Thursday, February 23, 2012

I Teach, What's Your Superpower?

I don't teach, however I have nothing but extreme 
respect for each teacher out there. 
I think it takes a rare breed to do this job.  

My daughters teacher from last year wrote her take on the state of education in Florida.  I felt compelled to share this with you.  I really want to be able to look back on what an amazing teacher Molly had the privileged of having in Third grade.  For those of you who don't live in Florida our kids are subjected to numerous tests through out the year.  The Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) is how the State determines how well our children are learning.  Our schools are graded from the overall results.  I personally think the system is seriously flawed and the curriculum is an epic fail.  But enough about my feelings.. read the true feelings from an exceptional professional.

Some friends of mine were having a discussion on Facebook about education. They asked me some specific questions and when I started writing down the answers, I couldn't stop. This is what came of it:

Glad to answer: 
How do you think the system would change? 
I think children get over-tested. Right now in Florida, the FCAT tests Reading, Math, Science, and Writing. Apparently History/Social Studies doesn't matter. But I digress. To get ready for these tests, we give students a series of other tests to make sure they are performing at their "grade level". Typically I give one test a week for reading that goes along with our reading curriculum. I also have to give the students a Reading Benchmark test 4 times a year. The students also take a computer based reading test called the FAIR test, and this happens 3 times a year. We have 30 stories in our reading curriculum, so that gives us 30 tests, plus the 4 benchmark tests, and the 3 FAIR tests. That gives us a total of 37 reading tests a year. I am not even going to count the practice FCAT tests we take. For math the kids take 12 tests a year that match the math textbook, 4 On Track Math standardized tests, and 3 Big Idea tests, that tests them on what they have learned per math unit. That gives us a total of 19 math tests. For science we have 10 tests that align with our curriculum, plus 3 Big idea tests. That’s 13 tests for science. For writing, students write weekly prompts that get scored using a 6-point scale similar to the one used for the Florida Writes exam taken in 4th grade. (Elementary school, is taken again in middle and high school) So students will write about 40 prompts a year. Right now, social studies has just gotten some fresh new standards to follow, however, budget cuts has not allowed for new textbooks to match the standards, so I have written my own curriculum. Since social studies is not tested by FCAT, it takes a back seat. However, I do give it the importance it deserves in my classroom and I make time for it. I give them about 8 tests a year for social studies. So when we do the math, I give my 18 students 117 tests a year. There are only 180 school days. This is not right. We are testing these kids to death just to prove that we can close the achievement gap. How are we supposed to educate the kids when we are testing them 80% of the time? We are so concerned about getting the “right” score, that the kids who cannot perform are labeled “below level” immediately. It doesn’t take into account external factors that are part of every child’s life: what kind of parents do they have, are they eating 3 times a day, do they have a bed to sleep on, do they need glasses, have they been to doctors regularly, has someone read to them, when do they go to bed, etc. We need to stop and realize that teaching is beautiful. It should involve patience, discovery, time, improvisation, art, music, and many more things. But it doesn’t fit into “No Child Left Behind”. Funny thing is, we are leaving great majorities behind that do not fit the standard mold. It’s sink or swim, and the teachers cannot slow down for a minute to throw them a life vest. 
What changes are the educators and educational societies you know looking for?

The changes that we are looking for is to have a panel of teachers chosen to write the standards and write educational policy that makes sense. We do not want our salaries to be dependent on tests scores. After all, the test cannot describe what that child does on a day to day basis in our classrooms. What if that child is not a good test taker, but they can explain to you everything they have learned today by drawing a picture, or simply talking about it? We want respect. Forget pay. I don’t care about how much money I make. I think teachers who complain about their salary all the time need to recognize that they went into that profession knowing that they were not going to make six figures. What I want is respect. For people to stop telling me my job is awesome because I get to leave at 3 and get holidays and summers off. I work from 6:30 am to 4:30 pm almost every day. That’s 10 hours at work a day, and I only get paid for 7 and a half. I go home and I keep working. I think of a way to make 18 people understand one concept. I decorate and maintain a classroom from my own pocket. Last year I spent almost $1,000 dollars in my classroom. I don’t want people to say that I finger paint all day with my students. I want doctors, and lawyers, engineers, and politicians to realize that my job is the groundwork that creates the future. That I have to be a mom, doctor, therapist, lunch lady, and more to those kids. That I give them all my number, my cellphone number, so they can call me if they don’t understand the homework. That I have had kids crying on my shoulders because they didn’t want to go home. That I have had kids call me during the weekend because they have no one to talk to. Our teaching society wants to just be recognized and to be left alone to do our jobs without so much scrutiny. Those of us who have passion for the art of teaching will do our jobs greatly. And those scores and standards will be met. Just ease up on us. 
Also, just to understand where you're coming from, could you share what age group and subjects you teach?
I am Gina Liz Rivera. I have Bachelor’s degree in liberal arts, elementary education. I have a Master’s degree in Science and Math instruction K-6, and did it with a 4.0. I understand, speak, and write two languages. I was featured in the Gainesville Sun as STAR Teacher of Alachua County. I have taught 4th grade and I’m currently teaching 3rd. I teach every single subject: Reading, Writing, Math, Science, and Social Studies. I also run TDPF (Teacher Directed Physical Fitness) for the third grade. I have an after school tutoring program for kids. I dress us up as different characters for the holidays. I play music in the classroom and explore art with my students. I am a board member for a wonderful organization in Gainesville that works with families affected by sickness, such as cancer. I am over 50,000 dollars in debt for my education. I make $34,000 a year. I have no tenure and I will never attain it thanks to new laws passed. I love my job and wouldn’t have it any other way. I teach: what’s your superpower?

Gina, You are my SuperHero!  Thank you if you took the time to read this.  I would love to hear your take on education in your state.  Please remember to thank your teachers!



SuperGirlPR said...

Wow! Thank you so much for your kind words. It's wonderful to have families that care and give importance to education. That canvas you guys gave me inspires me every day to do better. I hope you have a wonderful weekend. :)

Olive Cooper said...

My kiddo was also tested to exhaustion in high school. She developed Chrohn's Disease which has some links to anxiety. She is healthier and much happier in college. She is studying to be a college but she is going to teach in South Korea and is going to learn Korean this year and next year. This letter from this amazing teacher reveals in true numbers what we parents already knew. I feel for the teachers.

Carol said...

I jsut happened to find your blog, but I had to comment! I am a retired elementary school teacher (I taught 3,4,and 5th grades). I had to retire early due to cancer, but I LOVED my job. I did NOT love all the testing that we had to do. I can not tell you how much I agree with this post - I taught BEFORE FCAT was ever introduced and for years after we had to administer it. I can honestly say my students learned more before we had to Test the students to death. I have seen students get sick from the anxiety/stress that others have put on them to "perform".
What degrees do I hold? I have a Bachelor's Degree in Elementary Education and a Master's Degree in Educational Leadership - also with a 4.0. I worked from 7 AM till 4:30 or 5 PM everyday of the week - and even some weekends developing curriculum for my classroom, grade level and county. I was the supervisor for the after school tutoring program at my school. I was chosen to present ideas and curriculum that I used in my classroom to other teachers in my county at expo's. I have paid to attend conferences to improve and stay on top of new instuction methods and I spent summers at workshops for the same reason. I have spent hundreds of dollars of my own money to buy books and supplies for my classroom. I would have liked people to realize that I was laying the foundation upon which all future education of children in my room would be based upon.
There are times that I sincerely miss the kids and the art of teaching, but I do not miss the testing, the disrespect, or those in Tallahassee, who have never taught a day in their life, telling me how to do my job. Hopefully an end to all this insanity is in site. However, as much as I hate to say it, I doubt it.

Tammy@Beatrice Banks said...

I am a teacher and so appreciated this post! She wrote a very good article and I totally agree. I'm not teaching right now and really don't miss all the paperwork and testing nonsense. I do miss the kids though.
Thanks for sharing!

Chris said...

Hi Lacy, just stopping by to say how delightful your blog is. Thanks so much for sharing. I have recently found your blog and am now following you, and will visit often. Please stop by my blog and perhaps you would like to follow me also. Have a wonderful day. Hugs, Chris

jane said...

my super power is expecting a new blog when i check yours everyday !!!!

Lisa Montsion said...

Teaching is a very rewarding thing to do.