Jon Alfuth produced Bluff City Education, a blog where teachers can tell their stories and have their policy perspectives shared constructively with the larger education community.
School: The Soulsville Charter School
District: Shelby County Schools
State: Memphis, Tenn.
Source: National Network of State Teachers of the Year
I’m now in my fourth year teaching, and I feel very blessed by what I’ve been able to accomplish both in and outside of the classroom, especially through my writing on how education policy impacts my classroom. To date, my commentary has been published on the Huffington Post, TNTP, and Bellwether, among others. But even as I’ve seen my writing continue to be published, too often, I often feel like I’m one voice speaking on my own. I often ask myself – where are the other teachers’ stories from Memphis? Why does it so often feel like I’m alone in talking about the impacts of policy on my job and on my kids?
Upon reflection, I realized there were two reasons behind this apparent deficit in teacher stories. The first is that there wasn’t a place for teachers to tell their stories where they could easily be shared. Second, I also realized that there was nobody out there hunting for the stories about transformational teachers who were changing their students’ lives. With that knowledge in mind, I decided to change this reality.
I started a teacher voice blog to promote the voices of educators in my community, naming it Bluff City Education after one of Memphis’ nicknames. My goals were two-fold: give teachers a place to contribute constructively to the policy discussions in our city and state as well as to provide a place to share our stories. This would be a blog written by teachers for teachers.
I decided that all pieces should meet three simple criteria: tell a story, be positive when possible, and always be solutions-oriented. I’m a stickler on this last part because I believe that all too often as teachers we criticize what’s being done without offering an alternative. If we want our voices to be taken serious, it is essential that we offer this last component.
I have no financial backing to support me and no hidden agenda. I continue to run the site by myself in my spare time. I admit that when I started, I didn’t know how long I could sustain the hectic writing schedule. Fast forward almost a year later, and I’d say that given the constraints we face, Bluff City Education has been a huge success. We’ve published pieces by over half a dozen teachers and are adding more every month. We’ve shared some amazing stories about student achievement, Common Core, and many others. I write, I edit, and I recruit new writers as often as possible.
Most importantly, we’ve made progress in the mission to bring teachers’ voices to education policy discussions. We’ve had several of our pieces republished on online sites, such as Tennessee’s State Collaborative on Education Reform, The Educators Room, and Eduwonk, as well as in the local newspaper, the Commercial Appeal. We’re more than halfway to a thousand twitter followers and have thousands of visitors to the site every month. Not bad for a first year!
We’re not finished; there’s still work to do and room to grow. But I go into this new year of school confident that going forward, our voices will not be lost. I’m excited to see what this year will bring for our school and for teacher voices in Tennessee.