Why Your Teacher’s Voice Is Vital
Every child deserves a quality education. Teachers, who are in the classroom with students every day, have up-to-the-minute information about how students are succeeding or struggling, how well curriculums are working, and what kinds of challenges students are facing. Despite this, they often feel left out of the conversations around education policy. Politicians may have good intentions when proposing education policies, but they aren’t working with kids directly and can be out of touch with what schools and teachers need to best serve students. Here’s how teachers can influence education policy and make a difference.
Why Education Policy Is So Important
Politicians often leverage education issues in their election platforms. Parents are highly invested in making sure schools are effective and supportive so their kids can get the best possible education. Without education policy, inequalities among students would grow larger and larger. Once an education policy is set, it can be difficult to change—which is why these updates need to be considered carefully.
Teachers are extremely busy, being actively involved in the classroom all day and grading or finishing lesson plans after school. Many simply don’t have the bandwidth to get involved with education policy. The good news is that getting teachers’ voices heard doesn’t have to be all that time-consuming. There are ways teachers can get involved that won’t add lots of extra responsibilities to their full plates.
1. Staying Informed
To influence education policy, teachers need to stay informed about the policies that are in the works and how they might affect students. It’s important for teachers to not only have an overview of what’s going on in education policy but also an understanding of the different arguments and perspectives surrounding these policies . Dr. Jana Hunzicker, an associate Dean and associate professor of Teacher Education at Bradley University, stresses this point :
First and foremost, it is important for teachers to be informed. They have to understand all perspectives of an issue in order to make a case for the teacher/classroom perspective. This allows teachers to influence education policies in a way that is mutually beneficial to all stakeholders.
The bottom line is that teachers can’t just talk about what they are seeing in their own classrooms and expect to influence change. They have to know about the different discussions and concerns that are coming up surrounding educational policy and how to align with other players to accomplish the most important goals.
2. Questioning Proposed Changes And Thinking Critically
While some changes are absolutely needed in education to better serve students, it’s important for teachers to think critically about education policy and to question which changes are actually necessary. As Dr. Hunzincker points out,
Not all policies need to be changed. Education policy needs to be changed when there is evidence showing that the policy is no longer meeting the needs of stakeholders—in other words, the students that schools are in place to serve. Another consideration is equity. If evidence reveals that an education policy does not provide equitable opportunity for all students, changing that policy is likely to provide substantial benefits.
It’s easy for teachers to get tunnel vision and to only think of the needs of the students right in front of them. But change is not always for the best. In many cases, teachers can influence policy by discussing why changes might be harmful instead of beneficial.
3. Having The Confidence To Speak Up
Many teachers want to talk about what they see in the classroom so that they can influence policy but don’t feel confident enough to do so. Dr. Hunzincker acknowledges that there are a number of challenges facing teachers who want to make a difference in education policy, including a lack of confidence:
Sometimes, teachers do not have a well-rounded perspective that takes into consideration the views of all stakeholders. Often, teachers don’t have access to decision-makers. Perhaps even more often, teachers do not feel confident speaking up and having their voices heard. Too often, teachers’ unions speak for all teachers, which I believe skews the message. Teachers as individuals, and teachers within different schools, in different states, and in different regions of the county, have a range of perspectives. It is a mistake to think that all teachers think alike or that all teachers hold the same positions on the same issues.
Simply realizing that they have something unique and valuable to offer when it comes to the future of education can be enough to get teachers excited about becoming involved. As individuals, they can enact more meaningful change, rather than speaking through teachers’ unions. The power of individual storytelling can be powerful in creating political change. Women’s voices, in particular, need to be elevated and used in creating new policies.
4. Safety And Equality Are Key Issues
Although there are many issues getting attention in education policy, Dr. Hunzincker emphasizes that there are two major issues that need immediate attention: equality and safety.
Inequitable school funding has been a pressing and unresolved issue as long as I have been in the field of education, which has been my entire career. American public schools continue to be comprised of “haves” and “have nots.” School governance is also a policy that remains unresolved. Schools are under state governance with local school boards governing directly, but the federal government is beginning to take greater control. A third issue is school safety. The deterioration of respect for authority nationwide has trickled down to disrespect for principals and teachers. As a result, schools are seeing more classroom management issues and student discipline referrals. In addition to making students and teachers less safe, even the students who want to learn are not always able to do so.
Students, teachers, and parents are all concerned about access to resources and opportunities. Additionally, safety concerns extend not only to classroom management but to horrific incidents like school shootings. Many politicians are so out of touch with these issues that they continue to be problems without solutions. They are also often used as tools to advance a party’s political agenda, instead of as part of an ethical leadership plan.
Teachers can offer valuable input on these critical concerns. They know more about their students’ lives at school than even their parents. They know what challenges their individual schools are facing. These are problems that need to be addressed now, rather than discussed over and over again and never tackled.
Teachers Know What Their Students Need
No one is more qualified to speak up on education policy than teachers. That’s why it’s so important to empower them and encourage them to share their stories. Once a policy change has been made, teachers will be obligated to follow it. It only makes sense that they have the opportunity to weigh in on these policies and influence them.
Unfortunately, teachers have to be proactive in speaking up. Lawmakers will propose policies with or without the input of educators who are in the classroom every day. It’s important to hold them accountable and give them information that’s based on the true needs of students.
 Jana Hunzicker