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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Teachers Should Battle Poor Publicity

The online headline reads, "Does your child have this teacher?" You follow the link and wince as the clip from last night's local news shows the cell phone camera footage of a teacher, veins popping, eyes bulging in anger, using language only a sailor could love.

Why is it that the worst teaching representatives seem to become the viral video villain-celebrities we see on YouTube, as if this level of inappropriateness were a common disease facing education today?

I'm frustrated by the ease in which the news reports these horrible situations. But I don't blame the news. I tire of the publicity behind those YouTube-worthy rants, those rare abuses in schools made seemingly frequent, as if they, along with the achievement gap and childhood obesity, were a chronic problem. But I don't blame YouTube.

In fact, I believe that, rather than spending my day dwelling on how those teachers got there and how they remain there, the more productive way to battle these teachers and the bleeding out of our profession's reputation is for those of us who love this job -- and we are the majority -- to battle the poor publicity with the sword of our own successes.

Education used to be solitary, with teaching and student-teacher interactions occurring mostly behind closed doors. But the job has changed. Collaboration has become a key to our survival. Teaching with transparency and with an open door -- to share evidence of our ability -- has become a necessity. And who can blame the powers that be when our challenges and our horrors have become far more public than our glories?

It sounds so benign, but teaching must become a profession that demands more positive attention. We can't afford to be modest anymore.

I know we wear a lot of hats already -- and some of them should not be ours to wear. But it is our job to control our own reputation as a profession, and we aren't taking that responsibility seriously.

I blame teachers and administrators who don't see that publicity is a must, a necessity to the future of our profession. I always tell new teachers to take a course in publicity, learn to pitch and sell what you do, so that people know your worth. Learn how to control your own public relations, I always say. And it isn't just for the good of the profession. Let's face it -- a teacher with good PR is one a school district is not eager to get rid of.

Overall, I think enhancing public education's reputation should be managed according to the trickle-up theory: Something great going on in the classroom ripples into things great going on in the school, in that school's district, in that district's town, and so on. It keeps growing until the public can't not hear about the great things going on in education.

Teachers have insider knowledge of school successes, so it is our duty to go public with those victories, big and small, from the at-risk student who gets his first B to an award of a grant that funds a computer lab.

So, what can you do? It all starts with the classroom teacher:

Call the front office. Teachers must stop waiting to be observed to show themselves off. They must call their principals when something great is happening. Principals respond to the come-and-check-this-out phone call, and even if they can't come, they know when success is happening.

Contact the press. Teachers must learn the name of the education editor at the local newspaper. If something is newsworthy -- a project, a perspective, an accomplishment from you or a student -- get it out there.

Blog. I discovered early on that there are some elements to teaching that I love and some that I don't. The parts I love are the students, creating curriculum, and lifelong learning.

The parts I don't are the isolation and the negative reputation. And I hate feeling like a victim, so for me, I blog. I write articles. I teach teachers. But if you don't want to blog, that's fine -- just find someone who does, and get them to profile some of what you're doing in the classroom. Share your successes!

Create a display and submit to the school or district publication. OK, so maybe you don't want to share in a blog the coolness of what you do. And maybe you don't want to call a newspaper editor about a challenge you've overcome in the classroom.

At least get your accomplishments publicized at a school board meeting or tap that hallway bulletin board for some of your students' best work. Contact the PTA and write a paragraph about what's going on in your classroom -- a project or lesson that's particularly cool. It doesn't matter what the size of the pond is; be a respected member of it.

Post a project or lesson online. Go to TeacherTube and post a lesson or a project that really rocked. Submit student work in online essay, poetry, and filmmaking contests. Their successes translate to yours and to ours as a profession.

Imagine the power of education if every teacher worked to publicly celebrate their successes at least once a year. After all, it is rarely the saved student we go home feeling good about; rather, it's the one we've lost that plagues us. Shake your head clear of the fog and be proud:

  • You bring students back from the brink of failure every day.
  • You help kids learn how to think, how to share, how to disagree.
  • You are the one that teaches them the rules of the game.
  • You are the one that teaches them how to create their own game.
  • You teach them how to communicate -- analytically, persuasively, and responsively.
  • You are the one that teaches them to question.

So, it's up to you to get it out there. It's not just for the good of you, the individual teacher, but also for the good of the staff, and even the profession. It's now your duty.

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