Teachers, Please: JOIN Your Professional Organization Today!

Posted on August 25, 2016


In recent years, public education has experienced a hostile takeover by a number of corporate oligarchs who have little experience with public education, since they are neither educators nor parents of public school children. People like The Walton family, Bill & Melinda Gates, and other one-percenters who are looking to make bank have all decided that they know how to “do” education better than the entire education profession, a profession to which I have whole-heartedly devoted the past quarter century to, and a profession which, in spite of their “failing school” propaganda, continues to earn high praise from most parents.

They were never so concerned about students that they would consider going to university to major in education, as I and my colleagues have, to spend three decades in a low-paying, low-prestige job of service to the community. No, no, no; their “concerns” for students arose precisely when they had acquired enough money to influence politicians who make education policy!

Why bother with tedious education degrees, classroom experience, and continuing education demands paid for on one’s own dime? Just BUY a politician and then force the education department to promote your high-stakes tests, so that schools can be declared failing, so that they can buy your “cures” for low test scores (Common Core State Standards), and when the “cures” also fail, you can turn the “failed” public school over to a for-profit charter company who will provide children with un-certified teachers who will “deliver” “individualized” “education” by supervising rooms full of children staring at the “curriculum” they “learn” by pushing buttons on their devices. (For a real-life example, see Michigan’s EAA travesty.)

As classroom teachers, we have been bulldozed by the constant onslaught of corporate “reforms” that undermine the university educations that, we are–if we are in our first twenty years on the job–still paying for, reforms that replace pedagogy with programs that are not supported by research and have not come from expert educators in that discipline.

While the situation can feel hopeless, we don’t have to take it lying down. There are ways to fight back, and I hope that, if you are a classroom teacher, you are actively engaged in the fight.

One of the ways that we can fight for our profession is by being members of our discipline’s professional organizations. For me, as a Language Arts teacher, that means being a member of National Council of Teachers of English and Michigan Council of Teachers of English.

Why are these organizations important to me? Because they provide me with resources and colleagues that support me and help me advocate for public education to be put back into the hands of highly-qualified, professional educators.

I remember when Common Core was being introduced to the English Department, and we were told that “students don’t need to read entire works of literature; they can learn what they need from reading excerpts…” I KNEW that that claim was not the claim of an English educator, and I took issue with it right away. To illustrate the absurdity of this claim, I proposed, “If that’s true, then certainly there’s no need to play an entire football game. Surely the third quarter would ‘give us the main idea.’ Or, why should the orchestra play a whole song? Why not just the first and final few measures?”

I knew that NCTE had developed clear guidelines for literature instruction in the ELA classroom, and that professionals in my field would NEVER support such a ridiculous claim that shows so little respect for literature as ART.

This is just one example of many that I could share, but my point is this: it was the fact that I knew where to find the resources to support my stand against a harmful policy in my professional organizations that allowed me to take a stand against it. Other English department members may have known that the policy was wrong, but they did not know how to fight it.

This is why teacher membership in the professional organizations of our disciplines is crucial. When curriculum and standards are developed without expertise in the discipline, students can be harmed. It is up to us, as classroom teachers, to know the standards, pedagogy, and policy that has been developed through research and tested over time in our disciplines so that when harmful “reforms” appear, we are ready to stand against them being adopted in our schools, and we know where to get the resources we need to offer up student-centered, research-based choices instead of costly “cures” sold by those out to profit from public school children.

Over the past several years, I have made ongoing efforts to battle harmful reforms that have threatened English Language Arts classes in our school. I have advocated for reducing the amount of standardized testing, increasing student choice and voice through adopting a curriculum centered on Writing Workshop and Independent Reading, returning to authentic assessment of student work through projects and portfolios that are evaluated by highly-qualified classroom teachers, adding a Writing course to the high school course offerings, and recognizing actual student growth in reading and writing as “data” that shows students are learning.

I have advocated for less test prep and more student-centered projects. I have advocated for English education that honors students’ passions and gives them a voice in the community. It has not been an easy task, and even though I have been nervous about possible repercussions for what could be perceived as rebelliousness, I knew that I would never be able to live with myself if I let my two decades of knowledge and expertise in my beloved and noble profession be overruled by a handful of rich business people. I shared, time and again, documents and policy statements from NCTE, like the Council of Writing Program Administrators, the National Council of Teachers of English, and the National Writing Project.  collaboration, Framework for Success in Post-Secondary Writing with administrators, attended lots of meetings, and had lots of conversations.

Finally, last spring, I was invited to be a member of a district-wide, K-12 committee that researched ELA curricula and suggested that the district adopt one that IS developed through research and tested over time in our discipline, one that DOES put the student at the center, and one that DOES restore student voice and choice with Writing Workshop and Independent Reading in every grade, K-12. When the district agreed, it was a HUGE victory for the students. Their rights to read and write for purposes beyond standardized testing have been restored. I am glad that I was able to have a hand in improving ELA education for students in my district, and I am glad that the colleagues and resources at NCTE were there when I needed them.

Students need classroom teachers to advocate for good education policy and pedagogy. Teachers need access to the professional expertise and resources that will allow them to do that all-important advocacy work. We teachers can gain access to the best, most-up-to-date resources available in our disciplines by joining our professional organizations and networking with the other members of our profession across the nation. Please take ten minutes to become a member of a professional organization (or two) in your discipline. Then, get to know where to find the policy statements that will support your advocacy work when faced with “reforms” that contradict what you learned in your university education program. Don’t let non-educators undermine our profession. The children need us.

To help you take that first step, I’ve included links to some organizations:

National Council of Teachers of English

Michigan Council of Teachers of English

International Literacy Association

National Council of Teachers of Mathematics

National Science Teachers Association

National Council for the Social Studies

National Association for Music Education   

National Art Education Association           

Society for Health and Physical Educators

National Association for the Education of Young Children

If you are not a teacher and you are reading this, you, too, can help in the fight to restore professional-educator-control over public education. Ask your child’s teacher[s] if you can sponsor a membership for them in their professional organization. It will help support and nurture the teacher who supports and nurtures your child.

Classroom teachers know what’s best for students. We went to universities and earned degrees in education, and we continue to improve throughout our careers, through experience and continuing education. We dedicate our lives to the profession because we are passionate about teaching and learning. Through involvement in our professional organizations, we can access and activate the resources we need to fight for the kind of student-centered–NOT test-driven– education that every child deserves.


Dave Kangas, me, and Allen Webb, after our NCTE presentation, “Climate Change in ELA,” November 2015