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We All Need an Upgrade

By Brett Bigham

Brett Bigham image
Brett Bigham

Are you running Windows 95? Would you choose Atari Pong over Pokemon Go?

I'm guessing none of you said yes to Windows 95 and only one or two of the video game-impaired chose Pong. Why? Because we upgrade. We upgrade everything over and over so that we can perform at peak efficiency.

I am the 2014 Oregon State Teacher of the Year, and I continually work to improve my skills and knowledge to stay current and relevant. I do this through professional learning -- quality professional learning that makes me better at my profession.

Recent surveys have shown that many teachers feel the professional development their school districts provide does little to make them better. I get that. As a special education teacher, I have had my time to collaborate with peers and solve challenges in our school hijacked by training on the newest paperwork or time spent figuring out the new IEP system. I get that teachers don't want their opportunity to grow as a professional supplanted year after year by the latest fad, a newly adopted program that will be changed just as they become somewhat proficient.

This is why I am so concerned that the Trump administration and the House of Representatives have zeroed out Title II in the education budget. Title II represents the funds that schools can use to bring high-quality professional learning to their teachers. Without Title II, many of our public school teachers will never get the chance to upgrade and schools will be condemned to operating with increasingly obsolete strategies. In my district, and many others like it across the nation, losing Title II means losing important opportunities to solve our biggest challenges.

This makes no sense to me as a professional. My family doctor started practicing in the 1970s, and he was a terrific doctor when I met him in 1978. He was an even better doctor 10 years later as he gained experience and continued educating himself on the newest practices. The same is true for my car mechanic. He never stops learning because he needs to be up on the newest thing.

So do I. I want to be up on the newest thing so that I continue to be relevant to my students. I want to understand social-emotional learning better so I can layer it through everything I teach. I want to know how to integrate motion into my room to make sure my kinetic learners have a chance to bounce around to unlock more potential. I want my district to invest in making me the very best teacher I can be.

In July, the National Network of State Teachers of the Year held its first Day on the Hill in Washington, D.C. Teachers from 25 states met with senators, representatives, and legislative staff from over 100 Congressional offices. Though the conversations varied from private school vouchers to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the one thing that carried through almost every meeting was a clear demand from the teachers to our elected officials: Fully fund Title II. Title II funds the future. Let's not relegate ourselves to black-and-white televisions or educators who have stopped learning.

Brett Bigham is the 2014 Oregon State Teacher of the Year and a member of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year. He is a 2018 NEA Global Fellow and he teaches in Portland, Oregon.

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