The North Country Alliance for Public Education presents a Forum for Education

After a year of talks and planning, our new group is official, and last night we moved forward to help bring positive change to our schools! In front of a packed house of approximately 400 people, The North Country Alliance for Public Education presented and listened to an open, honest conversation about the deterioration of public education. Assemblywoman Janet Duprey was the keynote and there were 6 panelists including myself. IT WAS AWESOME! 

Though I didn’t feel I could share my entire 10 minute speech, I hit the main points about narrowed curriculum and the excessive testing my son and his peers have endured. You can see my speech in its entirety below.

 

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“I’m so happy to see you all here. Last year at this time I think many of us felt like lone wolves in this conversation about the current education reforms, so it’s great to have a crowd here this evening.

 I’m not sure that everyone is aware but forums such as this are happening all over the state, which speaks to the growing unrest about what is being forced upon public schools by the federal government, our governor, the commissioner of education and the board of regents. At 5:00 this morning I proudly watched a tape of yesterday’s senate hearings where two of our Alliance members, Kathryn and Margarita gave heartfelt, honest testimonies about the scary state of education. The time has come for all of us to be honest about what is happening to our schools.

 I come from a family of educators, so I grew up with an appreciation of school and all it had to offer. Yet, it wasn’t until I became a MOM that I fully understood what that word SCHOOL should mean for each child. As mom, I envision school as a safe, caring environment, with well-trained teachers who are afforded the time to get to know my child’s social and academic strengths and weaknesses. I also envision a strong parent-teacher relationship, with mutual communication throughout the year. But many times over the last couple years I have been forced to ask myself, “Are my expectations unrealistic?”

If you have ever spent an hour or two in an elementary classroom, you gain a new appreciation for teachers. My children have had amazing teachers, but I feel that the current reforms are leaving their teachers with less time to differentiate instruction, less time to communicate with their teams and parents, and less time and resources to provide for individual student needs.

 For my son, the Common Core worksheets and tests started coming home regularly in 2nd grade. It was apparent when I met with his teacher that the new core curriculum had been thrust upon her team shortly before school began and that they were doing their best to follow the state and locally imposed programs and mandated tests. Thankfully, she felt it best not to put grades on the tests since so many students were “failing” them, but even at 7 years old most students just knew. Sadly, most of what I have seen come home since then are worksheets and tests, and I believe that is in part because teachers have not been given time to properly train for a new curriculum, and because they fear for their jobs if their students do poorly on the state exams.

 My breaking point as a mom came last year, about midway through 3rd grade when my son stopped wanting to go to school, particularly on Fridays. This was extremely upsetting as he had always thrived at school. Thursday nights were stressful at our house because every Friday without fail, he would face three tests, always ELA and Math based. I think it’s important to point out that my son wasn’t stressed because he was doing poorly on the tests—on the contrary he was doing quite well considering the developmental inappropriateness of the new curriculum. I believe it was the stress of sitting for extended periods of time as well as the laborious nature of the reading tests and always encountering those few questions that didn’t seem to have a “right” answer. I would find out later that twenty page benchmark exams in ELA and MATH were also being administered every 8-10 weeks, and I noticed a pattern in my son who was very withdrawn during those weeks. We shared some tears during those evenings, and it actually came to a point where I felt guilty making him to go to school. I would often drop him off at school and cry on my drive to my school. I even called the school psychologist to ask what to do because for the first time in my life as a mom, I had no idea how to make my child feel better.   

I was not only a concerned mom. There was a bigger picture in my mind. The teacher in me was asking, “If my son, who reads well above grade level is feeling frustrated, then what is happening to the students who are reading at or below grade level?” My son answered that for me when he mentioned one day that he had friends who hadn’t yet passed a test. Sadly, our system, had already labeled those children failures at 8 years old. I really began to wonder why all of this seemed like a “lose-lose” situation for STRUGGLING as well as ADVANCED students. The struggling students were constantly “failing” and the advanced students were bored and stressed with the never ending tests and the constant focus on ELA and Math. My son began mentioning sitting for extended amounts of time waiting for other students to finish their tests. While I was happy that he had time to read books while he waited at school, in my mind, all of this was valuable time during a 6 hour school day that he should have been soaking up knowledge with his teacher as well as participating in hands-on learning that seemed to be missing from the curriculum.

When I began voicing my concerns to administrators, the answers I received were discouraging. I inquired about the reading tests that seemed to purposely trick students and the response was, “We need this more rigorous curriculum to compete with other countries.” When I talked of my son’s tears and frustration, I was told, “Your son seems perfectly happy when he’s at school” AND “Maybe he senses that you are stressed about all of this?” And when I asked why we seemed to be jumping headfirst into a narrowed curriculum with no research base the response was, “I’ve been in education for over 30 years. Don’t you think this is just another reform?”     “BUT MY SON ONLY HAS ONLY ONE CHANCE AT 3rd GRADE”, was my reply to that last comment.  

I don’t know if these administrators really believed what they were telling me or if they were giving me the answers they thought they had to in their positions. The answer to that question didn’t really matter to me because I was just a mom trying to make sure her child was having his needs met in the classroom. I have since come to realize that this new system seems to be pitting the adults in children’s lives against each other instead of helping them work together for each child. Needless to say, when I realized things were not going to change, I stopped voicing my concerns and took matters into my own hands by minimizing grades and homework that came home, by supplementing textbook stories with science experiments and research, AND with the help of the FSO, by starting a readers’ club at school to bring fiction and discussion to avid readers like my son. In doing these things I was able to make school tolerable again for him and for myself. But the teacher in me always returned to that question, “What about the children who do not have parents that are able to do these things? Aren’t those the children who need a well-rounded, developmentally appropriate public education most?”

By the end of 3rd grade, my son and his classmates had taken over 500 pages of tests. I realize it is hard to wrap your brain around that number. I came to this number because I began requesting copies of every benchmark exam my son took, and I made copies of every test that came home to be signed. By then, I had heard stories of children crying on Thursday nights and Fridays, students spending excessive time with the nurse, children scratching at themselves in frustration and children having breakdowns, refusing to go to school—all under the age of 10 years old. There were parents who pulled their children to home school and parents who decided to pay tuition to send their children to the local private school. AND THIS WAS HAPPENING ALL OVER THE STATE. How could this be acceptable in our schools?

Our children cannot afford another year such as the ones I have described. I believe the system is in many ways failing our children, and I believe that labeling them “failures” when they are as young as 5 years old and teaching them to fill in bubbles instead of teaching them to color inside the lines, is failing our country. What skills will this next generation, a generation of “inside the box” test takers, have to contribute to our country if curriculum continues to be narrowed and children are not allowed to follow their dreams, use their imaginations and learn at a developmentally appropriate pace? THIS IS TRULY WHY I AM HERE.

If you are here tonight, it means that you also have concerns, and this is a start at making your voice heard. You could start with your child’s teacher. Ask if he or she is supported in providing a well-rounded, appropriate education to your child? If you are uncomfortable with the answer you get, speak to the principal, the superintendent, the board of education. Ask at the beginning of the year what tests your child will take, how those tests are developed, and what they will be used for. Find out more about the new, controversial state exams that are no longer used to help teachers identify our children’s strengths and weaknesses but are used to identify our children by a number and, in my opinion, unfairly grade teachers and schools. Write letters to our senators, assembly people, the governor, the regents and the commissioner of education. And most importantly, know who you are voting for when you go to the polls. I can’t think of anything more important than finding out what a political candidate is willing to do to make sure our educational system thrives. I’m so thankful that we have Janet Duprey here with us tonight. She has been a friend to many educators and parents during this process.

I am also very thankful that we live in a country where ALL children have a right to a public education, and I want to make sure it stays that way. My children’s school still has art, music and regular physical education, however many public schools no longer have these programs because more money than ever is being spent on testing and curriculum. This year, I am increasingly concerned as a parent and a taxpayer with the amount of time my children’s teachers have been pulled from the classroom to attend training for curriculum in the form of modules that, in my opinion, are often not appropriate for teacher or student. They seem to provide a “one size fits all” approach to our children with little room for differentiated instruction or critical thinking. I believe they also take away a teacher’s ability to teach from the heart, as those of us in the classroom know is of utmost importance.

I TRULY believe that every child has some form of inner genius inside just waiting to be tapped, BUT no test or module will ever identify those gifts that a child has to offer. I’d like to end by sharing some powerful words from a couple concerned fathers that I call “super” dads.  

 One father says,

“I don’t want my children to be told what to do or who to be. I want my children and all of our children to have open minds, to be able to think from both sides of the equation and to be able to chart their own courses based upon their dreams, their desires and their capabilities.”  

 Another dad writes,

“It comes from within, the drive to advocate. To “be” an advocate is to feel the cause within ones self, to feel it as part of your own being. What drives you? What do you stand for? One day I awoke appalled at the thought of my children participating in mandated public school practices that speak to corruption, profits, politics and agendas– not true education, progress, and love. This drive, this quest, is not adjacent to me, it is within me. It is my own. It is my being. When I breathe, so do my children. When they breathe, so do all children. And when all children breathe, there is a glorious future. This is about breath. The respirator of education is parent, teacher, love. There are some, however, that will suffocate education for their own selfish purposes. To them I say “breathe smoke.” We must and we WILL preserve the LOVE of education. Our children LOVE to learn, and we will forever afford them this right.”

The eloquence of those last couple lines says it all. By being here tonight, we are all advocates for positive change in education.Thank you.”

Good Job, Teach

5 minutes of your life, you'll never get back

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I freely admit it. I’ve taken teachers for granted. Sure, as a kid, you wanted the ones that weren’t too hard on you when you screwed up, or maybe
the ones who never noticed when you did.
As a parent, you merely hope they will turn your children into the smartest kids in town. We look at state rankings of schools and hope ours is smarter than that dumb school down the street. Because, by God, my kid needs to have a good job someday so I’m not supporting them till they’re 35.

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Mixed Messages?

This teacher read my mind today!

An Antique Teacher

Today, my inbox had two very interesting bits of information.

1. Commissioner King’s “News and Notes” showed up telling me:

 “As you know, the Common Core will not just arrive in the mail in a shiny, new box. (The truth is, the CCSS show up at schools in brown cardboard boxes emblazened with PEARSON!) The Common Core is a comprehensive set of research-based and internationally-benchmarked standards that demands critical shifts in curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Since the Board of Regents adopted the Common Core in 2010, the State Education Department has provided extensive and unprecedented resources and supports, including an abundance of instructional materials on EngageNY.org.”

Well, how very lucky for me – these are INTERNATIONALLY BENCHMARKED STANDARDS – and here I was becoming worried that they were national! Additionally, I am so lucky that EngageNY.org exists – because you know, I have no clue with my years…

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Why I Fight Against the Privatization and Degradation of Public Education for Children Other than my Own…



Things that, because of a respectable, middle class education and upbringing, I am WILLING and ABLE to do to fill the gaps in my children’s public education:

~pay for piano lessons
~enroll them in fun, educational summer workshops at the local college and cultural center
~take them to plays, musicals, art exhibits, and museums
~support their sports teams and camps
~volunteer to provide a book club at their school
~serve on the FSO to provide “extras” that have otherwise been cut from the budget
~take regular trips to the library/bookstore and read with them every day
~communicate with their teachers on a regular basis
~supplement weekly Pearson textbook stories with hands-on activities

Things that parents of poor students are generally WILLING and ABLE to do to fill the gaps in their children’s public education:

















THIS is why I fight.
THIS is why we must get public education right.



*This blog is dedicated to my students-especially the ones who find it in themselves to overcome their circumstances.


Related links:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nancy-letts/its-time-to-change-the-conversation-about-public-education_b_3112801.html
http://dianeravitch.net/2013/04/24/david-berliner-on-a-nation-at-risk-three-decades-of-lies/

What Dr. Seuss knew that State Ed. may never understand…

It’s hard to believe that beloved poet and illustrator, Theodor Seuss Geisel, (aka Dr. Seuss), has been gone for over twenty years. Surely, his spirit will live on forever through his zany, colorful children’s stories.

I recently had an epiphany about Dr. Suess when an enthusiastic young teacher shared with me a Dr. Suess story that I had not yet read but now consider to be his masterpiece.

So, if you will, come with me on a journey through Dinkerville…

HOORAY FOR DIFFENDOOFER DAY

dr seuss

I’ve always lived in Dinkerville, my friends all live there too.
We go to Diffendoofer School- we’re happy that we do.
Our school is at the corner of Dinkzoober and Dinkzott.
It looks like any other school, but we suspect it’s not.
I think we’re learning lots of things not taught at other schools.
Our teachers are remarkable, they make up their own rules.

Miss Bobble teaches listening, Miss Wobble teaches smelling,
Miss Fribble teaches laughing, and Miss Quibble teaches yelling.
Miss Twining teaches tying knots in neckerchiefs and noodles,
and how to tell chrysanthemums from miniature poodles.
Miss Vining teaches all the ways a pigeon may be peppered,
and how to put a saddle on a lizard or a leopard.

My teacher is Miss Bonkers, she’s as bouncy as a flea.
I’m not certain what she teaches, but I’m glad she teaches me.
“Look! Look!” she chirps. “I’ll show you how to tell a cactus from a cow, and then I shall instruct you why a hippo cannot hope to fly.”
She even teaches frogs to dance, and pigs to put on underpants.
One day she taught a duck to sing- Miss Bonkers teaches EVERYTHING!
Of all the teachers in our school, I like Miss Bonkers best.
Our teachers are all different, but she’s different-er than the rest.

We also have a principal, his name is Mr. Lowe.
He is the very saddest man that any of us know.
He mumbles, “Are they learning this and that and such and such?
His face is wrinkled as a prune from worrying so much.
He breaks a lot of pencil points from pushing down too hard,
and many dogs start barking as he mopes around the yard.
We think he wears false eyebrows, in fact, we’re sure it’s so.
We’ve heard he takes them off at night…I guess we’ll never know.
But we know he like Miss Bonkers, he treats her like a queen.
He’s always there to watch her when she’s on her trampoline.

There are many other people who make Diffendoofer run.
They are utterly amazing-I love every single one.
Our nurse, Miss Clotte, knows what to do when we’ve got sniffles or the flu. One day I had a splinter, so she bandaged me from head to toe. Mr. Plunger, our custodian, has fashioned a machine-
a super-zooper-flooper-do-it keeps the whole school clean.

Our music teacher, Mrs.Fox, makes bagpipes out of straws and socks.
Our art instructor, Mr. Beeze, paints pictures hanging by his knees.
In science class with Mr. Katz, we learn to build robotic rats.
In gym we watch as Mr. Bear hoists elephants into the air.
Miss Loon is our librarian, she hides behind the shelves,
and often cries out, “LOUDER!” when we’re reading to ourselves.
We have three cooks, all named McMunch who merrily prepare our lunch. They make us hot dogs, beans and fries, plus things we do not recognize, and as they cook, they sing their song, not too short and not too long. “Roast and toast and slice and dice, cooking lunch is oh so nice.”

We were eating their concoctions, telling jokes and making noise,
when Mr. Lowe appeared and howled, “Attention, girls and boys!”
He began to fuss and fidget, scratch and mutter, sneeze and cough.
He shook his head so hard, we thought his eyebrows would come off.
He wrung his hangs, he cleared his throat, he shed a single tear:
then sobbed, “I’ve something to announce, and that is why I’m here.
All schools for miles and miles around must take a special test,
to see who’s learning such and such-to see which school’s the best.
If our small school does not do well, then it will be torn down,
and you will have to go to school in dreary Flobbertown.”
“Not Flobbertown!” we shouted, and we shuddered at the name,
for everyone in Flobbertown does everything the same.
It’s miserable in Flobbertown, they dress in just one style.
They sing one song, they never dance, they march in single file.
They do not have a playground, and they do not have a park.
Their lunches have no taste at all, their dogs are scared to bark.

Miss Bonkers rose, “Don’t fret,” she said.
“You’ve learned the things you need
to pass that test and many more, I’m certain you will succeed.
We’ve taught you that the earth is round, that red and white makes pink. And something else that matters more, we’ve taught you HOW TO THINK.”

“I hope you’re right”, sighed Mr. Lowe, he shed another tear,
“the test is in ten minutes and you’re taking it right here.”

We sat in shock and disbelief. “Oh no!” we moaned. “Oh no!”
We were even more unhappy than unhappy Mr. Lowe.

But then the test was handed out. “Yahoo!” we yelled. “Yahoo!”
for it was filled with all the things that we all knew we knew.
There were questions about noodles, poodles, frogs and yelling, about listening and laughing, and chrysanthemums and smelling. There were questions about other things we’d never seen or heard, and yet we somehow answered them, understanding every word.

One week later, after recess, Mr. Lowe meandered in.
We’d never seen him smile before, but now he wore a grin.
He soon began to giggle, then his giggle grew by half,
and then it really happened- Mr. Lowe began to laugh.
“You’ve saved our school! You’ve saved our school!” He jubilantly roared. “We got the very highest score!”
He wrote it on the board.

Miss Bonkers did some cartwheels till her face turned cherry red.
She bounded up to Mr. Lowe and kissed him on the head.
“Hooray! Hooray!” she shouted. “I’m so proud I cannot speak.”
So she did another cartwheel, and she pecked him on the cheek.

“Ahem! Ahem!” coughed Mr. Lowe. “You all deserve a bow. I thus declare a holiday-it starts exactly now.
Because you’ve done so splendidly in every sort of way, this day forever shall be known as Diffendoofer Day.
And furthermore, I promise I won’t ever wear a frown, for now I know we’ll never go to dreary Flobbertown.”

Then we held a celebration, there was pizza, milk and cake.
Like everyone, I ate too much and got a bellyache.
We laughed and whooped and hollered the entire school day long,
then we all sang, triumphantly, “The Diffendoofer Song.”

“We love you, Diffendoofer School, We definitely do.
There surely is no other school that’s anything like you.
You’re gribbulous, you’re grobbulous, each day we love you more.
You are the school we treasure and unceasingly adore.
Oh, finest school in Dinkerville-the only one as well-
We love you, Diffendoofer School, much more than we can tell.
You are so diffendooferouse It gives us joy to say,
Three cheers for Diffendoofer School- Hooray, Hooray, Hooray!!!”
THE END

It is astounding to me that Dr. Suess had this kind foresight about education in the 1980’s as he created the sketches and notes for this book. After all, it wasn’t until 2000 that standardized testing was brought to a new level with President Bush’s “No Child Left Behind.” Enter “Race to the Top” and we now have standardized testing on steroids. What would Dr. Suess think of education today? That thought makes me sad. This story, that he never lived to see published, has inspired me to keep fighting to keep the Miss Bonkers’ of the world in our classrooms. Unfortunately, the aspiring teacher who shared this with me is already feeling the effects of the state’s unfair system as more “requirements” are piled upon her while she strives to obtain her Master’s Degree. I am certain that she will not give up, and I hope for all of our children that she never does.

I like to think that as I shared the following you tube video with my Creative Writing class this week, in honor of NATIONAL POETRY MONTH, that they notice a little “Miss Bonkers” in me.🙂

*It is important to note that Theodor Geisel died before this book could be published, so his friends Jack Prelutsky and Lane Smith completed the book in his honor, and I am so happy that they did. Amazon calls it, “An ode to unorthodox, unusually creative teachers and the innovative thinking they encourage in young minds.”
I thereby dedicate this blog to the teachers who refuse to teach to the test. May the flobbertowns of the world be defeated.

http://wellner.pbworks.com/w/page/13673949/Hooray%20for%20Diffendoofer%20Day

Be the Change!

 

I’m so tired. Tired of sending letters. Tired of making phone calls. Tired of advocating for common sense education. Tired of being forced to spend valuable time on things that have little meaning to me, my students and my children. I’m especially tired of feeling like I’m not being heard by the people who have the “power” to do the right things for schools. But I’m NOT too tired. I’m not going to stop until I am once again excited about putting my children on that big yellow bus each morning. I’m not going to stop until I know that my children and all of our children mean more than their test scores. I’m not going to stop until I am certain that our schools can accept children for who they are and get them where they need to be, with authentic, challenging, hands-on learning. I believe every child in our country deserves at least that. 

 I want to show you what I mean.  Some of you have probably heard me speak or write (often with frustration in my tone) about the lack of programs in public school for children like my son who need enrichment. In my opinion, No Child Left Behind was the beginning of the end for enrichment programs in public schools. Ironically, Race To The Top has exacerbated that situation. For the past few years, it’s been all about the students who “fail” tests, many of whom DO NOT need remediation yet DO need to be inspired.

When I realized a year and a half ago that my son seemed to be taking a lot of tests at school, I started asking for copies of ALL of the tests (Most of which I would not otherwise see).  Since then, I have taken a few of  those tests to the principal to point out that if my son has to take these tests, then the school owes it to him to provide what the tests consistently indicate he needs–“small group enrichment.” And every time, I have been told the same thing– “We just don’t have the resources right now.”

 In December, shortly after one of those meetings with the principal, I had what we now call an “aha” moment. The famous Ghandi quote, “You must BE THE CHANGE you wish to see in the world” had crossed my path three times that week. I have loved this quote since noticing it on a colleague’s classroom wall years ago. Heck, one year I even ordered a pair of TOMS shoes that sported the mantra. Yet, the power behind those words had never really spoken to me.

I made an appointment at school for the next afternoon, and I took a chance. I asked to start a book club.  The principal’s response? “That’s a great idea!” It would need to be sponsored by the family school organization for insurance purposes, and I would need to fill out paperwork to secure a room at the school. Students would need to have their own transportation as well as their own copies of the books, at least for now.  Check… check… check… and check. Reminds me of another mantra from the bible, “Ask and ye shall receive.”

 Talk about empowerment! What started four months ago as a book club for advanced readers in grades 3-5, has become a group of amazing children from every level of the reading spectrum. Parents of struggling readers have contacted me, hopeful that this might be just what their child needs to become a more confident reader after struggling with developmentally inappropriate curriculum this year.  And parents of advanced readers are telling me that their children are more excited about reading than ever. Most importantly, each week when I meet with these children, I am reminded that every child, no matter how he or she reads and comprehends, truly does have a genius inside.

There were seven children at our first meeting and four months later there are fourteen. The hour we spend together is the best hour of my week and I suspect theirs, too. They are reading 75-100 pages a week independently, and each week they greet me with excitement at the doors of the school with books and Kindles in hand. We truly hang on each other’s every word for that hour. Yesterday, as we finished the recent Newbery Medal winner, THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN, students asked if they could “chest beat” in unison to honor the story’s protagonist, IVAN. What a sight it was! Goose bumps covered my body, and tears of joy filled my eyes. The smiles on their faces were priceless. I was too busy taking it all in to snap a picture, but it is one that will be etched in my mind forever. These children will never forget that book or the important lessons they have learned from our reading and discussions. THIS IS SO MUCH MORE IMPORTANT THAN A TEST SCORE.

 This experience has affirmed for me that each of us truly do have the power to “BE THE CHANGE” we wish to see in the world. We can find it in the simplest of our passions. For me, that passion is books.

 

  Month 1- Wonder

    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         

  Month 2- The Lemonade War

 book club                                

Month 3- The One and Only Ivan

bookclub 003

 

*An Afterthought…

I continue to rigorously advocate for an authentic, fair school experience for our children. I will keep writing letters, making phone calls and disseminating information to other concerned parents and teachers as much as possible. In the meantime and until things change for the better, I encourage parents and teachers to seek out their PTA’s or FSO’s to help bring any kind of enrichment to your schools. Kids need this now more than ever. Of that, I am certain. You MUST be the change you wish to see…🙂

P.S. That’s my little dude third in from left, front row. He and my daughter are my inspiration.

The Letter I Meant to Read…

I was recently at an important gathering for educators where we were asked to share with constituents our feelings about the current education climate. Unfortunately, the one person that really needed to hear us, was absent due to “health issues”. I don’t think anyone in the room was surprised. After all, in my almost 20 years in the classroom, no one who holds power for change in education has ever shown up at school to ask me what is working, what isn’t working or how I feel about all of it. Though the audience was surely discouraged, we forged ahead, and for two hours we heard heartbreaking stories about schools, teachers and children that brought many of us to tears. The leaders sitting before us listened and responded in any way they knew how, yet it offered little solace when I realized we were truly “preaching to the choir”. Looking back, I wish I had stepped up to the microphone early on, but my fear of public speaking (yes, many teachers have it) forced me to stay seated for too long. About an hour into our forum, I realized that most of what I had prepared in my heartfelt letter had already been said in one way or another. Instead of stepping to the mic, I sat and listened some more, took notes and pondered what I could do to help the first grade children who took “Forty tests in the first thirty five days of school”, the child who vomited all over his state exam then watched as his teacher and principal ziplocked it to send back to the New York State Education Department because they were told via phone that “every test needs to be accounted for”, the developmentally disabled child who fiercely pinned his friend against the wall by her throat on their way back from a lengthy exam that obviously frustrated him to the point of violence, the teacher who steadfastly demanded that we stop allowing schools to be closed in poor districts where schools “are the community”. Nothing surprised me that evening, but I was inspired by my colleagues, and their personal accounts reaffirmed for me why educators and parents will continue to push back against the corporate takeover of public education, one of the most crucial, fundamental rights in our country.

So, here is the letter I meant to read…

To Whom It May Concern,
I have been a public educator for almost 20 years. Although I have many things I’d like to say about the recent burdens that have been placed upon boards of education, superintendents, principals, teachers, parents, and children, I’m here today to be a voice for my 9 year old son and many other children like him. Forgive me if I get emotional, but I am VERY emotional about what he has encountered during his 3rd grade year at public school. Yet, I am probably more emotional about what he has NOT encountered, and that is hands-on, authentic learning. My son is a brilliant, piano-playing, baseball-loving, kind human being. He is a sponge who thrives on learning about the world around him, AND he reads at a 6th grade level. Early on in the school year, my husband and I started seeing some behaviors that were out of our son’s character. Tears fell on his math homework more than once. Worse yet, the Pearson Reading Streets tests, that come home EVERY SINGLE WEEK for corrections, have been a constant source of frustration for him and our whole family. Often, we will all sit down and look at the questions my son got “wrong” and none of us can figure out which answer is “right”. Every parent knows that it is extremely uncomfortable to be in that position where you cannot help your child as he or she searches your face for guidance and assurance. The questions and passages on these tests are worded so poorly, and they are so developmentally inappropriate, that even students like my son, who is instrisically motivated to always do his best, are constantly feeling inadequate to the point of breaking down. With the new “system”, it seems nothing is ever good enough. Of course, just as heart-breaking are the kids who read below grade level or have IEP’s and are lost from the start of most activities because they can’t read the text or move quickly enough to make even small gains. I even hear from parents who say their child is unaffected, yet because of my experiences with children over many years, I know this is not the case. Those student have simply chosen to accept that life at school means doing worksheets and taking tests. I worry about them, too, because they are the ones who will probably never love school even though they have the potential to become great learners. They are the kids who enter high school with a glazed look on their faces and do what they have to just to get by.

After several meetings and phone calls with my son’s teacher and principal and after much research on my part, I came to a startling conclusion a few weeks ago. My son and his 3rd grade classmates will take over 500 pages of tests this year. The number is shocking, I know. Unfortunately, I have no power to change this, and because I am an educator myself, I feel guilty for even challenging what another educator chooses to do in her classroom. After all, I know the challenges of being a teacher. Yet I also know that when I became a mom, I became a much better teacher. 

 
I have now accepted what I obviously cannot change, and I do everything in my power to counteract the negative effects that this kind of “textbook” education could have on my son. The narrow curriculum leaves little to no room for science or social studies, so when my son recently read a story about rocks in his Pearson text, I suggested we gather rocks and look at them under a microscope that a science teacher at my school kindly let me borrow. My son was excited and inspired, and my colleague was quick to gather more rocks for us because, as he admitted to me, his 2nd grade daughter is encountering the same thing- an education that focuses on ELA & Math only. Amazingly, my son had little anxiety that week for his Friday test and did really well in his writing about rocks. 
 
Even through all of this frustration, I have come to realize that my child is one of the fortunate ones. He has me to help supplement his textbook stories as well as a dedicated dad to make his often confusing math work more realistic and concrete. Yet what about the others? What about the child with the single mom who has no time each day to go through her son’s backpack and sit down with him to talk about his school day or what he needs to prepare for tomorrow? What about the child who is so poor that her mom and dad can’t afford to supplement with information from the computer or with novels they don’t have? What about the student that has an abusive father and desperately needs a connection at school that he may not make because his teacher is so overwhelmed and concerned with the tests that she does not notice his real needs? These questions bring us back to the foundation of what public education is supposed to do for children – provide a fair and well-rounded education to ALL.

I come from a family of educators. My father was a teacher for thirty five years, and my mother was a high school and college educator for twenty years before moving on to the business world. I was in school before I could walk or talk. I was the cute little mascot/cheerleader for the football team when I was four. I valued my education from the time I entered school, and I was taught that I was to respect all teachers and learn from them. My AP English teacher inspired me so much that I became one myself. To this day, Mr. Baines is the best teacher I have ever known. My high school basketball coach loved me unconditionally and showered me with awards that made me truly believe in myself for the first time. She made me a better basketball player, but more importantly, she made me a better person.

I am the product of public education. I have always been proud of the opportunities that have been afforded me. I have always been proud to be a teacher; however, in the last couple years my pride wavers. I am no longer proud of our public education system. Teachers everywhere are being forced to do things that go against everything we have been trained to do. Class sizes have grown, schools all over the country are being shut down as I write this, and students are being reduced to tears and test scores. Public schools are being sold out to businesses such as Pearson that do not have our children’s best interests at heart, and communities have little to no input in decisions that are being made for our children.

I believe every child is unique. I believe every child can learn. I believe every child has potential to do something great in life. I believe every child has a reasonable desire to learn reading, writing and arithmetic in an authentic way, not just through a text book. I believe that children are not learning when they are testing. I believe that I can and will continue to make a positive difference.

Sincerely…

An Afterword:

When I returned home from above mentioned forum the other night, I found on my facebook wall a picture/quote from a former student who was in my 9th grade English class twelve years ago. It read, “This  made me think of you”…. and the picture said, “Teachers who love teaching, teach children to love learning.” This thoughtful gesture was a heart-warming reminder of why I will always love teaching as long as I can do it in a way that works for my students and for.  More importantly, this reminded me why I need to keep pushing back.