Tony Danza is not a teacher!

Teachers are the experts in the education field and their voices need to be at the forefront of changing the way this country’s children get educated.  Unfortunately, no one is listening.

A big “thank you” to Bill and Melinda Gates for donating billions of dollars to public schools.  But Microsoft should not be the face of education reform.

Creating a reality TV show with Tony Danza as a classroom teacher may garner ratings, but all it does is bring more attention to Mr. Danza than those who year after year positively impact young people’s lives.

Congratulations to filmmaker David Guggenheim on his education documentary “Waiting for Superman” but he shouldn’t be the one on Oprah.

The people who deserve to be in the spotlight, who should be the stars of the public school reform show, are the classroom teachers.

Many bright instructors are in America’s classrooms right now who could do wonders in transforming public schools if given the opportunity.  Why won’t anyone listen to them when it comes to how schools should be run?

When 46 of the nation’s governors held a groundbreaking meeting on high school reform in February of 2005, no teachers were present.  This is like holding hearings on tort reform without a single attorney there.  Why would anybody intelligent do that?

It seems no matter how hard they work, when it comes down to it, teachers are shut out from the decision-making process.  Just when teachers feel they have reached a certain level of respectability in their profession, sit on committees, chair departments, mentor other teachers, they quickly slip back to reality:  they wield no authority.  Despite their achievements, in the eyes of those in charge, they remain teachers, nothing more, and most definitely not needed for establishing education policy and reform.

Whenever politicians talk about what needs to be done in education, they always seem to forget to invite the people who have the most direct connection to the students: the teachers.  Despite many of them sending their own kids to private schools, and having never spent a single day teaching a class, these lawmakers think nothing of dictating educational policies without the representation and advice of the people who do the teaching.  It makes about as much sense as having these same politicians debate a new surgical procedure and not having a single surgeon in the room.  That would never happen in the medical community, but it happens all the time in education.

It is frustrating for teachers to work in a system where they are accustomed to being the leader in the classroom, yet subservient to principals, superintendents, and, above else, politicians.  Teachers’ thoughts and concerns are ignored, discounted, overruled.

The California State University found that “having meaningful input in the decision-making process” increases teacher retention.  Teachers not feeling that their input is valued end up exiting the profession.

The time has come for teachers to be in charge of their own profession.  Teachers need to chair committees, lead state school boards, run for state superintendent positions.  The President of the United States should create a new position of Education Czar, a post that carries one stringent requirement:  several years of exemplary teaching experience.

The greatest resource a school has to offer is its finest teachers.  If given the chance, they might just be able to transform America’s schools.

No one in a position of power, from presidents to principals to managing editors, believes that school teachers have anything worthwhile to say in fixing America’s declining public school system.  Teachers are rarely consulted, their advice never used in any decision-making capacity on how best to teach to children. Most definitely, they are not the face of the teaching profession.

Whenever the media, especially television, use on-screen attorneys to dissect the latest headline-grabbing trial, it makes sense to have those who have studied and practiced law to discuss the law.  And when the story revolves around terrorism, all kinds of security specialists surface including ex-secretaries of state and CIA officials.  Yet when the subject turns to education, who are the experts sought out by the media? Former U.S. education secretaries, think tank opine-ers, or anyone with a household name of Bill as in Bill Gates or Bill Cosby.  Almost all newspaper op-ed pieces on education are written by people with these pedigrees.  Rare it is to find a byline of an actual classroom teacher.

Oh sure, every September there’ll be a “first day” diary written by a local teacher. And once in a while a newspaper will track the year of a teacher, but even that is written by a journalist.

Would a person give more credence to a friend or neighbor on how best to treat a medical condition than what an actual medical doctor has to say?  Yet year after year anyone with name recognition chimes in on how best to teach kids despite a total lack of teaching credentials.

Believe it or not, America does have talent and it’s in classrooms all across America.  The teaching profession has its own superstars.  But the media doesn’t seem interested in either seeking them out, or in giving space in print, on air or online to these special educators who not only do incredible work with young people, but who strive to better education.  The word “hero” gets bandied about too easily these days, but some of these folks would be candidates for such an honored title.

It’s wonderful that President Obama is willing to rattle the teachers union status quo about merit pay, it’s good to see Education Secretary Duncan taking risks by stating teachers need to be held accountable, but neither of these gentlemen have teaching experience.  And the president’s two daughters attend private school, just as the majority of politicians’ children do.  These folks may be the least qualified to stake a claim on what’s best for kids in this country’s public schools.

It seems that the media listens to everyone who has an opinion about teacher and schools except those who actually teach to America’s youth.

When I was doing research for my latest book and came across a report from the College Board, the folks behind the SAT and AP tests, I noticed on the very first page at the top was a quote triple the size of the other text attributed to former IBM CEO Louis V. Gerstner Jr.  When I read it my eyes bugged out—it was a quote from my first book.  Not a word altered, moved or deleted.  Verbatim.

To the College Board’s credit, once I brought the matter to their attention, they were apologetic and made the correction.  In a way I understood why I wasn’t credited. Who am I?  I’m not a billionaire or celebrity or national politician. I’m just a classroom teacher.

One of the paradoxes in good teachers is their innate desire to help others and, at the same time, not take credit for it.  This selflessness has to change.  Good teachers should stand up and speak out and take ownership of their own profession, and don’t let outsiders take away the spotlight of their work.  Until that happens, teachers will continue to be overlooked, their expertise unexplored.


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