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?
And it is for this reason that I started the UseYourTeacherVoice project. It would be fantastic if DoE Teachers woudl make a UYTV clip deeming what RESPECT really looks like! Check out the project here: https://www.youtube.com/user/UseYourTeacherVoiceReplyDelete
including the newest video from AFT prsident Randi Weingarten.
Adam, this is a terrific project and I regret that we never got to do one at RA. In fact I might have said something similar to Randi.Delete
That said, I'm struggling with national union leaders who use the rhetoric of teacher empowerment while presiding over organizations which actively suppress teacher voice. This is true for Dennis as well as Randi.
I get tired of being told to slow down, behave myself, etc., or worse being undermined by staff, either intentionally or through ignorance. The stakes are too high and the enemy is at the gate.
You write, "...it is fine for these groups to use teachers to further institutional aims...." Why is this fine? Why is it acceptable to us to be used in this way? Is this a quid pro quo, where these groups get their "institutional aims" met, and the teachers allow themselves to be used in exchange for career advancement?
I think this is the real question you are asking, and it is a very good one.
Anthony - it is not fine. I was being sarcastic.Delete
Thanks for clarifying -- sometimes we lose the meaning in electronic communication.
Thanks for an excellent post and a great bit of language: a "built-in soft corruption." I also like Anthony Cody's language--teachers allowing themselves to be used in exchange for career advancement.ReplyDelete
I've been there--done that. And when it's over, what you're left with is confusion over what, exactly, you stand for as an educator.
The NNSTOY (National Network of State Teachers of the Year--I am a member)recently met to develop a platform of reform goals aligned with the US Dept of Ed and the Gates Foundation work. Their planning meeting was Gates-funded, and they've applied for Gates money to move their agenda forward.
State Teachers of the Year are wined and dined and often offered opportunities to speak for non-profits and state agencies, to use their notoriety to push an agenda. I've been there, and done that. And when it's over, you're left wondering what, exactly, you stand for as an educator. Sometimes, TOYs rebel and say what they really think (NTOY Tony Mullen is one example)--but often, they choose to take the money and the spotlight. Teaching is a career with few perks and little recognition, after all. When someone tells you you're smart and special, it's easy to believe the rest of what they're saying.
Thanks for a terrific piece. Will share widely.
Nancy, maybe I'm naive to say this, but if Gates and his ilk actually paid taxes (I mean real taxes like back in the Eisenhower era) there would be a mechanism to soak up some of this cash which is seeping into everything. There would be money to fund schools and other worthwhile infrastructure (remember the interstate highway system?), and policy could be made the old fashioned way, through legislation and democratic process. Foundations are in effect unaccountable little private governments whose influence is magnified because real governments have been systematically starved of revenue for 30 years.Delete