Sunday, July 26, 2015

Wise Parents Want the Best for All.

In #oklaed, the #teachershortage is real, and it’s real ugly. It’s ugly because it will affect the lives of our kids in a time of high stakes testing, forced retentions, no drivers licenses, and no diplomas. Policies and neglect and disdain and hostility have converged, and it’s our kids who will suffer.

Disclaimer: In the first five years of my teaching career, in Indiana and Iowa, I taught four years with emergency certificates. I was an English Education major from Indiana University, but had to teach three years outside my major. For that, I needed an emergency certificate. I had all the education classes, methods, and student teaching, but since I taught 6th grade, self-contained and high school special education, I was required to jump through the hoops to get my emergency permit. Times have  changed, and so has the definition of emergencies. I only taught one year in an English classroom in those early years.

Today’s emergency certificates will be given to people who have not gone to education school, or taken the various tests required of alternatively-certified teachers. They probably won’t even have the five weeks of training that our Teach for America Awhile teachers have. They will probably have a college degree, but no preparation. As usual, Okeducationtruths has helped us understand the issues. Seth Meier reminds us the power of a teacher, and Mindy Dennison offers us an analogy for emergency permits in other professions.

I need us all to look into the eyes of our children or our grandchildren or our nieces and nephews. Look hard. Look at that potential, that grace, that enthusiasm. Look into those faces and think about giving your precious children to a teacher with no training or experience. Then think about the high-stakes tests your children will take. And answer honestly: “Is this what I want for MY children?” If the answer is “No”, then we must say, “NO” for all children, every student in Oklahoma.

Dewey said it: “What the best and wisest parent wants for his child, that must the community want for all its children. Any other ideal for our schools is narrow and unlovely; acted upon it destroys our democracy.”

My granddaughter started kindergarten, full of wonder and excitement. With substitute teachers for a month. Katie didn’t know she was being short-changed. She had nothing to which to compare her experience. A month with substitutes. Then, the district was able to hire a teacher…four weeks into the school year, Katie’s only year of kindergarten. I don’t know if that teacher was on an emergency certificate. I just know four weeks of no solid instruction had already taken its toll. Then, she had a totally inexperienced teacher for the rest of the year. I also know Katie will take the infamous third grade reading-English language arts test this year as a third grader. Nowhere will the testing company ask her if she had certified teachers each year of school. So will every other child in her kindergarten class...with subs for a month. Nowhere will it ask her if she missed out on quality instruction because she had substitute teachers or emergency-certificated teachers. That won’t matter to the folks who created the teacher shortage with their antagonism toward the teaching profession. That won’t matter to those same policy makers who decided Katie and all her friends had all better show proficiency on a non-reading test one day in April.

They created the teacher shortage; they created the demand on nine-year-olds. My Grand will pay the price. Did I want her to have the teacher-less class? Of course not. I didn’t want ANY kindergartener to be in that position. But she was…as were all her classmates.

So, there will be a price for this teacher shortage, and it will be paid by our children. I do not blame the school districts who are desperately searching for a way to put a grown-up in every classroom in the state, certified or not. I blame the policy makers who cynically created a teacher-bashing culture, who ridicule our efforts to create learning experiences for our students, who call us grasping whiners. I blame non-educators who wouldn’t last a day doing the job of a teacher but are quick to criticize.

I blame policy makers who do not make students and their education a priority. I’m looking at you, Oklahoma Legislature.

I challenge the policy makers of Oklahoma to truly make our kids, our future, our greatest resource, a priority. To make it a priority to support efforts to hire the most qualified teachers, and to pay them a living wage, and to honor their commitment so they can teach our kids.

I want, for all children in Oklahoma, a certified, qualified teacher. I want for all students in Oklahoma a teacher on the first day of school, not a substitute, not a person who may have no real interest in teaching. I want a teacher to greet our kids, to welcome them into their classroom with strong lessons and a positive classroom climate.

Every child. Every student.

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