Everyone pays lip-service to the fact that teaching is difficult, but let’s leave that for a while and talk about what’s easy.
It’s easy to make decisions. Easy to write policy. For instance, my school was “awarded” some of the Federal “grant” money that used to be called funding before the strings of radical school change were attached to it. The funding will only pay for a small part of the change it demands.
Despite how often we teachers are labeled as obstructionists, we rolled with that punch and dared to envision a new way to do school.
Next, our district decided that our elementary to high school corridor would implement the International Baccalaureate continuum for all our students. This second reorganization introduced a new level of uncertainty into the already arduous process, but we’ve hung in there. We’ve struggled to rewrite antiquated structures and old attitudes. We’ve battled back against our own cynicism and doubt.
Now, Colorado, like most states across the country, is balancing its budget by unfunding public education. I opened my email to find a message from my principal telling our staff that all the decisions we’ve fought and cried over, the change we’ve committed ourselves to, may come to nothing because we can’t pay for it.
In my school, I’ve been a leader during this process. When my peers have seen only the pitfalls, I’ve asked them to imagine the possibilities. When the promises looked empty, I’ve encouraged others to find ways to fill them up with our knowledge about what works with our students. Being proven an overly optimistic Pollyanna will do nothing for my credibility.
This muddled eddy of mandates is the natural consequence of a system where the people with the most decision making power have the least direct knowledge of the context to which the decisions will be applied.
And while that’s never been okay, it did not become untenable until President Obama’s budget defunded National Writing Project. NWP is not just a network where we learn, from each other, teaching methods that actually work. It’s not just a place where committed optimists like myself discover that we’re neither alone nor crazy. It is not just a fertile field for the kind of inquiry that reshapes the narrative attached to student demographics.
NWP is a megaphone. It’s thousands of voices telling thousands of stories that, without it’s provocation and platform, would die locked away and unheard.
I wonder what would happen if the people making decisions and writing policy listened.