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Commentary: Teacher voice must lead policy

Teacher Jessica Keigan reflects back on her hybrid role this past year and says more teachers must be brought to the forefront in policymaking.

I love to eat out. In fact, for my 33rd birthday this year, I made a goal to visit 33 new Denver area restaurants. After a great meal out, I often think “I’d like to recreate that dish at home,” but truth be told, the reason I like to eat out is because I get to enjoy the expertise and gifts of the great chefs who are cooking for me. And even if I do try to cook a favorite dish, I would never go back to the restaurant and offer pointers to the head chef about how he is doing his job.

As a teacher, I think about this often, as I hear various individuals commenting on how teachers should do their jobs. Of course I had my opinions about how teaching worked prior to entering the classroom. I, like most people, am a product of the public school system, which means I had roughly 15,000 hours of classroom experience over my thirteen years as a student.

Now that I have finished my ninth year of teaching, I realize that my experiences as a student gave me as much information about how a teacher should do her job as eating at Duo qualifies me to bake award-winning pastries.

There is definitely room for a variety of voices in education. But the model needed for setting and implementing policy  is one where those who spend the most time in direct contact with students have the most say.

One way to create this model is to expand our understanding of how schools use hybrid teacher-leadership roles, which provide teachers with direct contact with students every day, but also the time and resources to lead their profession. Based on the ideas put forth in the book TEACHING 2030, these teacher leaders, or teacherpreneurs, would be responsible for a variety of tasks that are currently completed by disconnected individuals in the system. Teacherpreneurs have the opportunity to share their expertise as classroom teachers to benefit those who surround them.

I have had the incredible opportunity this year to live the life of a teacherpreneur. I teach every morning at Horizon High School in Adams 12 Five Star Schools and spend the other hours of my workday researching, writing and advocating on behalf of my Denver New Millennium Initiative team.

While it has not been without its challenges – teaching part-time is really a full-time endeavor – I have been struck on more than one occasion by the uniqueness of my voice in the policy world. This causes me to join with others who wonder or question why teacherpreneurism isn’t more prevalent.

A hybrid position is an elegant solution to the question that most teacher leaders have to ask themselves: Should the promotion of sound educational practices be limited to classroom instruction, or does a person have to leave the classroom to truly impact the system on a macro level?

Simply put, teachers and policymakers both have work to do to make sure we aren’t taking our best teachers away from students to meet the prevalent need of strong teacher voices in the policy sphere. Teachers need to become more aware of what is happening so that they can find arenas for their ideas and voices, from joining virtual conversations to participating in collaborative groups.

On the other hand, policymakers need to rethink the process for making decisions so that those who are in front of kids every day are afforded the time and opportunity to have a say.

The beauty of a hybrid role is that it allows teachers to be available for those conversations and allows the system to benefit from the ethos of a true expert. In every meeting, conference, interview and interaction I have had in my job this year, I came directly from teaching my 85 students. I had their names and needs in the front of my mind when making recommendations or suggestions about how the educational system could benefit each of them more.

There needs to be time devoted to studying how hybrid roles like mine can become more prevalent in this season of educational change and growth. After all, teachers do have a much higher percentage of time and experience in the classroom than those who are just products of the system.

We will likely surprise you with the creative and innovative solutions we have for the many challenges education faces in the future.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.