Teachers Innovate Where Candidates Don't

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By Anne Eden

It was a student who pointed it out to me.

"Hey Miss! Why aren't the presidential candidates talking about our schools?"

My sociology students were engaged in high-level analysis, combing through the candidates' speeches and campaign websites. I had developed this curriculum using the Common Core State Standards. My students' learning was driven by their inquiry and I couldn't be more proud when Angela, one of my 12th graders, brought this glaring omission in this primary season's policy conversation to my attention. Her question led to one of my own: Why don't candidates offer any real suggestions for reforming my profession in ways that would benefit both students and teachers? And if not the candidates, who should?

I believe that the power to reform lies with teachers like me and with the union, which must adapt to the changing needs of teachers and maintain its relevance to our profession. There is a lot that's great in Colorado's education today. The implementation of the Common Core has extended an invitation to educators in our state to raise the bar within their classrooms and engage students at a higher level. In 2016, Colorado saw a significant reduction in the amount of time students will be spending out of the classroom and on standardized testing.

When it comes to professional development, however, we still have a ways to go. Sixty-two percent of teachers report being somewhat or very unsatisfied with the professional development they receive. We, and our elected officials, could improve on these numbers by creating more meaningful and engaging professional development for the teachers in our state.

It is estimated that school districts across the country spend thousands of dollars per teacher annually on professional development. The problem is that my fellow educators and I frequently walk away from these sessions thinking, "If I get ONE useful thing to use in my classroom from the next eight hours, I suppose it might be worth it." Problems with professional development range from haphazard selection of topics applied to teachers at all levels, to ineffective delivery and instructors who are often disconnected from the classroom. But what if those thousands were redirected?

What my colleagues and I need is content-specific professional development that is aligned to our school and student needs and led by fellow educators in teacher leadership roles designed to support the professional growth of fellow teachers. Teachers know that no one understands the needs of students more than educators who are in the classroom - and we want to see the funding directed accordingly. The District Twelve Educators Association, the National Education Association, and Teach Plus have begun providing resources for educators to do just that through a teacher-led professional learning course called T.A.L.L. (Teachers as Learning Leaders). This April and May, T.A.L.L. is bringing teachers from our four school districts together to learn from each other and selected teacher experts about implementing next-generation standards to improve our students' learning experiences.

Through T.A.L.L., our union is paying our best teachers to take on innovative roles as teacher leaders within their buildings and districts. Each five-week course is facilitated by a master teacher, creating a paid, high-quality teacher leadership and professional development opportunity for teachers who have mastered the Common Core and seek an additional challenge while remaining in the classroom. More importantly, with T.A.L.L. teachers are taking charge of tackling the challenges of Common Core and translating that into success for all students together through our union.

I believe that teacher voice matters in educational policy. My days are spent encouraging students like Angela that their voice matters. She and I are both seeking political candidates who care about and can speak to the real work of educating students and preparing them for the 21st century. In the meantime, I know that my union and I are doing our part to innovate, inspire, and make education count.

Anne Rawley Eden is a high school social studies teacher in Adams 12 School District in Northglenn, CO. She is a Teach Plus Local Change Agent Fellow and a T.A.L.L. participant.