So many teachers responded to my post, “The Tide Is Turning.” As per the norm since Angela and I started TRUTH In Teaching, the majority of responses came through email and personal messages. Again, I am reminded of the sad reality that teachers are afraid to tell the truth and share their thoughts publicly, because they are being subjected to intimidation and retribution. A very telling theme emerged from the responses: teachers are being told to be positive and to put on a good face for the public.
I wish I could say I was surprised by this, but I’m not. All too often, administrators who are pushing their own agendas and interests encourage teachers to stand united in support of the district and don a facade for the public, especially when negotiations are occurring. The problem with this directive, of course, is that it paints a false picture. It makes school boards believe that teachers are on board with policies and directives that are not in the best interests of students or teachers. It makes parents think that the teachers whole-heartedly accept all of the paperwork, assessments, and curriculum changes that follow the corporate, Common Core, and administrative agendas.
I am discouraged by the fact that so many educators from all corners of the country are hearing the same messages from their administrators. Making it work and smiling for the parents and public is what has gotten us into this mess. Of course parents and community members are going to sit back and allow students to be tested incessantly and teachers to be burdened with more district-level lesson plan, assessment, and curriculum responsibilities when the teachers appear to think those things are a-okay.
The front office directive of “Be positive (or else”) is irony at its worst. There is a reason districts feel compelled to demand that their teachers be positive. Morale is at an all-time low across the country. Teachers are being tasked with more and more at every turn. Students are spending more time preparing for and taking assessments than ever before. Funding is at its lowest levels and class sizes are at their highest.
But, revoking the teachers’ ability to have honest, open dialogue with each other, parents, and community members, as well as administrators and school boards, in the name of “positivity” is absurd. Holding meetings to tell teachers to refrain from participating in public discussions about the current state of things in classrooms and schools cannot be a better use of time than truly listening to teachers’ concerns. Hiding behind the premise of an “open dialogue” and then telling teachers who have lists of questions that it would be better to meet one-on-one is insulting. And, telling teachers they cannot speak with school board members is unethical. What are districts so afraid of? Why are administrators so afraid of having discussions in a large, open forum? It seems as though they are following the “divide and conquer” mindset. That only works if we allow them to do it.
Again, I encourage you to look to the districts who have not taking things sitting down. Teachers in Chicago, IL; Reynoldsburg, OH; York City, PA; Jefferson County, CO; Philadelphia, PA; San Ysidro, CA; and others have had the courage to publicly speak out against policies that negatively impact their profession, classrooms, and students. Individual teachers are joining the Badass Teachers Association, and many of them also are supporting the United Opt Out movement and Peggy Robertson (we are sharing much of Peggy’s work on our Facebook page for easier access). These teachers are making sure that they share the TRUTH about the things that are occurring in their districts. Instead of facing an angry mob of parents and community members, they are finding overwhelming support from other teachers, parents, community members, and students. Teachers have found allies in other stakeholders and are still working together to rally, protest, and explain their side of things with TRUTH at the heart of the gatherings.
Censorship has no place in public education. Teachers are professionals. They have a right to stand up, speak out, and share their opinions and concerns. They should not fear a confrontation with an angry administrator for using their First Amendment right. They also have a right to educate the public about the challenges, problems, and issues that are occurring in their classrooms, schools, and districts. Teachers work every day to eradicate ignorance. It seems as though administrative and corporate agendas want to foster it.
Teachers: Which message are you sending?