George Lucas Educational Foundation
Subscribe to RSS

Guest Blog: Dealing with the Reform Bullies

Betty Ray

Senior Editor at Large
Related Tags: Teacher Leadership
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Share

Olaf Elch (@olafelch) is an ELT and intercultural competence consultant from Germany. A straight-talking and opinionated #edchat participant, he immediately emerged as a leader in the discussion of how teachers can play a part in educational reform.

--Betty Ray, Community Manager (@EdutopiaBetty) and Elana Leoni, Online Membership Coordinator (@elanaleoni)

To put it bluntly, teachers have a major image problem. Seen from the outside, teachers have excellent job security, long holidays, they aren't accountable for their performance and then to cap it all, they are constantly complaining about their pay and conditions.

It gets worse. Although teachers may be great at presenting information, they are not usually skilled at defending themselves against adversaries in the same way that politicians, journalists and business managers are. This means the teacher is holding a really bad hand when getting involved in emotive arguments like how to reform education.

Because reform is an emotive word. If you put it together with education, you have a heady mixture. At the same time reform is an elusive thing. It's like quality. Everyone wants it, but no-one can agree what it is. So when the #edchat discussion last Tuesday took on the issue of education reform and the role of the teacher in it, I knew it would be a dynamic discussion. Six-hundred ninety-one posts in an hour from 83 different contributors around the world confirmed my expectations.

The wisdom came thick and fast.

@franze98 opened up with: educational reform will require those in power to make the tough choice & do what's right 4 kids

@ShellTerrell wanted to know: Why does it have to fall on the teachers? Isn't edu reform more powerful if all stakeholders are involved?

@lblanken added a parent's view:...I'd love to work with teachers on education reform

So what is right for kids? Let's be honest, we are never going to agree on this. Employers want more "relevant" skills and knowledge. Politicians want higher grades (without the subsequent headlines that schools are dumbing down education). Parents want a whole range of things that can be grouped under having options when you leave school. And teachers?

What exactly do teachers want when they talk about reform? The only thing that's really clear is that they don't want what they've now got.

@rliberni asked: Are educators sometimes too close? Can they see the wood for the trees?

I do a lot of coaching in industry, and I often hear office workers and even senior managers claiming that the Board of Directors has no idea how to run the business. In my consultancy work in schools I hear daily from pupils who say that some teacher "can't teach." This is a standard gripe and has little to do with reality, and more to do with a worker's right to complain. By the same standard, a great, innovative and successful teacher does not automatically mean that this teacher is qualified to manage reform. The skills are very different.

The ideas in the #edchat discussion would form a great basis for a manifesto for education reform and I would recommend anyone to invest half an hour reading through the points made in the #edchat archive.

But the problem that has to be solved first is much harder. Teachers often show nothing short of revulsion for the idea that school should think more like businesses. The problem is that the rest of the world does think this way. It's no use playing by a set of rules when everyone else is ignoring them. Trying to take the moral high ground isn't going to work if you are not credible.

The debate about school reform is not taking place in schools or in pedagogical departments in universities. It is taking place in the court of public opinion. This is a hard, brutal place where people fight dirty and the decisions are often made in self-interest. Teachers are ill-equipped to fight in this environment, but it's where the fight has to be won. The weapons are measurable results, standards, simple policies, and image. Anything which damages the image of the teaching profession has to be ruthlessly rooted out, not hidden away, not fudged. It must be openly removed from the game. Anything less will mean that the teaching profession will continue to be bullied by politicians, the press, and the guys in the pub on Friday night.

And only when that's been achieved will teachers get the respect they deserve, and at that point the fantastic discussions on #edchat and in other places will start to be heard and respected.

Until then please remember this: Opposition sucks!

I studied industrial management and work as an ELT and intercultural competence consultant, both in industry and schools. I believe strongly that a school's function is to open the doors to opportunity and no-one should be restricted by the system in what they can achieve. I have introduced a teaching system in schools where children are taught English as a foreign language according to their ability, rather than in single year classes. My hobby is to make life difficult for people who are not prepared occasionally to do the extra five minutes to see that the job is done properly. I love red wine, and my daughter Lauren (but not in that order). My blog is called What's New in the World

Was this useful?

Betty Ray

Senior Editor at Large
Related Tags:

Comments (6) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Lee Barrios's picture

I totally agree that teachers have got to become advocates for education in spite of their time constraints and oftentimes professional (vocal) constraints put on them by administration. I am a National Board Certified teacher just retired, and while I still remember what it's like in the classrom, I am going to lobby for EFFECTIVE reform.

Complacency and lack of accountability from the classroom all the way up the food chain are standing in the way of accomplishing all the wonderful plans for reform. Education is a reflection of society when it should be a model. Ineffective teachers have got to be mentored - after all, where do they learn to be effective teachers? Not in their degree programs. You've got to get on that horse and ride in order to develop riding skills. Good teachers should be developed, not tested, and certainly not left to drown, their first few years in the classroom. Then ongoing professional development has got to be modeled along the National Board Standards with other experts (accomplished teachers) leading, motivating, encouraging and rewarding their mentees.

I didn't QUIT my profession, but I did give up on trying to influence it outside my classroom door. I had to leave the students for whom I provided a challenging, relevant, no excuses education. I will miss it.

Keith Heggart's picture
Keith Heggart
High School Teacher from Sydney, Australia

Wow. You haven't pulled any punches. In theory, I agree. In practice, I'm not sure how one would implement that.

Bob Calder's picture
Bob Calder
Internet and Society

I believe it is time to quit meeting neoconservatives on the ground of their choice.

Ask what accountability standards think tank education professionals are subject to. Then look at the standards in colleges of education that turn out administrators and teachers and compare them with other colleges. It's obvious that standards need to be set, but a simplistic model provided by a manufacturing model will only further undermine professionalism which is very nearly dead.

If you ask most teachers what is going on during a high school graduation, they can't tell you and neither can the administrators. That's a broad hint.

Olaf Elch's picture

Hi Lee.

I think you symbolise what many teachers feel when you say you've given up trying to influence outside the classroom door. I often have days like that. I also have the advantage that I can walk away if need be, but I'm actually very angry about poor standards and am prepared to fight to do something about it.

Keith, you're dead right - the practice is not easy to achieve. It requires people who are prepared to speak out, and that always carries a risk.

Bob, I don't believe that criticism of the teaching profession is limited to neo-conservatives.

The problem is that the opponents in this discussion have the power and the publicity to choose the battleground. It's no use saying we'll turn up at another place. We have to take them on in their playground.

I understand your criticism of the model - I hear it often. But it is a model that the working world understands - standards and quality. If you try to argue that schools should not apply the same standards that the vast majority of the working population lives and works by, you are going to have a huge marketing problem. And yes, winning this argument will come down to marketing the arguments that educators want to see implemented.

It may not be fair, but then that mirrors the real world too.

Thanks for your (and everyone ele's) input.


Lee Barrios's picture

Olaf -

Several months now after my initial commentary - my eyes have been opened and I have a greater understanding of the motives and strategies behind this so-called education reform movement.

You are right about the need for "marketing skills" in this struggle to gain a voice in the development of educational policy. This business tactic is well-known to the Michael Milkens, Eli Broads, Bill Gates and other investors in "human capital" who seem to be winning and reaping the financial benefits of their investments. It's difficult for society to understand that the investment teachers make is in their students and not for personal financial or political gain, so it's a hard sell. Unions aren't in the business of marketing anything but themselves so that leaves teachers with no skilled advocate other than themselves. I believe that day has come though, and after the dust has settled in the destruction that will come when this wave of reform, teachers will realize that they do have control where it counts, in the classroom. Until then, I'll keep up the good fight and at least plant a seed of doubt in the minds of our legislators who are being USED to further the personal interests of the "business of education."

Quinn Smith's picture

Supporting your child or adolescent through an experience of bullying is not easy. Parents can protect and support their children through such a difficult situation by recognizing the signs of bullying. If you recognize your child being bullied reassure your child that you love them, and that they do not have to be frightened to tell you the truth. Explain that you will make sure that together you will find the best solution to this problem and keep them safe. For further knowledge on how you can protect your children. You can visit this link, and you might find it interesting: I would like to share this link, about a service on how to protect children. Check out this link:

Sign in to comment. Not a member? Register.