A Voice Not Heard

One of the biggest problems of public education is a disconnect. During my graduate studies, I got the impression that some people perceived students and professors, who were currently active in pursuing reforms in teaching, as incapable of doing research in other areas. Teaching seemed to have taken a backseat in higher institutions of learning. Now that public school education has taken a fraction of the spotlight, the number of opinions or voices has been increasing. Unfortunately, the disconnect is still there. On one hand, there are the innovators and entrepreneurs. Then there is research. And last but not the least, we have the teachers. All three seem to go their own separate ways. Teachers, sadly, are not heard in any of the discussions. Teachers are simply not given a seat in the table where plans to improve education are drawn.

Rebecca Mieliwocki, the 2012 National Teacher of the Year, spoke before thousands of fellow teachers during a meeting of the National Education Association (NEA) in Washington, DC. Below is part of her inspirational talk:
"When great teachers are asked to focus on test scores and push them to the forefront of our priority list, we give kids a warped and weird education that honors neither the depth and breadth of human knowledge, but it is an absolute turning up our backs on the uniqueness of each individual child we teach and I refuse to do that. So here i stand one teacher symbolizing millions, one enthusiastic, hard-working, humble, dedicated, committed example to stand for the millions more just like me, one voice to represent us all. It's this voice that's been missing from all the highly-charged conversations in education. It's this voice that has been dulled to a whisper, as people who have been set foot in the classroom make decisions and policy that impact nearly every aspect of our profession, and it's so striking to me that in our ferocious and noble zeal to leave not even one child behind we may have accidentally left all the teachers behind instead. If we want the transformation in education, if we truly want innovation and reform, we have got to stop talking about testing and start talking more about developing, supporting and celebrating teachers. Teachers are the architects of the change we've been waiting for...."

In an interview with Charlie Rose, Gayle King and Erica Hill of CBS, Mieliwocki emphasizes what drives a teacher forward. When asked how teachers should be rewarded and evaluated, Mieliwocki reminds viewers of what really matters to teachers. Teachers do not join the teaching profession because of money. Teachers try to make a difference in students' lives. Rewards that are truly helpful are those that provide additional responsibilities. Teachers need to be evaluated. But these evaluations need to help teachers to become better:

Mieliwocki also spoke in the recently held SXSWedu conference. Unfortunately, in a conference attended by both entrepreneurs and educators, the division is evident as pointed out by Shauntel Poulson in "Elevating the Educator Voice: Reflections on SXSWedu 2013":
...Although the Chronicle of Higher Education estimates that over 60% of SXSWedu attendees were educators, the newspaper shares my sentiments that the educator voice was missing and tensions divided entrepreneurs and educators. So how did this majority educator voice get lost? Well perhaps it wasn’t lost but instead siloed. Having different conference tracks made it easy to self-segregate and I found myself guilty of sticking to the “Entrepreneurialism and Business” track.

Sticking to this track meant that I missed Rebecca Mieliwocki’s, 2012 National Teacher of the Year’s, remarks on supercharging the teaching profession. I wasn’t the only one as the room was barely half full, leaving Rebecca hoping things are different next year:

“I left disappointed that there wasn’t a better interface between all these folks with great ideas, money and energy and the actual warm bodies, also filled with similar great ideas and energy, who teach children every day. Sigh. Maybe next year.”

While Rebecca struggled to attract an audience, the “Business Models that Work in Education Technology” panel had a ten minute wait to get in the room. Clearly developing a sound business model is top of mind for education technology entrepreneurs; yet empathizing with users (oftentimes educators) is a first step to developing a product that will gain significant traction. Although the panel of CEO’s, founders, and venture capitalists gave great advice, the perspective of educators and district leaders who purchase education technology products is invaluable....
The following is a recording of Rebecca Mieliwocki's talk: