I spent 25 years as a high school band director. For several months of the year my classroom was the football field where I directed a 200 person marching band. I have numerous strengths and weaknesses as a teacher, but being heard by my students wasn’t ever really a problem for me. My students might even say that my “teacher voice” was a little over the top, but it was pretty effective.
When I started my career my only “teacher voice” concern was that my students could hear me. As I have gotten older I have come to recognize that it is important that teacher’s voices aren’t only heard in their classrooms, but that they are heard in their school districts, in their communities, and as part of our nation’s political discourse.
I remember a time when education didn’t seem like a partisan issue. As a young teacher, it didn’t occur to me that there was much that was political about my profession. I became a teacher because the people I respected most as a young person were my teachers. I wanted to do my part to make the world a better place by supporting young people. All of that is still true. Yet, at some point much of what we do in our schools became politicized.
It would be easy for teachers to simply close the doors to our classrooms and do our best to keep up with all of the initiatives and mandates that are part of our day-to-day reality. The problem with that is that teachers are the ones what are rolling up our sleeves and doing the work. It is urgent that teachers insist that we have a place at the table when politicians get together to discuss what is best for America’s schools.
A study by the Quaglia Institute for School Voice and Aspirations found in 2015 that only 53% of more than 10,000 teachers surveyed felt that they had a voice when it came to school decision-making. That statistic is alarming to me. There is data (via John Hattie) that shows that teachers who are confident that their teaching has a direct impact on student achievement have an effect size that is nearly 4-times the hinge point that shows a year’s worth of growth for a year’s input. All of this is to say that teachers who believe in the power of their “teacher voice” demonstrate a much greater impact on student learning that those who don’t. It is important that more than 53% of teachers believe that their voice matters.
There is a segment of the population who are quick to place the challenges that our public schools face squarely on those of us who have chosen to dedicate our careers to public education. They believe that teacher’s primary interests are in protecting struggling teachers or maintaining the status quo. Public education in America faces challenges, but to say that teachers are the problem is a false narrative. Is there a belief that we are somehow keeping highly qualified people from joining the teaching profession? Is there an army of better-qualified people eager to take these jobs for less money and fewer benefits? Of course there isn’t. Schools are hiring the best people available to do this work. There is nothing stopping those who believe they could do better to join us.
It has become clear to me that the voice I used to teach thousands of young people over 25 years now must be used to advocate for my profession and more importantly to advocate that EVERY young person has access to the best possible education. Teachers know that our schools must continue to change and teachers must be willing and able to have their voices heard. I have found my teacher voice and I encourage my colleagues to find theirs as well.