When I was in school, admittedly a good long while ago, teachers mostly ran the school.
The principal ran the building, but teachers held the reins in the classrooms and in the curriculum. Teachers decided what we were ready to learn, what to teach us, and how to make sure we stayed on track for SATs, scholarships and college success.
And they did a pretty good job.
Our teachers were motivated — positively by love of teaching and a commitment to their students; goaded by the knowledge that parents were paying attention, and that success was important to the community.
Why did this change?
A combination of factors led to the shift of power in education.
✔ The rise of the education colleges created a new power base in the field, one populated by professionals with advanced degrees.
✔ A Nation at Risk began, and No Child Left Behind advanced, the process of nationwide standards and testing.
✔ Increased state and federal control of school funding forced districts to comply.
Line these things up — a committed bureaucracy, a mandatory program to follow, the power of the purse — and you see that teachers never had a chance.
But perhaps there’s hope.
My school is beginning to move to a shared leadership model, with teachers taking a larger role in designing and implementing policy. This is not just window dressing — we are being asked to work on issues like the shift to core standards teacher evaluation and pay, even budgets.
Our principal and master teacher are genuinely committed to this process. Everyone understands that real decision-making still rests in their hands, but our voices are being heard, our issues are being addressed, and policies are developing in ways that benefit faculty, students and the school.
Administration wins, too, with good ideas flowing upward and increased faculty buy-in to our ongoing school improvement program.
It’s not perfect. We teachers have to learn how to participate more effectively in policymaking, how to operate within the system. Administrators have to learn how to say more than “no” when we send up something that doesn’t work; real explanations improve faculty morale, and improve the quality of the next proposal.
It’ll be a slow process, but losing control happened gradually, too.