Saturday, May 9, 2015

Dan Nolan's Remarks on the 25th Anniversary of HB1017

  One of my friends, a colleague at Norman North High School, and fellow NBCT, Dan Nolan, was invited to speak at the press conference marking the 25th anniversary of then-Governor Henry Bellmon signing of HB1017. Dan is a gifted history teacher, and well aware of the ironies facing our profession. I always sent him books about current events, or historical fiction to read for accuracy. I could read for story and character, but Dan understands the deep connections that tie the past to the present, and countries of the world to each other.

I wrote about the broken promises of HB1017 here. The anniversary was bittersweet for many of us who remembered the hope and optimism we all felt.

Here are his remarks. We are lucky to have Dan's eloquence representing all of us.  

 I am attempting to reconstruct my speech at the 25th Birthday of HB 1017 conference from my battered and sweaty 3X5 cards.  I’m sure some of the following wording is clearer or better chosen than my actual speech but it also lacks the passion of the actual event so I will call it a draw.

    " I was making my transition from Air Force officer to civilian. One of the things that brought me to my current profession of teaching was the passion I saw during the passing of HB 1017.  The teacher’s sense of justice and feeling for a greater good was something that pulled me into public education and the classroom.  I felt I was going from service to my nation to service to my community.  It is twenty-five years since the passing of HB 1017 and from the perspective of a classroom teacher it is not pretty.

     Excessive testing is negatively impacting our students and the teaching environment. Endless teaching means no access to computers and writing labs for weeks on end. Teachers, counselors and administrators are pulled from their jobs of working with your children and instead end up administering countless tests.  The students lose classroom instruction time and for what?  The great irony is that this testing nightmare was driven by the need for accountability.  In my district, and many other districts in this state, parents have the ability to check their student’s progress on-line at any time.  They can see their student’s grades and upcoming assignments 24-7.  Parents have the ability to email their student’s teachers at the parent’s convenience.  They also have the choice of one-to-one contact on teacher conference days, open houses and individual conferences.  You have the option of a teacher who knows your kid, provides timely and individual feed-back and cares, or you can spend millions for a drive-by, multiple-choice, out-of-state, for-profit company.

     Lack of funding results in growing classroom size.  I informally polled my students and this was their number one priority.  In the words of one of my students large classes, “make teachers mean.” She was right; large classes change the classroom dynamic from one of informality to being reduced to crowd control. Look at the English teachers’ workloads.  Thirty plus students in five classes at a minimum of five minutes per essay. (Most spend far longer writing personal feedback.) Do the math; it is over twelve hours for one assignment. The past semester I had thirty-six students in a class with 28 seats, what was I supposed to do? Perhaps I could turn over the stools and sit students on each leg?
     Underfunding results in 1,000 teacher vacancies in our state.  Many teachers are simply moving to other states.  I currently work four part-time jobs to pay for my teaching habit.  It is hard to teach the American Dream when you have lost your own chance to be part of it.  Many teachers are simply falling out of the middle class.

     One of the reasons for the lack of teachers is the outright vilification of teachers often led by people with money and influence, but no teaching or educational background.  Ask yourself why a computer billionaire would declare education broken, and then propose technology and computers to fix it? Our former Superintendent of Education personally told me that we had a crisis in education and that India was the model to follow. Has she ever been to India? That would be the country where they recently published a picture of scores of parents scaling the side of a high school to pass cheat sheets for the final examination. I guess Indian style high stakes testing is the answer.

    Personally for me the final straw was this session’s bill that implied that Advanced Placement history teachers were not patriotic enough.  On my classroom wall is the picture of my father and his crew chief before he flew fighter sweep over D Day.  A photo of his headstone at Arlington is next to that.  My papers for crossing Communist East Germany to the island of democracy of Berlin and my picture in an F-16 during my time of service are also on my classroom wall.  There are thirty years of uniformed military service on that wall and we are not patriotic enough? 

     Another blow was the mismanagement of our National Certification program, in some ways the closest thing the state has to merit pay.  Our national certification program took teachers with proven best methods who passed rigorous certification standards and allowed Oklahoma teachers, such as myself, to attain the highest level of professional certification in the nation.  Our state support of NBCT made Oklahoma a model state for professional education.  We were rated as one of the top states for the number of teachers who had achieved certification.  Our past superintendent pulled money from the program, diverted funds to pay speech pathologist instead of teachers and gutted the stipend.

     On the anniversary of 1017 we must look at the course of education in our state and nation.  We are Americans; we can do better.  The battered pickups are again leaving Oklahoma again, and they are full of teachers." 
Dan Nolan NBCT, former Norman Teacher of the Year and finalist for Oklahoma Teacher of the Year


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