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Voices from the Classroom

Note: Sydney Morris and Evan Stone, co-founders and co-CEOs of Educators for Excellence, are guest posting this week. E4E is a national teacher-led organization working to ensure that teachers have a meaningful voice in the creation of policies that impact their classrooms and careers.

It was the spring of 2010, and we were two teachers at PS 86, an elementary school in the north Bronx. If you had asked either of us what we thought of our job, we would have told you that each day was more stimulating and challenging than the one before, and nothing was more rewarding for Sydney than watching her 2nd graders master the art of blending phonemes on their path to becoming fluent readers, or for Evan as encouraging one of his 6th graders with special needs to write independently instead of relying on a scribe. (No, seriously - phoneme blending is exciting!)

However, we would have also told you that we were incredibly frustrated.

Inside our classrooms, we had large amounts of autonomy and control. A great responsibility had been bestowed on us, as is on all teachers, in the form of 34 students' academic, social, and emotional growth and well-being. Each day we made hundreds of decisions, big and small, all of which impacted our students. Yet at the same time, outside the four walls of our classrooms, hundreds of education policy decisions were being made at the district, state, and federal levels that also impacted our classrooms and careers - yet we had no voice in them. This juxtaposition in the education decision making process was disempowering, and it seemed bizarre that those who are first to impact students would be the last to have a seat at the table.

We began talking with a group of colleagues, over graded papers, lesson plans, and coffees, and yes - in the occasional East Village watering hole on Avenue B. We were from diverse schools and backgrounds, but we quickly felt solidarity, and sadness, in the realization that our frustrations were shared amongst all of us. Our conversations soon shifted from venting to envisioning what a more ideal system could look like, for us as professionals and for our students.

Together, we crafted a declaration of principles and beliefs that we felt articulated the shared vision that we had for our schools and our profession. We knew we didn't have all the answers, but we believed that with the collective brainpower and might of educators across the city, we could come up with solutions - straight from the classroom - to solve some of our most pressing problems. Call us idealistic, but word began spreading, and teachers from across the city began signing on. Pretty soon we had several dozen teachers, and pretty soon after that we had several hundred.

Educators for Excellence was built on one premise - that for far too long, teachers have been treated as subjects of change, rather than as agents of change. We set out to flip that dynamic on its head. In just two years, E4E has grown into a national movement of nearly 7,000 teachers across the country, with chapters in NYC, Los Angeles, and more to come. E4E teachers are learning about education policy, networking with like-minded colleagues and important policymakers, and taking action outside of the classroom to advocate for systemic changes that will lift student achievement and the teaching profession.

We are grateful to Rick for inviting us to share our thoughts this week, and overall, for recognizing the importance of teacher voice in this dialogue. We are honored to follow last week's blog posts by Maddie Fennell, a powerful and thoughtful teacher leader.

This week we will share what teacher voice looks like in action, why we believe that systems change needs to happen from inside the system itself, and which of the items on our declaration we feel is the most critical piece of the education puzzle...

--Sydney Morris and Evan Stone

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The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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