Reclaiming Reform

There’s a rift growing in our profession. Some teachers feel dumped on, others are tired of rhetoric from leaders who lack experience in teaching, and even more are preparing to leave behind their passions for the classroom. Another, contrasting, group of teachers have begun using the tools of the information age and leadership development programs to play a role informing education policy. The viewpoints of teachers towards our profession may continue to divide if the trend of alarmist and incendiary messages from news and pop-culture media persist. In what ways can the profession surface and rise towards the elevated status it deserves, given the incessant, and sometimes negative, coverage of our country’s fierce education debate? We all know that endemic in our profession right now is extreme adversity; why are some people able to turn this adversity into strength, while for others it is debilitating?

I have begun to reflect on this dichotomy after many conversations with teachers around the U.S. and our recent interviews with prospective Teaching Ambassador Fellow candidates. My typical conversation with future Fellows began on a somewhat common ground of knowledge about education policy, allowing for healthy dialogue on proposed reform agendas. In opposition, some conversations with teachers around the country were founded on annoyance, extreme frustration, and perceived helplessness towards reform agendas. Both groups were passionate about the same topics, yet informed through different experiences. I’m convinced that all teachers are capable of participating in political discourse, but not totally sure our daily experiences prepare us to be strategic and enthusiastic about those conversations.

One of the colleagues I met on the road came to me in tears caused by her frustration. In her second year teaching in a Western U.S. urban school system, she is facing the threat of losing her job due to impending budget cuts. During our first conversation I carefully listened to and legitimized her trepidation. I then shared resources, tactics, and my own story of layoff threats during my first-year. Without my experience of working in the U.S. Department of Education, our discussion may have been less productive and more focused on the daily rumors we hear about nationwide layoffs. Last week I followed up with her over the phone to learn how she is feeling since we last met. This time she sounded strong-willed. She is prepared for the worst but is now focusing on the two things that are most important: her students’ science projects and building a network of contacts that will support her search for a new position.

While this example alone ensures me that my year away from the classroom has been worth the sacrifice, I can’t help but think that the percentage of peers I have personally connected with over the last 9 months is infinitesimally small. Beyond that, I understand I don’t have all the answers and still need to lean on those around me for support. How can informed teachers overcome the negative buzz that media coverage generates for hundreds of thousands daily? How can we share what we’ve learned, ensuring there is a collective will and ability of all teachers to develop policies promoting student achievement and teacher support? I challenge any educator in a position of leadership to build relationships with discouraged colleagues based on positive and honest communication. These relationships will begin to bridge the rift by enhancing teachers’ collective capacity to drive an agenda for future reforms, inching the profession towards an era of empowered decision-making.

Nicholas Greer, 2010-2011 Teaching Ambassador Fellow


  1. When will someone in place of authority, with enough courage to act, realize that the foundational problem with education today is not so much our school systems as it is the societal fact of dysfunctional families and resulting students not prepared to learn even in the best schools? Some other countries have found ways to keep parents in the home long enough to nurture their children and prepare them for school.
    Secy. Duncan spoke a couple years ago about a conversation concerning family morals but I have not seen any follow up on this. We really need to seriously consider the family situation if we expect to enhance learning.

  2. I like the idea of teachers getting fed up with being used and abused. There are far too many games being played at the expense of children’s lives.
    Let’s be honest, the ability level or lack of a teacher’s ability is not the main problem. It certainly in some cases may be a small piece of a big problem, but not “the problem”.
    Until our government and our country begins to value the importance of teachers and reward success more than failure we will stay in trouble.
    The world and employment opportunities have changed rapidly right before our eyes and our children need us to prepare them better and differently than ever before. Can we please stop blaming one side or another and have open intelligent conversations about best practices and do what’s right for everyone?

  3. What? Could you rephrase the whole thing so normal people can understand it?

    Also, giving someone a web page address is really not “sharing resources” is it? This kind of mumbo-jumbo, which fills this silly piece, is a large part of what ails America.

    Let’s be honest; Americans care more about keeping rich people rich than they do about educating our children. And Obama and Duncan are too happy to oblige.

    Please, teaching fellow, come on down off your high-horse and talk like a teacher.

  4. Many classroom teachers feel isolated from the power to control their teaching and their futures. With the weaking of traditional unions, they are finding it hard to deal with changes.I would challange unions to re- invent themselves and administrations in schools to be just as accountable as the teachers are being asked to be.

  5. “Overcoming the negative buzz…?” First – stop listening to the media and go to the source of the rumors, such as your district’s HR people or the district or state school board and start asking them the questions instead of blindly believing the media. Second, follow the money – where is funding coming from and what strings are attached. What is the proposal for the new budget with respect to education. How much money comes from the state and how much from the district taxes? Third, stay up with your district’s and state’s legislation in regard to education and budget. Finally, stop blaming others. We are part of the problem until we become part of the solution.

    The dichotomy you notice is simply human nature to view the glass as half empty or half full. Everything is a matter of perspective, as your vignette with the new teacher suggested.Once we begin to look out and up, our focus will become broader and we will begin to be the positive influence on other educators. “The higher we climb, the more that we see, the less that we know, the more that we yearn, the farther we reach, the more that we touch, the bolder we feel, the higher we climb…” (Dan Fogelberg)

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