An introduction

Hi! My name is Kathreen Harrison. I’ve been working as a teacher off and on – mostly on – my entire adult life. I got hooked on thinking about education as a high school student in a wonderful, experimental high school and have never been unhooked! I love nothing more than working on my teaching and thinking about how to make schools serve students and society better.

Lately I have been struck by what seems to be a groundswell of interest on the part of Americans toward our education system. Everyone seems to be talking about childhood and schools.  We hear in the media from scientists who study the brain, from Tiger Moms who write about parenting, from psychologists who research what makes some students succeed while others fail, and who look at the power of language to encourage or discourage achievement. We also hear loud and clear from politicians who campaign for new ways of grading students, new ways of organizing curriculum, and new ways of training teachers. For education junkies all of this attention is a bonanza! We can hardly keep up.

One group we don’t hear a lot from in the media is the teachers themselves. I find this reflects what goes on inside many school systems, where administrators, school board members, and specialists in all kinds of curriculum areas dominate the discussion of what’s working and not working in schools. In many schools teachers are rarely asked to weigh in on issues on any meaningful level. This neglect may arise partly from the sheer complexity of running big, unwieldy school systems where communication takes considerable effort.

The other half of the picture is that teachers in our culture – and even within our school systems – are generally viewed as a mediocre lot. We’re not ambitious, or we’d be administrators. We’re not intellectuals, or we’d be working in colleges. Except …  some of us are ambitious. We think endlessly about how to do better at our work. And some of us are intellectuals. We read and study a lot with the goal of understanding the interplay between growing minds and complex social systems. So I think teachers should be encouraged to play a role in the dialogue about school improvement. In fact I think teachers and administrators should together play the pivotal role – which is exactly what happens in most successful school districts.

On the most basic level, inviting teachers to be part of the solution to the problems of our schools makes sense. Attempts at reform will not work if the teachers don’t buy in. And the chances of teacher buy-in are slim if they feel marginalized in the schools where they spend their working lives.

So let’s start talking with the teachers now, both within schools and in the media. And while we’re at it, let’s ask parents and students to give voice to their ideas about improving schools too. It’ll take everyone to turn things around – and the time is right. While Americans are thinking about education let’s make sure all stakeholders in the system are put to work helping to implement change.