Talking education with Doug Jones

I was proud to be included among a group of teachers and administrators who were invited to talk education with Doug Jones, the Democratic candidate for US Senate in Alabama. Jones is running against former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore to fill the seat vacated by now-US Attorney General Jeff Sessions. I also spoke to the media after the meeting.

Prior to his candidacy, Jones was perhaps best known for re-opening the Sixteenth Street Church Bombing case and winning the convictions of two former Ku Klux Klansmen. The election is December 12.



What does teacher advocacy look like?

This year, in my Professional Learning Plan, I have two goals, one that is fairly mundane and one that is more interesting. A Professional Learning Plan, usually called a PLP, contains a teacher’s annual professional development goals, and it is required by Alabama’s statewide Teaching Effectiveness program. That first goal this year is to improve my use of technology, since I recently got some textbook samples for English 12, and all of them were heavy on tech-based resources. Although I’m no technophobe, I am a red-pen-on-paper kind of grader, and that may not be possible with these new web-based textbooks and resources. So, I’m trying to get with the program.

It is the second goal that will be more challenging: to research ways that a classroom teacher can advocate for himself and his school. In the era of accountability laws and Waiting for Superman, countering those narratives has been necessary. However, most discussions of advocacy by teachers go in other directions. There’s plenty of talk on how to advocate for students (low-income, English second-language, minority, abused/neglected), for families (migrant, minority, low-income), for curriculum (inclusive, culturally responsive), and for worker’s rights (unions, professional organizations, etc.) But what if I’m not advocating for someone else? I want to know: how does a classroom teacher speak out publicly, on campus and off campus, in a respectful and professional way, to ensure that his own school, his own programmatic offerings, and his own classroom situation are preserved, respected, and valued by people who make decisions about staffing and funding?

Any competent classroom teacher will have queries to make and concerns to share – about school culture, course offerings, teacher units, facilities – so how should that happen? Teachers tend to use our unions – NEA or AFT – for resolving disputes and our PTAs for creating on-campus parent involvement. Yet, so far as I can see, there is no institution, organization, or structure that is designed and utilized for helping teachers communicate the realities on the ground to administrators and legislators who are making policy. As teachers, we’re told to use formative assessments to detect our students’ potential problems in advance, because identifying failure at the summative assessment phase is too late. And that’s the spirit of my inquiry: how can classroom teachers participate in respectful, productive formative assessments of current and prospective regulations and policies, to identify both what is working and what is not?

Throughout the year, I’ll be doing some research on this, and I’d be glad to hear from anyone who has an idea to share about it.