are especially noteworthy insofar as the connection between school and society is often important to maintaining democracy.

Teachers might also form publics within their school walls by working with other school personnel to share their experiences, rally around shared concerns, tackle problems, craft solutions, and deliberate about next steps for action. Beginning their efforts within school walls may initially create a safer space for doing what ultimately becomes public work, a space that invites teachers to get on board, validates their shared experiences, and empowers them as they move forward with their efforts. Their school may provide an incubation space for ideas to surface, percolate, and develop. In their school, they may plot out plans for engaging and developing publics outside the school in sophisticated and intentional ways. And they may return to the confines of their school to celebrate and implement their successes, or alternatively, to reorganize and deliberate when they hit roadblocks in working with those outside.

Testing and accountability have effectively silenced or belittled teachers in many ways, whether through closing down underperforming schools, narrowing or scripting curricula, firing teachers, or other summative and punitive measures of teacher evaluation, as well as more general antiteacher discourse and perspectives that circulate in the mainstream as a result of the accountability climate. None of these approaches opens a space for teachers to articulate their professional knowledge and experiences within struggling schools, and some of the approaches, like firing teachers en masse, further work to discredit their views. These situations and their impact on teachers’ fears regarding speaking out or organizing to put forward alternative ideas are significant and should not be downplayed.

In these circumstances, starting within their school can provide teachers with a collective voice that may be more effectively heard once teachers have talked together about strategies for overcoming the very conditions that work to silence them.35 Teachers can provide a support network for one another and a network that emboldens and empowers one another to act on behalf of public schools even in the face of intense pressures of accountability. This network may be connected to or supported by the teachers’ union, which may offer useful resources, but it certainly can exist independently. Moreover, a democratic school culture may help support teachers in their efforts to speak out, and school leaders, whom I address in the following section, can be instrumental in forming and nurturing that culture.

<<   CONTENTS   >>

Related topics