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Arizona Stories from School: It's Harder to Speak Up When It's Local

I am bothered by certain things in my district. I think it's irresponsible to spend half a million dollars a year on the digital worksheet program Success Maker. I think we lose too many days to testing and we misuse the data we get back as a result. Last year, students lost 35 days minimum to benchmark testing. I was bothered last year when they cancelled field trips altogether (a local site decision fueled by a desire to keep things "academic"). 

I rarely speak out about these issues. I haven't blogged about them. I haven't gone to any Governing Board meetings and talked about the damage caused by lost instructional time. I've never met with the assessment department and advocated for a better system.

Instead, I have spent most of my time and energy advocating for larger systemic change. I've written about immigration reform. I've bashed standardized tests and advocated for authentic assessments. I have offered a critique of VAM scores and Race to the Top.

Honestly, it's easier to advocate for issues when they are distant, larger and systemic. It's harder when they are local and require a relationship and a conversation with a real person. It's harder when there's a cost to the conflict. However, these local policies are the kind that I know the best. These are the policies that affect my students in a profound way. They're also the policies where I have the biggest chance at changing things.

So, why am I quieter? I'm afraid. I hate the conflict of standing up to bad policies in my district. I am scared of being cited for insubordination. I don't want to make more enemies than I already have. It's easier to advocate for a distance. It's harder when it's my own district. Teacher voice is easy when it's aimed at the world. It's much more difficult when it's a conversation with my own district.

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John Spencer

John Spencer has been a teacher coach and a classroom teacher in Phoenix, Arizona, for several years. He has written five books, including: Pencil Me In, an alleg...