Teachers Take the Stage at NBC's Education Nation Forum

By Amy Buffenbarger

More than 6,000 educators spent their Sunday afternoon logged on to educationnation.com to participate in NBC’s nationally broadcast Teacher Town Hall. The on-air and online town hall, moderated by NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams, was the beginning of a week-long focus on education issues discussed and highlighted across NBC News programs, MSNBC, CNBC, and Telemundo.

Audience members — a mix of new and veteran, traditional public and charter teachers — along with online participants, shared their ideas, concerns and experiences about recruitment and retention, offering greater support to new teachers, tenure, charter schools, global competition, STEM education, parental involvement and what makes a good teacher.

A passionate debate occurred around the current public wave of teacher-bashing, spurred by the release of Davis Guggenheim’s documentary Waiting For Superman and last week’s Oprah Winfrey shows that many viewed as an attack on teachers. Many teachers shared their frustrations with “being made the scapegoats for much larger social ills,” as one audience member put it. They agreed that while they must be held accountable, teachers cannot fix every problem alone. One passionate teacher said “It’s not just teachers, it’s everyone working together in a community to make schools work to the best they possibly can.”

With media attention increasingly featuring education reform advocates and no actual educators from the trenches, the Teacher Town Hall attempted to elevate that missing voice.

“It was good that a program finally aired where the majority of participants were real teachers.” wrote Deborah Meaux on NEA’s Speak Up for Education and Kids Facebook page. “I do believe that the major conclusion that hopefully people took away from the program is that there are no magic solutions… solutions will come locally in individual schools with collaboration between the parents, students, and teachers with support from administrators and school boards.”

NBC News has turned Rockefeller Plaza in New York City into a “Learning Plaza” with interactive exhibits and will host a two-day Education Nation Summit where policymakers, educators, members of the business community, and engaged citizens will come together for a series of panel sessions on the challenges of America’s education system, the success stories, and the solutions.

On Sunday, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel participated in the MSNBC panel discussion “Good Apples: How do we keep the good ones, throw out the bad ones and put a new shine on the profession.” The panel addressed how public schools can attract the best talent, evaluate teachers based on performance, nurture and support a rapidly changing teacher workforce, and pay and retain top talent in the profession.

Van Roekel had to bat down yet another claim that educators’ days end when the bell rings and they have summers off — a common myth about the profession.

“Teachers have to work until the job is done,” he said.

Watch video clips from the Teacher Town Hall on NBC’s Education Nation website.

Watch MSNBC’s panel here.