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Thursday, July 10, 2014

On Shutting Teachers Up

Nothing but net for Nancy Flanagan the other day in her post over at Teacher in a Strange Land entitled, "Shutting Teachers Up."

She writes, "When practitioners aren't allowed to openly share their critical perspectives, they lose the ability to speak their own truths and use first-hand experience as a lever for change."

And, "Any number of thoughtful, intelligent, provocative voices in education operate behind pseudonyms, to give them the cover they need. But there's something about writing under your own authentic identity, having to own what you write and defend your words from criticism, that's quintessentially democratic, and a mark of honest journalism."

And, "Technology has led us to the point where anyone can publish and anyone can opine. Money makes it possible for the profiteers to have the loudest voices at the same time as public employees are worried about losing their modest jobs. It's no way to pursue bona fide excellence in public education. If that was ever our genuine aim..."

You know, when I started in this profession I had this attribute I thought was ambition. I later named it idealism. Now think of as naivety.

I was going to step into a school, infect others with my powerfully positive attitude, and change some lives. I was going to report what I saw in schools, and enrage others about the inequities that existed there.

I initially began blogging under a pseudonym, "The Reflective Educator." I wasn't particularly careful about hiding my voice off the internet, though, and district officials soon discovered who was writing my blog.

That naivety believed that, of all places, public education would be a sector in which employees would be given the right to honestly express their views, and relate their working conditions. It's public, after all - AND EDUCATION!

But soon after I began doing so, I was threatened with a lawsuit on one occasion, and given a horrendous performance review in another district. This for writing about my opinions on schools and experiences in them.

An administrator I trusted convinced me to put my name on the blog if I really wanted to take a stand. She argued that I would be taken more seriously if I was brave enough to do so.

But attaching my name to this blog has also limited what I feel comfortable writing about. When I was first hired at my current school, the district made clear that they knew about my blog.

"Hi James. How was your first day? Great, great. Glad to have you on board. So....... by the way, we know you have a blog. Just wanted to let you know that we'll be monitoring it"

"Ummm - okay. Thanks for the heads up?"

Don't be fooled, you can't exactly express your opinion as a public school teacher freely. You do need to be careful. But as Ms. Flanagan points out, it's important work. Somebody needs to do it. 

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