We Must Reshape the Teacher Narrative in Today's Media
This is the first of a four-part conversation on how teaching and the media intersect.
Recently, I decided to Google "teacher news" to see what kinds of headlines about teachers came up. Sadly, the first three articles painted teachers negatively: "12 Bad Teachers Protected by Tenure and Unions," "Lawmakers Push to Strip Pensions for Child-Molesting Teachers," and "Teachers Can Spank Kids Black and Blue." The fourth story was a positive one, yet was a local, not national, story.
Is it any wonder that teachers, their work, and their unions have become scapegoats for the media for all of the ills of public education? Why don't we focus on the vast majority of teachers who are working for their students' benefit and success?
How do we change this negative portrayal of teachers and make sure that the good of public education is the new focus? First, teachers must be more proactive in sharing stories about their students, classrooms, and schools to show all of the good things that are happening. It's not surprising that teachers would be nervous about doing this because often even positive stories are attacked on local media websites. But until we take control of the story, others will write it for us. Teachers need to be sharing the good news of education through newspapers, television, blogs, and social media to educate the public about what is actually happening in our schools.
We need to change the story to issues that will help improve education, such as parental involvement, high-quality standards and curriculum for every child, and assessments that give a picture of the whole child and the growth that they are accomplishing at their pace and their level. Student successes, the daily selfless actions of teachers, and schools lifting up whole communities—these are the topics and stories that can reshape the narrative of the American teacher.
But where and how can teachers disseminate these stories? Build relationships with local-news reporters, as these media outlets tend to be friendly to their area school districts, publishing articles or broadcasting stories about local teachers and their impact on students. Social media sites are another good option. They tend to be filled with groups that are interested in education and tailored to certain populations like parents, community members, and educational workers.
And don't forget to turn to your local union. Local unions are often looking for positive stories about education and their members to publish in their own newsletters and to release to local media outlets, which may help your story be published or broadcast more quickly.
We can no longer allow others to write our story as teachers. We are the experts and we must take every opportunity available to shape our story and help the public understand just how great public education is in our nation.
Craig Williams, a 22-year teaching veteran, currently teaches 4th grade in Cheyenne, Wyo. He is active in several national organizations including the National Education Association and the America Achieves Fellowship.