Photo: Educators at the Capitol; Allyson Chick (TN), Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh (UT), Monica Stonier (WA), Brianna Crowley (PA), Dr. Maria Hyler (MD) and Peggy Brookins (FL)
by Colleen Flaherty
Allyson Chick is a Board-certified elementary school teacher from Memphis, Tennessee, and even at a Senate briefing discussing the teaching profession and Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization, she is a teacher first.
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“I’m on the front lines of education as a teacher, and this is something I know about learners—you can’t really absorb anything more than ten minutes at a time,” said Chick. As the fourth educator to speak that day, she led the room in some classroom exercises. “I need you to stretch, wiggle your fingers and wiggle your toes because I want to be heard desperately.”
Chick was joined by four fellow educators from who discussed their own experiences on teacher-led initiatives to evaluate and improve the teacher profession in hopes that Senators would learn from their example in the ongoing ESEA reauthorization.
As someone who represents new teachers, Chick refers to teachers who get through the first few years as survivors.
“Teachers are not always supported in the first five years. If you make it through five years, you are absolutely a survivor,” said Chick. In her school, colleagues got together on their own to help each other through evaluations and improving their practice.
“As teachers, we have to be trailblazers. If we want change, we have to be the change,” said Chick, who also stressed the importance of empowering teachers to lead their own professional development. “Do you know what the most valuable thing is to a teacher? Time. I want to be in charge of my professional growth and learning.”
Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh, a Utah teacher and president of the Utah Education Association, has been in education for four decades and has seen a disturbing trend.
“At some point, it wasn’t my profession any more. It’s a policy makers profession. It’s folks who don’t have any experience in education making significant decisions that impact students and the way I am able to practice, and that bothered me.” said Gallagher-Fishbaugh, who is also Board-certified.
She discussed the current ESEA, better known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB), and how the testing mandates have been ultimately destructive.
“Here’s the good thing that came out of NCLB—we were able to disaggregate data to see which issues were affecting which groups of students,” said Gallagher-Fishbaugh. “But instead of using testing data to improve instruction, we now use testing data to evaluate schools and teachers. We spend more time worrying how to fire teachers, and we don’t spend enough time figuring out how to support teachers in difficult circumstances.”
Brianna Crowley (pictured below), a Board-certified high school teacher from Pennsylvania, has been a teacher for seven years and came into a difficult course load.
“What kept me from becoming part of the 40 percent of teachers who quit within their first five years were opportunities to grow as a professional in a supportive environment,” said Crowley.
Through the support of her school, colleagues and continued training, Crowley has continued to stay motivated to improve her practice continuously. “To teach well, you must know things deeply. You must know your content deeply, your craft deeply and your students deeply.”
The key to supporting educators, both for retention and improvement, is to have teacher leaders as part of the conversation in all policies that affect public education, said Crowley.
“We need to have conversations about supporting teachers along the professional continuum, from their pre-service training to early-career induction and following through to master teachers leading our schools. Teacher leaders should serve on policy committees and have systemic support for taking their innovative ideas to scale.”
An idea that came up with every speaker was that educators need to be listened to by lawmakers at every stage—when creating, enacting and updating policy that pertains to public schools.
“Legislators need to hear feedback on how policies affect the classroom,” said Monica Stonier, Washington state teacher mentor. “They need to listen and learn from those who are living it.”