One year ago the VIVA Project was launched to engage classroom teachers in an on-line discussion on education policy. The goal was to add "teachers' voices" to the nation's education reform debate, drive classroom excellence for students, and revive the status of teachers as professionals.
Eight hundred teachers participated in that first three-week conversation about teacher quality and the role of the federal government. A task force of six teachers spent hundreds of their own hours combing through the discussions and developed a 40-page report that included new ideas and insights based on real teacher experience. The final report was delivered to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. On December 17th the VIVA task force met for an hour and half with Secretary Duncan and his staff in Washington and discussed their findings and recommendations for policy changes.
Fast forward one year. This past Sunday eight veteran teachers of the VIVA Project from across the country participated in NBC News' Education Nation Teacher Town Hall meeting on the plaza at 30 Rockefeller Center in New York, further proof that real classroom teachers must have their voices heard.
Task Force member Mark Anderson, a fifth grade special education in teacher in the Bronx, N.Y. and one of the teachers from the VIVA Project, had this to say about the challenge teachers face on a blog he penned for Education Nation:
"...teacher evaluation data demonstrates the complexity of how we treat and perceive teachers. On the one hand, we expect them to be consummate professionals, beholden to the ethical and technical standards of their chosen profession. On the other hand, we consider them "public employees" who are at the bottom of a chain of command that begins with the principal, continues to the mayor or school board, and trails up to Albany, with the buck stopping, of course, in D.C. Teachers are therefore bestowed with a bipolar status that swings between the high status accorded to professionals such as brain surgeons and the low status of an army grunt.
Another VIVA Project veteran, Lisa Hantman, a third grade teacher from the McCall School in Philadelphia, emphasized to the local NBC affiliate that any discussion about education reform must include teachers, students, and parents. She told Channel 10 in Philly:
"... (VIVA) encourages teachers everywhere to speak up... I think it is the teachers' voices that need to be heard."
Pam Kingdon, a VIVA Teacher from Houston and town hall participant was interviewed by Houston television station KPRC where she discussed the VIVA Project:
It is a platform for teachers to collaborate and talk about how policy can change for the better. I think policymakers need to listen to our expertise. We know what works and what doesn't work in the classroom, and we don't seem to be able to share that with anyone at this point.
If we want to improve schools in America it is essential that policy makers of both parties listen to voice of real classroom teachers, like Mark, Lisa, and Pam. Their experience and ideas are what have been missing in our attempts to better prepare our students for the future and bring innovation to the classroom.
As more teachers join the VIVA Project their voices will be heard and become a force for change in state capitals and in Washington, D.C..