I'm going to spill my guts tonight. I'm heartbroken; not in an angry way, but in a sinking slow-motion to the bottom of the ocean way. Heavy. Reflective. Sad.
I've spent the last year and a half working on the board of a statewide non-profit organization whose mission is to elevate and amplify great teachers' voices so that local districts and state legislatures can get a more balanced and nuanced understanding of what impacts their students and how to improve policy, especially on behalf of low-income students and students of color. It was the very organization I needed as a young teacher, but never found.
Most teachers, as readers of this blog already know, can't find time to water their plants let alone worry about the political maneuvering involved with improving statewide standards and assessments (as an example). Teachers aren't expected to do this, nor are they well-informed (outside of 15-minute monthly union updates). The alphabet soup of advocacy groups, organizations and associations means nothing to teachers - just as the zone of proximal development and Bloom's revised Taxonomy are gibberish to policymakers.
By handing their individual voice over to one entity (even if they don't always see eye-to-eye with said entity) feels like a workable trade-off for many teachers. Someone else will handle that 'stuff.' The problem is that we miss the nuance that comes from differing points of view and we miss the voices of those who, I would argue, are our most dedicated and talented teachers out there.
Our non-profit invited some of the best teachers and thinkers from the state to gather together - to choose and rigorously study the issues that most interested & impacted them - to learn from and strategize with policy experts and political players - and finally to take real action through testifying, writing Op Eds and fighting for what they felt was right for their students.
They did this. Some were ridiculed, harassed and threatened by their peers. More found solidarity with like-minded teachers. They chose policies that were fairly uncontroversial but immediately relevant to their work; things like changes to professional development and early learning expansion. They were slow and cautious and methodical. They weren't terribly bold. And they let down their funders.
And I get it. As a former funder, I totally get it. But I also get these teachers and the time it takes them to truly understand the game that's being played and how they are being played. I understand how perplexed they are when I tell them what the legislature is hearing vs. what they experience in their classrooms every day. I understand that trust is a serious issue, esp. when you've heard only one point of view on politics your entire career. I understand the risk they take by sticking their necks out on hot topics when they have to collaborate on lesson planning the next day.
I know this can work. It's just not working here in my state. And it's not working at this moment. Or, we haven't quite figured out how just yet. There is a ray of great hope with a group of teachers in one of our districts. They will undoubtedly lead the way.
My heartbreak is that we (funder, union rep, teacher, administrator, advocate, legislator) still don't truly understand one another and what we actually do. We respect one another from a distant and dissonant place. We remain oceans apart from one another. We must find a better way of finding our way from the statehouse to Room 303, because only then can we do what is truly best for our students. Heartbroken...but still hopeful.