Just back from a convening of some 20 "teacher voice" groups, I was struck by the extent to which teachers so crave the opportunity to make a larger impact that they will donate their expertise to these groups for, at best, the price of a plane ticket and a hotel room. Those teachers, as Nancy Flanagan might say are "on the make," so to speak, and are creating artifacts of great value for all sorts of organizations up to and including the national unions, and not receiving value for their expertise.
However the people who run these organizations - often non-educators, or "former teachers" whose shelf life expired long ago, don't do it for free - and are often compensated handsomely. They inhabit a shadowy revolving door world of government, academia and consulting which can be quite lucrative by teacher standards. There is a built in soft corruption in this enterprise.
Two problems: first, "teacher voice" groups have so little skin in the game that it becomes easy to discard or marginalize dissenting opinion, especially when that opinion might jeopardize the status of the group in the competition with similarly constituted groups. There are few costs to groups to behave this way, since there is little investment in the human capital, and it so cheap and easy to cultivate a new "teacher voice" to replace the troublesome one.
Second, it is fine for these groups to use teachers to further institutional aims, but when teachers begin to figure it out and begin to use these entities to further their strategic goals (as opposed to their careers) the landscape shifts.
I witnessed a teacher who was beginning to think strategically about her policy goals and surf on top of this world. Suddenly she found herself getting the cold shoulder from one such group. What we need is a lot of people willing to behave this way (and I believe there are a fair number out there) but the personal cost in terms of stress and lost income can be high.
When one begins to use these groups instead of being used, the worry is that the perks (such as they are) and access can be jeopardized. Perhaps the only tool we have to combat this tendency is our integrity.
The real question before teacher leaders is this: what does one want, a career or fantastic public policy which speaks to real professional aspirations? And why does one have to choose?