True: My Quest to Reclaim My Voice

Eight months. That’s how long I went without writing.  I lost all confidence after joining some teacher “collaboratives” that purported to empower teacher-writers. Instead, I found my voice silenced by a subtle and patronizing attempt to co-opt authentic teacher voice as a tool to promote the corporate education policy agenda.

stealing our voice

I joined these collaboratives because of my understanding of the word “collaborate”. Collaboration suggests to me mutual support and growth, like I experienced in the teacher blogging community when I was writing in the UK. Teacher bloggers there have formed collective blogs like The Education Echo Chamber, and use dedicated education forums like to post ideas and extend their dialog through long streams of comments and responses. Then, they share and discuss each other’s blogs on Twitter, engaging in honest, funny, and often rancorous debates about education issues.

The edublogging community has influenced UK education policy, and even been accused of exerting too much influence on the political process. I think they were able to do this because their community was formed by teachers without the “support” of corporate donors and foundations.

Here’s my story of what can happen when teacher voice is being “elevated” by a corporate sponsored entity, with a surprise twist ending that contradicts everything I’ve said so far:

One such collaborative asked me to share a draft post with one of their mentors, so that she could give me feedback. I was dubious, since mentorship does not fit my definition of collaboration, but I was compliant, as a good teacher should be. I shared a draft of a piece I’d written that detailed how I had been passed over for a SCORE teacher fellowship in favor of candidates with less experience, and included my overly-honest and not-in-line-with-the-corporate-agenda answers to the highly leading questions on the SCORE application.

One of the collaborators, whose role was to elevate my voice, suggested: “Consider writing full posts like this and sharing them with a trusted colleague or friend (or one of us at NBC). Then, consider revising the post to make your points without being accusatory.”

Sorry, but censorship is not part of my definition of collaboration, either.

Another advised: “Since your expertise is with special education and advocacy, we’re guessing you would have stronger pieces if you stick to topics on which you are clearly an expert and remind yourself of the purpose of every post.” and “Additionally, if you decide to provide solutions, think about extremely realistic and reasonable suggestions that any reader could walk away and take action on. This is how we will bring change to the issues in education that we value the most.”

In case you didn’t catch the meaning, here’s my translation: “You are just a teacher. Your decades of experience in your field give you no authority to comment on larger issues of education policy and reform. Leave that to the big boys, like Bill Gates and John King. Stick to the minutiae of your daily teaching activities. Your readers should only be teachers, who should be realistic about their limited ability to affect change, who should only be interested in small, reasonable changes within their capacity.”

The mentors then stopped replying to my follow-up questions. Put squarely in my place, I quietly retreated to my classroom for the next eight months.

Remember that I promised a surprise twist ending:  Recently, I took those same SCORE application responses and reworked them for a teacher voice fellowship with America Achieves, expecting the same results I had from SCORE, especially since, while I have never (until now) publicly criticized SCORE, I have included criticisms of America Achieves in my past articles and blogs. To my surprise, I was accepted into their statewide fellowship, and attended a supportive and informative convening to learn how to more effectively advocate and elevate my voice. The America Achieves organizers were shockingly open to diverse opinions, and I have to give them some credit for helping me to recover my voice.

So, I guess the “extremely realistic and reasonable suggestions that any reader could walk away and take action on” are:

1. Stay true – there are some entities that now seem to be receptive to authentic teacher advocacy, and I suspect it’s happening because others didn’t succumb to the self-doubt I did. Teachers who have elevated their own voices and refused to parrot the talking points of the reform machine have not let up, and the message is finally getting through: We don’t need anyone to tell us what’s wrong with current education or how to change it. We just need some of those wealthy and powerful non-educators to quit undermining our voices.

2. Be wary – doublespeak abounds in the education policy world and it’s easy to fall victim to false teacher elevation claims. Despite my recent positive experience, I wouldn’t have lost my voice in the first place had I been more wary early on.

and, above all:

3. Collaborate – no sponsors needed. Let’s create our own forums and meet-ups to elevate our voices and share our expertise without corporate sponsorship or guidance. I welcome honest and open comments here, especially if you’ve had experiences with sponsored teacher elevation groups that have been different from mine.

I’d like to hear your voice.




The End, or a New Beginning?

The notebooks
Whether I blog or not, the notebooks continue to fill…

I started this blog about ten months ago to document my thoughts and discoveries along my Fulbright journey. Now that the journey is over, I’m reflecting on what I’ve gained from the blogging experience, and wondering if it is worth continuing now that I have gone back to my busy life of teaching and farming and homeschooling (though that last journey may be almost over, too.)

I’m sure I will continue to read blogs, because I’ve found so many book recommendations, resources, and links to new research findings through the ones I’ve been reading this year. I’m also sure I’ll read fewer British education blogs, though, because I now feel that I could happily live the rest of my life without ever again reading the word ‘Ofsted’- the name of the dreaded English government agency that inspects schools and grades teacher lessons and, apparently, simply cannot blogged about enough. I recognize that the pugnaciousness of bloggers led to to changes in the way Ofsted grades teacher lessons, and have a made a mental note of their strategies to affect change, but my world is too removed from theirs to muster up much enthusiasm for the fight.

I will keep following some British blogs, like Diary of a Not So Ordinary Boy and Milk with Two because they offer perspectives about teaching and learning that transcend the ever-shifting political world of education in England. I’m excited to keep following the blogs of fellow Fulbright Distinguished Award teachers as they journey to other countries, like Mikä Estää in Finland and iSPED 2 Singapore.  I also like blogs that help me keep up-to-date on educational research findings, like Larry Cuban in School Reform and Practice and From Experience to Meaning. I would like to follow more international education blogs, especially those addressing secondary special education, if anyone has suggestions.

I spent several hours over the weekend picking through blogs to see which still apply to my interests, and will help me in my ongoing journey to improve both my personal teaching and my advocacy for quality education in my community. I’m not finding as many as I had hoped, so I’m asking for suggestions, and maybe some of the answers will be helpful to others out there, too.

I’m on the lookout for American teacher blogs that will:

  • connect with my interests in special education, rural education, and lifelong learning
  • connect with American and Tennessee teachers to discuss ways to take charge of our educational reform from a grassroots level
  • empower and promote teachers as agents-of-change within our systems
  • inspire and support each other through sharing resources, books, and research findings

Whether I blog or not, I continue to write. I have several pieces about inclusive education, blended learning, and teachers-as-reformers, in addition to more observations of the schools I visited in England, Finland and Germany rolling around in my head and in my crazy notebooks of ideas. Writing is something of a compulsion for me – it helps me process my thoughts.

In favor of blogging, I think that I do my research and consider my opinions more thoroughly when I know that I’m going to publish. In that way, it helps me become more confident that I am working toward efforts that I truly believe in. But there are drawbacks as well.  Obviously, it consumes my time. but more than that, it exposes my self-doubts. Both teaching and writing are part of an ongoing journey of learning and self-improvement for me. When I read other teacher blogs, I enjoy those that are using the medium to flesh out ideas and improve their thought processes. But I have seen how they open themselves to the meanness that is rampant on the internet. That fear looms over me when I think of posting, and I censor my thoughts too closely. So, if I continue blogging, it will only be that I have decided to let go of my fear of other’s judgments and experiment more on the edges of new ideas or tentatively held opinions, with the objective of getting more feedback from my readers.

And I would definitely continue blogging if some of my fellow teachers and parents in Tennessee would join me in a mutual blogging community where we could share ideas and take the lead on education reform in our schools. We don’t have to agree. In fact, I like to debate ideas and listen to people who think differently from me. I do want to share with people who have some manners, though, so we ought to agree to show respect in our comments and conversations. I encourage disagreement and questioning in my comments section, but ask that you use the same rules of civilized conversation you would use in face-to-face debate. I also ask that you include your criticisms either in my comments or on your blog with a link to me, so that I can respond. I promise to follow the same guidelines with you. Anybody in?