Sunday, January 10, 2016

Despair to Hope

Despair and hope. Two sides of the same coin, part of the daily life of a teacher who cares deeply…or is it?

Despair is a heavy-duty word. I never felt despair in the classroom. I DID fee frustration, irritation, confusion. I did feel bewilderment, sadness, and yes, anger.

#oklaed challenged us all to write about despair and hope as we face 2016, and the Legislative Session of 2016. I’m finally ready to face that task. Other bloggers jumped right onto that challenge, as I lagged behind. Rob Miller offered the original challenge.  Scott Haselwood, Meghan Loyd, Rick Cobb, Mindy Dennison, Michelle Waters,  John Thompson, and then Rob answered his own challenge. I told you I was late to this party. So many great ideas here. My take is a bit different, and I hope it adds to the conversation.

Frustration/Despair – Our policy makers do not seem to work for us. They seem to align themselves with other interests, not schools and children. That’s not my frustration…or at least it’s not my whole frustration.  One would think that would inspire educators to get out and vote for pro-education candidates, to search out office-seekers who have ideas for strengthening our schools, for partnering with educators, for working together for our students. Instead, educators have abdicated their civic responsibility, and I’ll say their ethical responsibility to be active in public life. We, as a group, don’t vote. 18% -30% of us show up at the polls. Is it no wonder we are considered irrelevant by lawmakers? Why should they listen to us when we rally at the Capitol? When we send frustrated emails and letters? We are irrelevant because we don’t vote. And when we do vote, many of us do not vote education as our top issue. I’ve heard the excuses: I’m so busy with school (I get that! Teaching is exhausting if you do it right), I don’t know the candidates (You know, teachers read and study for a living…I think we could do some research), I always vote for this social issue or that social issue (Look closely at the politicians espousing those issues and ask yourself if they might be using your concerns for their own purposes and manipulating you), I forgot to register to vote in time (NO EXCUSE!).  
Being an informed education voter does take some time, but there is help. You are not alone. League of Women Voters Oklahoma  is a good source of information about elections, including dates, registration details, and candidate-supplied information about issues. Check out their site…bookmark it. I’m a co-founder of a Facebook page called Oklahoma Education Voters. We surveyed our members and found their top education issues, and we try to find articles and research to inform our members about those issues. There are regional Parent Legislative Action Committees around the state, two in the Metro area. They regularly share information about education issues, and once ‘graded’ legislators’ commitment to public education. There’s an app for that. OAEC 55th Legislature works on iPhones and Androids. It updates after elections, and it gives us information about the Legislature, the leadership, the members. It includes photos, which are invaluable when I sit in the Chambers and watch debates. Addresses, emails, and office numbers are all there on one app. I rely on it throughout the Session. The OK Legislature page is kind of clunky, but it’s worth investigating. You can find your legislators, search for bills, find committee schedules…and track bills. You can follow #oklaed bloggers, Rick Cobb, Rob Miller, and BlueCereal are especially vigilant about following legislation and legislators. You can follow #oklaed on Twitter and join the Sunday evening chats…all stakeholders are welcome. Many local politicians have Facebook pages and Twitter accounts. You can follow them and see what’s up on their feed. Join your PTA and attend meetings. Become active in your support of public schools. Don’t find yourself on the BadVoter list.

Hope – My example of hope begins in frustration. Oklahoma was once a top-five leader in the number of National Board Certified Teachers in the classroom. Our support program was probably the best in the nation. Scholarships, support meetings, networking, and a sizable stipend if we stayed in the classroom. I know for a fact that inspired me to stay put in my class, contributing more to my family’s finances than I could have otherwise. The stipend was a mini-stimulus package every year as we spent our funds in Oklahoma. Recently, though, that support from policy makers has eroded. Scholarships were stopped, then the amount was dropped, then the number of scholarships to be offered was cut, and most devastatingly, the stipend was drastically cut from $5000 to a $1000 salary bump, with strings. Our program has suffered as a result. Whereas we used to certify 100-200 National Board Certified Teachers every year, last year we celebrated only 13 new NBCTs. During “The Troubles,” it was even bleaker than that. But that is NOT my example of hope.

Yesterday, Education Leadership Oklahoma, the office charged with NBCT support, held its statewide meeting for new candidates just beginning their NBC journey. It was a considerably smaller group than in years past, but we were there…candidates, trainers, Regional Coordinators. Early on a snowy Saturday, ready to commit ourselves to become better teachers for ourselves and for our students. Teachers who could have been sleeping in chose to meet and wrestle with the intricacies of National Board. Teachers who told their stories with pride…with humility. Teachers who are ready to hold their practice up to the highest Standards in the profession. Teachers who are already accomplished, but want to become even better. The energy was palpable. Teachers committed themselves yesterday to do everything they can for their students, to become the best—for their students. Certainly not for the potential of $70 more in their monthly paycheck. I was so proud to be an Oklahoma educator, surrounded with people ready to do the hard work of analyzing and reflecting on their work, to be brutally honest about what works and what doesn’t work in their classrooms.

Is National Board back to its glory days, when I held support meetings of up to 50 teachers? Not yet. But Oklahoma’s teachers are still answering the challenge to improve and learn. They are working on their own time for their students. They are still striving to be the best teachers they can be.

In the face of a revenue failure, in the face of lowest per-pupil expenditure in the region, in the face of funding cuts this semester, in the face of neglect and distain from some policy makers…teachers showed up Saturday. They worked together. They committed themselves and their whole hearts to their students.

It made me so proud to be a teacher in Oklahoma as I saw the enthusiasm.

Thank a teacher tomorrow, and tell them we appreciate their devotion to our students. They are my hope.

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