Op-Ed: We Should Make Teachers the ‘Agents of Change’


Each and every day, hundreds of thousands of teachers make important decisions that impact the lives of the children inside their classrooms. They try to engage and inspire students so that each can learn at his or her own pace and own level. They are entrusted with educating the next generation of leaders, thinkers, and entrepreneurs.

In most classrooms, educators have large amounts of autonomy and control to help them meet these goals. Yet outside the classroom, they traditionally have had little say in the decisions that impact their own profession and its evolution.

We’ve experienced this dichotomy, first hand. Working as teachers at P.S. 86 in the Bronx was a dream come true for both of us. Each day was more stimulating and challenging than the last, and the personal and professional rewards we felt when our students met or exceeded expectations were fulfilling in ways we never imagined. But even as we celebrated the small victories we had with our students, we also increasingly felt stifled within an education system that simply wasn’t doing all it could for teachers and their students.

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Outside the four walls of our classrooms, debates over teacher quality, evaluation, and accountability were raging with little, if any, opportunity for teachers themselves to weigh in. On its face, it just didn’t make much sense that those impacted the most by these policies would be the last to have a seat at the table. We decided something needed to change.

The fact is, who knows better than teachers how education policy translates into classroom practice and educational outcomes? Who knows better than teachers what skills and tools are lacking most, which would otherwise enhance teaching and raise student performance? We knew that by harnessing this real world classroom experience, we could come up with teacher-oriented solutions that could solve some of the most persistent problems in public education and improve outcomes for kids.  

Rather than continue to allow teachers to be treated as subjects of change, we wanted to make teachers the agents of change.

So in 2010, we founded Educators 4 Excellence to empower those on the front lines of our public education system to have an impact on the direction in which our schools are heading. Working collectively with a diverse, yet like-minded group of colleagues from other schools, we established a Declaration of Principles and Beliefs—a set of values and policy positions—that we believed would help improve our profession.  

Rather than continue to allow teachers to be treated as subjects of change, we wanted to make teachers the agents of change.

In just two years, we’ve grown from a handful of teachers to a national organization of more than 7,000 members. It is increasingly clear that E4E has tapped into a void in the teaching experience. So far, we’ve opened chapters in New York and Los Angeles and have heard from teachers across the country asking us to help empower them in the conversations taking place in their districts.

We do this in several ways: E4E teachers learn about education policy, network with colleagues and important policymakers, and take action outside of the classroom to advocate for systemic changes that will transform the teaching profession.

For example, we have established policy teams of 10-20 members who do a deep dive on a particular issue for up to three months and then provide recommendations to colleagues, policy makers, and education leaders. To date, E4E members have tackled issues including both principal and teacher evaluation, pay structures, and layoffs.

E4E members have influenced policy at the local, state, and federal levels—from helping inform the statewide teacher evaluation framework in New York, to helping block a toothless evaluation bill in the California State Legislature. E4E members have also worked closely with the Obama Administration to launch Project Respect, a national teacher quality campaign.

E4E has demonstrated that teachers can affect a system once dominated by top-down decision-making, and policymakers are taking notice.

For too long, the voices of teachers were lost in the most important conversations about their careers and classrooms. By standing up and demanding to be heard, teachers are finally changing that dynamic.

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Evan Stone and Sydney Morris are former New York City public school teachers, and the Co-Founders and Co-CEOs of Educators 4 Excellence. To learn more, please visit www.educators4excellence.org.