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Posted at 9:29 AM ET, 10/ 8/2010

Still trying to make sense of NBC's Teacher Town Hall

By Valerie Strauss

This was written by Elizabeth Stein, a special education teacher from Long Island, N.Y. She was invited to attend the NBC's Teacher Town Hall — broadcast Sept. 26 as part of the network's week-long “Education Nation” events. Stein, a 10-year teaching veteran who holds National Board Certification in literacy, is a member of the Teacher Leaders Network.

By Elizabeth Stein
I consider myself lucky to have been one of the teachers in the live audience at NBC’s Teacher Town Hall event. But two weeks later, I’m still trying to make sense of the experience.

I actually experienced a full range of emotions. It was exciting to be around so many educators with a mission. It was exciting to speak with many teachers and get involved in some meaningful discussions. And I have to say, the energy in the place was riveting. However, frustration wins as my emotional theme for the day.

Interested and curious, I entered the makeshift studio of the NBC Teacher Town Hall (on the spot of the actual skating rink at Rockefeller Plaza). I had no idea what to expect. According to the invitation, the information at the Education Nation website, and all of the advertising leading up to the moment, there was that hint of hope that teachers would have a chance to make their voices heard.

To register, participants were asked to think about and be ready to “brainstorm” what works in the classroom and what are the challenges in education today. In addition, teachers who registered for the online chat were asked to submit a brief (about 100-200 word) response to identify “one change you think could help to transform education in America.” I still was not sure how the actual experience would pan out. But I was ready. I was in the moment.

Just to be in a room with fellow educators was really a gratifying experience. And as Brian Williams came out five minutes before we were to go on air, I was still hopeful that we would have a chance to have our voices heard. And many did.

Yet as the broadcast unfolded I found, too often, that my hope got swept up in the messy swirl of frustration all around me. What I thought would be a coming together of the minds turned into teachers sharing their challenges— but with no opportunities for brainstorming and seeking solutions. ( I tend to be a tad idealistic at times.)

Brian Williams had a pre-determined list of topics to discuss. These topics included teaching with passion (teaching as a calling), recruitment and retention, low-income schools, summer school, STEM, and teacher evaluations. Important topics that seemed to be treated as sound bites.

The most intriguing segment was when Williams introduced the “lightning” mode. He tried to allow the long line of teachers who stood waiting for their turn at the microphone an opportunity to say their piece in 15 seconds or less. I couldn’t help but wonder about his purpose. It seemed to be to appease the teachers -- as if to say, "See, you had your chance for your voice to be heard."

It also seemed to me that the teachers who were able to share validated points that people most likely to watch the show already knew. Or they shared personal stories that served to make them feel better for the moment. That's fine, but I continue to wonder, what about some real solutions? From where I sat, it felt like a venting session — some valid thoughts, but with no solutions in sight. And no one to really listen anyway.

I'd love to return to what the Town Hall registration form claimed we'd discuss, but never really did: What is one major change you think could help to transform education in America?

I'm still hopeful that teachers can have a serious conversation with America about that.


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By Valerie Strauss  | October 8, 2010; 9:29 AM ET
Categories:  Guest Bloggers, Teachers  | Tags:  education nation, nbc, school reform, teachers  
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Elizabeth, thank you for your participation and passion for education. Your students are very lucky to be with you.

High hopes and idealism continue to crash up against the reality of limitations all around us where vested interests are in charge. This is the nature of media, especially TV networks. All they want are sound bites, as you observed, to serve only their profit motives. True "public service" subjects are actually only self-serving projects to make still more money for media moguls.

When it is obvious to any sensible thinker that almost all information and solutions to the problems in public education reside in the classroom teachers themselves, the self-annointed experts know they have nothing helpful to offer. They do it only for political gain and greater profits. The best example is the hue and cry to privatize schools for the corporations to exploit.

We can only hope that many, many thousands of teachers and parents will speak out loudly for as long as it takes to get through to Oprah and the rest of the media to bring reality to public discussion and consideration.

Posted by: 1bnthrdntht | October 8, 2010 11:51 AM | Report abuse

Thank you, 1bnthrdntht…

Your words ring so true. Yet, I can’t help but feel saddened by this lost opportunity. In this particular instance, the high hopes and idealism also crashed up against the reality that many teachers who shared their voices fell into this media trap.

And yes, continued hope emerges that our voices will speak loudly—with clarity and purpose—to really make a difference.

Posted by: ElizabethStein | October 11, 2010 2:15 PM | Report abuse

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