In 2011, Anne O’Brien of the Learning First Alliance attended the annual conference of the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards and found herself “dismayed” to hear teachers express frustrations about their profession. She wrote in part:
For example, in the Q & A following [then Education Secretary Arne] Duncan’s speech, one NBCT pointed out that her school had been selected for a merit pay program funded by Race to the Top. Aside from the fact that the day before Dan Pink had reviewed research on motivation that suggested the underlying theory of action for such programs is flawed, this particular teacher — and her colleagues, according to her — found the process by which it was adopted quite demoralizing. It seemed to them like outsiders coming in to fix things, without considering the expertise that existed in the school.
Her experience was part of a theme I heard in other sessions: Policymakers often preface comments against teachers with, “We’re not talking about the good teachers.” The mood at the conference: “You’re not talking with us, either.”… A theme that came up a number of times was fear.
Teachers (and principals) are afraid to talk to the press. They are afraid to talk to policymakers and to take a stand against policies that they think are unfair, because they are afraid of losing their jobs and of other backlash. They are afraid to blog, again fearing retribution from either their district or colleagues. These are some of America’s premier teachers — and this is the climate they describe. It is not a climate that a professional should face.
Since then, a growing number of educators have raised their voices to protest education reform policies that they think have been harming students and public schools. For example, an organization called the Badass Teachers Association was created and says it has thousands of members — educators with big voices. And many are leaving with their feet; teaching shortages have worsened in a number of states in recent years with no sign of let-up. A new report says California’s teaching shortage could easily get worse if necessary steps aren’t taken to stem it.
Yet the frustration and fear to speak out among many working teachers persists. Here’s a post about the “uncounted underground of teachers” by Chris Guerrieri, a teacher in Jacksonville, Fla., who writes the Education Matters blog and who gave me permission to republish it. “The uncounted underground of teachers” is a phrase that was part of a story in the Florida Times-Union, as Guerrieri’s post explains.
By Chris Guerrieri
The Florida Times-Union recently ran an article about a first-grade teacher whom the author of the piece referred to as part of an “uncounted underground of teachers.” The teacher, Carol Inmon, like others, had retired early after feeling micromanaged into teaching a curriculum she felt was inappropriate.
Are you part of this uncounted underground? You just might be, if:
You question the curriculum you’re forced to teach (that, in and of itself is a flag). Finding it developmentally inappropriate, poorly written and lacking in the supplemental materials to ensure success, makes it hard to stand behind curriculum our profession would never chose.
You bemoan the loss of creativity and innovation. You have no wish to be a robot reciting a script or a proctor guarding test security.
You are saddened that kids can’t always rely on their parents for help with homework. Needlessly complicated material and lack of supportive materials make it impossible.
You are frustrated with the constant micromanagement that eats up instructional time, by people who don’t know your kids or their needs.
You are dismayed that recess has become a luxury your kids aren’t allowed. No time for recess when the standards exceed the school day.
You are frustrated by policymakers, leaders and admin with little or no time in the classroom. Others whose time in a classroom is a distant memory. Taking orders (because we should be clear, they’re not providing leadership or offering guidance) from someone who left the classroom as fast as possible isn’t working.
You are tired of poor discipline and lack of support, as essential guidance counselors are a funding memory.
You are scared for your job if you speak up. You are afraid that since you are on annual contract, you won’t be reappointed. If you are on a professional contract, you will be harassed into quitting if you talk about all the problems going on in your school.
You feel marginalized by your community. You feel ignored and disrespected by your administration, because your students don’t receive appropriate consequences for their actions, minimizing your authority in your classroom. Ours is a profession, a calling we trained for because it’s what we are moved to do.
If you are any of these things, then you might just be part of the “uncounted underground of teachers.”
The “underground” isn’t a handful of dissatisfied teachers with an ax to grind. I feel comfortable saying the majority of our profession can be found here. But please don’t take my word for it.
Ask a teacher how they feel — any teacher, every teacher. At first, the responses might shock or surprise you, may even sadden you, and will hopefully lead to outrage. Outrage leads to action. That’s the only chance our profession, schools and students have. We need the community to get involved, to demand to be involved.
Our district will never reach its full potential when our teachers fear for their very jobs if they speak up. Never.