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Why Don't Those Teachers Own Their Profession Already?

Hypothetically speaking, let's say a subset of all teachers decided to go against their district's wishes, teaching their curriculum according to a mix of research and expertise, but masking it under the name of the latest district buzzword. Would you blame them for not outright fighting against their administration's wishes or congratulate them for "owning" their profession?

Of course, that's a trick question because it largely depends on your lens.

One of the larger problems with the idea of owning the teaching profession is the idea of ownership and the power structure of what it means to own. Men (and I do say men on purpose) get on podiums and demand teachers to stop complaining and own their profession, assuming that, with all things equal, teachers can just take the reins of the job with equal regard for their own autonomy and federal / state / district requirements.

Umm, not so much.

If anything, this is a patriarchial view of things. Questions like "Why don't teachers own their profession?", "Why are teachers just letting this happen?" or "Why are teachers finally becoming awake to what's happening?" strips us, intentionally or otherwise, of our own agency, as if we didn't either individually or collectively resist when necessary (and didn't get fired often for doing so). In the long history of this thing we call "revolt" or whatever have you, people often had to do things underhandedly in order to build up to moments of more overt protest. Creative and masked, teachers have always found ways to do their best given the circumstances. Trends like "the workshop model," "differentiation," and "multiple intelligences" have come and gone and haven't worked, but, somehow, teachers keep teaching, not because they've sat there and taken it, but because they've found ways to use their experience to make it work for them.

As such, ownership in the profession assumes two things: a) teachers don't already feel like they have a stake in their jobs or b) the current "owners" of education, specifically schooling, would willingly give up more than a minority sharehold of their ownership in this. Under paradigm a, which too many people on many sides of the argument work from, teachers are simply objects in the work of education, working without any tangible value for ourselves, all for the owners. Under paradigm b, which some also work from, people shift the idea of "ownership" on teachers, as if we don't want to do the best jobs possible, have a voice in how we operate, and be seen as experts in our craft.

The answers are much more difficult. Perhaps writing about us from a cushion in an ivory tower or a beach house works for some, but it won't work for me. If you'd like our opinions on ownership, ask us. Otherwise, asking the aforementioned questions, regardless of intent, only makes you as good as the people who you seek to work against.

Own up to that.

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6 Comments

Jan Ogino commented on April 13, 2014 at 2:30pm:

This May Be Our Time

It is ironic you should write this today or I should say at this time.  My state (Arizona) is leading in policies and bills to undermine public education to the point where they are giving away public education funds to any individual who wants to go to a private school or homeschool.  This is after 5 straight years of legislative cuts to public education to the tune of $1 billion.  They also lead the way in giving public funds to charters.  In fact they give away more money per student to charters than to public school students.  In order to compete with charter schools and their singular focus, like STEM, public school districts have been able to charter some of their schools to focus on singular designs as well and have been succeeding.  Now the legislature is closing that very loophole and will cut the funds to district charters. The law's language was specifically designed to spur competition with public schools and to encourage public schools to improve instruction.  Now that it is working, the legislature showed its true colors: that it just wants to get rid of public schools.  To make matters worse, our superintendent of public education, encourages these legislative moves.  

And yet, public school teachers, in general are quiet, playing victims to their circumstances.  I decided 4 years ago after nearly dying from A Fib caused by Graves Disease, I wasn't playing the victim and began owning my profession. Coincidentally, I began voluntarily field testing the Common Core State Standards in my classroom and lo and behold, it freed me to teach without encumberances and most importantly, it freed the students to think without fear of failure.  It wasn't just the standards, it was me.  I defied district curriculum mandates, was kicked of district curriculum writing teams, wrote to the superintendent about the districts failures, and began to own my profession in ways I didn't think possible. And I am still gainfully employed by that same district.  Why?  Because my students are succeeding and so am I.  And I do have the support of my site administrator, which is huge.  However, no one can argue when students are succeeding and exceeding.  

This is the time to own our profession.  We know what we need to do to succeed.  We can no longer let states, districts, and administrators lead us to failure because they have forgotten what it takes to teach our children.  No one else cares but us.  It is our time.

Dawn Koberstein commented on April 14, 2014 at 11:21pm:

Passion!

Well said!  I appreciated your passion and your eagerness to push forward . . . to do what is best for kids!

 

Katherine commented on April 13, 2014 at 2:30pm:

ELA

Well-said!  

Deidra Gammill commented on April 13, 2014 at 4:01pm:

Sometimes ownership is not enough

I agree, it's time for teachers to take a stand. But I'd argue that we already "own" our profession; we're just not allowed to do much with it.

I own my home but live in a historic district. So I cannot make cosmetic changes, chose my paint color, modify or destroy outside structures, or even build a fence without the approval of the historic committee, put in place by our city and state government. I may "own" my home, but I face severe penalties and hefty fines if I defy the committee's guidelines and go my own way.

Sometimes ownership is not enough to give autonomy. I would argue that our profession must come together in solidarity, presenting a united front to our state legislatures and the federal government, and only then will the tide begin to turn in ways that really matter. If only a few are willing to stand, then I'm afraid those few will be swept away by the status quo. As a profession, we need to heed the words of Ben Franklin: "We must all hang together or assuredly we shall all hang separately."

Lanelle Gordin commented on April 14, 2014 at 12:10pm:

Well Said

""Under paradigm a, which too many people on many sides of the argument work from, teachers are simply objects in the work of education, working without any tangible value for ourselves, all for the owners. Under paradigm b, which some also work from, people shift the idea of "ownership" on teachers, as if we don't want to do the best jobs possible, have a voice in how we operate, and be seen as experts in our craft."

This is the best description I have read of the issue of "ownership" by teachers as it now stands. It is very disheartening when yet another innovation comes along and districts make a sudden shift regarding what is important, and teachers are expected to give up everything they know and start over...and then are labeled as difficult or resistant if they don't immediately embrace the new initiative. I've watched the cycle for decades. 

I also agree that we need to go beyond ownership to autonomy and to actively engage in the decision-making process as educational policy and practice is developed. This is a new paradigm altogether, and paradigm changes are always difficult. I believe the transition has begun and we must be diligent to keep the transition going in a positive direction. I believe it can be done with caring, responsible, competent, conscientious teachers behind it. And, we need to get forward thinking administrators on board as well and leverage their influence for positive change. There are administrators at every level who fit this bill, though they may not be in the majority at this time.

Let's all hang together, so that we do not hang separately (Ben Franklin, referenced in comment above.)

 

Renee Moore commented on April 14, 2014 at 6:40pm:

Long, history of passive resistance

I hope your post helps people understand a much misunderstood part of our professional lives: good teaching is often necessarily subversive. This part stood out to me:

Questions like "Why don't teachers own their profession?", "Why are teachers just letting this happen?" or "Why are teachers finally becoming awake to what's happening?" strips us, intentionally or otherwise, of our own agency, as if we didn't either individually or collectively resist when necessary (and didn't get fired often for doing so).

You just summed up the careers of many, many teachers--including many of the black teachers of the South both before and since integration. Once again in our history, doing what's best for students often comes at a terrible price for teachers. In the face of increasing pressure to use pre-packaged lessons or follow consultant provided scripts or software as test prep, veteran teachers in particular find themselves having to do real teaching in defiance of, rather than with the support of, district and school policy. 

I agree with the commenters above, there is a distinction between ownership and autonomy (taking charge) in our professional lives. The latter will require more of us to move out of our false sense of security behind our own classroom doors, and step deliberately and collectively into a more active role in policy and politics.

 

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