UMass Lowell professor's book examines teacher groups

08/02/2007
By Used with permission from the Lowell Sun Online. By SUSAN McMAHON Sun Staff

LOWELL Part support group, part advocacy organization, teachers associations groups that fall somewhere outside the boundaries of unions and school districts often play an essential role in affirming a teacher's work, according to a new book by a UMass Lowell professor.

Judith Davidson's book, Living Reading: Exploring the Lives of Reading Teachers, sheds light on a powerful group of organizations voluntary teacher associations grouped by subject area.

Groups such as the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and the National Council of Teachers of English play a pivotal role in the formation of national education policy. But the groups, particularly at a local level, can also serve as place of affirmation and development for teachers.

'It's very telling that teachers had such a powerful need to be affirmed,' Davidson said. 'It says something about education today that this is very hard work, that these are very caring people, and they need to be supported in their work.'

Davidson, an assistant professor at UMass Lowell's Graduate School of Education, spent 18 months researching four local branches of the International Reading Association in Illinois as part of her doctoral thesis. The result of her research is Living Reading.

For teachers who join the groups, the reasons are typically twofold to learn more about their chosen careers, and to receive support from fellow members. Having the resources to connect with other teachers, bounce ideas off of them and learn from each other, was an integral part of the associations.

'They're important groups to consider. This notion of affirmation, or a teacher's spiritual needs, is one we really have to take into consideration,' she said.

But they also serve an advocacy purpose, acting as consultants for topics relating to their subject area. Teacher's associations have played vital roles in the foundation of the curriculum standards in Massachusetts, according to Davidson.

The book explores the history of these associations, as well as their roles in current policy-making and the support they give to teachers. They're typically composed of elementary-school teachers, usually middle-aged women, who are looking to learn and grow as teachers.

Apart from unions, apart from districts, the teachers associations provide a place for support and growth for member-teachers. And as the organizations grow and change in the face of regionalization, standards-based reform and standardized testing, they will continue to provide some kind of outside basis for teachers, according to Davidson.

'Whatever is the next form, it will build upon the concept of these associations in some way,' she said.

Susan McMahon's e-mail address is smcmahon@lowellsun.com .