How can teachers gain more political power and influence in Georgia? 

Teachers: Remove our gags and seek our input

 In the last few days, I’ve posted three blogs dealing with the status of teachers in Georgia. Two of the blogs featured suggestions from teachers about raising the profile of the profession.

Overall, their comments touched on three areas, pay, prestige and power. You can read teacher views on pay here and prestige here. You can read an overall column on teacher status here.

I have saved the discussion of according teachers more power and control for last as it may prove the most difficult goal to achieve.

Teachers believe they ought to have greater influence on policy and reform as they’re the experts. And that makes sense. Why not consult the people on the front lines about solutions to problems? 

Yet, teachers are often given short shrift in education reform. For example, teachers had little input into the plans to change the state's teacher evaluation and pay system when Georgia won its $400 million federal Race to the Top grant.

More recently, a state study committee on whether the Legislature ought to dictate the school calendar was stacked with tourism representatives who would benefit from longer summers.

 Why are teachers overlooked?  From my time covering elected officials in three states, this is what I have seen: 

Lawmakers doubt teachers can put student interests above their self interests. 

Lawmakers favor quick and simple fixes to complex problems. When teachers try to point out the complexities around many challenges in education, lawmakers write off their comments as excuse-making.

Despite teaching being a mass profession, it does not have commensurate political clout, at least not in Georgia where there are no teacher unions. (There are teacher organizations, but they don’t have collective bargaining power.)

Here are samples of what teachers said about voice, control and power:

--Earlier this year I wrote on a piece of paper “NO VOICE,” and it still sits on my desk. One key thing that Georgia could do to professionalize teaching is to let teachers have a voice without consequence. Trust them to do the job they were hired to do. Step back from all the data collection and let them teach.

I really don’t think that our community/society realize what teachers do. How invested they are. The time they put in above what they get paid. The stress they are under to “perform,” working in a dictatorship with no voice.

Yet, we are the ones in the classroom who know what is best for each student. We are invested in giving those babies every opportunity they deserve, no matter what politicians keep putting on us.

--Let’s take the gag off of teachers. Often times teachers are afraid to speak up because what they know is best for the students doesn’t align with their local school or even district plan. And, as such, teachers are afraid to lose a job because they wanted to do the right thing. This brings me to a villanization of teachers in the general populace. 

We are not here to indoctrinate children with leftist thinking. We are not here to stonewall you away from the best way to educate your child and we are not bullies looking for little kids to pick on. We are here to educate children, we are here to help your child become the best they can be, and we are here to model and show your child that hard work can get them places. We do have high expectations for your children because we want them to spread their wings and learn to soar above the clouds.

--We need teacher advocacy groups; associations don't count; they are window-dressing. We need a place to take our concerns and complaints. Since there are no unions, we need to be able to report serious concerns/violations without repercussions. 

--Lawmakers reach out to teachers when they run for office, but when they study something as important to learning as the length of summer vacation, they check with people who run amusement parks and resorts.

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About the Author

Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.