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Transforming the narrative about teaching

5 min read


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The saying goes: “It doesn’t matter what you say, it’s how you say it.” But words are meaningful — and the way we use them can reveal assumptions and biases that are potentially hurtful. Case in point: a recent tweet from a reporter quoting Hillsborough County Public School Board member Doretha Edgecomb.

If there’s one thing that good teachers are tired of hearing about, it’s bad teachers. There are thousands of good teachers making a positive impact on students and their schools. These teachers are going above and beyond their classroom duties, engaging in ongoing professional development, and actively participating in personal learning communities.

You may never read their names in the paper or see them on television, but they are doing the work. But clearly the “good” they’ve been doing just isn’t good enough.

My example above isn’t personal. In the time that I’ve worked for Hillsborough County Public Schools, Mrs. Edgecomb has been a vocal supporter of teachers. The reporter, Marlene Sokol, has established herself as a reliable reporter of the facts.

My problem is the message. Why the negative slant? Why focus on “bad teacher” stories? Why not say something like, “School board member Doretha Edgecomb asks how to amplify the work of good teachers”?

Blame psychology. Humans love bad news, and it stays with us longer than the good kind. Researchers Marc Trussler and Stuart Soloka observed that people have ‘negativity’ bias, a desire to hear and remember bad news.” Even people who don’t engage with traditional media are absorbing negativity through social networks and daily conversations.

There have been several high-profile cases of teacher misconduct throughout the years. I won’t say their names, but their actions remain a part of our psyche. So no matter how many rock-star teacher stories are published each year, there will still be, on some level, a negatively charged cloud surrounding teachers and the teaching profession.

The question is: Is there a way to turn this around?

Without reservation, I believe we can change the narrative. Not only do I believe that — I’ve also been working toward that goal over the last two years as a teacherpreneur with the Center for Teaching Quality. I know, as do most of my colleagues, that there are more good teachers than bad. That there are plenty of positive, uplifting stories that take place on school campuses every day. That the public needs a deeper look into the complexities and importance of our profession.

And so the #TeachingIs and Teach Learn Lead projects were born. My work as a teacherpreneur has focused on being a conduit to connect and mobilize teachers. I found myself wondering: What if the same channels that teachers use to complain about tough days or argue politics could be used to encourage other teachers to put their stories out there and change the reputation of the profession?

#TeachingIs and Teach Learn Lead use the power of social media to change the conversation about teaching and celebrate the positive impact and influence of teacher leaders all over the world. Frustrated with the portrayal of teachers as lazy, unprofessional or incapable of doing their jobs, my colleague Jaraux Washington and I developed the initial #TeachingIs project in 2014. The campaign is continuing this year as teachers and their advocates share stories of the good work being done in classrooms each and every day via social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and Instagram.

The Teach Learn Lead project came about from my work with school districts and teachers across Florida at ECET2 conferences and other teacher leadership workshops. Several teachers and I worked together to create an infographic that catalogs leadership stories from across the state to document the outstanding work being done by teachers. Our hope is to not only share these teacher leaders’ work but to inspire others across the nation to do the same and connect with one another on future leadership projects.

Both of these projects encourage teachers to tell their own stories of how they are leading from within the classroom: by building relationships, developing both personally and professionally and meeting the needs of all students. These are the things that good teachers do each and every day. These activities may not be “newsworthy,” but they are essential to making a positive impact on students and their communities.

The time for shifting the public narrative around teachers and teaching is now. Teachers can and must do a much better job generating their own positive press. We cannot allow others to continue to paint a negative picture of our profession.

Julie Hiltz (@JulieHiltz) is a National Board-certified media specialist currently in her 13th year of teaching at Lutz Elementary in Lutz, Florida. She also supports innovative teacher leadership efforts in her state as a teacherpreneur with the Center for Teaching Quality. Read more about teacherpreneurs.