“Civil disobedience from teachers”

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21 maart 2013 | At the ‘Impulse Day’ American Teacher of the Year Rebecca Mieliwocki shared her insights from the Teaching Summit and her experiences as a teacher. “What we really need is civil disobedience from teachers!”

Since Rebecca Mieliwocki became the National Teacher of the United States she has been on the road almost continuously. This teaching world tour has already taken her across Russia, China and the Netherlands, and she will leave soon for Australia. Mieliwocki is at “every single place education is talked about”. At the four corners of the world people have learned a great deal from her enthusiasm and expertise on the teaching profession.

Gold medal work

Mieliwocki was full of praise for the Summit in Amsterdam: “this is even more impressive than the White House! I now have had the opportunity to be at the Olympic games of teaching, and we all do so well. It is real gold medal work!” Nobody present objected to that great compliment.

Mieliwocki’s enthusiasm reached further than the doors of the meeting room, the entire digital community could feel how passionate she was about the Teaching Summit: “I was just quoted in the Summit wrap up. Holy See!!!! Man, this day can’t get better. The teacher voice was HEARD!

So, what happened behind those closed doors where the top educational decision makers met with teachers? “As soon as the meeting started the gloves came of and people were very open. This was to a great extend the achievement of our excellent chairman Tony MacKay who forced to us to keep an open mind and really listen to each other.”

Remove the pressure on teachers

“Two topics that were discussed impressed me most. The first is the need to increase the motivation of teachers and everybody involved in education. Sadly, decision makers do not talk about this.”

“The other topic, that is at least as important, is how to remove the pressure on teachers. Nowadays teachers are responsible for the health and wellbeing of students, next to teaching them everything they need in their future life, and, and and… It’s just too much at times.”

The Glassroom

How does this world-class teacher herself deal with this pressure and the more transparent education, often called the ‘glassroom’? “Being open to society is okay, but not too much towards politics. Our main responsibility as a teacher is to let the children grow academically. I always try to take one day at a the time and to take one student at a time as well.” In Amsterdam a Glassroom was literally stationed in front of the Teaching Summit venue. And Rebecca Mielewocki was there to open its schoolday. “When people realize what happens in the classroom and how complex it is, people want to help”.

“When I first came to my school it was the worst school in town, it even had a gang problem”. Mieliwocki was not scared and at her first day she asked, “what can I do to make this the best school in the city”? “The principal liked this attitude very much and wanted to help.” This turned out very well. “My school has an unprecedented growth in quality”.

What was the role of America’s National teacher in this great achievement? “I wasn’t the one leading person with the biggest mouth, I was the one that learned the most. I treated the others as the pro.”

Education is a bit of a soft science, but we can make it as “hard” as medicines for example. We all have to be part of that process. The teachers have to lead, create a supportive system. The school principal can facilitate this and give the teachers the freedom to lead.”

Stratospheric expectations of students

On the question how to improve the teaching profession Mieliwocki refers full of enthusiasm to one of the other countries she visited during her ‘teaching world tour’, Singapore. “Like in Singapore, we need to have stratospheric expectations of our students! That’s what I loved there, and that is what I want for the USA.”

Mieliwocki’s drive for change goes further than that. “We need to radically rethink American schools. If not now, when?” Teachers in Singapore get a lot of time to develop themselves, that is something that is missing in American education.


“There is a vacuum of visionary thoughts on education, we need stronger principals, because they are the people that can make a teacher great.” The teacher of the year has another practical solution that might boost teaching quality instantly. “Make it possible for teachers to lead without leaving the profession. We need a pathway to leadership for teachers.”

Mieliwocki herself did also change during this exceptional year. “It has given me the courage to trust what I do works. Liberation, I love that word, if we could liberate ourselves from the opinion of others. Liberation for teachers, liberation for students and liberation for schools. What we really need is civil disobedience for teachers!” 

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