Teachers are Waiting for Something, That's for Sure

Everyone is all jazzed up about the movie Waiting for 'Superman.' There are commercials, press junkets disguised as forums to discuss educational change, newspaper articles, movie reviews and, let's not forget, songs by Mr. John Legend himself. (Somehow, writing this song has made him an expert on education. I'm sure he's a very nice person and probably does care about education but really? He gets to sit on a panel on school change? A panel that does not include a teacher? This situation begs the question: Since I like to listen to music and I played the piano as a child, by the same logic that makes him a resource for school change, shouldn't I get to help decide who wins a Grammy next year? No? I'm not qualified to be an expert? But I've listened to music before...) Regardless of all this media frenzy, I, a public school teacher at heart and a pretty darn good one at that, am less than jazzed.

Although everyone is entitled to an opinion (and I'm entitled to mock it), I have to say that I find all of this commotion offensive. I mean, how do you make a movie about education, schools and reform without including the voice of one single teacher? I watched panel after panel talk about this movie and not once was a chair set aside for a teacher. Union leaders, charter school principals, school chancellors, filmmakers and song-writers, of course. Teachers, no. When it comes to listening to teachers, all the general public seems to want to hear are stories of flaming failure or heart warming tales of how one individual has found his or her calling with the children. We are either The Problem or we are The Saviors and rarely anything in between. Friends, there's a whole lot of in between and while we're being honest? It's pretty hard to tie all that truth up in a neat little silver screen-ready, get your popcorn and maybe some Skittles bow.

Let's get one thing straight. Teachers are not waiting for Superman, Batman or even Captain Crunch. We are waiting for a say. We are waiting for a voice. We are waiting for a seat at the table with the Powers That Be who have the power to control our schools and the power to hold us accountable when their ideas fail. And we are waiting for the fingers to stop pointing in our direction -- I think it's time we all stopped playing the blame game and got down to business.

And the business we need to get down to does not include throwing around a myriad of buzz words. Enough with the buzz words!

It's ridiculous! When the Powers That Be get the floor, they fool themselves into thinking they are making radical statements about change when really? All they're doing is making generic statements that are so...uninspired. "We need great teachers," they say. "Teachers are the unsung heroes of this nation." Or my favorite, "We need to reward excellent teaching" because no one is going to argue with that. They talk about removing inadequate teachers, which no one is going to argue with. They talk about having high standards for students, which no one is going to argue with. They talk about raising respect for teachers and professionalizing the career, which no one is going to argue with. It is like watching a train of buzz words fly by in a flurry of amazing sound bites just waiting to be snapped up by the evening news.

Where is the substance? HOW are we going to determine the good from the bad? (And please don't say test scores...or else I'm reaching for my bigger soapbox.) HOW are we going to have high standards for students when our only measure of achievement seems to be a number on a test? HOW are we going to encourage excellent teachers when tying their hands through mind numbing standardization is slowly killing their creativity?

Take a stand. Say something. Or maybe, ASK A TEACHER. We might have a little something to say.

The problem of how to reform our schools and improve opportunities for children is not simple. It is impossible to find a silver bullet that will magically erase the impact of poverty, poor parenting, language differences and inequitable resources (to name a few). We're not talking about organizing a bake sale, we're talking about making some fundamental changes to how the system of education functions. May I take a moment to name one change that needs to be made and needs to be made fast?

Teachers need to work in a professional culture that respects their work and honors their voices in meaningful ways. No more lame surveys that no one ever looks at. No more asking one teacher to speak for millions. No more macaroni-necklace wearing old ladies on a video talking about her heart-warming day.

People love to say, "It's all about the kids," because what idiot is going to disagree with that? You want the real truth? It's about the teachers, too. (Yes, I said it.) Schools need to be places where teachers can thrive as learners themselves. We cannot continue to be treated like the gum stuck to the bottom of a shoe and then be expected to work magic in our classrooms. Teachers can no longer be expected to instill a love of learning in children when our learning is reduced to how to make standardized test scores go up. Teachers need to work in an education system that values their contributions in real ways and involves them meaningfully in the change process.

This alone won't close the achievement gap or get more children into an ivy-league college. But it is a start.

Real teachers need a real voice. That's what we're waiting for.