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Taking Action on World Teachers’ Day

Posted by Lisa Swayhoover on October 8, 2013 at 2:03 pm

October 5 is World Teachers’ Day (WTD) – an initiative started by UNESCO in 1994 – celebrated annually by teachers around the world.  It is used as a platform to raise awareness about the conditions of the teaching profession globally, and “an opportunity to rethink national issues facing teachers from an international perspective, to benchmark progress made by national teachers in a global context.” For many teachers around the world, this is a day used for political advocacy marked by parades, demonstrations, and other public actions.

Education International (EI) is the global federation of education unions around the world, committed to improving the working conditions of educators. EI is also one of the strongest voices demanding that education be considered a universal human right and advocating for sufficient resources to provide this basic right as a public good. On October 4, as part of the World Teachers’ Day celebrations, I attended an event in New York to launch Education International’s new campaign, “Unite for Quality Education.” The program included speakers from the National Education Association, National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, and Global Partnership for Education. Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown also joined the event in his role as United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education.

A key message from this event is that the developing world needs 1.6 million more teachers to meet the demands of Education for All (EFA), the international development goal aimed at providing universal primary education for the 67 million children currently without access to school. But simply placing a teacher in the classroom does not necessarily lead to learning – quality education requires a well-prepared teacher. Again and again during this event, panelists and speakers called for high quality teacher preparation and ongoing professional development. Noticeably absent from this event, however, were representatives of the pre-service teacher education community, except for one or two faculty members from comparative education programs in the audience. I encourage you to visit the campaign website to learn more about this year-long effort, and view the trailer for the upcoming documentary, "A Day in the Life of a Teacher," profiling teachers' everyday lives and the challenges they face.

One of the pillars of global competence is ‘Take Action’ defined as “Students translate their ideas into appropriate actions to improve conditions.”  If the skills and dispositions needed for taking action are something we wish to instill in the next generation of K-12 students, are teacher education programs preparing future teachers to be advocates for the teaching profession here in the United States and worldwide?  In the United States, little, if any, attention is paid to World Teachers’ Day as an opportunity for advocacy, despite the low status of the teaching profession in this country. This low status is reflected in poor salaries, inadequate resources for professional development and supplies, media and public opinion perpetuating the perception that schools are riddled with bad teachers, and policy makers – many with little to no education experience – making policy decisions on behalf of teachers and public education.

Schools and colleges of education are similarly relegated to the bottom of the academia hierarchy. How do faculty prepare pre-service teachers to advocate for themselves, public education in the United States, and the teaching profession worldwide? What can we do as a community to celebrate World Teachers’ Day and bring public awareness to the need for better education for a better world?