Recently, I attended one of the Florida Department of Education’s public hearings related to the Common Core State Standards. Governor Rick Scott requested public input as a way to address the increasingly vocal group of critics of the state’s decision to adopt the standards. It was just about everything I expected: Several district administration folks (easily identified by their white plastic badges), protestors sporting color-coordinated outfits, sound-bite-worthy comment cards, and a few nervous police officers.
I’d been advised to arrive early and plan on keeping my comments to a three to four minute time limit. An hour before the meeting, I received a card with my speaker number: lucky number 13.
The mood of the auditorium was nervous excitement. Almost electric anticipation. It was the first of the three scheduled public hearings, so the gathered crowd was not sure what to expect. Reporters and YouTubers had their phones in striking distance, ready to record the next great viral video. And why not? It wasn’t entirely unlikely that the comments we were about to hear would lead to some unpleasant confrontations in the seats or hallways later. These days, it often seems as if those people who bother to care about an issue—any issue—care deeply, passionately, and loudly.
Civil Discourse On Display
The procession of public speakers came and went in an orderly fashion. Teachers and administrators talked about how the implementation of the standards has made a positive impact on student achievement. Protesters spoke against the ambiguity of what students are expected to know, the cost of new teaching materials and assessment, and the intrusion of the federal government in local classrooms. The speakers were pleasant and the audience was polite. It was hard to find something memorable about the night.
When I walked up to the mic, I introduced myself as Nicholas’s Mom—and as a teacher. I said I believed that the Common Core standards “provide a substantial framework for instruction that enables every student to be a successful and responsible citizen.” I relayed a story of my son answering text-based questions in his homework. I related the standards to the real world, pointing out that I was using several of the listening and speaking skills even as I participated in the meeting. I also mentioned the professional benefit to me as a teacher: the fact I now have a common language to engage in discussion with colleagues across the nation. And, even though I had practiced, I used three and a half minutes to tell my three-minute story.
Going into the meeting I really didn’t know what to expect. I was pretty sure that no one was going to embrace me as the new voice of education reform. I was right. The fruits of my hours of attendance and preparation were a “woo hoo,” a laugh, and a smattering of applause. No requests for interviews, no inflated Twitter feed. Not a single mention in the local paper.
But what I did walk away with was more confidence. I’m sure the next time I speak in public it will be easier. And I have a clearer understanding of how I feel about my profession and what I need to do next.
Not every teacher has an interest in putting their thoughts on display in such a public forum—but I wish more of us were doing so. Teachers are aware of the not-so-distant past when some were reprimanded by their school district for “speaking out.” We have thoughts, opinions, ideas, and passions. Now we must begin to realize how to find our voices and harness the power of our expertise and knowledge to benefit our students—and, in many cases, our own children.
Want to know what your child’s teacher thinks about education issues? Just ask. Listen. Affirm. Then encourage them to share more broadly… within a three-minute time limit, of course!