Experienced classroom teachers lend a thoughtful, much-needed practitioner’s perspective to the ongoing education debate, but too often In the policy world, teachers resemble the kid in the back of the class waving his hand in the air wildly. They’re left out of conversations that desperately need their input, and instead, other professionals without classroom experience lead the way.
Case in point: I looked into the teaching background of 58 national staffers at five large education nonprofits in America:
Recent efforts have focused on a couple of solutions, including hybrid roles and fellowships. First, many districts and programs are beginning to encourage hybrid jobs where teachers have a reduced course load and take on roles within school leadership, research, or mentoring less experienced teachers. The TeacherSolutions 2030 team has coined this role “teacherpreneurs.” And the interest is there. According to last year’s MetLife National Teacher’s Survey, 51 percent of teachers have at least some interest in this type of mixed role. This provides teachers the opportunity to grow in their jobs, empowering them without forcing them to leave teaching to have their voice heard. Second, many organizations like Teach Plus, the Hope Street Group, and even the U.S. Department of Education have fellowship programs where teachers can interact with policymakers and ensure teacher voice is represented. Even some of the nonprofits I studied, like StudentsFirst, are making an effort to include teachers through policy fellowships. While some of these programs are surely making a big difference, questions remain. Steve Ruthford, an Einstein fellow with the National Science Foundation, noted the practitioner-policy gap at YEP-DC’s Policy-to-Practice conference in March. “As a science teacher, I am skeptical of a sample size of one. There just aren’t enough practitioners at the table,” Ruthford said.
Scott Goldstein is a social studies and ESL teacher at a D.C. public charter school. He can be reached at scottaudc(at)gmail(dot)com.