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Why Teachers Need a Representative Voice in Policy Making

Teachers can and should be agents of change, rather than subjects of change.

Whether you're a teacher in Watts or the Bronx, as both of us were, all educators share the monumental responsibility of having to make important decisions that impact the lives and educational development of countless children inside their classrooms. As second and tenth grade teachers, we understood that to be truly effective educators, we were required to be totally immersed in the task of helping our students become engaged and inspired during the learning process. It was up to us to figure out how to do that. Each day was an exercise in finding the right mix of rigor, fun, and differentiation.

But here lies the inherent tension that comes with teaching: teachers likes us have tremendous responsibility and independence in our classrooms, yet we found we had little to no voice in creating the policies that govern our schools, district, union, and state. We had the responsibility of getting our students to the next level, yet that mission was often completely separated from policy decisions crafted by those outside the classroom.

As teachers, it didn’t take long for us to realize that if we truly wanted to affect change, we needed to elevate our voices beyond our classrooms and local schools and into the arenas where policy is made. This was the genesis of Educators 4 Excellence, an organization founded nearly three years ago to raise the voices and ideas of teachers in the policy debates that affect our classrooms and careers.

Since then, more than 9,000 educators nationwide—including nearly 2,000 in Los Angeles alone—have signed on to our Declaration of Teachers’ Principles and Beliefs, a broad set of ideas that ground our work in three key areas: elevating the profession, focusing on student achievement, and supporting effective teachers. These principles provide a common starting point for debate while recognizing the diversity of our members and perspectives.

Our rapid growth and mission have required us to directly confront some of the status quo thinking on the role of teachers. We are turning the age-old, top-down policy paradigm on its head, and there’s a simple reason why: we believe that when teachers combine their experience as practitioners with sound research and passion for student achievement, we can find rational policy solutions that elevate the teaching profession and improve outcomes for all students. To do this, our members collaborate on a grand scale by stepping out of their classrooms to work in concert with peers from across the district. Similarly, we invite local and state policy makers to step into our classrooms and join us at our policy and networking events to learn from bright and innovative teachers.

Educators 4 Excellence’s policy experts on staff are all educators who taught in public school classrooms. Our board is comprised primarily of active classroom teachers and our research-based policies are designed by teams of outstanding, solutions-oriented current teachers.

The results of our grassroots movement to influence change from the bottom up have been empowering to teachers and promising for our students. In New York, E4E members watched many of their teacher evaluation recommendations get incorporated into state law. In Los Angeles, E4E members helped block the passage of a regressive evaluation bill in the California State Legislature. Now, dozens of our teachers are stepping up and, for the first time, poised to hold leadership positions in the nation’s second largest teachers union, the United Teachers of Los Angeles. Through policy panels, meetings, petition drives, and other grassroots advocacy work, our members are keeping up the pressure on decision makers to consider the ideas of teachers before taking action.

This type of teacher-led, grassroots change is what E4E set out to accomplish when we came together in 2010. Our accomplishments are proof positive that teachers can and should be agents of change, rather than subjects of change. For too long, the professionals who have the greatest day-to-day impact on the educational growth of our students had the least impact on the policies that help guide that growth. Today, teachers are changing that dynamic.

Click here to add becoming a member of Educators 4 Excellence to your GOOD "to-do" list.

Sydney Morris is the Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Educators 4 Excellence and Ama Nyamekye is the Executive Director of E4E-Los Angeles. E4E is a teacher-led organization working to ensure teachers have a meaningful voice in the policymaking that impacts their classrooms and careers.

Teacher assisting young male student image via Shutterstock

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