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Sunday / November 19

What is the Value of a Teacher’s Voice?

Teacher thinking in classroom

I feel so lucky to be a teacher, though let’s face it, I didn’t have a choice.

For nearly seventeen years now, it has been my livelihood, my career, my passion. I believe it is what I was called to do (if you believe in that sort of thing). For the most part, I have been blessed with principals who have done their best to sort out the wheat from the chaff, so to speak, when it comes to educational directives at the schools where I have worked. Those administrators knew the value and importance of the teacher’s voice in a school.

Collaboration, for us humans, has been the key to our relative success on this planet. When we work together we typically find that we are capable of accomplishing great things. This is just as true in education. There is a long list of problems—real and imagined—with education, but the thing that works best is when every stakeholder has a voice in the process of determining how to best serve the needs of our children. A teacher is not the only factor in a child’s educational success, but when the opinions, judgments, and experience of teachers are ignored things have a tendency to start moving sideways or simply fall apart altogether.

I have experienced what it feels like to be in a school where the ideas and feedback of teachers is not valued; morale declines and the culture of the school suffers. Worse, the veteran teachers seem to eventually evaporate and a more transient group of teachers take their place, which is fine… but what becomes of the consistency and continuity of long-time, invested stakeholders?

After all, teachers are the ones who are doing the work. We are the responsible parties in every classroom, charged with motivating, inspiring, engaging, challenging, and—oh yeah—teaching the little children of the world. We are the ones who must find ways to reach, and hold accountable, every child in the class. That means planning for the students who won’t get a concept the first time, the students who can already apply a concept at professional levels, the students who have behavioral, emotional, or physical challenges, and the students who have stories that would break your heart if you only knew.

Teachers don’t have all the answers, but we know how to get them. A school where the teacher’s voice is valued is a school where every staff member is engaged in the process and willing to seek out advice and new knowledge from their peers or other community members. Fortunately, I have experienced this type of school more often than not. This type of collaborative environment is only possible when teachers have a voice. The greatest principals I have worked with always start with one question: “What do you think?” Or “How can I help?” Or “What do you need?” That doesn’t mean that everything always works out in favor of what teachers think and want, but at least we are part of the conversation. It seems to me that astute administrators understand this.

So, when the Department of Education, or the state, or the district-hired consultants, or the crazy new superintendent looking to “make a difference,” roll out some new programs, guidelines, or mandates input from teachers is crucial. In the end, no matter what the new parameters and paradigms are, as teachers, we will try our best to meet the new expectations because, despite what you may have heard, we are professionals. We just need support. We need someone to listen now and again. We need someone to assure us that our voices are heard and that we are all in this together.

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Scott is an elementary school teacher from Arizona. He has worked in Title I schools in the Phoenix-metro area for fifteen years. He believes students thrive on challenging learning experiences that provide ample opportunities for them to explore their own creativity. Currently, Scott is a member of a 5th grade STEAM academy team that will be introducing project-based learning, with a heavy emphasis on the design process, to more than fifty 5th graders.

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