By Amy Auletto
The Michigan Department of Education (MDE) recently launched a media campaign designed to recognize the work of educators across the state. Referred to as Proud Michigan Educator, this campaign was developed to combat the negative rhetoric surrounding the teaching profession which often blames teachers for the failings of public education and contributes to low teacher morale and high teacher turnover. Described in the press release as a joint venture with the Skillman Foundation, Proud Michigan Educator was kicked off with a video featuring Michigan’s Teacher of the Year, Tracy Horodyski, and will be followed up by other forms of traditional and social media. The press release encourages participants to “like, share, and comment” on videos and to use the hashtag #proudMIeducator to celebrate Michigan educators.
Origins of Proud Michigan Educator
Proud Michigan Educator is a product of Michigan’s Plan to Ensure Equitable Access to Excellent Educators. This equity plan was Michigan’s response to an initiative announced by former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in July 2014, calling for all states to develop plans that ensure that all students have access to strong teachers regardless of their “race, zip code or family income.” Proud Michigan Educator specifically stems from Strategy 6: Call to Action/Media Campaign, the aim of which is to shift away from the negative conversations about “failing” schools and “ineffective” teachers. According to the plan, a subcommittee was established in September 2015 to develop and launch a media campaign during the 2016-17 school year. Michigan’s plan also includes a number of other strategies as well. Examples include the development of an advisory group, the establishment of the MDE Office of Educator Talent and Policy Coordination, the implementation of a program to develop master teachers, and plans to increase the number of teachers utilizing student loan forgiveness programs.
What Proud Michigan Educator Fails to Address
The Proud Michigan Educator media campaign is certainly correct in recognizing the widespread negativity surrounding education. Last week, the Green & Write Blog examined the abysmal results of a survey completed by nearly 11,000 educators in Michigan. Survey participants painted a bleak picture of the teaching profession, identifying inadequate compensation, undue emphasis on standardized testing, cutthroat teacher evaluation practices, and unsafe building conditions as major concerns.
While Proud Michigan Educator’s goal of improving teacher morale through positive recognition of educators’ work is certainly laudable, their approach fails to acknowledge the issue in its entirety. When thousands of educators voiced their opinions of the teaching profession, their chief complaint wasn’t how the media was portraying them or whether their work was being acknowledged. Teachers in Michigan have more pressing concerns. Schools aren’t adequately heated in the winter, educators fear they cannot retire comfortably, and teachers feel forced to focus their instruction on standardized testing for fear of losing their jobs.
It seems that this media campaign is just a band-aid solution for a far more serious issue. How can we claim to celebrate the work of Michigan educators and at the same time treat them in such demeaning and punitive ways? I’m skeptical that positive tweets about educators or heart-warming videos about teachers’ successes are going to heal the profession. Of course we should celebrate teachers, but employing a media campaign as a means of distraction from the real issues is not the solution.
That being said, I’m still optimistic that other aspects of Michigan’s equity plan will lead to real improvements for teachers. Strategies such as assisting teachers in accessing loan forgiveness and developing master teachers within schools to support and increase the capacity of their colleagues are certainly a start. As Michigan is still in the process of implementing these strategies, the true impact of the equity plan as a whole remains to be seen. Substantial changes must be made to the teaching profession. Michigan’s educators deserve more than a hashtag.
Contact Amy: firstname.lastname@example.org