Listen to Mom: Keep Your Eyes on Your Own Plate

Many of us growing up with siblings remember being told to “keep your eyes on your own plate” when issues arose or squabbles began. Those words come to my mind when reflecting on the current distractions hounding teacher education. Even as we actively promote the need for educators to think and act as one profession and to engage with various external groups, we also must not forget to mind our own business.

In addition to the uncertainty around the outcome of today’s highly contentious national election, many other factors are competing for our attention and causing us anxiety. The teacher preparation program regulations are now official, and so is the Every Student Succeeds Act. The nation is rapidly moving toward a major teacher shortage, and despite our very best efforts, we have not been able to make a significant dent in diversifying the profession. Our many critics continue to share their views on the state of university-based teacher preparation programs, and our national-level accrediting agency is still working to rise to the level it should in order to assist programs in meeting standards and improving their work. To my mind, we all could benefit from Mom’s mantra: Keep your eyes on your own plate.

Here is what we all know about our educator preparation programs. Most programs are meeting the needs of local school districts, and our collaborative efforts are working well, despite the rhetoric we are hearing from our critics. Most of our programs have made such a commitment to accountability that we are now all swimming in data that we might never be able to analyze fully. And most of us can brag about innovative programs that could serve as models for other to emulate. All of these success stories are important to celebrate.

If we are honest, though, there are also areas where we need to improve. Here’s where it’s important for us to look at our own plate, in order to become even more effective than we are now. To be clear, I am not promoting less professional collaboration or less participation in the important national and international conversations surrounding our field. What I am suggesting, however, is that we not lose sight of our own domain, where we are best positioned to make a difference. What if we all worked on answering these questions:

  • How is my institution helping to combat the increasing shortages of educators? Do we have a plan to assist with that enormously serious effort?
  • How is my institution helping to increase the diversity of educators to more definitively mirror and support the population of students we are teaching? Do we have a specific program or initiative focused on increasing the diversity of the workforce?
  • How actively are we working with our state department of education to meet the demands of the new teacher preparation regulations and the Every Student Succeeds Act? Would working more closely with our state chapter help facilitate this process?

I commend those colleagues who are able to confidently share that their programs are doing everything they can to move our profession forward to meet these most critical difficulties, locally as well as nationally. For those who may not be as confident, I encourage you not only to have serious discussions about the questions above but to take action to address our collective professional trials. By focusing on this critical work, you will have little time to perseverate on the noise of the election or the dismal barrage of attacks from outside critics. Let’s keep our eyes on our own plate, and offer your extensive expertise, knowledge, and skills to move our profession forward with pride, confidence, and solutions.

Jane S. Bray is chair of AACTE’s Board of Directors for 2016-2017.

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Jane S. Bray

Dean of the Darden College of Education at Old Dominion University (VA) and 2016-2017 chair of AACTE’s Board of Directors.