A friend of mine recently graduated from one of Pennsylvania’s state universities with a bachelor’s degree in art education. When she walked across that stage to Pomp and Circumstance, she had proven that she had learned everything she needed to teach young minds all the skills they needed to create breathtaking works of art and to think through all the important steps of the art-making process.
After completing the requisite coursework, surviving long hours of student teaching, and passing the Praxis in her course area, the State of Pennsylvania gave her a certificate that showed she was qualified to stand in front of a classroom of students eager to discover.
But what she didn’t learn was exactly where all of those requirements came from. How did her University gain accreditation? What are the priorities of the school district that is hiring her? Who is responsible for hiring the person in the State Department of Education that can serve a resource when she has concerns about state standards or a new teacher evaluation program? Who determines how much professional education is necessary to remain certified? Who determines how state money is allocated across and within school districts?
The answer to all these questions vary from state-to-state, but in every case, these decisions should be informed by the voices of those in the classroom every day, the teachers themselves.
As teachers go through their preparatory programs, we are too often missing an opportunity to demonstrate the relevancy and potential of public policy to those who feel called to be in the classroom, and the importance of their role in the process.
We need to better explain that it is public policy that determines what classes are offered in each school and district, which credits will be required for graduation, how often a teacher sees her students, what is to be covered year to year, how many children are in that classroom, how student learning will be assessed, how teachers will be evaluated, what supplies are available, and maybe even what sort of lunch kiddos will rely on as their fuel for the day. These are all policy decisions that are made at different levels and matter every day—not just when jobs and programs are on the chopping block.
We see again and again that teachers make the best advocates. They uniquely understand what is going on in the classroom—what works best for them and their students, and what hinders them—and it is absolutely crucial that they be at the table for these important discussions that happen in State Capitols and board rooms every day.
Unfortunately, too often, teachers believe that as long as their students leave their class with a little bit of technical skills and a lot of inspiration, they’ve done all they can to prove their value.
Of course, these demonstrations of student excellence are absolutely invaluable. In fact, when schools hold a student performance, stage a play or musical, or hang student artwork on the walls–they should make sure school board members, legislators, or even State Board of Education members are invited. Even if they may not attend, this communication is evidence of the artistic lifeblood that runs through the schools. They will be able to see, firsthand, that their constituents—the teachers, parents, and children of their districts—have made time and monetary commitments to arts education and expect to see support from their elected officials, too.