Why did you decide to found Educators 4 Excellence?
Sydney: Both Evan and I were teaching at same school--a traditional district elementary school in the Bronx--through Teach for America. We were in our 3rd year teaching. I taught 2nd and 3rd grade, Evan taught 6th grade. As we realized the great amount of control and responsibility teachers have within the four walls of their classroom, we started to wonder why we had almost no say in what happens outside of it.
We started to get frustrated, and talked to other teachers and found they were feeling the same way. We felt that we weren't evaluated in a meaningful way or given tools, resources, and support to improve. We weren't acknowledged or rewarded for the toughest job any of us could imagine doing.
We heard over and over that teachers felt they didn't have a voice in the system or a way to do anything about it or take action on behalf of their students.
So we began thinking about the potential for an independent movement of teachers who could become informed and involved in the system and become part of the decision-making process. Who knows better than teachers how policy translates into classroom practice?
Evan: Once we identified the problem we wanted to bring teachers together in a way that allowed teachers to become more active in the governance of their own profession.
Our founding document is a Declaration of Teachers' Principles and Beliefs. We asked teachers to become members of Educators for Excellence by signing onto the declaration. We currently have over 2,500 members in New York State.
What have been your biggest victories/successes to date?
Evan: Going through this process we've really seen that teachers can have an impact on policies: Policymakers want to hear from teachers. Some of our teachers' recommendations are reflected in state legislation that is currently moving forward in New York. E4E teachers present their recommendations to legislators and we engage our membership to be advocates for their students outside of the classroom by sharing their ideas with elected officials and policymakers.
Some people would say that teachers already have a voice through teachers unions--why is your organization necessary?
Evan: Teachers unions have a tremendously important place in this dialogue. Across the country we're starting to see unions take a real leadership role in advancing policies that put the needs of kids first.
But a union needs to have one stance on every issue. In New York City the UFT has 200,000 members. There are going to be a lot of differing opinions on how we make changes and get to ultimate goals. There didn't seem to be an outlet within the union for us to have the kind of dialogue we wanted to have.
Creating an independent organization gives people a venue and a place for dialogue and increases the opportunities and possibilities for educators to become involved.
If you are excited by Educators 4 Excellence and want to read the full conversation between Sarah Mead, and co-founders Sydney Morris and Evan Stone click here or visit the organization's homepage.