Op-Ed: Want to Improve School Districts? Listen to Teachers

Teaching Policy Fellow Mohammed Choudhury feels educators should be ‘offered meaningful opportunities to share their perspectives.’
What would happen if teachers were given more of a voice at the table when it comes to education policy and reform? (Photo: Washington Post/Getty Images)
Sep 25, 2012

I sat at the offices of Los Angeles Unified School District’s Board of Education waiting for the Board to allow public comments on a resolution that would block the district’s ability to measure my impact as a teacher.

The resolution calls for the elimination of using students’ progress on state tests to measure my effectiveness. Granted, state tests aren’t perfect, but they do serve as a profound piece in evaluating a key responsibility I have as a teacher.

I scrambled to gather my thoughts. What could I say in three minutes that would instill a sense of urgency within the Board to put aside politics and come together to stand against this resolution? I was beginning to wonder if my words as a teacher would matter.

More: Teach Plus Executive Director: Why We Need to Rethink the Teaching Profession

It troubled me to see that teachers’ feedback on this resolution was pooled with all the public comments, and that our specific expertise was given no weight or respect. The current reality for teachers within LAUSD is that we are part of a broken system of collaboration.

I am an educator who has accomplished much for my students, both for their social and academic development. But the district continually demonstrates its inability to formally incorporate my voice, along with the countless other dedicated teachers who greatly impact student achievement every day, in developing policies that would effectively elevate the teaching profession.

The system fails to enable its key stakeholders—teachers—to have a voice at the table.

Teachers’ voices should not be treated as “public comments” that the Board of Education occasionally invites to conversations where high stakes policies are implemented—policies that often lack the buy-in of many accomplished teachers. Currently, formal structures to allow teachers to impact policy at the district level are few and far between. The system fails to enable its key stakeholders, teachers, to have a voice at the table.

As teachers, we drive the everyday work the district and Board hope to achieve. We must be offered meaningful opportunities to share our perspectives with district and union officials through formal collaborative structures. In a truly collaborative environment, Board members would examine and vote on policy initiatives that are developed by teacher leaders alongside district and union leaders. 

My work as a Los Angeles Teaching Policy Fellow with Teach Plus this past year has enabled me to define what it means to be a teacher leader who seeks to shape policies while remaining within the classroom. The fellowship experience has offered me opportunities to work with district leaders on initiatives ranging from teacher preparation to performance, as well as pathways to impact education policies at the state and national levels. 

I traveled to New York to participate in the International Summit on the Teaching Profession; earlier this month I served on a panel about the future of the teaching profession at the National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality in Washington, D.C. More importantly, the fellowship has enabled me to envision an effective system of collaboration between teachers and district officials that would allow us to develop and sustain a high-quality teaching force that places student achievement at the center.

But as my fellowship experience comes to an end, I am beginning to wonder if now I can only rely on three-minute “public comments” at Board of Education meetings to voice my experience and ideas as an LAUSD teacher leader.

The district can do better with soliciting and listening to teachers’ voices, as it has shown through its work with the Teaching Policy Fellows. But we shouldn’t need to rely on outside organizations to create these pathways: Districts must develop ongoing, established structures for teacher leaders to share the lessons we’ve learned from our practice and from working in successful school cultures.

If districts prioritize placing teachers at the center of the education conversation, they will be able to design policies around effective evaluation, professional development, and more to build, sustain, and celebrate a high-quality teaching force.

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