Teachers are notorious for being the ones who don’t want to rock the boat. They are hesitant to speak up and speak out, fearing backlash from administrators, parents, the community, and other stakeholders.
But, we teach the First Amendment in our classrooms. We teach our students to stand up for themselves and to support their ideas and opinions with what they learn. So, we must practice what we preach, if we are to be the role models and teachers that we strive to be. We are the ones who know what will and will not work in our classrooms. If people don’t hear from us, they won’t know what things are really like. If people don’t hear from us, they won’t know that we see an urgent need for change. If people don’t hear from us, they won’t know the TRUTH.
Yet, the current system places “gag orders” on teachers. Yes, even in a country where ALL of its citizens are protected by the First Amendment in the United States Constitution, teachers do not have the right to free speech. As Franchesca Warren points out in “The Deafening Silence of Teachers,” the teachers do not feel that they have the ability to speak without fear of retribution: “Somewhere between the United States Constitution and modern day education reform in America, teachers have lost their ability to speak up about injustices without fear of retribution.” And, she questions why teaching is the only profession where this seems to be the case.
Warren points out what we have seen since August, when I wrote my letter to Campbell Brown about her group’s attack on teacher tenure in New York. The emails, messages, and phone calls have been pouring in ever since from teachers across the country – teachers who thank us for speaking out when they cannot. We have provided a space for anonymous submissions simply because teachers have expressed a desire to speak out without fearing for their jobs. But, we still hear from teachers who want to talk “off the record,” who don’t want to share their names, and who only want to interact with us privately because they are afraid, are being intimidated, or both.
Warren perfectly captures what we are experiencing with our followers: “there are educators who are petrified of speaking out against the wrongs we are currently witnessing in education today. To demonstrate how freedom of speech is nonexistent in some schools, walk into any school and ask a teacher to go on record to discuss the ills in public education. Instead of getting an abundance of answers you will be met with a deafening silence. Silence not because teachers don’t have an opinion, but silence because their words many times are used to hurt them professionally. Apparently, the First Amendment does not apply to teachers.” Warren describes the same problems we are seeing with TRUTH In Teaching.
She approached teachers to write about their classroom experiences, only to be told that they were too scared about upsetting their principals if they did. Her reaction? “I was floored. When did it become okay for administrators, school boards and district offices to decide what OUR truths were?” We want to know the same thing.
But, in the past few weeks, we have seen the power of teachers speaking up. Publicly. Loudly. Warren points to district administrators like John Kuhn who have had enough: read his “Exhaustion of the American Teacher.”
We at TRUTH In Teaching have been bringing you the stories of teachers like Susan Bowles and Peggy Robertson, both currently teaching while refusing to administer assessments and using social media to explain themselves.
We also have been sharing blog posts and updates from York City Public Schools, where teachers, community members, and now education activists are fighting back against Governor Tom Corbett’s appointee’s attempted corporate takeover of York City schools.
Even more encouraging is the fact that students are taking up the charge against unfair practices and changes in the classroom. Not only are students supporting teachers in Reynoldsburg, but students in Denver walked out to protest the new AP U.S. History curriculum.
Look. Listen. Teachers are not just beginning to rock the boat. They are starting a tidal wave, along with parents, students, and community supporters. The more voices that join in, the louder we will get. There are more teachers than there are opponents.
Speak up. Join in. Send education reform, Common Core, and the people trying to silence us out to sea. It’s time.