Things I Know 139 of 365: We don’t work in the mailroom

There is absolutely no indication this is a problem beyond the mailroom.

Phil Budahn

I don’t see myself as working at the bottom of the education hierarchy.

In his weekly media address, President Obama said, “We need to encourage this kind of change all across America. We need to reward the reforms that are driven not by Washington, but by principals and teachers and parents. That’s how we’ll make progress in education – not from the top down, but from the bottom up.”

See what happened there?

In attempting to build up the teaching profession, the President admitted teachers work in the equivalent of the mailroom of the educational industrial complex.

We don’t, but it’s subtle turns of phrase like that which continue to make it acceptable for politicians, commentators and anyone in general to talk about teachers as if they were the least important pieces of a student’s life. Often, this is a breath or two after they’ve admitted teachers are the most influential factors in teaching and learning.

“From the bottom up,” is one of those frequent idiomatic turns of phrase thrown in as filler or a linguistic bridge to get from one point to the next.

It draws much less attention than “Teachers are facilitators of learning,” or “We must focus on 21st-century skills.” Those rhetorical lightening rods draw the attention of anyone with an opinion on education while “From the bottom up,” or “From those on the front lines of education,” merit little notice in the educational thunderstorm.

This is how we keep teachers in their place. This is how we continue to scratch away the polish of the profession.

“From the bottom up,” implies the President wants to put a suggestion box in the break room and give a coffee mug to any teacher whose suggestion makes it to implementation.

At this point in a conversation, my students would claim I’m reading too much into President Obama’s remarks. Perhaps I am.

Consider, though, the effects if he reversed his language to paint a different mental picture – one that sat educators as the experts at the top of the system and recognized the role of government to provide a foundation of support.

“We need to support expertise of educators all across America. Washington needs to support reforms driven by principals and teachers and parents. That’s how we’ll make progress in education – from the top down.”

It would shift the paradigm. It would acknowledge that educators serve the needs of our students and that Washington serves at the pleasure of its electorate.

The first step toward the adoption of this language will begin with parents, principals and teachers and their rejection of the notion that they operate at diminished capacity simply because that is what they have been told.

We must engage in self-advocacy as we would want our students to do.

If we continue to agree with the linguistically constructed hierarchy, we will never be models of change to our students.

2 thoughts on “Things I Know 139 of 365: We don’t work in the mailroom

  1. This is why YOU need to be in Washington!!!  Changing the language, you have a voice that people will listen to.  You can't get through your Havard program fast enough!  Love you 0:)

  2. You are not reading too much into his remarks. He is a parent, as well, and I sometimes feel as though the tone of his speeches on education speak to his experience as a parent, not as his role as the ultimate superintendent of the education system. I often feel as if I am “communicated to” as if I were interchangeable with any other entry level worker in any other “industry”…when the reality is that I get significantly better at what I do every single day.  I see myself as top man on the organization chart. But I think maybe only my students would understand that. If some of my parents spent a week in my class……..

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