- A Playbook for Building Common Core Support Among Teachers - October 8, 2014
- Shifting Our Mindset Around Teacher Evaluations - September 3, 2014
- A Profession for My Generation - August 19, 2014
- The Difference Between Calculation and Mathematics - August 5, 2014
- Four Little Tips to Transform Your Classroom - August 5, 2014
- Just the Facts: Charter High School Performance in Memphis, TN - July 30, 2014
- Tennessee Education's Perception Problem - July 9, 2014
- Irrational Fears Prevent Real Common Core Progress - June 30, 2014
- Performance Based Tests Take the Guesswork Out of Assessing - June 4, 2014
- Teaching and the Off-Season - May 27, 2014
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I love watching Olympic figure skating. The athlete makes the art of skating appear effortless, but only through thousands of practices and a flawless execution. I think this is a lot like teaching: if an observer watches me work in my classroom, they will see me teach, correct, praise, admonish, and deliver the dreaded teacher stare, all in the space of two to three minutes. It’s taken me a long time to master these skills, but now that I’ve got them down, I can make teaching appear easy to the untrained eye.
But while good educators excel in the social skills required to interact effectively with students, we often fail miserably at interacting effectively with politicians. I’m not just talking about Congress or the President. I’m talking about those even closer to us, such as our school board and city council members. These are the people who actually make the decisions that impact us every day. And we ignore them at our own peril. Like it or not, who we teach, what we teach, and the resources we receive to do so are dictated completely by politics and politicians. Quite simply, politicians determine everything that happens in our public education system.
Some teachers choose to ignore politics altogether, which I believe to be a big mistake. But even worse are those who go to the extreme in the other direction: instead of ignoring politicians, they deride and personally attack anyone who proposes policies that they don’t like. They accuse the politician of hating teachers, hating public education, or worst of all, hating children. I’ve been to school board meetings where teachers get on the microphone and take their politicians to task for perceived injustices. We treat them in a condescending and demeaning tone that says “we don’t think you really care about us or our children.” And let’s not even get into blogs, twitter or comment boards where teacher indignation and vitriol is taken to new heights of degradation and excess against our politicians.
This type of interaction damages not only teachers, but the entire public education system. Teachers have the most firsthand experience with the policies put into play by our politicians and therefore, we’re the most qualified to tell them what works and what doesn’t. But going about it in a negative and derisive fashion turns politicians off to our voices to the detriment of the public education system, and to change that system, we need to transform this interaction. Based on what I see in meetings, print journalism and other communication sources, here are what I believe are the four most important things we need to change:
1) We need to stop taking everything politicians do personally. The vast majority of politicians are normal people trying to do what they think is right. They’re not evil. We may disagree on the specifics of a policy, but an honest disagreement should not extend to hurtful personal attacks, as often happens. Imagine how we would feel if our students did this to us every time we changed a classroom policy! As long as we respond with hate and anger every time someone proposes a policy we disagree with, no politician in his right mind will ever want to hear what teachers have to say.
2) We need to think carefully about not just what we say, but how we say it. In the classroom, being right doesn’t matter if we can’t express it in a way that compels action. The same is true with politicians. Too often teachers come off as demanding and condescending because we “know” we are right and they are wrong. And when we are right, we write and speak about politicians in such a dismissive and disrespectful way that it causes them to turn a deaf ear to anything constructive we might say. Our interactions should certainly include our demands for change, but they should also be framed in a constructive and respectful manner, one that encourages politicians to listen to us and not run the other way when they see us coming.
3) We need to understand the world in which politicians function. Policies don’t change all at once at our whims. They change incrementally. It’s unrealistic to think that we can charge headlong into a politician’s office and demand an immediate change to a policy we don’t like. Unreasonable demands paint us as disconnected and make us seem as if we don’t understand the way their world works or the way policy is made. The result makes it easier to dismiss us and our proposals for change.
4) We need to do our homework. We need to learn the ins and outs of policy before we start challenging elected officials on specifics. Most important, we need to be able to back up our claims with facts. It’s easy to dismiss someone who makes hyperbolic statements, but it’s much more difficult to dismiss someone who’s grounded in solid research. (Think about it, teachers: Would you listen to a student who said he deserved more points on his exam without any shred of proof as to what was improperly graded?) We can do this by making sure we follow the latest in education-policy research coming out of places like the American Enterprise Institute, the Center for American Progress, Stanford University, the major teachers unions, and the Gates Foundation. Even if you don’t agree with everything published by these outlets, it’s still important to keep up to date on the latest research as it will likely be brought to bear against you in any conversation.
Allow me to be clear; I am not advocating that we be sweet and nice to politicians. That won't get ANYTHING done! We must continue to strongly advocate for our beliefs and opinions. But we need to do so in a way that speaks the language of politicians to ensure anything gets done. An ice skater can’t win a competition without mastering all the essential skills, and our profession will never reach its potential to transform public education until we master the crucial art of interacting with everyone who has a hand in our classrooms. Let’s start changing the way we interact with policy makers to change our public education system.
This piece originally appeared on Teacher Pop.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]