Thursday, August 11, 2011

Thoughts About Improving the Public Image of Teachers

A recent article by Claudia Sanchez of NPR News highlighted some reasons why teachers around the country are upset over the public image of educators and the confusing political landscape that affects reform efforts.  In full disclosure, I am not a public school teacher.  I work for an independent private school, but I also know that a rising tide lifts all boats…and a falling tide lowers all boats.  I have met some outstanding public school teachers over the years and I have great respect for the work they do in their schools.  Therefore, after reading the NPR piece, I offer the following reflection as a message to all teachers who are working to repair and improve the public image of teachers around the country.

The bottom line is change.

Policy change, image change, change in focus, etc.

Much has been written about change and leading change.  Recently, I read a blog post by Dan Rockwell in which he states that change basically comes in four forms:

  1. Do more of something.
  2. Do less of something.
  3. Begin something.
  4. Stop something.

I believe that exercising your rights as Americans in the voting booth and by peacefully assembling is important steps in doing something.  These steps are important because they are proactive and being proactive is empowering.  Empowerment builds courage, and courage is required to make the next step in affecting change.  The next step may be the most difficult because it will cause teachers themselves to challenge their own identity.

Real change in how society views teachers will result when society starts seeing real results in the classroom  It will not come through policy change.  It will not come through media coverage of rallies and marches.  The perception of teachers will change when a critical mass of teacher-leaders emerges.

By “teacher-leader” I mean educators who are actively and obviously involved in affecting change in their schools.  Not just any change.  To change perceptions, the change needs to target how educators form their own identity.  The change that is needed by teacher-leaders is to address those among us who are not performing up to the standards we should place upon ourselves as professionals.

  • Great teachers are ‘good’ while helping other teachers get better.  They elevate the profession.
  • Good teachers help students learn.  They uphold the basics of the profession.
  • Bad teachers “back into a paycheck.”  They taint the profession.

So how do teacher-leaders take action?  Let’s revisit the four changes above.

Do more of something:  Teacher-leaders raise the internal standards of professionalism in their schools.  They do not wait for or rely upon external standards to define their professionalism.  Teacher-leaders are active in supporting other teachers in their efforts to get better.  They offer support to underperforming colleagues. 

Do less of something:  Teacher-leaders focus less on what is NOT working and begin to shift their thinking to what IS working.

Begin something:  Teacher-leaders begin to create a culture of true collegiality.  This culture allows teachers of differing points of view to share and engage in discourse about education.  Teacher-leaders begin to take ownership of their classes.

Stop something: Teacher-leaders stop making excuses for their underperforming colleagues.  They stop allowing bad teachers to be comfortable in their schools.

Americans love winners and we love to root for the underdog. 

There are few professions that currently find themselves in the underdog role more than teaching.  As teachers begin to shift their own professional identity and as the positive results of that shift become more obvious, education also has an opportunity to emerge as a professional “winner” in America. 

That is certainly an exciting vision, but one that will likely be realized and earned in the classroom, not the legislature.

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