Is there a movement to silence teachers?

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to speak out about my own story… until now.



Is there a movement to silence the voice of teachers?

I usually try to look at situations with a balanced perspective, but when story after story, case after case rears its ugly head, I find it difficult to give the benefit of the doubt. And if this Polyanna can’t find the silver lining, it’s time to sound the bugle. Three cases in point.

  1. I hopped on Facebook last weekend with my cup of coffee and saw a newscast from Missouri on a proposed campaign finance bill. Here’s the kicker: there was language in the bill that would prohibit most political activity for teachers. I spit out my coffee upon reading this. The bill was introduced last winter by a young Missouri senator who stated that his aim was to cut the use of state resources for political campaigning (sounds logical upon first glance, right?).  But in a closer reading (CCSS pun intended), it looks as if teachers would be unable to make campaign donations or even canvas door-to-door.  I find this disheartening as both an educator and a human being. Especially in a time where so much in the political realm impacts the students in our classrooms, it is more important than ever for teachers to be informed, engaged, and advocative.  In fact, I will go one step further. Forget knocking on doors. We need more teachers to be not only involved in politics, but leading the conversation around education policy.  We need more educators deeply engaged in politics, in much more meaningful ways.
  2. And how about Gus Morales? This case is all over my new stomping ground of Western Mass, but is (and should) be getting more national attention. Mr. Morales was a high school teacher in Holyoke, as well as the teachers’ union president. He was a loud and solid voice against the use of public data walls.  You can listen to Gus here in his testimony to the school committee regarding the misuse of data and the low morale of teachers and students in the district. His contract was not renewed (nor was the contract of any teacher without tenure in the district…all pink slipped), but Gus’s case has now progressed. The Holyoke Teachers’ Association has filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Department of Labor Relations, stating that his dismissal was due to criticizing education reform in the district.  That as a result of speaking out, he then received low teacher evaluation scores and was pushed out of his position.  Stay tuned to see how this one moves forward.
  3. And I’ve had repercussions as well, though they are difficult to talk about. I think about the rocky world of ed policy in Florida, and how speaking up in the state that I love has had consequences. I wrote an open letter against a bill that was sitting on the Governor’s desk that would have crippled local control of schools, eliminated due process, and increased standardized assessment. I have testified with my colleauges in front of our state legislature against the inproper use of value added measures, advocating to consider looking at poverty as a variable that should be taken into consideration. And I was one of eleven plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit to protect the pensions of all public employees in the state of Florida.

But what we don’t always talk about with teacher leadership and advocacy are the unintended consequences for speaking up.

My biggest blow was when my invitation to emcee a statewide event with pre-service teachers was reneged, even though I had led the event for three years with great success. I later found out this was due to some of my advocacy and vocal efforts within the state (at a time when I was a former teacher of the year and fully able to have my own opinion as to what I think is best for the students and teachers).  I’ve also had numerous closed door conversations and phone calls, with those in power asking me to rethink my actions and positions. All uncomfortable, all causing me to momentarily doubt myself.

Repercussions for not remaining silent.

Hard to talk about. I’ve been mulling this over for a while, wondering about the consequences of even writing this. But then I think of the bigger consequences of not addressing the elephant in the room. Not calling it out. Not acknowledging that teachers should be able to offer solid solutions as education professionals.  And those are consequences that I can’t bare to think about. So here we go.

It leaves me to ponder a series of questions:

Is there a silencing of teacher voice? Is this due to a fear of those voices from the classroom, as to what truth they might speak and what they might uncover? How they might disrupt the status quo?

Speaking up is a scary, bold thing. It takes courage to stand up and stand out, regardless of the consequences. But it is something that we must do as educators. We must speak up for our profession and the students we serve.

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