Amanda Slaten Frasier: Teachers Are Not Meant to Be Martyrs
Amanda Slaten Frasier is a former teacher. Her piece for Education Week looks at her journey, and how she entered with doubts about her fitness to enter a PhD program focused on education policy.
In hindsight, how absurd it seems that a teacher may question their fitness for the realm of education policy! Yet, there I was, doubting whether it was “appropriate” for someone like me to be there.
That forced her to look at a system that considers teachers outsiders in the guidance of their own field.
Teachers deserve better access to education decisionmaking. I do not mean that in the trite way people often say that “educators should be in charge of education.” I am not calling for more tokenism with a teacher or two appointed to a committee. I am not calling for a footbridge linking classroom and policy but rather an entire highway system that facilitates the connection between the actual work of teaching and education policies.
Nothing about the conditions of my work as a classroom teacher allowed me the time or space to engage with education policy. This needs to change. Nothing in my teacher-preparation program was geared toward engaging with policy. This, too, needs to change. Teachers should not have to leave the classroom to feel like they can interact with policy. It should be part and parcel of the work of teaching.
But she also notes that teachers themselves consider policy work something that happens “over there” but the effects are felty over here.
When I was still in the classroom, policy seemed to be something done to me. It felt personal. What was expected of me one day seemed to change the next with a new churn of policy, and, often, policy requirements seemed at odds with each other.
Frasier calls for more involvement of teachers in policy issues.
So, I am writing this now to say that when teachers speak out, they are not waving at you. They are drowning in front of you. Teachers need more power. They are the street-level bureaucrats carrying out the work on the ground. If policies are going to be successfully implemented in a practical context, then teachers need to be given the time and the space to reconcile the requirements with their own practice.
And teachers need to be better prepared for that. The finish to the piece is powerful.
Teacher educator programs need to better prepare teachers for the onslaught of policy that they will face from all levels of governance. Teaching is a political process, and teachers enter the field unprepared for that reality.
Researchers need to recognize the need for more pragmatic research and advocacy on what happens when “the rubber meets the road.”
In short, teachers don’t need a seat at the table. Teachers need everyone, themselves included, to realize that they own the table.