Dockery: Thanks to Florida’s teachers

PAULA DOCKERY

by: Paula Dockery, Tampa Bay Times

January 21, 2016

Here’s my message to Florida’s 180,000 public school teachers: Thank you.

Thank you for your dedication. Thank you for your professionalism. Thank you for your long days of teaching and your long nights of grading papers and preparing for the next day’s lessons.

We don’t appreciate our teachers as we once did. Over the last 20 years teachers have been demonized, demoralized and blamed for what some politicians want to brand a failing public education system. With a steady stream of mandates and micromanaging coming from the state capital, teachers had to constantly adjust to the policies pushed by the politically well-connected education-for-profit folks.

A sampling of those changes includes: standardized testing; grading schools; creating the FCAT; adopting the Common Core curriculum; switching to new, unproven tests; tying teacher salaries and school grades to student performance on high-stakes tests; pushing expansion of for-profit charter schools and vouchers; converting public schools to charters; and implementing controversial bonus schemes instead of increasing teachers’ salaries.

Teachers have not been particularly engaged in the political process. They’ve been too busy jumping through bureaucratic hoops.

The devaluing of classroom teachers is taking a toll on them and may have reached a tipping point. Teachers are fed up, frustrated and many are leaving the profession.

Wendy Bradshaw, a special education teacher in Polk County, resigned and spoke out about her reasons for leaving public education. Her heartfelt resignation letter was posted on social media and quickly spread nationally.

Bradshaw, an outstanding teacher with bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in education, was consistently rated highly effective in her evaluations. She’s the kind of teacher we need to recruit and retain in our public schools. Unfortunately, she’s also the type of teacher we are chasing away.

She said that she had become more and more disturbed by the misguided reforms taking place, which are robbing her students of a developmentally appropriate education, and that she cannot justify making students cry anymore.

This past week thousands of educators flocked to Tallahassee hoping that legislators would hear their concerns. What do they want?

They want politicians out of the classroom. They want policy decisions to be made based on input from educational professionals. They want an end to high-stakes testing. They want the same accountability standards for voucher programs and for-profit charter schools that they have. They want an end to the “Best and Brightest” teacher bonus program. They want better wages for teachers and more autonomy in their classrooms.

Bradshaw was one of the speakers at the rally. She lamented the fact that the whims of politicians were more important than the students. After attending a state Board of Education meeting, she left feeling “the board was only listening to the opinions of those seeking to profit off of our children, and not those who want our children to profit from their education.”

Other fed-up teachers are speaking out. Susan Bowles, a kindergarten teacher in Alachua County, turned to Facebook to detail the tests she is expected to give to 5-year-olds and why she will no longer give some of them to her students — even if it costs her her job.

Joshua Katz, an Orange County algebra teacher, took to YouTube with a fiery 17-minute attack on high-stakes testing, calling it the “toxic culture of education.”

It’s great that teachers are speaking out. Will legislators listen?

The Legislature doesn’t ignore farmers and ranchers when developing agriculture policy; doesn’t ignore business when setting virtually any policy; doesn’t ignore doctors when changing health care policy; and certainly doesn’t ignore sheriffs when discussing criminal justice policy. Yet they turn a deaf ear to teachers — the education experts with hands-on experience. Why?

It’s disingenuous for the Legislature to tie educators’ hands and then blame them for not being innovative. They are the ones responsible for stifling creativity. It’s no wonder we have a teacher shortage.

Perhaps the rally will entice more teachers to actively engage in the political arena. Imagine what would happen if 180,000 teachers started calling their legislators out on their actions. Better yet, what if they all registered to vote and actually voted?

The Florida Legislature might hear them.

Read full article here.

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