Other countries around the world call their teachers “nation builders,” but the United States doesn’t honor its teachers with this title. But how can we build a nation without first creating a strong foundation constructed upon the experience and expertise of our teachers?
On May 5th, a cornerstone was set when the 2011 State Teachers of the Year took their first steps towards educational reform by taking part in roundtable discussions with senior staff from ED. Teachers who had always wanted a seat at the table got one, literally.
Topics of discussion included: effective teaching, teacher preparation, school leadership, school turnarounds, and family and community involvement. During our roundtable discussions, all participants read excerpts from Secretary Duncan’s speeches pertaining to the table topic. Participants were asked to identify ideas in the passage that might be significant to the reader because they agreed, disagreed, raised a question, or raised an important issue. After discussion of these key issues, each group collectively determined one question and one recommendation to share with senior staff at the Department during the town hall meeting that followed.
The town hall meeting was conducted with a panel of six representatives from the US Department of Education. These members listened to each of the groups’ questions and responded to the recommendations suggested by the teachers.
Before the town hall meeting began, it was made clear to the teachers that the purpose of this meeting was for the Department of Education to listen to the teachers. They wanted to come away from the meeting with solutions that worked. However, what I took away from the meeting was something much deeper.
As I listened to the teachers and ED representatives exchange ideas, I found one thing missing from our discussion: conflict. There was a mutual respect between all parties, and we were able to discuss the issues collaboratively and cohesively. Teachers were not labeled as the problem, but rather as partners. There was not an “us against them” feeling. We were all on the same team accomplishing the same goal: to improve upon our nation’s public school system.
I commend the Department of Education for not only giving our Teachers of the Year a voice but for also promoting a positive atmosphere conducive for communication. It seems that our appreciation for human dignity has somehow gotten lost in the past few years. In an effort to be the best, our society has lost the best in itself. It is respect that will provide the strongest foundation for our nation. Only when we have learned to listen to each other and work together, then educational reforms can be made.
Danielle Kovach is the 2011 New Jersey State Teacher of the Year. She teaches special education at Tulsa Trail Elementary School in Hoptacong, NJ.
Watch a video clip from the roundtables.