It's Time for Teachers to Talk

My dad was a Cubs fan. He wasn’t always a Cubs fan, but the advent of cable television brought Harry Caray into our home on a daily basis during the summer months and Dad couldn’t get enough of hearing Harry polish off some beers and try to pronounce various players names. The Cubs were lovable losers at that time and they fit in with my dad’s narrative of being a small town guy trying to make it big in the world. Once my dad became a Cubs fan, our whole family became Cubs fans by association. We became part of the tribe of Cubs fans and to this day I find comfort in celebrating and commiserating with fellow tribe members.

We are all parts of multiple tribes and there is nothing wrong with that, but our tribal nature can be a problem. Author Robert E. Hall says, “In today’s world it seems we have more of our identify and self-worth to our tribal relationships.” He goes on, “As we have invested more of our identity into our tribes, our tribes have too often devolved into self-serving agents of hypocrisy with destructive tendencies.” (https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/needed-a-reformation-for-our-tribes_us_5a12fd73e4b010527d677ec8).

One of my key tribes is the group of brilliant educators that I have surrounded myself with; it is a tribe that I am incredibly proud to be a part of. I believe that now more than ever teachers must embrace a collaborative spirit and recognize that our collective wisdom is incredibly powerful. Long gone are the days when a teacher could stay cooped up in their own classroom and consider themselves successful practitioners. Our students need us to be vulnerable enough to open our classroom doors and invite our colleagues to help us reflect on what great learning looks like each and every day.

Minnesota teacher Tom Rademacher recently wrote a piece entitled, “Teachers Should be Writers.” (http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/teacher_leader_voices/2017/11/teachers_should_be_writers.html) I couldn’t agree more. In his column, Mr. Rademacher says, “There has perhaps not been more important time for educators to share their stories.” He is right; this is an incredibly important time for teachers to write the narrative of the schools we care so much about. It is also important that we not only share these stories with the members of our teaching tribe, but also to the tribes that are our communities.

Powerful people who don’t know the work of public schools are trying to tell our story for us. That story begins with a notion that teachers are reluctant to change, acting only in our own self-interest, and is a monolithic block that can’t think for ourselves. You don’t have to spend much time with teachers to know that we are hungry for change that will improve learning for our students, that we want to move away from a culture that overemphasizes testing and focuses on skills and dispositions students need in this rapidly changing world, that we are focused on young people, and that we don’t think as one mind about much of anything. The more voices that are telling our unique stories and sharing our wide variety of opinions about how to improve our schools the better.

I have found that teachers are often reluctant to enter into public dialogue that might be considered political or controversial. I get it, teachers should hold themselves to a high standard when it comes to how we conduct ourselves in these conversations (a standard I constantly have to remind myself of), but by becoming teachers we didn’t give up our right to have opinions, especially when it comes to education policy. No one knows our schools better than we do (except maybe our students, whose voices we should also encourage). If we don’t share our stories someone else will tell them for us.

As we share our stories I believe it is critical that we make sure they don’t just live in our own tribe. We need to engage those who would seek to see public education enter into a state of atrophy. We have to have a conversation with legislators who are telling their constituents that public education is a priority and then enact policy in conflict with those statements. We must continue to lead our communities in conversations about their aspirations for our schools. Our tribe needs to intersect with many more tribes in order to thrive. Tom Rademacher writes “there are lots of reasons not to write, but we need you.” We do need you. It is time for teachers to write the narrative of our public schools.

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