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Teachers Must be Part of the Conversation on Education Policy

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President Obama's advisors have signaled that education reform will be one of the administration's main policy thrusts between the midterm elections and 2012.

No matter how the reshuffled Congress shapes what the new version of the No Child Left Behind Act looks like, we already know who it will be implemented by: Teachers. So shouldn't we be part of the national policy conversation?

Unfortunately, that's rarely the case when it comes to public discourse on public education. Consider all the talk on NBC News' recent "Education Nation."

For hours, we heard from governors, mayors, TV anchors, software kings, and others as they lamented the state of education and pondered what could be done to fix it. Superstar superintendents were there, as was the U.S. Secretary of Education. Even the teacher union heads were invited, if only for target practice.

Unless you live and breathe education every day--in other words, unless you're a teacher--you tend to forget how essential the role is to the process of improving schools.

It's easy to forget--I've done it myself. Even though the months I spent away from the classroom last year as part of my state Teacher of the Year duties were filled with education-related events--workshops, conferences, meetings--talking isn't educating. A few months into my term, I already felt like I was drifting out of touch from the practice of teaching.

So to all newly elected members of Congress--and to TV network leaders planning future programming--I urge you on behalf of my 3 million colleagues to be sure to listen to the voice of effective teachers.

Effective teachers enhance learning. They care enough about students to make themselves the best teachers they can be. They use evidence of what works in the classroom. They study for hundreds of hours to stay current in their subjects. They relentlessly analyze their effectiveness and do whatever it takes to make sure all children learn. All this is common sense, of course. But it's not just common sense--it's backed by extensive research showing that teachers who do these things have a strong positive influence, not just on their own students, but on the effectiveness of other teachers in the building.

Maybe it's just me, but I think a large-scale infusion of those kinds of teachers has a better shot at improving education than even our most exalted public officials or people on TV. Fortunately, there's already such an infusion taking place. For example, more than 82,000 teachers across the country have demonstrated they are effective teachers by undergoing the rigorous process of National Board Certification.

The federal government and all 50 state governments recognize this voluntary advanced credential--the equivalent, for a doctor, of being board-certified to practice medicine--and the majority of states cover costs and/or provide salary incentives to encourage it.

National Board Certified Teachers and other highly accomplished practitioners are making a positive difference in the lives of students and in challenged schools all across the country. And yet it's still possible to ignore the difference that an effective teacher can make in children's lives.

Not that we should really be surprised that the network let slide an opportunity to highlight the best practices of effective teachers and their positive impact in schools. Too often, elected officials and television are good at conveying the impression that schools are bad and teachers are ineffective, but not so good at pointing to what is actually working well in public schools and within the teaching profession.

This actually might explain why teachers were so thoroughly missing from all those broadcast hours and from much of the conversation about improving education today: Instead of talking on Capitol Hill or on TV about what might be or should be or could be done to help students achieve more, effective teachers were out there actually doing it.