Heather Wolpert-Gawron

A teacher’s duty?

By on March 20, 2009

So by now I assume we’ve all heard of the sanctioned “cage fighting” in a Dallas, TX school.  As AP reports, school officials apparently condoned the use of a steel cage in which students could bare-knuckle fight their way towards agreement.  Great peer mediation program, right? 

But why is it that only the worst of the worst appears in the news, as if this level of inappropriateness was a common disease facing education today?

I was corresponding with Teacher Leader Network all-around-awesome-guy John Norton, and we stumbled on an interesting point which relates to this issue of highly publicized educational indecency.  And it kinda got me thinking.

Sure, I’m frustrated by the ease in which the news reports the horrible, inbred cousins of education.  Sure I tire of the publicity behind those YouTube worthy rants, those rare abuses in schools made seemingly frequent, as if they were a chronic problem along with the achievement gap and childhood obesity.

But I feel that we as teachers in the trenches have a duty to battle this poor publicity.

Teachers of yore were quite isolated, closing their door and teaching in their solitary rooms.  Some still do, but the job has changed.  Collaboration has become a key to our survival.  Teaching with transparency and an open-door policy has become necessity, evidence of our ability.  Some of why this is necessary is because test scores and observations have become the go-to way to evaluate a teacher (but that’s for another post).  Another reason is that our challenges and our horrors have become far more public than our glories.

Whose fault is that?  I blame us.

That is, I blame the teacher and administrators who have not evolved in their profession enough to see that publicity is a must. For this reason, I included as Step # 8 in my Top Secret New Teacher Handbook, “Take a Course in Publicity.”

I know we wear a lot of hats already.  And some of them should not be ours to wear.  But it is our job to control our own reputation as a profession, and we aren’t taking that responsibility seriously.

I think in this case, it is a trickle up theory.  Teachers must stop waiting to be observed to show themselves off.  They must call their principals when something great is happening.  Principals respond to the -“Come, check this out!” call, and even if they can’t come, they know when success is happening.

Teachers must learn the name of the education editor of the local newspaper.  If something is newsworthy, a project, a perspective, an accomplishment from you or a student, get it out there.  Ask your principal first out of courtesy.  But know that if your principal says no, call anyway.  You control your own PR.  And, let’s face it; a teacher with good PR is one that a district is not anxious to get rid of.

We must also harness our passion for reform and our insider knowledge of school successes and go public.

I discovered early on that there are different elements to teaching that I love and some I don’t.  The parts I love are the students, curriculum creation, life-long learning.  But the parts I don’t are the isolation and the negative reputation.  And I hate feeling the victim.

So for me, I blog.  I write articles.  I teach teachers.

But if you don’t want to blog, that’s fine, just find someone who does, and get them to profile some of what you’re doing in the classroom.  Share your successes.

OK, so maybe you don’t want to share the coolness of what you do in a blog.  And maybe you don’t want to call a newspaper editor about a challenge you’ve overcome in the classroom.  Then at least get your accomplishments publicized at a school board meeting or tap that hallway bulletin board for some of your students’ best work.  Include a description of the lesson.  It doesn’t matter the size of the pond, be a respected member of it.

Enough of the stereotypical modest teacher.  It’s what some people count on when it comes to taking advantage of those within our profession.

Imagine the power of education if every teacher merely learned how to publically celebrate their successes at least once a year?

Sometimes the challenges in teaching fog over the daily successes in teaching.  After all, it is rarely the saved student we go home feeling good about, it’s the one we’ve lost that plagues us.  Shake your head clear of the fog and be proud.

You bring students back from the brink of failure every day.

You help kids learn how to think, how to share, how to disagree.

You are the one that teaches them the rules of the game.

You are the one that teaches them how to create their own game.

You teach them how to communicate: analytically, persuasively, responsively.

You are the one that answers questions.

You are the one that teaches them to question.

So it’s up to you to get it out there.  It’s not just for the good of you, the individual teacher, but for the good of the staff, and even the profession.  It’s your duty.

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