Policymakers Need to Hear What Teachers Have to Say

Typhoid fever, cholera, and dysentery – if you didn’t heed the warnings of those around you on the Oregon Trail, you were bound to get one of these deadly diseases. I still remember the first time I played the computer game more than 20 years ago, and now my own students are learning all about the Oregon Trail as a way to sharpen their communication and collaboration skills. When I was a kid, it took the characters I chose dying more than once for me to realize that listening to those I met along the trail was necessary to my survival.beth

Just like in the game, listening to others can help us avoid disaster and forge ahead on the trail to better educational outcomes.

As a teacher, I must actively listen to and monitor my students every day to ensure that they have the tools they need to succeed.

Building Listening Skills

I’ve been a teacher for more than 17 years, and while I currently teach fifth grade, I’ve also been working with a third-grade class this year to renew my National Board Certification. Most eight- and nine-year aren’t talented listeners, instead talking over each other and thinking about what they are going to say next instead of being active listeners. Nevertheless, they must learn to actively listen to people around them. Otherwise, how can they expect to learn and grow from different experiences?

When making important decisions, like what should shape education policy, it’s common sense that policymakers should listen to and engage with teachers, since we have the opportunity to see how policy will translate to the classroom. Unfortunately, a report issued last month by Educators for High Standards shows that teachers across the country don’t feel like their voices are being considered in the education policy development process. This report resonates with me, especially since many teachers in Arizona don’t feel like our voices were recently captured in our state’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan.

I’ve worked to be more involved in opportunities to ensure Arizona teacher voices are heard – and now is the perfect time for them to share their opinions.

Teachers: Speak up

The Arizona Teaching, Empowering, Leading and Learning (TELL) Survey, which addresses teaching conditions ranging from teacher supports to managing student conduct, is now open. Arizona teachers can check with their school or district administrator to get their personalized survey code and take the survey here until Friday, April 28. The survey results will be used to inform school improvement planning and assist policymakers in understanding what teachers need and how policy can address those needs.

Teachers play one of the most influential roles in school and student performance. That’s why policymakers must listen to and gather feedback from teachers on policies that will affect teaching and learning. Teachers must also take advantage of every opportunity they can to get involved and make sure our student’s needs are met.

While the Oregon Trail may feel somewhat outdated when teaching certain skills, like budgeting enough money for bullets to hunt bison or reducing our wagon loads to cross rivers, it does teach us that listening to others is the best way to reach our desired endpoint, together.

Beth Maloney teaches  fifth grade at Sunset Hills Elementary School in the Dysart Unified School District in Surprise, Arizona. She is the 2014 Arizona Teacher of the Year.

A version of this was originally printed in the Arizona Republic.