Cathy and I arrived at the statehouse today around 11:30 a.m. We made our way to the House Chamber, but it turned out that it was not possible to sign up for public comment yet for the 1 p.m. hearing. When we returned after lunch, it was 1 p.m. and we filled out cards indicating we wanted to speak. The chamber was full--every chair filled and benches along the sides holding the overflow. The hearing commenced. First were the invited (perhaps paid) speakers. Some of the committee members began to leave after several hours. Public comment (item M. on the agenda, which you can view here) commenced around 5:30, four and a half hours after the meeting began. At that point, it seemed that at least half the committee had left. So had many of those who had come to give public comment. Seven and a half hours after the meeting began, it was our turn. We were the last two speakers but one, whose request to give comment had been lost. Few committee members were left. The chamber was almost empty. I'll post my testimony below.--Jenny Robinson
I am a stay-at-home parent with three children in my local public schools. My kids have consistently had thoughtful, caring, and creative teachers. Many of these amazing teachers are now nearing retirement. Who will enter the profession to try to fill their shoes?
As a parent with young children, I want trained professionals to be in charge of my kids’ classrooms. I want people with teaching degrees—degrees that involve courses on pedagogy and child development as well as time spent student teaching with an experienced mentor teacher. I want people who, like the teachers my kids have had so far, are committed to teaching as their career, people who will be teaching for decades. I want people with adventurous minds and lots of initiative, people with expertise in their subject matter, people who are curious and intellectual and who like and relate to children, people who will actively pursue professional development. And I ask you, why would these people enter the teaching profession here in Indiana?
Teachers in Indiana lack autonomy. Good teachers do not want to be teaching to a test, but the high stakes that Indiana’s legislature has attached to standardized tests mean that schools are focused on those tests in order to survive. The focus on scores means that children with learning challenges are a liability for teachers. Children whose native language is not English or who come from poverty or abuse are a liability to teachers. That is unfair to teachers and unfair to children.
The top-down demand for more and more data to be gathered is stifling. It is crowding out active learning. It is crowding out library time, projects, field trips, and art. It is crowding out the ability of teachers to take time to get to know the kids in their classes as individuals and to shape lesson plans that respond to the interests of those individuals.
Our schools are under-resourced. Class sizes are too large. Many schools lack a certified teacher-librarian in the library.
The evaluation process imposed by the state is demeaning. I went to a panel a couple years ago on the RISE requirements. I came away with the conviction that I would never want to teach in this environment and that I would not encourage anyone in my family to do so.
Teachers are underpaid. I know a teacher, a fabulous, inspiring teacher, who felt financially compelled to be working another job on weekends and living at home with her parents. I know teachers who haven’t had a raise for five years.
As a parent of young children, I have a lot at stake in the quality of the environment in our schools. I want the state of Indiana to respect the teaching profession. We need highly trained and certified professionals in all areas, including art, music, library, and p.e. Require that applicants have a teaching degree and appropriate specialized certification. Encourage and compensate teachers for additional coursework and degrees. Pay a salary that can compete with the salaries in other professional fields—and one that will increase predictably with years of experience. Encourage teachers’ autonomy in the classroom and collaboration with other teachers. Don’t tie teachers’ evaluations to standardized test scores. Get rid of our inane and punitive A-F grading system for schools. And give unions the power to bargain about all aspects of the school environment, not just salaries. Our teachers’ working conditions are our kids’ learning conditions, and I want the professionals who are with my kids every day to be able to advocate for an environment that will enable all children to thrive.