By May 5, 2016 Uncategorized 3 Comments

For as long as I’ve been in education, the practice of politicians praising teachers has been fairly standard.

In some cases, as with our previous state superintendent, these words are nothing more than platitudes, completely and utterly without meaning. In these situations, it is vital to watch what they do, not what they say.

Some politicians love teachers like they love “the middle class” and those who “work hard and play by the rules” – in a purely theoretical, rhetorical way. And, they are careful to frame their comments so as not to be wrongly perceived to appreciate ALL teachers, just those who perform miracles and play nicely.

On the national observance of Teacher Appreciation Day, it is useful to reflect on the question of what it means to truly show appreciation to teachers?

As Diane Ravitch wrote earlier this week, “Appreciating teachers means respecting their professionalism. It means turning to teachers as experts on their work, not to people who study teaching or think about teaching.”

John Ewing, who heads Math for America, amplifies the point in this great article.

Ewing writes about the many times he participates in conferences about how to improve teaching, but no teachers are invited to participate. He counts the number of times major journalists write articles about teaching and schools but never interview a teacher. Do you remember how many teachers were included on the panel that wrote the Common Core? That would be zero.

Read this powerful excerpt from Ewing’s article:

“When it comes to talking or writing about education, we do not view teachers as experts. We do not trust them as professionals. Can you imagine an engineering conference without engineers as speakers? Can you imagine a science article with no input from scientists? Or a report on some breakthrough in medicine without a quote from a doctor? We treat the profession of teaching differently from all others.

“The teaching profession needs two things in order to thrive—respect and trust. The two go together. You can say nice words and be grateful to teachers, but if you do not trust them as professionals, you are not showing them respect.

Trust means giving teachers (appropriate) autonomy in their classrooms, but it also means giving them influence over policy—real influence, not a few token teachers on some committee—and it means giving them control over their own professional growth.

We need to stop fixing teachers and create environments in which teachers themselves fix their own profession. We need to trust them to do so.”

Giving respect and trust is a good way to start appreciating our teachers. On second thought, it might be the ONLY meaningful and genuine way.

Along these lines, Madeline Will posted a blog this week on the recent results of a survey of over 3,000 teachers conducted in November and December of last year by the Center on Education Policy.

Here is what Ms. Will reports:

“While they find parts of their jobs incredibly rewarding, many teachers are frustrated by the constantly changing demands on them and don’t feel like their voices are heard in policy discussions.

CEP Executive Director Maria Ferguson said on a press call that the most disturbing finding was that large majorities of teachers believe their voices are not often factored into the decision-making process at the district, state, or national levels. (A little over half of teachers said their opinions are considered most of the time at the school level.)

Despite this perceived lack of input, the study paints a picture of a profession that is complex, constantly changing, and demanding. As shown in the chart below, teachers are mostly satisfied with their jobs, but about half say that the “stress and disappointments” of teaching in their school are not worth it.

These results underscore the pending crisis we have trying to recruit and keep quality teachers in the classroom. When nearly half of teachers say they would leave the profession “as soon as possible” if offered a higher paying job, we have a BIG problem!

I also found the data in the second chart informative. In general, it appears what teachers would like most is more planning and collaboration time, smaller classes, and more instructional time with their students. Greater financial compensation and/or benefits were only mentioned by 35% of respondents, though this may simply reflect a recognition on the part of teachers that higher pay is just not in the cards.

What I know to be true is that cutting school budgets directly impacts those things that teachers want most.

Policy makers give lip service about giving teachers greater respect and trust while passing reforms which strip those things away. They then subject schools and teachers to continual budget cuts which make it very difficult to provide teachers with the day-to-day teaching supports they want most.

And lawmakers honestly wonder why teachers feel unappreciated and discouraged while issuing platitudes and making useless mouth sounds about addressing the teacher shortage and appreciating teachers. You can’t have it both ways.

Remember: Watch what they do, not what they say.

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