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Letters


Whither Teachers?
Trying to Be Heard

To the Editor:
I applaud Mary Beth Blegen's Commentary "Where Are the Teachers?" (March 5, 2003). In fact, not only do I agree with this essay, but I serve as the director of an initiative that has been actively engaged in including the teacher's voice in education policymaking for the past seven years. Specifically, the Teachers Network Policy Institute-a group comprising more than 150 teacher leaders in affiliates across the United States-was established in 1996 by Teachers Network to connect education policy with actual classroom practice in order to improve student achievement.

Over the past several years, the TNPI MetLife fellows-teachers with full-time classroom-teaching responsibilities-have conducted "action" research in their classrooms and schools, developed policy recommendations based on their research findings, documented their work in papers and publications, and disseminated this work locally and nationally. To get the word out, the fellows also join influential task forces, give presentations to districts and school boards, and participate in major conferences.

TNPI is bridging the gap among teachers, researchers, and policymakers by transforming teachers into researchers and policy-influencers, and by engaging institutional researchers and policymakers in teachers' work. By assuming leadership positions and obtaining appointments to task forces, fellows have become major policy-influencers in their schools, districts, unions, and at state and national levels.

While participating in our policy institute is not yet an opportunity open to every teacher, the initiative has doubled in size in the last two years and now represents affiliates in 10 locales throughout the nation. We expect to add several new affiliates during the next year.
The genesis of the institute was in 1989, when the first President Bush and the nation's governors, including then-Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas, held the first national education summit and not one teacher was invited. At the Charlottesville, Va., meeting, the teacher's voice-that which is daily and most directly informed through what actually works with students in real classrooms-was wholly absent from the conversation on the future of American education.

Once the teachers' network was established, however, one of the things we quickly learned was that the teacher's voice alone is not enough to bring to the policymaking table: Teachers also need to be able to speak policymakers' language and provide real data to buttress policy recommendations. Action research provides this data-and serves as the catalyst for teachers to have open and constructive conversations with policymakers about what needs to happen in schools for meaningful change to take place.

While individual fellows' action-research studies vary, the heart of the teachers' research has remained constant: to examine what it will take to ensure teacher quality; specifically, what it will take to recruit and retain high-quality teachers. Along these lines, the fellows recently authored a book, Ensuring Teacher Quality, which has been disseminated to 5,000 superintendents and policymakers. It distills the fellows' findings to four education reform recommendations:

  • Engage teachers in designing and implementing effective professional development;

  • Provide time in the school schedule for teacher collaboration to improve instruction and student learning;

  • Re-envision the teaching profession as a continuum beginning in preservice and persisting through a lifetime of growth; and

  • Include teachers in the decisionmaking process about school resources, specifically time and money.

This full report, summary versions of fellows' action research, and more information about TNPI are all available online on Teachers Network's Web site at:

http://teachersnetwork.org/tnli.

Mary Beth Blegen is right. The process of change begins with teachers. The burning question, however, is not "Where are the teachers?" but rather, "In what ways can the teacher's voice be successfully brought to the table and included, on an ongoing basis, in education decisionmaking?"

Ellen Meyers
Senior Vice President
Teachers Network
New York, N.Y.

 

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