Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Finding My "Teacher Voice"

October 05, 2011

Whether or not you are a teacher, you probably have a sense of what it means to have a “teacher voice.”  It’s that way a great teacher can say something to her student, at the same time conveying a host of unspoken messages from disapproval to pride. This honed voice of clarity and conviction is a common characteristic of the teachers I respect most. 

The teacher voice I have considered during the past few days, however, is not the one educators use with their students. Instead, I’ve been thinking about how teachers like me can communicate solutions for improving our students’ achievement. As a participant in NBC’s Education Nation summit, I’ve been delighted to see thought leaders and decision makers focused on education. I’ve also noticed that most of their conversations are missing the commanding voice of teachers.

To the experts grappling with the problems of education, I ask that you include us in your conversations.  Find effective teachers, and ask us questions. We will tell you the qualities of principals who are leading schools to greatness and the ways we’ll use new technology. On Tuesday afternoon, President Clinton remarked that every tough problem in education has been solved before. Teachers and principals have already flipped the achievement gap on its head, and if you ask we’ll tell you how. (As a Teaching Policy Fellow at Teach Plus, I know that policymakers find advice from results-oriented teachers valuable – and often surprising.)

When you ask, ask many of us. I’ll tell you exactly what works for my students if I know you don’t expect me to speak for everyone in my profession. Excellent instruction comes in many forms, so we need different supports to help our students succeed. When you hear us all agree, you’ll know how to help us most. 

And please, ask difficult questions. Our craft requires tackling complex problems every day, so demand that we share how we do it. When you ask simple questions, you allow us to answer in ways that don’t move education forward. Joe Scarborough, the feisty host of Morning Joe, pushed back on Newark Mayor Cory Booker until he gave a meaty answer about education in his city – but teachers in the Town Hall were never challenged to go deeper.  

Behind the scenes of Education Nation, some leaders did find educators to answer their toughest questions.  These are the folks who know that the public conversation is changing from whether we can improve education to how we are going to do it. They know that educators have to be a loud voice in that conversation, and they are asking to hear it.

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