Last summer, at a Goldman Sachs-sponsored education conference at Stanford, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, put out a call for help. “We hear from teachers that they want to prepare kids for the 21st century, but they’re being asked to do more with less.” She asked the technologists in the audience for a solution; only one company, TES Education, stepped forward.
Next month, at the union’s annual conference, Weingarten and TES will officially unveil Sharemylesson.com, a social network for teachers to upload and download free and easily findable educational content from videos to worksheets. The British version, TES Connect, has 2 million members and 2.5 million weekly downloads; ShareMyLesson projects 100,000 registrations by the end of July. The site will focus on helping teachers find content that aligns with the new Common Core State Standards.
In an economy where teachers are feeling the pinch of tight budgets, along with multitudes of other public sector workers, and in an era of passionate debates over education reform, the AFT has committed unprecedented resources to an untried area: online social networking. Weingarten’s not-so-secret agenda is to showcase teachers as sources of innovation, in a climate in which they’re often seen as part of the problem.
“There’s a lot of demonization and vilification of teachers and their unions,” she says. “It’s a way of diverting attention from the very real needs kids have in schools and the fact that there’s less resources going into schools to help children.”