Gravelly Hill Middle School in Durham, North Carolina. Rigsbee is a member of the Teacher Leaders Network, a frequent contributor to Teacher Magazine, and was named North Carolina’s 2008 Teacher of the Year.
In a blog post headlined Marketing Ourselves as Teachers, Rigsbee explained that she recently attended a conference on education policy hosted by congressmen and professors from America’s most prestigious universities.
A group of teachers were there, too, Rigsbee states on her blog, and I was honored to be among them, hopefully there to advocate for my profession and represent what’s going on at the school level in our country while at the same time learning some innovations that I could share with educators in my state.
We weren’t there long before we started feeling uncomfortable and fidgeting in our seats. Many speakers who stood before us repeatedly uttered phrases like “bad teachers” and “fix teaching.” Soon we felt defensive…and even angry…and wondered what all the “teacher bashing,” as one of my colleagues put it, was about . . . .
. . . A congressman who sat in a breakout session with me mentioned the inequities of technology. He said, “I saw a classroom that had only five laptop computers…not very effective, but more effective than a teacher in the room.”
One presenter said, “There are schools where the principal doesn’t do all the leading; the teachers actually work together, and that’s the nature of the work.” I thought DUH! Does the world outside of our school buildings not know that we’ve been collaborating like that for years?
So after I calmed myself from the range of emotions I felt at this conference I had to ask myself why these seemingly important people were so misinformed. I also wondered why all of the answers seemed to be relative to teachers instead of directed toward other stakeholders in education. Here’s what I came up with:
First, all of the research points to the teacher as being the most important factor in whether a child learns or not. It’s not the parent, or the school administration, or the football coach, it’s the teacher. So because so much is focused on there being a quality teacher in every classroom, that’s where the finger gets pointed when things go wrong.
And while I do agree that there should be a highly qualified teacher (as No Child Left Behind mandates) in every classroom, I can tell you that I can’t deliver quality instruction without the support of the parents, the instructional leadership of my school administration, and the collaboration I have with other important individuals in my students’ lives – like the football coach and the band director.
Another reason those who aren’t in the school buildings point to “bad teachers” is because we, as a profession, don’t market ourselves well . . .
. . . just today I read this “status update” on a Facebook page – “Another long day at the pool. Being a teacher in the summer is hard work.” Last week I read this one – “Summer – the reason I teach.”
Although most teachers spend their entire summers “off” at trainings and planning with other teachers (I’ve seen half the staff at my school this week), those bragging about their leisurely summers are not getting any points with the policymakers who work all year. No wonder they don’t want to raise teacher salaries.
In addition, the teacher “venting” that occurs in our communities most likely indicates to others that we are not committed to doing whatever it takes to teach our children. It probably sounds like we’re only committed to whining about how difficult our jobs are.
So teachers, it is up to us to change the thinking of legislators, higher ed representatives, and policymakers. It is up to us to market ourselves as professionals who can make a difference in the lives of children, instead of “bad teachers” who are uncomfortable with technology.
The last session I attended at the conference included presenters who were working on a report outlining the qualities of a teacher leader. At the beginning of the presentation, the participants were given a handout listing the members of the committee working on the report. I immediately scanned the list to see how many teachers had been included. I wasn’t surprised to see that there were none.
I guess they figured we were all at the pool.