Taking charge of our profession (again)

To achieve the goal of quality education for all of America’s children will take more than one good idea or initiative. There is important work to be done on many fronts and involving many groups: students, parents, educators, legislators, researchers, businessess, and others. But I want to focus on just one of those groups and our unique role in American public education.

Taking Charge of Our Profession is a post I shared back in 2007. I still believe one of the most powerful education reforms we could have in this country is real teacher leadership in education. So, for the Day of National Blogging for Real Education Reform, I’d like to revisit that idea.

As I stated in the orginal blog,

Few other professions have their internal workings so externally dictated. Classroom teachers have very little (in some places, no) input into the policy decisions that govern what we do. To sit at the policymaking table, we must show that we are the education experts by making the complex work of quality teaching more understandable and visible to those outside the classroom.

This continues to be true; if anything, it’s gotten worse. The stereotype of widespread incompetency among educators has almost reached the level of urban myth. As a result, much wisdom and human potential is being wasted on a variety of quick-fix solutions, while some of our best teachers are being pushed out of the classroom or out of the field entirely by illogical and unethical educational policies.

As of today, for example, over 90,000 teachers have earned National Board Certification by demonstrating that they are capable of highly accomplished teaching with real students in real schools. This is a powerful, and widely untapped source for education reform in the U.S.  Yet, sadly, many of my fellow NBCTs report being thwarted in our attempts to use our highly accomplished teaching methods by policies imposed upon us and our students in the name of raising student performance (aka—raising test scores). Instead, our best teachers should be leading the way within their schools and districts as pacesetters, mentors, and team-builders for school and district wide strengthening of teaching quality.

In many quarters, teacher unions and tenure agreements have been blamed for sheltering incompetent teachers by forcing adherence to due process. In reality, teachers and their organizations have been systemically deprived of one of the most fundamental duties of a profession: the obligation to hold one another accountable.

If we want to be treated as professionals, then we must do what professions do—and that includes holding each other to commonly agreed upon standards of practice and ethics. Teachers are accountable to the various other stakeholders in public education, but most of all, we should be accountable to one another for upholding the highest professional standard.

Ultimately the communities in which our schools are rooted determine and enjoy our success or failures. As one writer said, “we inhabit the consequences of our work.” The degree to which we are held accountable for our professional work is the degree to which we should control the conditions of that work. Such empowerment helps transfer respect for individual teachers to support for the entire educational enterprise.

Real education reform will require many things to be done differently; one of which is for those who have demonstrated the ability to teach well to assert more decision-making power over the policies which directly affect our work.