Teacher’s Voice part 1 – Let me in

I wrote a letter to a few of the education reform groups here.  I got some great responses. What follows is part one of my reflections. 

Over the summer, Philadelphia School Partnership head Mark Gleason was nice enough to ask me to coffee.  He had no reason to do so and, in fact, I’m kinda a jerk to his organization.  He even bought the coffee1 and avoided the PSP’s usual arsenal of weaponized cliches2.  To add to the pleasantries, we spend most of our time agreeing.

Gleason started off with a pretty damning criticism:  Was teacher voice and agency, my biggest complain with PSP’s agenda, taken seriously in my school and my union?   Nothing to say there but agree.  And hey!  He’s not in love with test scores and teachers should decide a lot of things.  But, every time I brought up ideas like “and I think we should have a well payed building engineer” things got awkward

It’s tempting to end this with “good talk, agree to disagree”.  It was a good talk, and I like agreeing.  But I can’t.  I don’t need or want people to agree with me 100% of the time.  I’m not angry because people don’t agree with me.  I’m angry because the same people calling for “more teacher input” are equally committed to making sure we have no input on what’s most important.  Offering a false choice and calling it “input” is recklessly disingenuous.

When a student is acting up, I’ll offer them input on what seat they want – just not a seat near their friend3.  I offer my kids the choice or reading and then writing or writing and then reading – but the actual events are set.  My parents allowed me to eat salad before or after dinner.  My cat is all about my input – I should feel free to rub her head or rub her belly. 4

And if I was a child5 this would be acceptable.  But it is offensive to call for more teacher voice if you are only willing to listen on the questions that haven’t been decided or, dare I say, bought.  Asking for my input on cars so long as it’s a sedan, allowing  me design a lesson plan so long as it includes the textbook you bought, this isn’t voice and this isn’t input.  As I wrote, “pushing someone off a cliff but letting them pick the color of the body-cast”.

You can ask for my opinion.  You can disagree.  But you cannot turn my voice into a bubble test.

“Agreeing to disagree” is a privilege.  When your school has a guidance counselor and your boss isn’t threatening your rent money, it’s easy to walk away with a smile.   Maybe next time we’ll get lattes.6

I could keep trying to change minds, and I will.  But I’m not sure my arguments are good enough, and my checks don’t have enough zeroes at the end, and the law deems me as a teacher in a “city of the first class” which somehow makes me a second class employee.

So teachers.  Any teacher who is reading this:

You should have a say in things.  Not the only word, but a word.  And that word should have weight.  If Power is invites you to contribute in one corner, ask for the whole room.  And if they are not willing to listen, if they have already made their mind and have turned you into some step in a pre-written narrative, leave.  Flip the table and walk out.  That goes for any power.

Don’t “agree to disagree” your way into nothingness.  We have a voice and a story.  Tell it. 7.


  1. However!  He ordered water for himself.  At 7:30am, on a Monday.  Cyborg-Vampire CONFIRMED 

  2. “Why are you chasing an anti-union agenda” “The only agenda WE are chasing is for great schools.” “Ok but you have a sketchy funders” “The ONLY sketchy thing here is why schools only graduate 50% of their kids.” “But what about peer reviewed research saying the schools you support are shams” “The only peers WE are interested are the peers of children who used to be in failing schools and are now going to college.” Make it stop.  

  3. “The only seats WE should be talking about are high performing seats” Ok, Ok, I get it 

  4. Grading, however, is out of the question. 

  5. or if reformers were cuddly felines who kept mice away 

  6. “The only thing WE order is a hot glass of rising test scores, served with a frosty, whipped topping of teacher accountability and a side of-” get out of my head GET OUT OF MY HEAD 

  7. And, if you are reading this on the day it is published, a strong way to do that is to VOTE 

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