By Kara Herlihy
"Those that speak with authority are heard," according to former Vermont Governor Madeleine Kunin, who gave the opening address at Vermont Teachers at the Table, a one-day meeting hosted by former Teachers of the Year.
Teachers and education professionals gathered Tuesday morning at the Lareau Farm to discuss aspects of the federal education law known as No Child Left Behind.
Organizer of the event, 2007 Vermont Teacher of the Year Katie Sullivan, introduced Kunin.
"We do not speak for or represent the perspectives of any union, education or lobbyist organization. We do have our collective classroom experiences and the conviction that our schools can be dramatically better," Sullivan said.
She stressed the importance of "using our teacher voices" as agents of change in government, as well as the right to "accountability without demoralization" for education professionals.
In reference to No Child Left Behind, Kunin said she understood why teachers are troubled by the law, while it is still crucial to link testing results to accountability.
"The purpose is valid; it's the means of achieving it that still has to be figured out," Kunin said.
Kunin encouraged education professionals to "become a player in decision making" by understanding the process as well the content, and discussed the importance of developing partnerships to achieve common goals.
"One group doesn't have to do all the heavy lifting," she said.
Kunin encouraged teachers to "exchange creative ideas, build the recognition that you can create change and be the spokesperson for this change."
Kunin concluded by listing three key ingredients for entering public office and contributing to the legislative dialogue.
"The first is anger. You have to be angry about something. The second is imagination; free yourself by envisioning otherwise; and, finally, optimism. Believe it's worth it," she said.
"Pessimists are usually right. Optimists change the world," Kunin quoted.
"The challenge is to maintain optimism; there is a great division in our country and a great loss of civil debate," she continued.
The culmination of the collaborative effort is a letter addressed to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan as well as the Obama administration outlining what Vermont teachers would like to see preserved, changed and included in the rewriting and re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
"For far too long, the voice of teachers has been underrepresented in the process of developing federal education legislation. This meeting will allow us to be proactive about providing positive input as well as articulating serious concerns to help shape the policies that affect our country's public schools," Sullivan said.
Kunin is the author of <MI>Pearls, Politics, and Power--How Women can Win and Lead<D> and served as the governor of Vermont from 1985 to 1991 and served two terms as lieutenant governor.