Now that Kevin Huffman has resigned as our Commissioner of Education, Tennessee educators nervously await the announcement of his replacement. Huffman left because he underestimated his need for the support of public school teachers and administrators, and everyone knew that we would no longer allow him to force his so-called reforms on us. Personally, I have decided that from here on out, I will not accept the authority of anyone other than a fat old lady. And here’s why:
I was once a decidedly apolitical teacher, hunkered down in my classroom with little awareness of education policy. Then, one fateful professional development day, who should show up as a keynote speaker but Mr. Huffman himself? Like most people, my first thought upon seeing him was “What could this baby-faced man possibly know about education?” Then he opened his mouth and I was politically charged from his first nasal-toned note of condescension, throughout his display of utter lack of knowledge of public schools, and up to his final words of disrespect for my profession.
Then, a succession of fat old ladies in the audience of teachers were given the chance to question him – with the hard, pointed questions derived from extensive knowledge, experience, and insight in the field of education. His uninformed responses skirted the issues and generally fell into the “Well, we’ve decided that the best course of action is… (insert buzzword+ statistical manipulation + edumyth, followed by platitude here.)”
During his reign, I noticed that Huffman’s team became ever more young, white, and male. At a Common Core training I attended this summer, several new young hires who were overseeing the training (which was at least primarily taught by women, including some fat old ladies) introduced themselves with rationalizations for their age and inexperience. They seemed kind and caring, but that just didn’t cut it with me. Once again, the comments and questions from teachers in the audience far outshined these boys’ knowledge and understanding of education. I must now insist that our leadership come from the cadre of fat old ladies who have been the real leaders in education all along, and it’s time for us to stop feeling inferior for being fat, old, and female.
Yeah, we’re fat. We don’t have time to work out or eat right because of all the late hours we spend grading papers, planning detailed lesson plans, and leading clubs and study groups. We stress eat because we’re worried about your kid, worried tomorrow’s lesson won’t go as planned, worried we aren’t doing a good enough job, and worried we’ll get a bad evaluation score. You name it, we’re obsessing about it because it matters to us personally. We’re also busy raising our own kids, managing households, and gaining all that life experience that help us understand the families we serve.
Yeah, we’re old. That’s how you get experience – from age. Kevin Huffman once commissioned a report that showed experience didn’t improve student achievement. It gave him fodder to propose eliminating pay raises for experience, but it was based on some pretty faulty premises, not the least of which was that scores on the TCAP test, a test which he has admitted himself to be weak, are a valid measure of student achievement. Plenty of other studies, including some that show the limitations of data like Huffman’s and a recent Dutch study show that experience does matter. (And then there’s just common sense, of course, which I’m also in favor of bringing back.)
Yeah, we’re women. In 2011, 84% of U.S. teachers were female and our profession has been overwhelmingly dominated by women for decades. We are the face of education, but you wouldn’t guess that from the panels of “experts” who dictate current education policy. We understand education and have learned from the successes and failures of years of cyclical initiatives. We understand our classrooms and our students. We know our schools and communities. We have honed our leadership skills with groups of unruly students.
It’s time for one of us to break out her best teacher-voice and take charge of education policy with the same strength and confidence she uses to take charge of her classroom.
Come on, ladies. It’s our time.