For the first nine years of my teaching career, my focus was within the four walls of my classroom. Everything I did had a finite goal of “How can I be better for my students today?”
Many teachers share that same goal and do the best they can by constantly teaching, reflecting and tweaking until that works for them and their learners.
Then, in the summer before my 10th year, I read an email from our assistant superintendent about joining the Teacher Advisory Cabinet (TAC), run by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
The TAC brought together 35 educators from around the state to discuss and work on the issues on the department’s agenda. I had no idea that such committees even existed, but once I was part of one, I was hooked. It rejuvenated me when I didn’t even know I needed it.
Later, I attended a national conference in San Diego called ECET2 (Elevation and Celebration of Effective Teachers and Teaching). The five of us who were there from Massachusetts were so inspired that we decided to put on our own regional event in Cambridge.
This year, I am part of the inaugural Commonwealth Teach Plus Policy Fellowship, which allows me to work with outstanding teacher leaders, specifically in helping Massachusetts districts effectively use Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) funds to encourage and support teacher leadership initiatives.
Given what appears to be the political landscape of the near future, it is more important than ever that teachers seek out such opportunities of leadership.
Here’s what teachers can do to help themselves and their profession.
1. Everyone can use a coach.
Some districts have instructional coaches, others do not. In the districts with coaches, the coach’s priority is to help new or inexperienced teachers. But as someone pointed out to me, “Even Katie Ledecky has a coach.”
I’ve written about the #ObserveMe movement before, but beyond that, all teachers should feel personally responsible for the success of their colleagues. Every failure within the public school system is likely to be emphasized and used as fodder to promote a privatization model, and so we all must raise not only our own game, but the games of others to provide strong counterarguments.
2. Lead outside of the school.
Good teachers will make an impact in their community. Great teachers will seek to use that impact to improve their community. In addition to the usual strategy of getting parents to be allies, a teacher leader can go beyond that to be an agent of change on a larger scale.
Participating in school committee meetings is a good start, but also initiating contact with elected officials in your town, county, or state level can be effective. Organizations like Teach Plus are outstanding at supporting teachers on policy issues, but they aren’t in every state.
Reach out to local non-profit educational groups as well as those elected officials. Find out what the current issues of discussion are and how you can lend your voice to the process, especially as ESSA is implemented in your state.
3. Reclaim the profession.
Somewhere along the way, teaching as a profession seems to have lost status. Stand up, be proud of the work that you do. Get business cards. Start professional social media accounts. Construct reasonable and informed opinions and statements, and insert yourself into the national conversation.
Refuse to accept the slights of “summers off,” “those who can’t do, teach” and any other demeaning statements made by people who do not value your contributions to society.
Know your worth.
No matter what we do, we will certainly face challenges during the next administration. There will be days when it will be harder to be a teacher, whether it be in the classroom or in the public eye.
However, we must not lose sight of the fact that there are tens of millions of children in this country depending on us to rise above all of that, and to do our best to help them reach their goals and achieve their dreams. We cannot and must not do that alone. We need leaders. We need you.