A quick note on teacher advocates, activists, and leaders

Hey John,

I had a recent conversation with a few friends about teacher advocacy/activist work and wondered if anyone made any clear distinctions about this sort of thing. One of the highlights of our professional careers has been the Center for Teaching Quality’s involvement with the Teacher Leader Standards piece (full disclosure: they’ve featured our blog).

In the midst of all this, I got to thinking what it means to advocate for teachers as a teacher. The order of the title here matters: the title of “teacher” ought to take precedent over the “advocate.” For that matter, it also should come before “leader,” “trainer,” and “activist.” Anytime we as teachers take on an extracurricular task that has to do with what we do as teachers day-to-day, we must keep in mind the “teacher” title.

In other words, teachers emphasize teaching. The other stuff presumes we are teachers first.

For instance, many people would have a hard time with someone who advocates well, has a popular name, and speaks well to what teachers need to professionalize, but couldn’t teach their way out of a wet paper bag … or whatever the metaphor is. Yet, no one would frown upon someone whose kids actually felt like they learned something from the class and yet the teacher didn’t necessarily take on other tasks besides the ones assigned to him or her.

Teaching trumps all the other titles.

That’s certainly ironic considering I too advocate for everyone to work on their teacher voice. Indeed we must. Yet, in order for us to speak from a point of knowledge and expertise, we must gain these things and then enact it with the students we currently have. Our job is two-fold and simultaneous: to serve students’ needs and to work for better teaching conditions. They go hand in hand, but if we lose out on the first, we won’t make any headway personally or collectively.

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