Friday, October 07, 2011


Back in the spring sometime I tweeted out that I was wondering why we didn’t see similar protests by young people in this country similar to the then-just-beginning Arab Spring protests. While the economic, environmental and education problems that we have pale in comparison to the issues that folks in some of those other countries have to deal with, it still surprised me that there wasn’t more protest here. After all, the present and near future wasn’t look very bright for young people and the leadership of our country seemed to be unable to get much done other than bicker with each other.

Now along comes #occupywallstreet and all the offshoots. (When I saw on Twitter last night that there was an #occupyLexington – where I grew up – that kind of surprised me, and that ultimately spurred this post.) While not only comprised of young people, they are certainly a significant portion of these protests, and I think we’re beginning to see protesters in this country leverage many of the same online tools that folks in Tunisia and Egypt, Yemen and Syria are using (although thankfully without the violence associated with those efforts).

But when I first saw the hashtag #occupytheclassroom in my Twitter stream (can’t recall exactly where or I would link) I smiled . . . and then dismissed it. I was skeptical that any kind of grassroots movement by teachers could have any effect on the current reform juggernaut. Plus teachers, despite our reputation, are generally a conservative lot when it comes to schools – we may want to change a few things, but we generally don’t want to change too much. And, historically, I don’t see much evidence of teacher-driven reform being very successful.

Well, I’m still skeptical, but I keep hearing this little voice in my head. A little voice that says that, in the end, teachers are the ones in the classrooms working with kids each day. After listening for a moment, I remembered whose voice that was. Mine.

About five years ago in some staff development we were doing in my school, I suggested to (argued with?) folks in the staff development that we did have the power to change things. That if we, as a group of reasonably respected and successful teachers in our school, got together and said, “Here are some changes we’d like to make that we think would be beneficial to our students, and here’s why,” that we’d have a pretty decent chance of being listened to.

That instead of blaming “the system,” we should realize that we are the system, and we should advocate for our students when we see things that we don’t believe are in their best interests. And that we, just like the protesters in the middle east, and just like the #occupywallstreet folks, have access to tools that Clay Shirky has shown us make it much easier to not only organize, but to actually effect change. That, really, this thing we call school doesn’t happen without us.
What if we just said, “Enough.”

What if we just said, “Your reform is bad for our students. We need to transform.”

What if we just said, “Not in my classroom. Not to my students. Not to my own children.”

What if we did #occupytheclassroom?

What if I #occupiedmyclassroom?

What if you #occupiedyourclassroom?
I’m still skeptical. But a little less than I was. And maybe, just maybe, a little hopeful.


Update: It looks like this post by Jose Vilson was probably the source of the #occupytheclassroom hashtag that eventually appeared in my Twitter stream.


  1. Teacher-led professional development (learning) is a good place to start.

    Imagine a group of teachers working to solicit feedback from their colleagues to design and put into action a series of practical PL sessions that encourage creativity and collaboration in ways that neither micromanage nor overload with new initiatives.

    We're professionals, let's do better with respect to sharing and improving our craft.

    #occupytheclassroom indeed...

    Good post Karl.

  2. Ryan - That's what we were doing five years ago in my school . . . but no more. The grant money ran out, and the district went to PLC's - which, so far, are not working that way for us.

  3. I will say when I started it that this is exactly what I thought. It was hard at first because it made me wonder how the system seems to reject innovation and excellence for many. But now that we as teachers are there, we are the system. This is us. What will we do to assure that our students get the best education? Yes, there's tons of factors that contribute to the problems our students face. They all matter. Let's just make sure we're not one of them. We must #OccupyTheClassroom

  4. There is no "start" to it. It is either do or do not. Karl is right, it is our conservative aproach to change that is our problem. For all the reading, writing, talking, and sharing about change that I have been exposed to in the last four years of blogging and twittering, I can still walk through most schools and say, "Where's the change?" I am not sure if educators have the fortitude to pull off an #occupytheclassroom, but I would love to be surprised.

  5. I find this post both encouraging and depressing all at the same time. First, I think it is an encouraging notion that teachers can be the change within the system we are a part of. I do see evidence of change in the way things are done in my classroom and in my school. However, I know we are just one of millions of schools and many are not that fortunate. Many teachers work in classrooms where they have rules and policy forced upon them that does not help them nor the kids they teach. That is where the depression can be...can we make systemic change? Yes, we are the teachers and we do "run" the classrooms, but in reality we don't run ourselves. We are subject to the rules of our district and our states. How can we be the change when we don't have a seat at the table where changes are discussed? I like to think we can push that change and will work tirelessly to do so, but I am not naive to think teachers can force change without some support or help from "above".

  6. Dave - Yeah, I'd love to be surprised as well.

    When I look at my own practice (teaching one section of Algebra in addition to my other duties), I haven't walked the walk as much as I would've liked. Lots of rationalizations about why that is, but that doesn't really make it any better.

  7. Josh - I agree, yet sometimes I think maybe if we were more naive we'd get more done. What if . . .

  8. "Back in the spring sometime I tweeted out that I was wondering why we didn’t see similar protests by young people in this country similar to the then-just-beginning Arab Spring protests."

    I have been wondering for a long time, ever since coming back after spending most of my adult life in a foreign country. For example, why are people only now talking about moving their money to credit unions? When did Americans decide it was okay that banks pay little to no interest on deposits while they use those deposits to make money hand over fist?

    How have Americans allowed the tyranny of the credit score to take over, such that a person with "insufficient data" is considered financially irresponsible? If you pay cash for everything, there will be insufficient data on you.

    Why do Americans rent from landlords that would not want to live in their own properties? Are Americans a bunch of frogs who only now perceive the kettle of boiling water they are sitting in? (

    Having a sit-in accomplishes nothing. Boycotting banks and other entities also accomplishes nothing if only one person is doing the boycotting.

    As far as Professional Development goes, there should be plenty of in-house talent to share (

  9. @ Josh Stumpenhorst . . . I feel exactly the same way. I read this post and thought, "Exactly! Yes!" Unfortunately, this was quickly followed by " if only . . . "

    I have tried to be brave, to advocate for change, to innovate. But I have also been massively ineffective in these endeavors. And I have become exhausted. Which has led me to quietly slip back into my classroom where I can at least be a brave and innovative teacher to my small bunch of students.

    As Dave pointed out, there is no "start". There is also no finish though. Education is and will continue to be a constant. I do want to see serious transformation and I hope to be fully recuperated in time to take part when eventually someone stronger than me leads the way.

  10. Mr. Karl,
    My name is Kacie and I am in EDM310 at the University of South Alabama. After reading your post I completely agree with change starting with the teacher in the classroom. If the teacher is not willing to listen and make changes, then they will not grow and become a stronger teacher.

  11. In this posting, Karl Fisch talks about the Occupy Wall Street movement and fantasizes about educators taking a similar stance in regard to creating a positive change in the educational system. He fantasizes about teachers having the courage to stand up to school administrators, rather than just go along with the program.

    I just left a reform based teaching program, which was heavily driven by vested interests. It was a very stressful and demanding atmosphere in which teachers were forced to spend heavy amounts of time on non-student based activities to please the powers that be. They were loaded with data-driven administrative requirements, as well as extra projects by principals seeking to please stakeholders who would be doing school walkthroughs. A lot of what teachers were required to do to improve schools did not seem sincere, but more like things to make the program look good.

    In that type of atmosphere teachers were stressed and afraid to go against the grain of reform. In essence, they wanted to do what they were told to keep the security of their jobs.

    I can agree with Karl Fisch on the need for teachers to stand up to reform changes that they know in their hearts will harm students and the educational system even further. At the same time, I can understand why an educator would be hesitant of taking the kind of stand that the protestors of the Occupy Wall Street Movement are taking.