This week I said goodbye to a year of fellowship with 25 innovative educators around the globe. I didn't say goodbye to them, because I hate goodbyes. And because I know I'll see many of them again.
What is a TED-Ed Innovative Educator? As a first time fellowship, our cohort was helping to shape what the program would be. As a new group of "TIEs" are ushered in, I am reflecting on my year and considering what this program has meant to me, and how it has shaped my life.
Finding my voice.
Over sushi and sake one November night in New York City, I learned about the blogs of other educators, how they had built up a network and following and how their writing had helped them grow personally and professionally. As someone who loves to write, I felt it was time to start a blog. So, I wouldn't be writing this reflection for a public audience if it weren't for the TED-Ed Innovative Educators.
My project was ambitious, with a goal of reaching 500 teachers, administrators, community members in my area and sharing TED-Ed. But when you think about a global scale of educators, all doing projects in their own community, 500 didn't seem like too many. The scale of the TED-Ed Innovative Educator program made me want to rise to the challenge. I accomplished the goal, but not without help from my other, local innovative educators! In order to learn more about my project, check out the TED-Ed Blog Post that provides step-by-step instructions on how you can create any community of educators.
Innovation has always been a topic of great interest to me, so when I was challenged to do something innovative, I felt stuck. What is truly innovative? Was my project innovative enough for TED-Ed? It was a year-long thought experiment on innovation. Working with others on their projects and watching as projects crossed over and became interrelated- that's where the magic happened. I can't wait to see what the next cohort contributes to this world!
At the end of the day-these people, the 25 others who are scattered around the globe, actually many of them will be convening soon at ISTE and the others at TED Summit. Sadly- I will not be at either event, but I'm thrilled to know that my friends will be together, sharing TED-Ed with others.
My greatest takeaway from the experience and my project, is that you don't need a fellowship to connect with other educators that inspire you. We are all part of this global network, and it's much smaller than you think. When I met three of the TIEs in New York- they referred me to an innovative educator who works in my neighboring district! We would never have met. We live in an age where we can connect through Twitter, at conferences, at EdCamps, at TEDx. Innovative educators are everywhere. You just have to look out for them. Being a passionate educator in a less-than-passionate setting can be challenging. Seek out your people. Create your tribe. Change the world.
The other day I heard a colleague tell me that she just wants to teach. She doesn't want to be a principal, administrator, politician. She just wants to teach. Not days later I heard another colleague say that she was "just a teacher". Both of these women are recognized for their excellence in teaching. They are the best in their field.
Why is it that teachers automatically demote their own profession? When I was in the classroom, and was in the presence of administrators, I would describe myself in the same way. Oh, I'm just a teacher.
Our society does not value the teaching profession the way it should. That old saying, Those who can, do- Those who can't, teach. This makes me cringe every time I hear it. Is this really what you expect for the people that are responsible for the education of our next generation?
Starting salaries in Alabama for teachers are just over $30,000. Hardly competitive compared to most other professions. Teachers are constantly under public scrutiny for the ills of public education. Teachers are blamed or praised for students' test scores, for attendance, discipline, students' performance. Most teachers have been told at some point that a students' performance was their responsibility. To an extent, of course, teachers can have an impact on all of these areas. But for such high expectations, we sure do not reward or compensate teachers equivalent to what we expect.
We hold teachers on an incredibly high pedestal but we give them very little to keep them up there. $300 for classrooms supplies (in AL)- anything else is up to you. Non-competitive salary with little room to grow and no incentives for excellent performance or taking on extra responsibilities. In fact, one of the only ways we reward teachers is through recognition. Teacher recognitions and awards are so important for the profession, but do they help to elevate the profession as a whole? Is the small chance of winning an award going to recruit quality people into the teaching profession?
Teacher shortage and teacher retention is a very real problem. To see how your state stacks up, check out this Teacher Shortage Areas Nationwide Listing. Look at each state ten years ago compared to today, and you can see that we are not in good shape. Of particular concern are the gaps in critical areas, like Math and Science at the secondary level. Or teachers who are certified to teach students of special needs or the gifted.
We take our teachers for granted and we do not as an institution treat teachers professionally. I think this is why teachers might reply that they are 'just a teacher' when asked what they do in mixed company.
This has to stop. Teachers and education professionals are just as valuable as every other profession and they should be treated that way. The next time someone asks you what you do, say proudly that you are a teacher, or whatever role you hold in the education system. They are all important. And teaching is the most important. Say it with pride, because you are so much more than just a teacher.
Education careers are tough. These entries are dedicated to making the lives of educators easier and empowering those who have chosen this path to reach their potential in work and life.