Power in Numbers: Why Teachers Should Unite Around Solutions

By Dr. Anna Baldwin

What happens when you ask classroom teachers about their own teacher education experiences? You learn that they have a collective voice that expresses deep concerns about their own preparation and that of new teachers. You learn that they have lived through the inadequacies of their professional training and they have solutions. Their wish list for teacher preparation programs includes more meaningful coursework, more deeply rooted field experiences, and mentorship programs that extend from university through the first years of teaching.

Teachers often have a unified vision about these solutions, yet they aren’t always united over the methods to achieve those solutions.

I spoke with many current classroom teachers in focus group settings for my work as a Hope Street Group National Teacher Fellow. The Fellows recorded teachers’ thoughts and feelings about their teacher education programs for a report to be released next spring in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Education. When I saw the structural principles of the new TeachStrong campaign, I was struck that many of them coincide with the wishes of the classroom teachers I interviewed:

  • Reimagine teacher preparation to make it more rooted in classroom practice
  • Provide support for new teachers
  • Provide significantly more time, tools and support for teachers
  • Design professional learning to better address student and teacher needs

Most teachers would agree that these are the changes that must be made now, along with other principles advanced by TeachStrong regarding the significance of tenure, compensation, and teacher leadership opportunities.

Which is why, in early November, I was happy to promote the TeachStrong campaign launch on Twitter. Then I leaned back and followed the hashtag. I was surprised to find that many teachers and organizations, including some of my favorite bloggers, were quick to lash out at this campaign. They responded directly to me and continue even now to react negatively, day after day, to #TeachStrong. I can understand the source of some of their frustration. They are tired of what they see as corporate — or ideology-driven — reforms. They want real teachers’ voices represented. They have legitimate questions about how these nine principles will be implemented, and the TeachStrong initiative has not yet announced strategies for doing so.

Other points have me baffled. Some claim that these fifty organizations are solely interested in self-promotion, electing a certain presidential candidate, or further bashing public educators. It has not been my experience, as someone who has been both a critic of some organizations’ stances and a beneficiary of others, that any of them want to do anything other than improve public education. I’ve researched the backlash and its enumeration of problems, and I’ve failed to find one important common denominator: solutions.

Teachers alone or in small unified groups cannot solve these problems ourselves — we have tried. Addressing them meaningfully does require collaborating with organizations with reach and, candidly, with deeper pockets than ours. It takes leverage and volume. With TeachStrong, over fifty organizations, many of which rely on the work of teachers themselves — including Hope Street Group and NNSTOY — have convened to amplify our voices to resolve some of the problems teachers face today. Working with these groups, instead of against them, promotes our collective best interests. That’s why the two teachers’ unions — the American Federation of Teachers and the National Educators Association — are part of TeachStrong: They recognize this strength in unity.

Instead of simply listing problems and finding fault, we can be part of a group that is finding solutions. To me, that is the power of #TeachStrong.

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