Stretching My Voice Through Teach Plus
Though teachers can use their voice in many forms, the most powerful discovery of my personal teacher voice was through the Teach Plus Teaching Policy Fellowship. As a fellow, I have been able to publish articles on controversial topics, compose memos to policy makers, lead focus groups around the city, organize the first Memphis teacher-led common-core conference, and even tweet with the Tennessee Commissioner of Education. Our group is in continual contact with district and state leaders to promote positive change in education based on teacher response. And the beauty of the Teach Plus fellowship is that we are teachers advocating for teachers. Being a part of Teach Plus has taught me three very important lessons about my own teacher voice.
1. Everyone has a niche. Each individual uses his or her voice in a different way. I do not do as well talking to policy makers face to face as some of the other fellows; however, writing memos, blogs, or articles is my strength. This is how I have exercised my voice, but it took this experience to show me how to utilize this strength.
2. There are always critics, even close to you. As strongly as I often feel that I am right on target with my words, there is usually someone who strongly feels I am wrong. Even other fellows or educators sometimes have differing opinions, which can lead to heated debates at times. For instance, when I published this article, there were comments posted that could have easily made me upset. This is where teacher professionalism supports teacher voice. Welcome the critics and know that it is a sign that people are listening.
3. Stretch beyond your comfort zone. The experiences I have had with Teach Plus far exceed anything I dreamed I would have accomplished at this point. However, I remember a fellow alum advising us to seize every opportunity we could and not hold back waiting to be called on. This was the best advice because I began volunteering for things I had never thought I would do, such as traveling for conferences or speaking on panels. I told myself to overcome my nerves and step out into the unknown. We can only grow when we are made uncomfortable.
I have never felt more empowered to speak out for education and know that my voice is effecting change. An exciting step for the upcoming school year in Memphis is that the TEI Ambassador program I mentioned in my previous blog is now a partnership between Teach Plus and the district, which will bolster teacher voice as we grapple with the Common Core State Standards, compensation plans, teacher evaluations, and student achievement. There is no doubt that teachers have a platform, and no doubt that policy makers are listening. Again, we simply have to want to be heard.
Casie Jones is an English teacher at Martin Luther King Jr. Student Transition Academy in Memphis. She is a Teach Plus Teaching Policy Fellow and a common-core coach for Tennessee.