I am a Teacher
Today, there is a war against education. Men in offices are actively making decisions that will affect the way we teach. Today, there is a war against children. Men in offices are actively making decisions that will affect the way children learn. Today, we are their foot soldiers. Every day we march into our classrooms and do the work of these men in offices. These men know nothing of children, or teaching, or education. These men believe they have found the answer: accountability.
I am so blessed. I have an amazing administration that allows me to do what is best for my students. The great Sir Ken Robinson gave an interview and in that interview he explained that for the children we teach, we are their educational system. The children know nothing of policy or politics; all they know is what we do in our classrooms. I took great solace in that, and I decided to make sure that I always did right by the children in my class. But recently I started thinking of all the children in other schools, other cities, and other states. What about those children? And I realized it is not enough. I cannot say I hate what is happening in education and continue to passively support bad policies every day in my classroom.
In March I went to the Network for Public Education National Conference. I met educators, parents, activists, and journalist from all over the country. We all shared a common goal – to take back public education. Public education is paid for by the people and belongs to the people. It belongs to us. And I had forgotten that. I lost my voice, but there, in Austin I found it. It is loud, and it is great. It is my teaching voice. You know the voice I am talking about. The other day my daughter came into my classroom while I was teaching. Later she told me “Mama, you sound weird when you teach.” I joked and told her that when you are a teacher you can have no fear. Children can smell fear. So today, I am using my teaching voice.
I am not afraid.
When I was at the conference, I felt so empowered. My mind raced with ideas. My body vibrated with excitement. I returned from the conference, and all the joy and energy drained from my body, and I thought “now what?” How do I take all my ideas and turn them into action? So that is what I am doing today. I do believe in accountability for teachers, and today I am holding myself accountable. I am accountable to the children I teach.
On Monday, I will walk into my classroom and remember that every child is different. Just like every child walks when he is ready, every child learns he is ready. I will not shame children for not following the time table set forth by politicians. Instead, I will cheer and encourage because I know that every child starts at a different point and that as long as they are moving forward, all the great teachers at my school will help each child to reach his or her full potential.
I will make sure that I only have the highest of expectations for my students. But I will remind myself that the burden of high expectations falls on me. It is my job to make sure that everything I ask of my students is developmentally appropriate, and I will speak up when it is not. It is up to me to support and scaffold the learning of my students. I will make sure everything I say and do in my classroom is supported by research. I will realize that high expectations, without the research to back it up, is the mantra of politicians who support high stakes testing.
I will set individual goals for each of my students. I will realize that by setting inappropriate goals, I will only discourage my children who need encouragement the most. I will demand that every day my students smile, laugh, play, and learn.
I am accountable to myself. I will continue to educate myself. I will read books by great educators and historians like John Kuhn, Alfie Kohn, and Diane Ravitch. I will scrutinize the policy decisions of our state legislators and our Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. I will be outraged when he bullies our state into tying teacher evaluations to test scores. I will support organizations like Network for Public Education, Fair Test, Defending the Early Years, and Texas Children Can’t Wait. I will spend my weekends writing letters to the editor, letters to my congressman, and letters to the president.
I am accountable to the public. I will speak up when people make false statements about public schools and education. I will explain to them that the dialogue about public schools has been hijacked by people who intend to dismantle and profit off of it. I will tell them that our schools are not failing. Instead, movies like Waiting for Superman are propaganda used to promote an agenda that will only hurt our minority and special needs students.
I will speak out when people reference our schools’ international ranking. I will inform them that when we account for children living in poverty, our students are ranked among the highest in the world. I will point out that 23% percent of children in the United States live in poverty. The second highest of any industrialized nation. Our schools are not failing; our society is failing.
I will educate people about the failures of high stakes tests, merit pay, VAM, and retention. I will explain to them why charters and vouchers are not the answer. Every child deserves a high quality, neighborhood school. No child should have to put his hopes and dreams into a lottery. I will inform them that researchers already have the answers to help low performing schools. They include preschool for all children living in poverty. The earlier, the better. Prenatal care for mothers. Safe homes and safe neighborhoods. Wrap around services like school libraries, school nurses and school councilors, smaller classes, and a well rounded curriculum rich in the humanities and the arts. I will remind people that our country has only been successful because we are a country of innovators and that standardized tests stand to crush every ounce of creativity our children have. I quote Robert Schaffer who said, “Believing we can improve schooling with more tests is like believing you can make yourself grow taller by measuring your height."
I am accountable to my fellow teachers. We must allow our teachers to collaborate, not compete. It does not benefit children to have teachers competing for bonuses or the highest test scores. We cannot set up a system where teachers are afraid to work with the neediest students for fear of losing their jobs. High risk students should not equal high risk employment.
I am accountable to my students’ parents. I will support and educate the parents who are unable to help their children. I will provide them with materials and compassion because they are not the enemy. Inequality and inequity in schools is the enemy. Segregation is the enemy. Years of bad bilingual education policy is the enemy.
I will even have compassion for the so called helicopter parent. I will realize that my silence has allowed for them to lose all faith in public education. The media has fed them a steady diet of failing schools, failing children, and failing teachers. With our unstable economy and a shrinking middle class, it is not surprising that parents are fighting tooth and nail to help their children succeed. Every time we are silent we allow for the continued distrust of educators and for the deprofessionalization of teachers.
I am accountable. I am accountable to myself, the public, my colleagues, my parents, and my students. But even more I am accountable to all the students in classrooms across this vast and diverse country. But I am not afraid. I am a teacher.
I stand before children every day and I teach them. I teach them things they need to know and things they never dreamed of knowing. I teach them to believe in themselves and each other. I teach them to question, and push, and explore. I teach children with no parents and no home, and children with 4 parents and 2 homes. I teach children that they are the difference this world needs. They are amazing and creative and on the verge of excellence, all while being only a small piece of the puzzle that is humanity. I am a teacher.
And so on Monday I will go into my classroom, and I will teach. I will use my teaching voice with my students, and when I leave I will use my teaching voice with anyone willing to listen, and even those who refuse to listen, because I am not afraid.
I am a teacher.
El Paso, TX
As a result of the loss of Behning's challenger in the primary of District 91 (see previous post), we need some positive words for those of us (parents and teachers alike) who feel that the policymakers are just not listening.
This is the lovely statement that Megan Somers-Glenn, a K-1 teacher, read at our Monroe County ICPE Community Conversation "Let's Hear Teacher Voices." (Watch it back at this link on CATStv, look for Indiana Coalition Public Education on May 1st or read our friend Steve Hinnefeld's very nice blog post about it). Let this teacher's words serve to energize you and inspire you to continue to protect and improve public education:
"I am a public school teacher by choice. Public schools take, nurture, and educate every child that walks through our doors. Our local public schools are not selective through a lottery, application, or any other process. From day one or on the last day of school, children may enroll in our schools and enter our classrooms as our students. The children who come in need us – not just as educators of academic knowledge but as educators who guide children to grow community, establish character, secure individuality, and foster a strong sense of the world around them.
I attended our local public schools and am proud to have, and now, I am even prouder to be doing the work of a local educator. I embrace how important, meaningful, and complicated my job is. Schools are a reflection of society. I take my responsibility as a teacher seriously, knowing I can help us grow by remaining in the public schools, doing the best work I am able, and working to strengthen the positives in our society. These are your schools, and we serve your children.
I love my job, but I had no idea what I was getting into when I started teaching. When I chose teaching it resonated as a fulfilling career for someone who loves children and wants to contribute to the greater good. When I started teaching, I quickly learned how layered yet enriching it really is. As an effective teacher, you can’t stop being a learner, a collaborator, a giver, a communicator, a visionary, and a worker. There is no end to this job. It is a way of life.
When I am asked to comment on what I love about teaching, I get excited. I would say, though, there are a few key things. I love the diversity my school experience brings to my life. I teach children from all walks of life and all skill levels. I love the challenge and how our school has successfully met these children where they are, cared for them, and moved them forward. I love the process of building strong relationships with my students and nurturing them to build healthy relationships with each other. I love how my students love to learn, together and independently, and I love watching them share their learning with each other and be each other’s teachers. I love how children take joy in working hard, pushing themselves to grow and move through challenges and how they celebrate each other’s successes. When they are given work that has multiple entry points and exit points, they work to the highest they can and then pull each other further along. Many times a day, I just take a look around at what is happening in the room, the different kinds of learning that is taking place, the different exchanges the kids are having, the ways they are working together and having such meaningful connections, and think this experience is giving these kids what they need in a quality way. The meaning of life is growth, and kids embody that energy.
In public education, we are working hard to overcome the obstacles we face. We are, more than ever, coming together, collaborating, and supporting each other’s growth as teachers. My school community is a family to me, and we have committed to each other’s success. Over the years I have been a teacher, we have improved our educational practices, and I have come to learn a central part of being an educator is continual growth.
When thinking about what we need to do our jobs even more successfully, the list is not as long as one might think. Class size does matter, in all schools. Having aides, preventionists, interventionists, and any kind of additional classroom personnel matters. It allows the teacher to spend more time individually or in small groups with students that need to be retaught or have continued practice on a skill. It also allows all students to have more attention in all areas which leads to a more successful school experience. Literacy coaches matter. They build bridges of professional growth, strengthen communication between administration and teachers, and affect students’ success. What is coined as Professional Learning Communities or some sort of on the clock collaboration has been significant in encouraging teachers to work together and learn from each other, and as we know, collaboration increases teacher success. Finding ways to reduce the emphasis on standardizing education by reducing the emphasis on standardized tests and, then, personalizing it more in ways that honor our children’s interests would support all of our engagement as teachers and learners. Lastly, increasing the ties between the community outside of schools and the school communities by having volunteer programs, educational outreach, and other learning services is healthy for our greater community and for the children.
The world of education right now is suffering under people who are looking to make money off of our children – charter schools, schools that take vouchers, public schools, and private schools are all in the mix as testing companies, textbook companies, for profit charters, and many others who see education as an industry, are looking for a dollar to be had rather than being truly focused on the well-being of our children. Until society realizes this and understands that many politicians are friends with the money makers, this is where we are in education and politics. When non-educators, people who have never step foot in the classroom as the role of a teacher, think they know what is best for our children and make sweeping policy changes like the implementation of Common Core, our children’s education will not be as strong as it could. There are so many in this district I respect, admire, learn from, and trust; but their voices and the voices of teachers around the nation are not heard. These teachers, every day, come to schools giving their best to the youngest in our community. It is an act of faith, courage, and love. Thank you for allowing me to speak tonight."
Today is primary day and voters in house district 91 in Indiana have a very important choice in candidates. Our state's House Education committee chairman, Robert Behning is being challenge by a man, Michael Scott, who is pro-union and pro-public education. Here is a letter from a parent (who happens to be our ICPE-Monroe County chairperson), Cathy Fuentes-Rohwer, explaining the issues surrounding this race:
"As a mother of four, I see how decisions made by non-educators at the statehouse are directly affecting my children in their public school classrooms. My third-grader just took a test that will determine whether or not he is to go on to fourth grade, regardless of his teacher’s opinion. He is about to take the ISTEP and the stigma of a failing school grade rests on his small shoulders. His teacher knows that developmentally appropriate practice is the best way to reach him, but she also knows that her job is tied to his test scores and she needs her income. How did we get here? Take a look at the legislative record of Rep. Bob Behning and then follow the money from his campaign contributors.
If you have wiped your child’s tears over the stress of testing, I hope you will go to the voting booth this May.
If you had concerns about new standards and were happy that they were being reviewed, I hope you remember this quote: “Frankly, most of the time the public would not have a very easy time even understanding what standards are, let alone trying to help form them.”
If you voted for Glenda Ritz, I hope you remember who said that her win indicated that the “public didn’t really know the issues.” and don’t forget how he introduced the bills that would undermine her control.
If you have raised money for your schools at bake sales, I hope you remember that last year alone, $81 million dollars of our taxes was redirected to private schools through the vouchers that Behning’s authored bills made possible. They sold those to us as a way of giving poor children an opportunity for better schools. Now Behning says it’s not about quality, it’s about giving families a choice regardless .
Accountability? How about a $91 million bailout for charters’ loans while some of our public schools can’t even afford buses to transport kids safely? Why must I buy my kids’ textbooks while the homeschool and private schools parents get tax credits? Public schools accept all learners, vouchers don’t.
Bob Behning’s website declares him “a champion for smaller government and free market principles.” Yet he has taken away our local control through his policies. Last year he even introduced a bill that would take away our local school boards and hand control over to the governor-appointed state board (HB1337). And when glowing teacher evaluations came back this year he responded: “We may have let there be too much local control”.
Schools should be for kids, not for profit in a free-market experiment. Your kids and mine are not data points on a graph for investors, they are children who deserve a fully-funded, high quality education."
Our fingers are crossed that voters in District 91 will make the choice that supports our public schools as the cornerstone for our democracy. Here's hoping they exercise that democratic right.. and vote.
THANK YOU to the teachers who spoke honestly, eloquently and passionately at our ICPE Community Conversation: "Let's Hear Teacher Voices" on Thursday May 1st.
We were thrilled to hear from seven local teachers at our Community Conversation: Megan Somers Glenn, Kindergarten teacher at Marlin Elementary School, Erika Peek and Ben Strawn, fifth and third grade teachers from Summit, Sheila McDermott-Sipe, English teacher from Bloomington South High School, Kathleen Mills journalism teacher from Bloomington South, Greg Chaffin guidance counselor from Bloomington High School North, and Kathy Loser, librarian, also from Bloomington North.
Teachers discussed what they loved about their jobs and why they teach. They shared the wonderful projects and ways that they make a difference in kids' lives. They also touched on how difficult it is to be constrained by the state requirements that aren't developmentally appropriate or are too rigid (like the 90 minute required reading block for youngest students and the IREAD-3 exam). It was clear that these teachers are making a big difference in kids' lives and passionate about their jobs. One teacher said, when describing her job, "There is no end to this job. It is a way of life."
Look for a link here to the CATS tv taping of our event and find out yourself just how truly amazing our local educators are and what you can do to support them.