Photo courtesy of Educators for Excellence
By Evan Stone, Co-Founder and Co-CEO, Educators for Excellence
As education advocates and activists, we often celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week with kind words on social media and perhaps a small token honoring educators’ contributions to our society and our nation’s future. These gestures are well-intentioned, but they also seem a bit empty. What if, instead of handing out #1 Teacher mugs, we celebrated teachers’ expertise and listened to the changes they want for the profession and for their students? What if, instead of gifting tote bags, we worked with them to turn their ideas into action?
The idea that teachers should be true partners and leaders in the discussions that shape their classrooms and their careers is what spurred Sydney Morris and me to start Educators for Excellence (E4E) nearly eight years ago, and what continues to drive our work today. Nowhere is this more evident than in our latest national undertaking.
For the past few months, E4E teachers from across the country have been working together to shape a national teacher survey, which will touch on a wide range of topics, so that they can understand, analyze, and share the perspectives of their fellow educators on how to best improve student outcomes and elevate the teaching profession. By the end of the month, we’ll have some of our first results from this nationally representative survey, and we will use them to elevate the voices of educators and truly appreciate their perspectives.
The survey will give us insight into teachers’ thoughts on a number of current topics in education, such as the Janus vs. AFSCME case, which has the potential to dramatically impact teachers unions and public sector unions more broadly. While this issue has appeared in headlines in recent months, and policymakers of all stripes have shared their two cents, we’ve heard relatively little by comparison from the teachers whose day-to-day lives—and those of their students—will be impacted by this landmark decision.
If, as many expect, the Supreme Court rules against unions’ abilities to collect compulsory agency fees, striking a blow to their financial resources going forward, it will be more important than ever for teachers to weigh in on the issues their unions should be prioritizing. The unions’ ability to maintain—or even grow—their memberships and to remain powerbrokers in the education space will hinge on how well they listen to teachers and evolve to meet their needs.
We want to encourage unions to more deeply engage with the diverse perspectives of their members and hope that this survey will be a critical tool in advancing this work.
As we wait for the larger teacher survey results, last week we conducted a snap poll of more than 550 E4E members currently teaching Pre-K through 12th-grade students. When asked what the union could do to support teachers, not surprisingly, nearly 30 percent responded that that the union should fight harder for salary increases and improved benefits, an area in which unions have most often focused their efforts.
But what was more surprising, is that more than 70 percent of E4E teachers did not identify stronger advocacy around salary and benefits as the primary action unions should take to retain members. In fact, a majority of them urged unions to make it easier for teachers to be heard within their union (27 percent), to provide supportive professional development (18 percent), or to foster more a more collaborative relationship with district leadership (11 percent). Fifty-six percent of responding teachers asked not for big-ticket items, but instead for a shift in focus. They are interested in making their unions’ decisionmaking more democratic and responsive to members, in finding ways to work with district leaders to solve shared challenges, and in improving in their craft. These are the priorities of educators who are dedicated to their students and their profession.
Their voices deserve to be heard.
We will continue to ask teachers to weigh in on the issues that matter to them so that education leaders throughout the United States—including union leaders—have a fuller picture of teachers’ policy preferences and how to advocate for teachers’ priorities.
Hearing teachers is a key first step in showing them the professional respect they deserve, but we can’t stop there. Teachers deserve more than lip service; they deserve true partners working with them, side-by-side, to make the changes they are calling for a reality. This Teacher Appreciation Week, and every week, let’s show educators we truly appreciate them by treating them as the experts they are and working with them to strengthen our schools and elevate the profession.