Today, it was brought to my attention just how costly teacher voice can be.
The top-down management style of most schools lends itself to an undemocratic collective of adults and children in the building, all exacerbated by internal and external factors like poverty, personalities, and Charlotte Danielson. Autonomy is in the eye of the beholder, and the beholder is often fresh out of college and / or hasn’t been in the classroom longer than I have.
That’s why teacher voice is a reform in and of itself. The idea that teachers and students have a say as to the direction of the school runs contrary to what policy tells us over and again, no matter if you’re in a rural town with one elementary, middle, and high school or if you’re an urban teacher trying to dodge the bullets of an ed-deform mayor.
The status quo tells us that teachers should only speak when spoken to, help reform only when it’s close to the finish line, and smile only when it’s an appreciation day or on their own time. By the time teachers are given (!) the chance to speak up, it already went through a bunch of heads who want to educate without educating, or make a difference without much understanding or interactions with real people.
Teacher voice should look less like the anonymous focus groups and telephone surveys assessing customer satisfaction and more like boards of directors and action committees. When we assume on-the-ground educators shouldn’t have an equal stake in what happens in the classroom, we beg for two things to happen. Either a) teachers leave or b) teachers rebel.
I’m hoping for the latter.
Freedom isn’t free. Having a voice isn’t free, either. This is no coincidence. The ability to break free from the yeses – where “yes” is really a masked “OK, let’s just get on with it” – comes at a cost. Checklists, bulletin board inspections, browbeating, hurt feelings, and incidental layoffs soon follow. Our collective voice has to come from understanding the risks involved, unpopular as our opinions may be.
A teacher voice demands an eye on progress, a heart for students, and a voice for waking lions.