Category Archives: Teacher Support

Rethinking Parent-Teacher Conferences: Putting People First

Our older son had a significant speech delay and a summer birthday. We decided to send him to preschool on time, and he did fairly well. But, his anxiety and speech challenges led to our decision to work with the school and teachers and repeat his preschool year; so, he was in preschool for two years and attends the Pre-K class this year. The school has been wonderful in supporting our decision and communicating his socialization successes and learning gains.

Preschool Craft Project by Lisa @ Sierra TierraI attended my first parent-teacher conference this week as a parent instead of a teacher. I knew that our son’s teacher would show me examples of his handwriting, paper cutting, gluing, and other fine and gross motor skills work. I knew she would discuss his behavior in class and interaction with the other children. I knew she would tell me what we can work on to support him at home.

I also knew that she would talk to me about my son as the small human that he is. I did not hear about any data, any test scores, or any state-level assessments. Yes, this is because he is in Pre-K. But, what if every teacher approached this week’s parent-teacher conferences in the same way, regardless of the grade level?

An article by Randy Turner, a former English teacher, got me thinking about this idea of humans, rather than data, in the classroom. I also spoke with several parents and attended a community meeting this past week regarding issues in my local school district, and the theme of teachers and kids, not test scores, was prevalent. One parent even said, “I don’t care about the test scores. Well, I care about them, but you know what I mean.”

I did know what the parent meant; in this age of Common Core, we speak about kids and schools and teachers in terms of numbers and not in terms of people. We can change the course of the discussion this week, as thousands of parents enter schools for conferences before Thanksgiving break.

Last week, I urged teachers to have TRUTHful parent-teacher conferences. In that article, I pointed to states like Colorado and Florida that are making strides in the Opt Out Movement and shared information on opting out in Pennsylvania. I heard from several teachers who said they planned to share the opt out information this week with parents; but, I also heard from a few teachers who were afraid to do so because they do not know what administration would do if they found out what the teachers were doing. Fear is understandable in the current climate, though I urge teachers to keep in mind that the current course will not change without their courage to speak up and share information with parents.

One thing that all teachers can and must do this week during their conferences is to put the kids back at the heart of the discussion. Talk about them as the creative, inquisitive young people that they are. Talk about their progress in terms of learning and understanding. Talk about their challenges and struggles in terms of obstacles that can be met with a team approach from school and home. Don’t talk about them in terms of percentages, DIBELS levels, or predicted scores.

Student Led Conference 20 maart 2009 by De Rode Leeuw in BeijingBetter yet, help students lead the discussion during the conference. If you’ve been keeping a portfolio of their work, ask them to choose two or three samples to share with parents during their conference. If you don’t have time to do this in class this week, ask students who attend the conferences with their parents to go through their folders while you begin the conference and then bring them into the discussion with their samples. Facilitate the discussion by asking them which samples they chose and why. Encourage them to talk about their success as well as their challenges, because they will take ownership of their work and their responsibilities moving forward if they take part in the decision-making process.

My favorite line from Turner’s article is: “There is no data that has ever been created that can replace an excellent teacher.” He is exactly right. But, there is no number that truly represents what a student is capable of, or already is achieving, either. Make your parent-teacher conferences count this year by talking about kids, understanding, and learning instead of the data. The parents will thank you for it.

Images via Flickr by Lisa @ Sierra Tierra and De Rode Leeuw in Beijing

Hanging Up the Hoop: Why I Resigned

I taught in the Pennsylvania public school system for 11 years. All the while, I jumped through hoops. That’s what education has become: hoop jumping. We teach our kids to jump through the test prep, practice assessment, and high-stakes assessment hoops. Districts tell their teachers that they don’t have an option: they have to administer the tests so they receive state and federal funds. So, teachers jump through the testing hoops. Parents who ask about opting out and curriculum are handed more hoops to jump through: write letters, sign forms, make appointments, sign up to speak at meetings, etc.

I did not teach one year, including my year of student teaching 12 years ago, that was high-stakes-testing free. In fact, the tests became more frequent, more difficult, and more punitive for my students. The hoops became more numerous and higher, and eventually the state set fire to them by tying student performance to teacher evaluations and graduation requirements. Yet, we had to keep jumping.

I just want a hula hoop by Brian DeweyIt’s time to take a step back and examine what is being lost to the hoops. Specifically, students have lost a great deal. They lost electives and before and after school time, as they worked with teachers and attended tutoring in the name of the test. They lost grammar and spelling instruction in the name of the test. They lost social studies and science in elementary school in the name of the test. They lost handwriting and cursive instruction in the name of the tests. When students asked me to work on cursive writing with them after school because they were stressed about having to handwrite the paragraph and sign their name for the SATs, I taught them how to do it while fuming about the fact that they did not have the simple life skill of being able to sign their names.

And now, my district has lost me, as I officially resigned November 3. Essentially, I hung up my hoop, and I’d like to set the record straight about my decision.

I entered the teaching profession because I wanted to share my passion for reading, writing, and thinking with students. I loved turning on the most reluctant readers to books and having discussions with students about Ponyboy, Boo Radley, Poe, Elie Wiesel, and all of our literary crew. My best days were the ones when the mysteries of a poem finally became clear to students. Seeing students who were weak writers become strong writers over the course of a year kept my passion alive.

But, as the years wore on, the educational climate changed. For all of my passion and commitment, and all of the work I did to get students to read and write and learn, I fought a losing battle. I didn’t know how to combat the testing culture. I asked my administrators why we implemented a Common Core curriculum when the state hadn’t yet adopted the Common Core. I suggested ways for schedules to accommodate students’ desire for vocational, technical, art, and music courses when they lost them to double periods of English and math to prepare them for the tests. I asked why students had to take practice assessments that do not include a writing component when the “real test” does. I never received a clear-cut answer, and administrators started telling me we could meet in their office if I had further questions.

I noticed that other teachers who asked similar questions got the same answer: bring your questions to my office and we can address them one-on-one. I started to notice that other teachers who asked for change, curriculum, and a scope and sequence were evaluated by principals one to two days later. All of a sudden, I was evaluated on days with shorter schedules, days back from vacations, and other days that were not known as the best time for student achievement. I was not afraid of those evaluations because I always held my students to a high standard for learning and did my job, even on those days, but I often chuckled about the timing of the evaluations.

THINK+EXPRESS by Derek DavalosYet, it is an awful thing to feel as though you don’t have a voice when you are working so hard to teach students to use theirs through reading, researching, and writing. It is an awful thing to feel as though your administrators want you to smile, carry on with your day, and make everything work, when you see students in tears because they cannot take the classes they want and cannot pass a test no matter how much time you spend with them and how hard they try. It is an awful thing to talk to teachers who try to get answers and make some changes to help students and themselves navigate the testing madness, only to see them clam up in public and in district-level meetings because they know they are wasting their breath, only to be evaluated and targeted for speaking up.

It is hard to pinpoint exactly which hoop made me stop jumping. Maybe it was the issues with discipline. Maybe it was the denial of the drug, bullying, and racism problems in my school. Maybe it was the way in which administrators said they were working toward equity in scheduling, yet saddled two of us with the bulk of the testing classes. Maybe it was the way my questions were met with smiles and nods and then pushed to the side. Maybe it was the lack of communication. Maybe it was being told during meetings to say things in a positive manner and be positive at all costs. Maybe it was facing students and parents with tears in their eyes during parent-teacher conferences. Maybe it was years of frustration all rolled into one.

I decided that I needed a break. I was granted an uncompensated one-year leave of absence. I had been a part-time freelance writer for a year and decided to pursue my passion for researching and writing, since my passion in the classroom had been killed by the hoops. I started freelancing full time and began my personal blog about being a mom and a teacher. Imagine my surprise when my union president contacted me and said that PSEA advised that I take down the posts about teaching because I could be terminated. Until that point, I knew that district officials worked to stifle teachers’ voices. I had no idea that teachers, as a whole, did not have their full First Amendment rights.

I begrudgingly took down the posts. Then, on August 1, I wrote “An Open Letter to Campbell Brown From a Teacher On Leave,” and it went viral. Suddenly, teachers from across the country started contacting me, thanking me for speaking up when they could not, fearing retribution. I heard from teachers without unions who could lose their jobs if they spoke out. I also heard from teachers from within my own district who asked me to keep writing because I shared their sentiments in a way they could not.

TRUTH LogoNext, I started TRUTH In Teaching to help teachers share their stories and frustrations and to show them that they are not alone. Teachers from all over the country signed up to receive the newsletter, “Liked” TRUTH’s Facebook page, and sent me notes of thanks and encouragement. I made it possible for teachers to anonymously submit their Teacher TRUTHs and soon had several submissions. So many asked me to hold on to them until they decided if they wanted to publish; some of them said just writing their TRUTH made them feel better. Even anonymously, though, they were afraid to speak up about what was happening in their districts.

Early in September, my union president contacted me again. This time, he said that I had upset my superintendent with my site and blog. I never received any form of communication from my superintendent. The only way that I knew that I was “on notice” was through my union president. It is my understanding that my site and I were discussed behind closed doors and the district solicitor was contacted. Because I have no firsthand knowledge of this, I will say nothing more.

Here is what I do know: the superintendent scheduled meetings at every elementary school to discuss the approximate 20-page lesson plan that some of the anonymous teachers and I mentioned on the site. I did not attend the meetings, so I will not discuss them. But, I find it interesting that the meetings were held only a few days after my union president contacted me and that they were held at elementary buildings, when the anonymous Teacher TRUTH posts were written by elementary teachers. I was not surprised when teachers asked me not to publish what they had sent me, after the meetings with the superintendent.

While I cannot identify the hoop that pushed me to take a leave of absence, I can say with 100% certainty that I resigned because I refuse to abide by the unwritten gag order the superintendent is imposing on teachers. How can an institution of learning squelch teachers’ First Amendment rights? How can an institution of learning dictate what the public knows about a public-funded entity? How could I, an English teacher, allow myself to be censored when I never censored my students nor encouraged them to censor themselves when they conducted themselves respectfully and with support for their opinions and ideas?

I now am a former teacher. I now work to make it possible for teachers to share their TRUTH. I now work for a positive change in our school district so that our students can learn how to be the leaders, and not the followers, of tomorrow. It starts with allowing our teachers to be leaders themselves.

Images via Flickr by Brian Dewey and Derek Davlos

Teachers, Not Superintendents, Deserve Recognition

The TRUTH is, teachers are stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to Tug of War by JoePhilipsonadministering standardized and high-stakes tests. While the opt out movement gains steam and moves forward, teachers face a very difficult reality of playing by the rules or risking their jobs by being insubordinate. Recently, more and more teachers across the nation are choosing to refuse to administer the tests; but other teachers face backlash and repercussions for doing so.

The irony of the situation is that when the test scores are released, it often is the district superintendents who receive all of the praise. If teachers are abiding by the rules and administering the tests, and often putting aside their own feelings toward the testing madness in the process, let’s give credit where it is due.

During this era of low morale, increased responsibilities for data collection and analysis, more hoops to jump through in the evaluation process, and larger piles of paperwork that include several extra hours of work for lesson planning and completing report cards, it is the teachers who work tirelessly in the trenches to teach and support their students. Often, all of the district and state mandates are a tough pill to swallow for educators who just want to teach, so giving them the credit is the least their administrators and communities can do.

A September 2014 blog post, “The Myth of the Superstar Superintendent,” points out that school district superintendents “often get lots of media attention, are in charge of big budgets and, in theory, set the educational agenda.” But, it questions whether these administrators truly matter in terms of student success and cites a study that analyzed student scores from two states over a ten year-period to determine the answer.

Matthew Chingos, a senior fellow at the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution, co-authored a broad study that examines the link between superintendents and student achievement. Chingos and his co-authors, Grover Whitehurst and Katharine Lindquist, determined that “hiring a new superintendent made almost no difference in student success.” As Chingos puts it, “‘We just don’t see a whole lot of difference in student achievement that correlates with who the superintendent happens to be.’”

Another important finding of the study is that student achievement does not improve the longer a superintendent serves in a district. In fact, Chingos contends that it is the wider school system, including the culture, community, and local school board that are much more influential than the person serving as the superintendent. “‘When you see a district that’s doing really well with a visionary superintendent, it may also have a very proactive school board, a very involved community, and a whole bunch of other things.’”

Along the same lines, education writer and author Dana Goldstein contends that “‘too many Paperwork by luxomediasuperintendents have been paper-pushing administrative overlords wedding to traditionalist views and averse to change.’” Goldstein also differentiates between successful and poor superintendents: “‘A good superintendent empowers leading visionary principals and teacher leaders at the school.’ … But what actually happens too often is that superintendents ‘squash interesting ideas, so you’d have principals afraid to try something new, afraid to try something innovative.’”

As author of The Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession, Goldstein reflects on the public school system and contends that public schools “desperately need more autonomy and authority to innovate.” Goldstein says, “‘Sustainable education reform in the United States is going to come from the bottom up.’ … ‘There is too much focus on these top-down reformers and the idea of the crusading, superstar superintendent. And not enough on the people who matter more – the principals and teachers.’”

_MG_9850 by Saul LewisUntil the high-stakes testing madness ends or a national moratorium on standardized testing is put into place, we need to consider where we place our praise and recognition. Let’s give teachers the credit they are due, even if we don’t agree with the current testing, curricula, and timelines under which they are suffering.

Images via Flickr by JoePhilipson, luxomedia, and Saul Lewis

2013 Philly School Rally by peoplesworld

The TRUE Meaning of Solidarity

Most of us have seen it at the bottom of correspondence from our union leaders (those of us who have unions, that is): “In solidarity…” I don’t know that we really think about those words and the importance of them, though. I especially don’t think that those of us who have been in the union from the beginning of our career have stopped to think about what it would mean if we didn’t have a union or a group with which to display our solidarity.

Yet, we don’t always stand in solidarity. Often, we divide ourselves into “regular ed. and special ed.” or “content teachers and itinerants” or “elementary and secondary.” We need to stop. We are educators. We are under attack from what seems like a million different directions, and we are losing ground to charters, corporations, education reformers, and spin machines that have millions of dollars to discount all that we say and do. If we allow the situation and the circumstances to divide us, they will conquer us.

2013 Philly School Rally by peoplesworldThe latest developments in Philadelphia must be a lesson to all public educators, everywhere. I don’t know that any of us truly believed that a contract could be canceled. I think some of us still believe that someone will step in and make this situation right. The problem is, there isn’t anyone standing up for the teachers, other than the union and the parents and students. The Senate Appropriations Committee voted down the proposal to give the governor the power to abolish the School Reform Commission (SRC), and they also failed to pass a measure to force the SRC to advertise meetings 48 hours in advance.

This is why our unions speak to us in terms of “solidarity.” The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers needs us. They need us to write letters and emails to the members of the Senate Committee. They need us to boost their morale through solidarity events as simple as wearing red and sharing the picture on their Facebook page. They need to know that other teachers care about what they are going through and that we know it’s not right. They need to hear from us, when they are not hearing from anyone else. They need us to sign and share the petition urging the SRC to negotiate in good faith. The Philadelphia teachers need our solidarity NOW.

To get more about the story in Philadelphia and what you can do to help, read my blog post, “Solidarity Now.” Stay up to date by “Liking” the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools Facebook page and following them on Twitter. Read the articles that share the TRUTH about the situation, like “Letters: A plea for R-E-S-P-E-C-T,” “Real Life ‘Dr. Evil’ latest to take on Philly teachers with front group,” and “Thousands join street protest before raucous SRC meeting.”

Image via Flickr by peoplesworld

Solidarity NOW

Let me be clear: If we do not stand together as a group millions strong as public education comes under attack, there won’t be anyone who will speak for us. This fight to protect our schools and our students and our profession from government officials, corporate charter school leaders, education reformers, Pearson, data mining, big money, and all of the other forces that are systematically taking over districts must be OUR fight.

It was easy to look at Chicago and lament the closing of 49 elementary schools and 1 high school if you don’t live and work in Chicago. It was easy to look at Philadelphia and feel bad 20120725CTURally-2 by sarah-jifor the kids as the latest batch of schools closed if you don’t live and work in Philadelphia. It was easy to watch the teachers of Reynoldsburg, Ohio, strike as they fought for class size caps, planning time, and the withdrawal of the merit pay proposal based on students’ standardized test performance if you don’t live and work in Reynoldsburg. It’s easy to watch the teachers, parents, and students currently holding rallies and protests in York City, PA, to protest the corporate takeover of all of the public schools in that district if you don’t live and work in York City. It’s easy to watch the students in Jefferson County, Colorado, currently protesting the school board’s potential changes to the A.P. U.S. history curriculum and the teachers taking part in sick-outs if you don’t live in Jefferson County. The list goes on and on.

But, in some states, government officials already have succeeded in abolishing unions. In some states, teachers already are forced to give hundreds of assessments and work for merit pay. In some states, teachers already have to pay nearly or all of their health care premiums. In some states, public schools are being pushed out as public education spaces and dollars go to charter schools. As district officials, state officials, and federal officials hand down decisions, teachers everywhere are beginning to be affected. But, as of October 8, 2014, this is no longer THEIR problem. If you are a public education teacher, this is now OUR problem, thanks to the School Reform Commission (SRC) in Philadelphia.

We officially no longer can sit back and watch what is unfolding in Philadelphia now. We need to sit up, pay attention, stay informed, and stand in solidarity with our public education brothers and sisters. If you need a little bit of history on the state takeover of the Philly School District, click here. And, if you don’t know what the SRC is, you need to know NOW, because they are the group that is working to take away retired teachers’ benefits – as much as $10,000 per year, according to Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) President Jerry Jordan in a Philadelphia Inquirer article. They are offering a health care plan that will force teachers to pay premiums as high as $626 per month and then meet astronomical deductibles and co-pays. They failed to negotiate with teachers after being ordered to do so by a PA Supreme Court and decided instead to cancel the existing contract and enact the contract with these new terms. The SRC did not advertise the meeting properly. All of this occurred without any negotiations having taken place since July 2014.

Protests have been occurring in Philadelphia since the SRC acted, including students going on “strike” to show their support for their teachers. Parents and public school advocates also Proud Marchers by Light Brigadingannounced their solidarity with Philly teachers Wednesday by standing on the steps of the district’s headquarters. All of this was happening at nearly the same moment that a PA Senate committee failed to approve a proposal to give the governor the authority to abolish the SRC, by a vote of 14-9, with no Republicans supporting the proposal. Solomon Leach’s Inquirer article also points out that the Senate Appropriations Committee “rejected a second amendment that would have required the SRC to provide 48 hours’ notice before holding a meeting.” The result? Only the SRC can vote to dissolve itself, with the permission of the secretary of education. Heard enough yet?

There’s more. The PFT is holding a protest outside the School District headquarters today (Oct. 16, 2014), but the Commonwealth Foundation for Public Policy Alternatives confirmed it hired a team to appear at the event. Let that sink in for a minute. This group has enough money to pay people to show up to counter the teachers’ protest. In fact, according to a Philadelphia magazine article, this “free-market think tank” would be “informing people about how Jerry Jordan and the PFT leadership are standing in the way of tens of millions of dollars gong back into Philadelphia classrooms.” FYI – the Commonwealth Foundation registered two other websites this week, to put out their agenda and spread their false messages. They claim the teachers have a “selfish agenda” and fail children, teachers, and the poor, and that their group hired workers to pass out information and hold banners “to inform” the public. “The Notebook” noted that Cindy Hamill-Dahlgren, spokeswoman for the Commonwealth Foundation, would not specify how much money the Foundation spent to counter the PFT, Greeed by liz westbut an email showed some “brand ambassadors” were being offered anywhere from $100 to $120 to assist.

If this is the first time you’ve heard about the Commonwealth Foundation, you should know that in April 2013, it was reported that the right-wing think tank out of Harrisburg has plans to attack pubic sector employee unions. According to an article from “The Nation,” Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) wrote a letter on behalf of the Foundation, announcing “Project Goliath,” a “new effort to make Pennsylvania the next Wisconsin or Michigan.” Toomey wrote, “‘I firmly believe the future is in our hands – it’s up to you and me – and it all depends on the level of urgency we give this new campaign of ours, Project Goliath: Conquering Pennsylvania’s Political Giant. Now is the time to fight back. Like David of the Bible, now is the time to come forward and slay Pennsylvania’s Big Labor Goliath! …. First, we are forming an alliance with other successful free-market groups to actively discredit the Big Government Party (a tactic borrowed directly from Wisconsin). Like our friends in Wisconsin and Michigan, many elements of our plan involve a cooperative effort among our allied, but still independent, organizations…. But the overriding key to our whole plan will be our ability to starve the giant.’” The Commonwealth Foundation is reportedly “one of a 59-state network of similar think tanks that have vastly expanded since 2009.” They have raised millions of dollars, they have a stronghold in Pennsylvania, and clearly they are gunning for public education.

Now, several stories on Facebook are starting to emerge as the situation in Philadelphia worsens, from an SRC member telling student protestors, “You belong in jail,” to Pittsburgh teachers wearing red in solidarity with the Philly teachers.

So, what can you do? Share the stories on your social media pages. If you’re sharing recipes TRUTH Twitterand Halloween pictures on Facebook, you need to bite the bullet and start sharing the stories out of Philadelphia and the rest of the country. “Like” the pages of these unions, parent groups, and teacher groups on Facebook so you can easily follow their news. If you don’t have a Twitter account, create one and start following organizations and education warriors like @TruthInTeaching, @PublicEdNation, , @APPSphilly, @NYSAPE, @PegwithPen, @UnitedOptOut, @DianeRavitch, @palan57, @CTULocal1, @BadassTeachersA, @MindyRosier and others who understand the urgent need to save public education and get out the TRUTH.

You need to talk to your local union leaders, if you’re in a state that still has a union, about organizing solidarity campaigns. You need to read the articles (there are three below that are a good place to start) and understand the implications for you, your position, and your district. You need to get involved. Or, the next canceled contract, the next corporate takeover, the next shuttered school, could be yours.

For further reading:
‘Dear America, We Give Our Schools Third-World Level Resources… With love, Philadelphia XOXO’
Philadelphia Teachers Hit by Latest Cuts
PFT pushes back: livetweeting the SRC meeting

Images via Flickr by sarah-ji, Light Brigading, and Liz West

Listen, Understand, Act by Steven Shorrock

Teachers Need to Send a TRUE Message

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.

Make Our Schools a Priority by GreenNetizenI 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 Listen, Understand, Act by Steven Shorrockother 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?

Images via Flickr by GreenNetizen and Steven Shorrock

The Tide Is Turning

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.

The First Amendment by Ed Uthman

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.

Free speech = reason = progress by Simon GibbsAnd, we have been sharing news out of Reynoldsburg, Ohio, where teachers are receiving overwhelming support from the parents, students, and community as they strike to make their voices heard.

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.

Images via Flickr by Ed Uthman and Simon Gibbs