During a recent visit with my daughter and her family, I had an opportunity to talk with the husband of a public school teacher from the Cincinnati area. I was disappointed to learn that this young woman was working hard to prepare herself for a new career outside the field of education.
Like so many public school teachers, today, this husband explained his wife’s frustration with the changes that are taking place in public education in Ohio, changes that are making it difficult for her to teach children.
Her husband shared with me that his wife is one of seven or eight teachers at her school who are actively pursuing a career change once the current school year has ended. He also said that his wife’s principal is aware of the fact that she and several of her colleagues are planning to leave and this principal has been pleading with them to reconsider. “You are my best teachers,” he tells them. No doubt this principal is one of many who dread the prospect of leading their schools into an uncertain future without their best teachers.
Can we blame teachers for leaving their profession? Do they not have the right to pursue the best opportunities for which they are qualified? Public school corporations are no different than any other employer. An employer can expect the loyalty of its employees for only as long as that employer can sell them on the importance of the organization’s mission; meet their need for professional and financial fulfillment; and, give them reason to hope for successful outcomes.
Given the degree to which public education is under attack, the school corporations that serve our nation’s most vulnerable communities are being stripped of the power to make any assurances to their faculties, which begs the question of how such corporations, in the absence of a capable faculty, can offer any assurances to their students and their community.
The unpleasant truth with which the American people must come to terms is that our nation’s leaders have created a scenario in which the control over the education of our nation’s children has been placed in the hands of people who have no understanding of the realities of educating children; corporate executives and government officials who function within a logical realm that is corrupted by special interests and who have only their arrogance to guide them.
What kind of future can we have as a democratic society when we have lost our ability to prepare all of our children for the responsibilities of citizenship? What kind of future do the American people want for their children?
The dilemma for the American people is that they do not trust the bill of goods being pushed by corporate and government reformers and, also, that they have lost faith in traditional public education.
Teachers, principals, and superintendents and other educational professionals are the only ones who possess sufficient knowledge to save public education and to offer the American people what they want and need. The American people desperately need professional educators to stand and fight rather than stand by with our hands in our pockets and do nothing or, worse, leave the profession to the reformers.
If professional educators choose to stand and fight rather than flee, we can work together to offer the American people an alternative to the policies of the corporate and government reformers. We can offer them a new reality that is focused on learning and the special relationship that exists between teachers, students and parents. We can offer them a reality in which every child is important and in which no student will be permitted to fail.
It is understandable that individual teachers feel lost and alone and it is natural to feel like there is nothing one person can do. But teachers need not feel alone. They are part of a population of as many as three million professional educators who can come together to create this new reality.
In addition to existing unions and associations at both the state and national level, there is a new group of players in the game: the Bad Ass Teachers Association with a membership of 53,000 professionals and counting. Teachers can become BATS and still be active in their unions and associations, in fact they are encouraged to do so. Get active and demand action!
Teachers are not the only professionals at risk in these challenging times. The future of public school principals and administrators and also the superintendents and other administrative professionals of every public school corporation in the nation are also at risk, particularly those who serve populations in our nation’s most challenging communities.
The leaderships of each of these representative entities must recognize that they are at war for the very survival of public education and mounting a challenge to the corporate and government reformers must become their over-riding priority.
When faced with a common adversary the best strategy is always to unite all those who share a common interest. It is time for the leaders of each and every organization that is committed to public education to step up and find ways to work together to provide the American people with a reason to hope. If we can give them something in which they can believe the people will stand with their children’s teachers. Together, we can reject the forces that are striving to usurp the will of the American people to the great disadvantage of our children.
The future of teachers, public education, and the American people are at stake and the consequences for our failure to stem the tide will be tragic beyond description. In my book, Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream: The Challenge For Twenty-First Century America, I offer a blueprint of a plan to create a new reality in education.