I came to the classroom armed with ten years of experience as an artillery officer in the United States Marine Corps, including eight months as a battery commander during the Persian Gulf War. I used my Bachelor’s degree in Geology to receive my alternative certification and began my career as a middle school science teacher in August 1993.  I was tall, physically fit, and very much at ease giving orders.

None of which would help very much in my first few years as a beginning teacher.

My first two years in the classroom were tough. While I had a strong command of the subject matter, I had virtually no knowledge or experience in managing the behavior of 13 and 14-year-old hormonal teens. Feedback and support from my administrators was limited or non-existent.

If not for the support of my patient mentors and colleagues, I would have likely left the classroom after the first few years.

Fortunately, I was also a quick study.

Early in my career I learned that the best way to manage a classroom was to inspire students rather than provoke fear. While students needed clear and consistent expectations, they also did not respond well to negative consequences. Fear created anxiety, doubt, and confrontation. Yet, when inspired, students anticipated class and were more anxious to learn. They were eager participants. They enjoyed the learning process. They performed better.

As you know, I believe almost all of the reforms that have been imposed on teachers and schools in the past fifteen years have been wrong. Test-based accountability has replaced teacher trust and autonomy. Students are tested more. Teachers are developed less and evaluated more punitively. The arts, electives, and other programs are being squeezed out of many schools.

The top-down, castigating reforms have all too often created a professional culture in our schools focused on earning carrots and avoiding sticks. There is too much punishing and not enough inspiring. There is too much fear and not enough celebration.

As an educator, it is easy to get frustrated and become pessimistic about the future of public education.

Politicians routinely spout platitudes like “we believe in teachers” when trying to earn our support. Once elected, many then forget the promises made to education and instead align themselves with corporate reformers intent on starving public education and disparaging teachers.

Others attempt to parse their words by proclaiming a devotion to teachers while despising teacher’s unions, as if the unions were filled with people other than teachers.

Remember back in 2010 when New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie, talked about how much he “believed in teachers.”

Yet, recall this past August when Christie was asked by CNN’s Jake Tapper, “At the national level, who deserves a punch in the face?” Christie didn’t hesitate to respond that “the national teachers union deserved a punch in the face” and called it the “single most destructive force in public education.”

Christie went on to say, “the union cares only about higher wages and benefits and not about children.”

When a teacher politely asked him in a 2013 political rally why he was always disparaging teachers in his state, he put his finger up and angrily shouted, “I’m tired of YOU people.”

That sure sounds like “belief in teachers,” doesn’t it? (From the smile on the face of Christie’s wife, it appears she is a big supporter of teachers, too.)

Anyhow, this prompts the question: What does it mean to believe in teachers?

In the reform industry’s frenetic search for ways to fix K-12 public schools, the solution that many policymakers currently embrace is to tell teachers what to do and how to do it.

“Teach these standards in this way. Hold all of your students to the same academic expectations, regardless of individual differences. Then, based on your students’ results on a once-a-year 50 question multiple choice test, we will label and rank you. These tests tell us if you’re doing your job and inform us as to whether to allow you to stay or force you out the door. We will also grade your school on these same narrow indicators. If the school does well, we will let it stay open. If not, we will either close the school, replace the school staff, and/or send your students to our shiny new charter school across town. No pressure. And, above all, we believe in you.”

Yeah, right, sure you do!

Those in power, irrespective of their political affiliations, have been attempting to standardize curricula, tighten licensure requirements, implement merit pay, and link teacher evaluations to student performance. Lawmakers like Christie and Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin are also taking aim at the rules established by teachers’ unions—policies governing teachers’ tenure, pay, pensions, evaluations, and work hours.

All of these efforts at improvement are things done to teachers. They are attempts to control teachers’ behavior, choices, and quality from the outside. The motto seems to be: To get accountability, we need to get tough.

The policies are based on fear and intimidation of teachers—not inspiration, trust, and respect.

This approach, on its face, doesn’t believe in teachers. Instead, it doubts teachers have the professional capacity to improve our schools themselves. It presumes that union rules have emerged from teachers’ self-interest and not from the way our policies are designed.

It assumes teachers are the problem.

As I discussed in my previous post, our lawmakers will soon have the opportunity to show whether or not they truly believe in the teachers and school leaders in our state.

The requirements of NCLB, RttT, and the ESEA waiver have given them cover for the past 15 years. Now that ESSA has given them more freedom, will they take the opportunity to show their belief in teachers by removing legislation like ACE, extraneous testing, and TLE quantitative measures that hold teachers accountable for student test scores.

We can no longer be fooled by what comes out of their mouths. Instead, we must hold them accountable for what they do and what they DO NOT do.

Instead of ruling over educators with mandates and accountability measures that contribute to fear and dissatisfaction, perhaps they should view teachers as the answer instead of the problem?

I happen to believe that trusting teachers–and not controlling them–is the key to school success.

For generations, teachers in Oklahoma have managed to successfully educate millions of intelligent, highly productive citizens—many of whom presently serve our state as physicians, scientists, accountants, lawyers, geologists, nurses, electricians, judges, police officers, firemen, plumbers, college professors, military officers, teachers, school administrators, and, yes, even a few legislators.

Today, across our state, teachers are doing a incredible job meeting the varied needs of over 680,000 children in Oklahoma. They are succeeding in spite of what’s been going on relative to education reform, not because of it.

They are transforming lives and creating the next generation of Oklahoma’s leaders. And they are doing it from the bottom up, not the top down.

They deserve our trust. They deserve to be treated as professionals who genuinely care about their jobs and the students they serve.  They deserve to have our belief in their capacity to enact the real changes that our students need to be ready for a successful life in the 21st century.

As one of my commenters recently posted (emphasis mine):

If there is no action for changes, demand to know why. If they interact with the Jeb Bush think tank and Gates Foundation, demand to know why. If they interact with agents from the Chiefs for Change, demand to know why. If they cozy up with leaders of voucher programs (like Indiana), demand to know why.

The reality is this: there is absolutely no reason whatsoever that our leaders can not make the changes we in education have longed for IF those who have stated they would do so if not for the waiver restrictions. It’s time for them to step up and show us who they really are.

Are they who they claim to be or have we been entertaining too many wolves in sheep’s clothing?

We will soon learn who in our legislature truly “believe in teachers,” and which ones simply use the words to pander and divert our attention while continuing to push policies which hamper our important work.

I hope you will be paying close attention. I will be.