Raise Your Voice!

“You’re a teacher!? And you were discovered online and asked to be here?! Wow, that’s the teacher dream! How did you get people to notice you and listen to what you have to say?” One young teacher who was volunteering at an ed-tech conference I was invited to attend last month asked me that very question. Teachers are striving to be heard and to raise their own voices.  Her inquiry caused me to reflect on my journey as I learned how to elevate my voice and the lessons I learned along the way.

My first years as a teacher, I was afraid to use my voice. I was too new to speak above those more experienced than me. Colleagues began to notice me when I started my National Board journey back in 2009. Going through that rigorous process made me aware that I was highly effective in my field. I did not achieve on my first or even my second attempt. However, I persevered and achieved on my third try. I believe that my determination was one of the factors that caused me to stand out in the middle of other amazing educators. Other educators saw that I refused to give up and I had high expectations for myself and others. During my attempts, I was invited to write for this very site. Someone believed I had a voice that others needed to hear so they provided me with a platform to share my message. I felt like a preacher being given his first pulpit. That opportunity taught me quite a bit. I learned to craft a message and use appropriate tone to engage an audience and strike up conversations. Since then, I have shared my voice with teammates, colleagues, National Board candidates and college students. The ed-tech conference mentioned above happened because an editor from New York read my blogs and believed my voice aligned with her publication. Because of my blogs and that writing commission, my voice has been heard around the nation. Strangers on twitter are messaging me to ask my opinion on projects they are working on. I believe my opportunities have been part my hard work and who I am but also part chance and taking advantage of opportune moments. The right people at the right time had to hear me. They provided me with a chance. I had to be brave enough to take that chance.

  1. Be Different!

I have learned many lessons over the years, as I have used my voice. Your voice has to be different than the other noise that is in the air. At times, your voice may get confused with your message. Your voice is your instrument and your message is your song. Your song needs to stand out. Every one has heard the argument that teachers aren’t paid enough. If that is the only message you are squawking, others have tuned you out. People want to hear solutions and ways to fix issues. Too many times, voices only share the problems. Like a song that’s been heard on the radio a thousand times, no one wants to hear it. (Does anyone really want to hear the theme song from Titanic again?)  They have already turned to another station and stopped listening. Once you discover how your voice is different, use it! One difference that I have is that I am a guy in predominantly female role. My voice is unique for that reason alone. I am not ashamed to play my man card if needed. Don’t be too modest to be noticed for your differences.

  1. Be Consistent!

Your voice and your message need to be consistent! People need to know that you are not wishy washy and blown around by the debates of the day. Your position may evolve over time but you are firm in your opinions on issues. If you are constantly changing your mind, you will lose all reliability. If you do make a huge paradigm shift in, you need to be completely transparent about it to garner respect. Two examples of this occurred in President Barrack Obama and Diane Ravitch. Diane Ravitch was a huge proponent of charter schools at one point. She had a huge platform for her voice and many people followed her message. However, her opinion on charters schools changed drastically. She no longer felt that in good conscience she could support them. She had to make huge public declarations to show that her message has shifted. At one point, President Barrack Obama was not in favor of gay marriages. Over time, his opinion shifted and he became the first sitting president to vocalize his support for marriage equality. The story he shared about how his daughters caused the paradigm shift in his opinion was incredibly touching.

  1. Be Knowledgeable!

An old proverb states that it is better to keep your mouth shut and let people think you’re a fool than it is to open your mouth and prove them right. It is imperative that one knows how to support their message. Use examples from other authors or data from research to support your reasoning. Be able to quote and cite various leaders in the field. People are highly interested in the topics du jour. (Currently, its common core.) Identify what is being said about those issues. Understand what you feel about it and be able to accurately clarify your opinion. Your knowledge could cause you to stand out as an expert in your field.

  1. Be Yourself!

Above all else, be yourself. People are quick to identify insincerity. If you are trying to be fake or something that you are not, people will see right through you and wonder what game you might be manipulating. My voice has three different dimensions. I am snarky with a dark sense of humor. When I have time to process, I can be very calm, logical and straight-forward. In the heat of debate, I can get very passionate and all hellfire and brimstone-y on people. Those are all aspects of my voice and I can use them to operate with complete authenticity. I’m not a very emotional or nurturing person. It’s probably one of my weakest areas being a primary elementary teacher. If I tried to use that voice, I would fall flat on my face because it would not ring truthfully in people’s ears.

As you work to build your voice, remember to be different, be consistent, be knowledgeable, and be yourself. Practice your voice. Build an audience. Craft a message that you truly believe. Then, let your voice sing that song so loud that no one can ignore it.


Donnie Dicus

Donnie Dicus

Tucson, Arizona

My name is Donnie Dicus and I have been teaching in Arizona for 12 years. I came to Arizona from Southern Illinois to attend the University of Arizona in Tucson. I graduated in 2003 and began teaching second grade. I taught second grade in Tucson for 8 years before moving to Phoenix. I now teach third grade. I achieved National Board Certification in 2012 and I received my Master’s Degree from Grand Canyon University in 2015. I achieved a National Board Certificate in Middle Childhood Generalist in 2012. I’ve been teaching mainstream and SEI 3rd grade classrooms in the Cartwright School District in Phoenix since 2013. I taught 2nd grade and was a math interventionist in Tucson in the Amphitheater School District. I’ve been a technology coach and have helped teachers apply technology to improve instruction. I facilitate coaching cohorts for teachers going through the National Board process and organize peer groups at my site to pair new teachers with experienced teachers. In 2010 I was nominated as a Rodel Semi-Finalist for Exemplary teaching in 2010 and featured as a Teacher Leader in February 2016 by the Arizona K12 Center.
I have class pictures of every single student I have taught behind my desk on my wall. After 12 years, that is approximately 350 students. My students know that this is my Wall of Accomplishments. I am so proud of the difference I made in their lives. I became a teacher to make a difference and I strive to do so every day.

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