Source: Teachers United
Teachers United began with a group of three teachers from high-poverty schools who met every Tuesday at 7:00pm to discuss the issues affecting their students and how teachers could play more of a role in advocating for teacher quality.
Over time, they met other teachers who were also interested in ensuring that students from low-income families have the most effective teachers possible, and in February 2011, two of them took personal days from school to travel to the state capitol and provide testimony against seniority-based human resource decisions. They believed that if teachers who were above all dedicated to students from low-income families were to have an effective voice in policy decisions, those students would have better opportunities in their life. So it began.
After the testimonies in front of the House Education Committee, several dozen teachers made themselves known and wanted to join. Nate Gibbs-Bowling joined after serving as a panelist during Waiting for Superman at the Seattle International Film Festival. Chris Eide said, “We knew we had to meet him. He is incredibly smart and articulate and had a strong network of teachers in Tacoma that has now become #TU253.”
As a small group, the teachers dedicated themselves to organizing great teachers to do policy research and make recommendations with the only bias being the guiding question: “What does this mean for students?” The work got early support from local individuals and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, parties interested in hearing teacher voice on policy issues. Over the next two years, six policy teams were assembled, featuring teachers from as far north as Bellingham and as far south as Tacoma, and teachers themselves chose the topics of those teams. Each team spent months reading papers and conducting interviews, traveling to other parts of the country to observe innovative work, and making recommendations.
The perspectives of Teachers United teachers have been featured in nearly every local news outlet as well as some national outlets. The statewide network is now comprised of about 600 educators, including a National Teacher of the Year, State Teachers of the Year, Milken Educators, Presidential Medal recipients and elected union officers among others.
The work and influence created by Teachers United is changing minds about what is possible for students and for the teaching profession. TU teachers have influenced the state ballot initiative that allows the operation of charter schools, swung union votes, and received calls during session from swing Democrats on controversial education policy issues. Six TU teachers recently participated in the NEA/Teach Plus Fellowship in which they advised senior leaders at the NEA on how to adapt to meet the needs of the next generation of teachers. In this past year, Teachers United claimed first place in a Washington-based social innovation competition and is continuing to grow.
Teachers United teachers have been featured on public panels and on the radio and television. They have hosted and facilitated panels, met with decision-makers locally and statewide, and this year they will be working in Seattle to bring high-quality early learning options for every family and statewide to pass legislation defining standards for high-quality professional development.
Partners in the effort have included: a kid-run philanthropy, Jewel for Life; three coalitions (Southeast Seattle Education Coalition, Our Schools Coalition and Excellent Schools Now). The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and League of Education Voters have also supported the effort.
Their hope is that by defining and upholding high professional standards not just for instruction, but for teacher leadership beyond the classroom, they can do the most important thing that they can do for our students: ensure an excellent teacher for every student, but most importantly for students from low-income families.