Elevate! Celebrate! Connect! We wore our new t-shirts with pride the day after we received them, high-fiving each other in sessions and at lunch as we lived the directives emblazoned on the shirts. These t-shirts signified the finale of another fantastic ECET2 convening this July in Seattle. Teachers planned the event, selected speakers, designed sessions, created displays, and shared with each other ways they have found to become better educators and elevate the profession. The Gates Foundation supported the convening, but it was teachers who showed up to ECET2.
ECET2 stands for Elevating and Celebrating Excellent Teachers and Teaching, and it is not just a convening. It is a movement. This may surprise you: the Gates Foundation has a strong commitment to improving education. Their commitment includes assembling this convening for hundreds of teachers, including travel and lodging, meals, and gifts. They do this because they know education is crucial to our national welfare, and teacher leadership is a key piece of a stellar education system.
Contrast this experience with the low opinion of teachers in rhetoric voiced daily on the national stage, where we are cast as greedy, lazy, and incompetent. When teachers are demoralized and defunded, they cannot be great. And with this rhetoric regularly punching the teaching profession in the face, sane people do not want to become teachers.
Imagine my dismay, then, when I learned of community members calling teachers in our school "seasonal employees." As such, we do not deserve pay increases or any other concessions negotiated between the school board and the teachers' union. In fact, because we are non-professionals we should not be unionized; we should have to fend for ourselves. We ask for too much already, asserts this stance.
This characterization of our faculty makes me reconsider my own commitments which I fulfilled this summer, also known as a teacher's off-season: to tutor a student for free, to spend many hours in my classroom preparing for the upcoming school year, to ignore my family while I read books to improve my teaching, to finish another endorsement on my own dime and my own time so the school can offer another class this fall. I do not normally spend time defending teachers' summer commitments, but a defense seems germane to this argument. After all, if I'm totally off-duty from June to August, can't someone else plan my classes, respond to emails, organize parent nights, schedule club meetings, pay attention to struggling students, or set up my classroom so it's all ready on August 24 when my on-season begins? I did that and more this summer.
The Gates Foundation knows that a solid education is one of the only routes out of poverty, out of the ignorance that allows tyranny. Education enables people to help others in meaningful ways. Progressive education fosters our democracy. Living out this belief, the Foundation supports teachers through initiatives such as ECET2. Why is it that a well-heeled, internationally active foundation understands the crucial role of teacher excellence in this equation, but some of our own politicians and community members cannot?