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Voices: Looking back and looking forward

As part of an ongoing series on recruiting, training and supporting teachers, Donnell-Kay fellow Sarah Jenkins reflects on what she has learned this year and makes resolutions for things she wants to learn in 2014.

Writing a weekly blog as the current fellow at the Donnell-Kay Foundation has opened my eyes to the variety of research and opinions in education. On one hand, digesting the amount of education research that exists could keep anyone occupied indefinitely. On the other hand, the diversity of opinions encourages me to continue to make my own voice heard, while listening to and considering dissenting views.

In light of the spirit of reflection that accompanies the closing of another year, this week I am sharing the top three lessons that I’ve learned since beginning my blog as well as my top three hopes for my work in the new year.

Three lessons:

1. Despite the survey that revealed the higher than expected status of teachers in the United States, reader comments suggested that teacher status is much more nuanced than the report suggests. Regardless of the public perception of teacher pay, it remains a critical issue with the power to drive excellent teachers from the profession. Readers want to see that majority who respects teachers to be more vocal, rather than allowing those who don’t trust teachers to be the center of attention.

2. Disagreement with thinking and respectful questioning of conclusions opens up education for refreshing conversation that is solutions oriented and demonstrates appropriate dialogue for our children. These are the conversations that are meaningful and will lead to an improved education system. Unfortunately, education debate can be saturated with personal attacks. Attacking an individual leads to a polarized system, never creates solutions, and is a disservice to the children of our state.

3. The idea of adjusting the education system in light of its younger majority is uncomfortable and, to many, foolish. Reader comments brought up thoughtful points around the reliability and use of data, the changes that occur as a generation ages, and how having children could impact educational views. Shifts in thinking may occur, but it would be foolish to assume that the economic and social realities present when Millennials launched their careers will not have a lasting impact on the country as a whole, including on the educational system.

Three aspirations:

1. Teachers want to understand the system in which they are operating. As the education system exists, teachers have little time to be aware of and active in the functioning of the larger system, and it may not be desirable to remove teachers from their classroom commitments and take on

I want to look into what is available for teachers to participate or simply be better informed about the system. (How can existing teachers engage, and how can we increase flexibility?)

2. I want to learn more about how many teachers are currently involved in policy work – and what is the difference in their skill set versus those of politicians?

3. I want to hear from more teachers. I’ve learned a lot by listening to teachers and want to be able to share a greater diversity of teacher opinion (all over the spectrum).

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.

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