Undertapped: The Avengers of North Carolina

Imagine this: Thor wields his mighty hammer to pound nails into railroad ties. The Incredible Hulk empties dumpsters in an industrial office park. Nothing’s wrong with these jobs. It’s just that given the Avengers’ mighty powers, you’d think they’d be out there fighting malevolent aliens or Nazi masterminds, right? That’s the kind of mismatch between ability and responsibilities we see in the teaching profession.

Imagine this:

Thor wields his mighty hammer to pound nails into railroad ties. The Incredible Hulk empties dumpsters in an industrial office park. Captain America waits tables in a hotel restaurant, using his famed shield to keep platters of pasta primavera warm.

Nothing’s wrong with these jobs. They’re necessary and worthwhile. It’s just that given the Avengers’ mighty powers, you’d think they’d be out there fighting malevolent aliens or Nazi masterminds, right?

That’s exactly the kind of mismatch between ability and responsibilities we see in the teaching profession.

I just spent three days with seventeen remarkable teachers who will be leading the work to implement Common Core in North Carolina.

Tim took the AP Calculus program in his school from a pass rate of 30% to 91% to 100% in four years.

Allen nailed the disconnect between meaningful classroom assessments and poorly designed high-stakes tests: “In a good classroom environment, students are creating and collaborating to create products. In the current testing model they do none of that.”

Laurie engages her students in a brilliant simulation as they read Lord of the Flies. The moment she puts on her sunglasses, they pretend she’s no longer there to wield adult influence, and they run amok in tribes of their choosing. She brings the social experiment back to the book, and to guiding questions like, “When society’s restraints are removed, how does human nature express itself?”

By the end of three days full of conversation and shared practice, I was asking myself the following questions:

“Why isn’t Tim featured in the latest New York Times editorial on public education, instead of another professor of Sociology or Health Professions who has never taught in a public school?”

“Why isn’t Allen making the rounds of talk shows on CBS and NBC?”

“Why aren’t videos of Laurie’s Lord of the Flies unit making the rounds on You Tube, edging out the latest Kardashian Katastrophe for total number of views?”

These teachers are brilliant thinkers, eloquent speakers, and dedicated masters of their craft. There are thousands of teachers like them in every city in every state in the nation.

They are capable of far more than consuming curricula, professional development, policy, and research. They are capable of creating curricula that elicits higher-order thinking, professional development that earns the adjective “professional,” policy that meets students’ needs, and research that helps colleagues hone their craft.

America’s schools face plenty of challenges, ranging from rampant inequity to teacher turnover to tests that measure the wrong skills. Most senators, superintendents, and talk show hosts have their “go-to” sources for solutions to these problems. Think tanks. Consultants. Professors in various fields, some of them related to education.

There’s nothing wrong with these non-practitioners. They have insights and expertise to offer. But when you have the Avengers at your disposal, ready and willing to wreak some justice, shouldn’t you pick up the phone once in awhile and call them, too?

President Clinton once said, “There is nothing wrong with America that can’t be cured by what’s right with America.” The same is true of the teaching profession.

We just need to identify the teachers who are willing and able to lead. We need to remind them that, in the words of one North Carolina teacher, “Being a Teacher Leader starts with what’s happening in your classroom every day.” We need to help them develop their potential, tap into a network of like-minded colleagues to support and challenge their work, and offer guidance as they begin to think, write, and teach on a stage too big to be confined to a single school or district.

The teachers I met this week are ready to close the gap between their potential impact and their current job description. Part of our job is to make sure the system’s ready for them to lead.

CTQ’s tagline is “Teachers Transforming Teaching.” I just met seventeen Teacher Leaders ready to do exactly that.