We Are the Experts on Our Students

I don’t remember when I started speaking up as a teacher.  When my words no longer burned in my skull, my mouth tightly closed.  When I finally had the courage to raise my hand and give my opinion and then wait and see what would happen.  But I do remember how it felt; terrifying.  My cheeks flamed red, all eyes on me.  In my mind you could have heard a pin drop.  Time slowed until someone else jumped in.  Yet, in reality, it was probably not a big moment.  Not something etched into history, nor remembered by the masses.  So why is it we are so afraid to claim our expertise as teachers, ask questions, and speak up for the students we teach?

We seem to have no problem being told what to do as teachers.  Whether we are a product of the teaching conditions we endure, or we simply don’t think our opinions have value, we mostly keep silent when it comes to new programs, new initiatives, and new decisions.  We assume that everyone understands our students and thus the decisions being made will always benefit them.  But we all know that that is not always true.  And yet we wait for others to tell us what to do, so that we can follow their path.  Instead of carving out our own, instead of adding our voice.

The thing is, we are the experts on the kids we teach.  Not the amazing administrators we may work with.   Not the consultant brought in or the outside expert.  We are.  And we need to speak up when things are not going to be in the best interest of those children.  We need to at least offer our opinion, our advice, and then be allowed to adapt for the very students we teach.

If we know our facts.  If we know our craft.  If we know our research then we too are experts.  Then our voices matter as well.  But you have to allow yourself to have your voice heard.  You have to trust yourself in adapting programs to make them work for the kids you teach.  You have to allow yourself to ask questions, suggest modifications, create change so that the very students we are entrusted to teach will get the best learning experience.

Don’t wait for others to claim you are an expert, claim it yourself.  Give yourself the same value that you place on your students.  You know what is best for kids, so trust that. Stop creating more barriers than there needs to be because their future depends on you.

H/T to Jess Lifshitz and her early morning talks.

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA but originally from Denmark,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children.  The second edition of my first book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students” is available for pre-order now.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Join our Passionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

2 thoughts on “We Are the Experts on Our Students

  1. Goosebumps…chills and tears at the emotions released by reading your post. I was a teacher of less than a year when I first spoke out by organizing my colleagues against ridiculous and sometimes illegal requests by our administrators at a private school. I didn’t know any better. Since then I have watched as colleagues in different places and different times have followed and not led but have been also cheered on by those who live what you write….teachers know their students best and can be their best advocates while nurturing the voices inside them and modeling it every day! Kudos to you and the others…you KNOW who you are!

  2. What a great post-I truly enjoy reading your blog on a regular basis. My personal experience in speaking up about “my students needs” (and they happen to be Special Education H.S.students) is somewhat like the Todd Rundgren song that speaks about standing up too fast so someone can take your head off. I have found that if you are too far ahead of the “approved norm” then your speaking up becomes a chance for your peers and administration to “label” you with terms that are usually not well accepted and don’t show very high approval-usually just prior to taking your head off…….that is unless you work with forward thinking, engaged administrators who happen to support your ideas. We, as teachers, do know our students best and I look forward to the day when our input is valued and we are allowed to act upon it. Everyone will benefit when that happens.

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