Thursday, April 20, 2017

Call This The Empty Chair by Patte Carter-Hevia

Today I attended a National Education Association Listening Tour stop. Dinner and then a keynote speaker and then a panel discussion. The theme was "How do we create the public schools that our children deserve?”

The keynote speaker was a business owner and author. He told the story of how he came to learn that a business model is not what education needs. Interesting. Engaging. Informative. Entertaining.

Please, God, from his mouth to corporate America’s and the policymakers’ ears.

The panel discussion that followed included an education lawyer, a university professor from the college of education, a university coordinator of urban education, a state representative, the school superintendent, and the school board president. All wrapped up in a bow with the union president as the moderator.

All advocates of public education and educators.
All well-informed individuals.
All intelligent and articulate professionals.
Each with much to bring to the proverbial table.

And, as far as I could tell from what I have been able to discern, not a current public school teacher in the bunch.

Instead we were the audience. We were once again being talked to and talked about. Once again, the discussion, as good as it was, ended where it should have begun.

Pity the poor colleagues of mine who were seated on my right and my left.

I had a LOT to say. No, I wasn’t shouting; I just wasn’t whispering either.

I think a colleague of mine was correct, when we spoke afterwards, in saying that perhaps the discussion should have been open mic.

With no teacher at the adult table, we were instead again the kid in the class who knows the answer but that the teacher won’t call on.

During one point in the discussion, the superintendent commented that she had been invited by the local newspaper to write an op-ed piece on the newly appointed secretary of education. She said she declined the invitation. She declined the invitation because she didn’t know anything about the SoE. The superintendent is coming to the end of a forty-plus-year career in education. During her career, she has been to multiple meetings on education and educational policy. She has read research. She has read journals. She has served on committees. She has been visible at the local, state, and national levels.

In all that time and attention and service to education, she has never seen or met the current secretary of education.

She stated that when she wanted or needed the services of a doctor or lawyer or accountant, she sought out professionals in that particular field.

That generated a round of applause.

I commented that that is what she should have written in her op-ed.

The implication of her comments was that the appointment of the current secretary of education was wrong on several levels.
Yet I realize as I consider the members of the panel for this evening’s discussion and I hear teachers scream for a voice and a seat at the “grown-up” table, that tonight’s event, as good as the discussion was and as passionate about education as the members of the panel were, was still a microcosm of what is wrong with education.

And we’re still no closer to making it right.


  1. But the problem is that IF the teachers are screaming for a voice, they are screaming to the wrong crowd. I'm not a teacher, I'm a parent, but I do have a sister that just retired after 30 years. She had been nothing but unhappy with her career and the education reforms over the past 10-12 years, but never had the backbone or grit to oppose or stand up for anything. Her form of protest was to shut her mouth and to stop paying her union dues since the union wasn't doing anything about the education reforms being imposed upon teachers. She chose to stay silent, shut her classroom door and do her best to teach and care for her students the best that she could. When teachers unite with parents in this big mess, there will be a change, but until then, teachers will be meek and willy/nilly and treated as the scapegoats by upper administration. If teachers want change, they will need the help of parents and they will need to start opening their mouths and telling the truth. Shutting classroom doors and producing check off rubrics for parents at conference time will not help this cause. I'm a parent and I'm willing to fight, but teachers I meet with will check the hallway and close the door before telling me they agree, but they aren't willing to do anything about the problems. Every state needs a Long Island, NY before this will go away...for good!

  2. This is what fear does to folks. Teachers are afraid that if they stiffen their backbone and stand up to the reformers and others who are making a mess, they will have their backs broken!