This post is long overdue and it is a call to action.
Tell Congress to roll back standardized testing
In 2002 when I became a teacher, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) became the new name of public education in the United States. This law had a huge effect on how teachers and students would teach and learn together, and how the federal government would recognize, reward and punish individual states, school districts, individual schools, teachers and students for achieving and failing to achieve state assessment standards.
NCLB was a powerful reauthorization of an older federal educational act called the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or ESEA, signed into law under Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration. The underlying goal of both ESEA and NCLB was to ensure a quality education for all children regardless of zip code and demographics.
Unfortunately, after 2002, it soon became clear to most teachers working in the public school system, particularly to those who worked with poor kids in poor neighborhoods that NCLB was set up to fail all children rather than to set them up for success.
Several years ago, I sent an email to my aunt to defend public schools and my role as a public school teacher in the service of our children and our society. This is my story. This is that letter. Please share, and let’s fulfill the hope of public education and honor the wisdom of our teachers.
I know that you value me and have honored me before as an educator and teacher in a public school in California. I don’t want to have to respond to this email because I have a fieldtrip to finish planning for, grading to do, a counselor to send an email to, and some parents to call (not to mention lesson planning to finish). My school workday, which started at 7:00 a.m., just ended and most students have left, however, in many ways my day is only half-way over as I will be working on and off for the rest of the afternoon, evening and into the night.
I write to you because I cannot agree with the statement that “the educational system is broken.” I work within the confines of this system everyday, and I know its weaknesses and strengths, its disasters and its triumphs.
Even though some days I take a sick day so that I can write letters of recommendations for my seniors, I realize how brilliant my job is to know the young people that I know and to realize that they know people that they would never otherwise get to know . . .
Yesterday Kyle Gold (not his real name) came to my classroom after school and sat down with a group of newly arrived immigrant students from Guatemala and Mexico to learn how to make paper flowers for the school Day of the Dead Altar. The students spoke almost no English. Kyle listened to them, asked questions and used his Spanish to join the small group and find out more about how they celebrate Day of the Dead in their home communities. Kyle’s paper flower was a flop, but the newcomer students were very kind and encouraging, impressed with his Spanish and his interest in participating in this ritual.
And here, at last, is my list of:
Reasons that I support teacher tenure:
(gathered from my own and close colleagues’ personal professional experiences)
I can advocate for students when I stand up and talk to my administration and make a complaint when they are not giving recent newcomer refugee students access to qualified teachers and curriculum. I can take this complaint to others and make my administration change course.
I can advocate for students when I write a letter to the PTO and complain about an administrator not managing students well at a dance, and thus allowing sexual harassment to occur.
I can advocate for students when I complain that it is 15 degrees hotter in my room than it is outside and that learning isn’t happening and the students need a fan.
It’s been a long time since I posted to you all. I am going to try to distill my on-going emotional and professional thoughts on teacher tenure, teacher pay and teacher greatness over the next few postings.
I had a great deal of sadness when the Vergara trial won in California to eliminate teacher tenure. And yet, there are some bad teachers out there. We’ve all had them, and our kids have had them. But, in spite of this, most teachers are fairly good, and most just want more support, better working conditions for themselves and their students, and hey, many of them want better pay.
I am so blissed out to be done with final exam grading – and off to Spanish language environmental science/inquiry/play/non-standardized test summer camp with five kids out on the beach tomorrow and a brilliant Colombian teacher! Okay, I’m only partially excited about that – in reality, I am really looking forward to my massage at Kabuki Hot Springs on Wednesday. I love the children. I am sick of the children. And teacher mama needs a massage.
So on with my message (not massage)! This past semester I met some people with a Bay Area organization called Evolve, who are trying to build support to repeal aspects of Prop 13 and get corporations to pay more taxes to support public education.
This is a great article on the excesses and misuses of Standardized Testing in the United States. Please read and pass it along!
Partial text of article:
“Are tests harmful to students with disabilities? Over the past few years, there have been numerous instances in which children with significant health situations, even undergoing life-saving procedures, were pressured to complete required tests – even from their hospital beds. Children with severe brain disorders have been compelled to take a state test. Recently in Florida, an eleven-your-old boy who was dying in hospice was expected to take a test. Such behavior defies common sense and common decency.
How has the frequency and quantity of testing increased?
It’s March Fourth.
March Forth for Education. Four years ago I participated in a March Fourth Walk with children and parents from Max’s public school to the Civic Center in San Francisco, where students, parents and teachers gathered to demand (ask?) the state to give money back to the public schools. It felt brilliant to be part of such a large group of public school participants and advocates making noise to stop the cuts to public education. We brought signs, noisemakers, water bottles and strollers. We got off work early, we yelled, walked, and chanted. We took pictures and we marched.
Every year that I have been a public school parent in California, I have worked my butt off raising money, trying to figure out what my son’s school needs, what the teachers need, what books need to be purchased, and figuring out how we parents can best put in our time, skills and resources to help schools.
Okay, a “misunderstood teacher” story, and then a great article in defense of the Common Core in California, and why our state is implementing it better than New York and other states have (and are).
Today, my fabulous student teacher and I (and yes, she must be called fabulous), wore our pjs on top of our clothes, brought in toothbrushes, shampoo, mirrors, hair dryers, towels, pantuflas (slippers), bathrobes, soap, nail polish, brushes, combs, an alarm clock, and other accoutrement to act out the morning routine (with reflexive verbs) for our 2nd year Spanish students. And, yes, yours truly brought a blow up mattress with blanket and pillows and pretended to be sleeping as the sleepy high school children entered the classroom when her rude alarm clock awoke her to 2014 – a totally perfect set-up for the kids’ first day back from winter break.
My fabulous student teacher performed it (and got videotaped) at 9:00 am; and I performed it again later in the afternoon.
Cut to an email received at 5:30 pm sent by the principal, after I walked to my car after my 11 hour day of teaching and an after school district curriculum meeting: “It was brought to my attention that you brought in a queen sized inflatable mattress and have set it up in the front of your classroom. What educational purpose does it serve?”