Elizabeth Stein, a special education teacher from Long Island NY, was invited to attend NBC’s Teacher Town Hall on Sept. 26. Stein, who is also National Board certified in literacy, shared this report with colleagues in the Teacher Leaders Network. (For another TLN account, see this blog post by Ariel Sacks.)
I consider myself lucky to have been one of the teachers in the crowd yesterday at the Teacher Town Hall. I’m still trying to make sense of the experience.
I actually experienced a full range of emotions. It was exciting to be around so many educators with a mission. It was exciting to speak with many teachers and get involved in some meaningful discussions. And I have to say, the energy in the place was riveting. However, frustration wins as my emotional theme for the day. I went in energized…and left even more so…
Interested and curious, I entered the makeshift studio of the NBC Teacher Town Hall (on the spot of the actual skating rink at Rockefeller Plaza). I had no idea what to expect. According to the invitation, the Education Nation website, and all of the advertising leading up to the moment, there was that hint of hope that teachers would have a chance to make their voices heard.
To register, participants were asked to think about and be ready to “brainstorm” what works in the classroom and what are the challenges in education today. In addition, teachers who registered for the online chat were asked to submit a brief (about 100-200 word) response to identify “one change you think could help to transform education in America.” I still was not sure how the actual experience would pan out. But I was ready. I was in the moment.
Just to be in a room with fellow educators was really a gratifying experience. And as Brian Williams came out five minutes before we were to go on air, I was still hopeful that we would have a chance to have our voices heard. And many did. Yet, as it unfolded I found, too often, that my hope got swept up in the messy swirl of frustration. What I thought would be a coming together of the minds turned into teachers sharing the challenges—with no opportunities for brainstorming and seeking solutions. (Ok, so I tend to be a tad idealistic at times.)
The best part was when Brian Williams introduced the “lightning” mode. He tried to allow the long line of teachers who stood waiting for their turn at the microphone,the opportunity to fit in whatever they could say in 15 seconds or less. I couldn’t help but wonder, what was the purpose? It seemed to be just to appease the teachers as if to say, "see you had your chance for your voice to be heard." Yet, I couldn't help but think, "sure these teachers are being heard...but who's really listening?"
It also seemed to me that the teachers who were able to share just validated points that we are all aware of. Or they shared personal stories that served to make them feel better for the moment. That's fine, but I continue to wonder, what about some real solutions?
Brian Williams definitely had a pre-determined list of topics that he was determined to mention. These topics included teaching with passion (teaching as a calling), recruitment and retention, low income schools, summer school, STEM, and teacher evaluations. Yet that’s all it seemed to be — fragmented mentions. Each teacher who was able to find his or her way to the microphone had a chance to mention whatever was on his or her mind. It was all just so fragmented. From where I sat, it felt like a venting session… some valid thoughts, but with no solutions in sight. And no one to really listen anyway.
I'd love to return to what the registration form claimed we'd discuss, but never really did.
What is one major change you think could help to transform education in America?
I'm still ready to discuss...and dare I say, hopeful?