By Bethany Bowman
Director of Professional Development, Professional Educators of Tennessee
In today’s world, we have the policymakers on one team with the educators on the other. In reality, they should both be working together on the same team.
Many educators see only what goes on in their classroom and school. If they come from an urban district, they have very little contact with others in their own district. Politicians and policymakers are influenced mostly by their constituents and by strong lobbying organizations. Who is most invested in looking out for the children? Parents and teachers.
We must look at the big picture to address both the current circumstances and situations and future choices that may arise as a result of our thoughts or actions. Critics point out that educators do not spend a lot of time seeking knowledge from those outside their personal work area or profession. The response to that criticism is that many policymakers and stakeholders spend little time understanding the purpose of public education, the mission and vision of a community and what actually happens in a public school classroom.
For example, public school educators identified parental involvement and student testing as two of the most critical areas they face in a recent survey we distributed. How do educators and policymakers get parents to be more involved? Where does all this “valuable data” that educators and policymakers use to make decisions come from? It comes from testing students over and over again. Not only are the students judged on their scores, but, in Tennessee, the teachers are judged on the student scores as well.
Teachers are among the most overworked groups in any profession. As we drilled deeper in our survey, teacher workload was a driving issue facing educators. It has been said that the only job more stressful than a classroom teacher is that of an air traffic controller. Teachers face exposure to liability much greater than does the average citizen. Nearly every day, teachers must deal with student poverty along with other issues such as diverse laws related to child abuse, student discipline, negligence, defamation, student records and copyright infringement. And as more teaching subjects and methods are available online, parents and administrators are demanding personalized lesson plans for each student.
Other issues such as teacher evaluation, inexperienced administrators, and out-of-touch boards of education are also issues of concern. Salary and benefits were a concern to teachers, but certainly not on the forefront of issues for the majority of
educators. We should take a long-term view of issues and problems facing society, and determine how education can positively address these problems. Long-term rewards must be seen as outweighing the short-term problems. Policymakers need to listen to what is on educators’ minds. And as an association we help strengthen educators’ voices in a non-threatening matter.
Educators often find that people who hand out criticism are usually the same people who are most offended when they are criticized. Policymakers need to help tackle the difficult challenges of parental involvement, student testing and teacher workload. Professional Educators of Tennessee believes that regular community engagement that involves teachers, parents, administrators, and policymakers is the key. This cannot happen overnight. It must be planned and executed. In addition, it is time to initiate the public discussion on teacher evaluation issues, inexperienced administrators, and out-of-touch boards of education.
If policymakers, educators and parents will just talk to each other on a regular basis and seek advice from each other, the impact that could be made would change the lives of countless individuals. Coming together, sharing together, and working together will lead to success. That is the difference between good and great in public education.