Trust in Teachers: Let’s Include Legislators and Students

Something I love about being a teacher in the summer is that I have the time to be involved in a variety of interesting projects. This summer is no different. In early June, I attended the National Conference of State Legislatures in Tiburon, CA along with four CTQ teachers. (Check out posts by my colleagues Justin Minkel and Rod Powell about this experience.)

I’ve also been involved in an ongoing collaboration with three other Kentucky educators and eight students called The Postsecondary Project. We are examining college affordability, readiness, transition issues, and we hope to create policy recommendations by early fall.

Although these two experiences couldn’t be more different, one common theme emerged: How much does the public really trust teachers?

During the NSCL, one conversation that struck me involved assessments. A legislator said that without yearly state testing, many parents wouldn’t know whether their children were performing at grade level.

I was dumbfounded. Sure, I knew that assessment data is seen as one way to measure school progress (and sometimes even teacher effectiveness). But it hadn’t occurred to me that some parents rely solely on assessment data to evaluate their child’s progress in school.

I had so many questions. Why wouldn’t parents just ask the teacher how their child was doing?  Wouldn’t the teacher be able to give a much clearer, more comprehensive picture?  What value do parents truly place on summative assessments?

If parents don’t trust teachers to provide this information, then what does this say about our trust in teachers’ ability to know and assess their students?

I couldn’t stop thinking about this idea and what it means for public education. When I attended a meeting with high school students a few weeks later, I wasn’t surprised to hear the issue of teacher trust mentioned again. This time, however, the conversation surrounded curriculum.

After reading a policy recommendation about providing teachers with well-designed curricula, Eliza Jane, a rising senior in Lexington, Kentucky, had this to say:

“I think we can trust teachers to create their own curriculum. So much of what they can teach is specific to the children they are teaching.  Also, if they aren’t capable of designing their own curriculum, do we really want to hire them to teach our children?”

Powerful and poignant. This 17-year-old summed up everything that I had been thinking since the NCSL conference.

So the question is: What are teachers capable of? And, perhaps more importantly, do we trust them to be capable?

I’m not sure that I’ll have all the answers by the end of this summer. But I know for sure that conversations like these must involve ALL stakeholders—legislators, teachers, administrators, and, most importantly, students.