Wednesday, March 31, 2010

E-mail to the House Reps, the Govenor, and anyone else who will listen!

I am a teacher in Florida.
I am a damn good teacher in Florida.

I am a damn good Exceptional Student Education teacher in Florida.

I am a damn good Exceptional Student Education teacher in a low-socioeconomic area of Florida.

I am a damn good Exceptional Student Education teacher in a low-socioeconomic area of Florida who will likely lose my job if SB 6/HB 7189 passes.

I will either lose my job or be forced to change jobs and work at a different school just so that I can survive.

I will not lose my job because of something that I will do, or not do. I will lose my job because my students are unfairly asked to do the impossible, and many are not be able to.

My students do not perform on grade level. This is why they are part of the exceptional student education program. If they could perform on grade level, they would not need the ESE program. I work hard to get my students on grade level and out of the program, but unfortunately, many will never be able to make it to that point. They start off the school year sometimes multiple years behind their classmates, struggle all year to lean basic skills that come easily for their classmates to learn, then are expected to take and pass the same test as their classmates at the end of the year. (Yes, some of them may have extra time to complete the FCAT, but not extra time to prepare for the test to make up for taking longer to learn or being behind to start with due to their disability.)

On top of having a documented learning disability, because of the low-socioeconomic culture that my students live in, many do not have the background knowledge that is so important for learning. Imagine living only 3 miles from the beach but having never seen the ocean; having never traveled outside the neighborhood much less the town, county, or state. All they know is survival; survival that must come before education. Their parents don’t value education because they are so focused on finding work and keeping a roof over their heads and food on the table. The children often have to go days without food, stay in houses with no lights, babysit younger children, or care for the elderly. Many live in cars, or if they are lucky, a room at the Motel 8 that they must share with mom, dad, and several brothers and sisters. I have had many students in the past who have had to miss school to take care of a younger child when the parent couldn’t find childcare. One of my students this year missed nearly a week and a half because she had to take care of her aging grandmother; she is only in the 2nd grade. Many of my students are afraid of what will happen tomorrow. It is a struggle for them to just make it to school each day. It is very difficult to teach a child who is afraid, yet that is what I do on a daily basis. It is difficult for a child to make up missing days but that is what we are faced with.

Many of my students have yet another hurdle in their education. Some also have emotional and/or behavioral disorders which prevent them from learning to their full potential. With these students we as teachers must first focus on the out of control, and often highly dangerous, behaviors of the child first, and slip in academics as often as possible. Students cannot learn if they, or one of their classmates, are throwing chairs, cursing at the teachers, starting fights, or trying to run away.

With all these hurdles it is amazing that any of my students succeed. I push and encourage my students daily to do their best and to learn as much as they can. However, their best does not always match up to “regular” students. Is this their fault? NO! Is it my fault? NO! It is no one’s fault, it is only the reality of the situation.

Imagine for a minute that you were born without a leg (a learning disability). You cannot afford to buy a decent prosthetic leg and must make do with an ill-fitting crumbling hand-me-down (poverty). Now, imagine that you must run a marathon (the school year and the FCAT). Because of your leg slowing you down, you arrive at the starting line late and everyone else has already started and many are miles ahead of you (being below grade level to begin with). How do you feel? Are you terrified? Are you nervous? Do you feel inadequate when looking at the able-bodied athletes? Do you think that this is a good attitude to have to begin with? You know that your coach has done everything that he can to prepare you; you’ve done numerous drills, sprints, and endurance runs, but is it going to be enough? Let’s go a step further; any athlete knows that the home court advantage is really about having the fan’s cheering you on. Imagine that while you are running this grueling trek, your family (the most important people in your life) isn’t there to cheer you on because they have to work, don’t understand how important it is to you, or just can’t be bothered. Now imagine that your coach will lose his job if you do not finish in the top 50%. Just crossing the finish line isn’t enough, you have to excel or your coach will pay the price. How is this fair to you or your coach?

How is what this legislation is trying to do fair to our students or their teachers? (By the way, ALL finishers in an actual marathon receive a metal, even the last one to cross the finish line. The last ones across the line often receive the loudest cheers as they finish because the spectators know that these athletes have struggled the hardest and applaud thier persistance to get to the finish line. Shouldn’t we do this for our struggling students as well?)

I hear all the time that parents and taxpayers complain that teachers are doing nothing but teaching to the test because of FCAT and school grades. How does tying teacher’s pay into the test solve this problem? All I can see happening is making it worse. Teachers will thenthemselves fly into survival mode and teach to the test to insure that their students do well on this one assessment.  Good teachers will leave the profession or flee to higher performing schools leaving the low-socioeconomic schools with the “left-overs.” To me, this seems like the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.

Our children are our future. Please, take a step back and take a good look at what you are doing to our future.

Basing teacher's pay on things that are completely out of their control is not the solution to a failing educational system. Yes, some things need to be fixed within the educational system, but this is not the solution. In fact, it will only cause more problems in the future.