Since the summer of 1998 when I first moved to Florida, our state has been possessed by the notion of testing and accountability. Jeb Bush based much of his gubernatorial campaign on the idea that public schools were in need of reform, and that by assigning grades to teachers, schools and districts, they would foster a new era of accountability.
The FCAT came and went, creating much consternation at every level in the K12 sector. Kids were–and still are–stressed out by all the high-stakes testing; teachers felt–and still feel–micromanaged and betrayed by our elected officials who claim to know what’s best for our students, despite the fact that they have had no classroom experience and little to no input from the professionals who serve our children every day.
But here’s the thing: I get it. I get where they’re coming from. I think many teachers do try to understand our legislators’ motives, because we all want what’s best for our kids, and that begins with holding our students to high expectations and measuring them against standards. The Legislature wants the same from us, but it has largely gone about it the wrong way. Testing kids in the way that we do is no good for their academic welfare, let alone their well-being.
If we look at the top two education systems in the world, Finland and South Korea, they both have similar approaches. There is very little–if any–standardized testing. Students are given multiple pathways to demonstrate mastery of their subjects, much of which is evaluated holistically through student portfolios that capture the big picture of the child’s learning. It’s a window into how the student’s mind works, how he or she is learning to think critically about the world and be engaged with it in a meaningful way. Standardized testing, by contrast, essentially tells us whether or not a student is good at taking a test relative to other children taking the same assessment.
The teachers in these systems are also radically different. In those countries, there is significant cultural esteem to being a teacher. They are revered precisely because the future generation and the fate of the entire nation have been placed in their hands to shape for the better. Teachers are also culled from the university’s top graduates, often ranking in the top two percent of their respective graduating classes. These people could be doctors or engineers, but they are handpicked to be teachers. Finally, they are seen as consummate professionals who need no significant oversight from outside forces.
While a valid critique of these systems’ successes may hinge on their cultural homogeneity, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to adopt a similar path here in the Sunshine State or the entire U.S. We need to treat kids like human beings again, not cogs in a machine to churn out test results. Every teacher needs to forge ahead and start building a more humane education system. It begins with us, the professionals in the classroom, and it ends with those who matter most–our kids.
I began my personal mindfulness meditation practice just over 8 years ago. To say that it has changed my life would be a huge understatement. It has made me a far better teacher for many reasons, perhaps too many to enumerate.
The primary one I discuss today, however, is the impact it has on the kids in the classroom. Please listen and share with other interested education stakeholders.
And if you’re a fellow proponent of these practices, let’s get together to discuss how you implement them in your classroom.
This week’s Teacher Voice podcast is a full-length interview with Josephine Amato, the director of the Safe Bus For Us parent advocacy group. As last week has shown, safe school bus transportation for children living within two miles has become a contentious issue, especially in light of the traffic jams and challenges for local businesses that the additional cars and student walkers on the road have caused.
Please listen and share with others who are concerned.
***Disclaimer*** After we recorded the podcast, Mrs. Amato realized there were two mistakes in statistics she used: 1) a child is struck walking to school every 3 minutes (not seconds); 2) children who are 13 and over (not under).
It’s currently 3:42 a.m. and I can’t sleep. I’ve actually been awake since 1:37, but didn’t get out of bed until an hour later when I realized there was no hope of falling back asleep.
And this happens nearly every single year.
I would guess this is a common phenomenon among most teachers. The closer we get to the first day of school, the more excited we become. Now that I’m at the half way point in my career, “Day One,” which I feel should be capitalized as a proper noun, has taken on mythic status. Just like when I was a kid and couldn’t sleep on Christmas Eve or when we were about to go on a family vacation, the approach of Day One fills me with joy and enthusiasm.
Day One goes beyond so much more than the first day of school when we get to meet our new students. Day One has become a metaphor for promise and potential. When we look out at those new faces who step over our thresholds and into our classrooms, teachers see young people who are full of that promise and brimming with potential, regardless of the age or grade level of our kids. We know that we have a critical role to play in the shaping of not only these young minds, but the future of our communities locally and our entire society nationally. Whether teaching them the basics such as how to hold a pencil or complex topics like literary analysis, we understand that we are helping them toward some greater good.
Beyond academics, though, there is another type of promise and potential that I love even more as a teacher. Day One represents one of the most important opportunities in life: the chance to cultivate relationships with another human being. Having taught Language Arts, Social Studies, and Mathematics all at the high school level, I believe teaching isn’t so much about WHAT we teach than it is about HOW we teach. Are we empathetic? Are we authentic? Are we passionate? Those attributes matter much more than the content itself, because at the end of the day a good deal of what transpires inside the classroom and the school is how we connect with, care for, and respect others.
I’m not a good teacher because I am a super nerd who loves learning for its own sake, I’m a good teacher because I care about the kids and their future.
The truth is that those who are meant for this profession all excel in this regard. The best teachers are those who care the most and realize how much promise and potential Day One brings with it as each new school year begins. And they’re probably all just like me, lying awake in bed at odd hours of the morning, smiling at the ceiling at the thought of what Day One will be like this year.
There’s been a lot of talk concerning equity now that we’re back to school this week, which made me think about how inequitable the funding is here in Florida. Clearly Tallahassee is content to put their thumbs on the scales, so to speak, to ensure that charter schools receive far more funding than their traditional counterparts. Listen to the new Friday five for just a couple examples.
Thanks for listening, everyone, and have an amazing weekend!
P.S. – Always looking for fellow education advocates to talk about the issues on the podcast and/or be a contributor to the blog side…are you interested?
Here it is! The first feature length Teacher Voice podcast in which I interview a guest. This first podcast features Jai Yarlagadda, a recent graduate of Hillsborough County Public Schools.
We discuss Jai’s passion and project to help others in our local community here in Tampa Bay. Please listen and share with others who may want to help either by making a donation or volunteering as a financial adviser.
If you’re reading this right now let me start off by thanking you.
I want to thank you because it means you care about kids, their education, and our entire future here in the Sunshine State.
Teacher Voice started about a month ago to encourage others to get involved and advocate for the next generation and all its promise deserves. Whether you are a teacher, parent, administrator, guidance counselor, school psychologist, social worker, custodian, bus driver, student nutrition specialist, a former public school student, or an elected official at the local or state level–essentially anyone who wants to advocate on behalf of our children, Teacher Voice needs your help. We need to grow this project together, and I would love to hear from any education stakeholders who want to contribute by writing a blog entry or meeting me at a public library (or via phone if you live far away) to record a podcast in which we dive into the issues and have a discussion about how to move education forward in Florida.
But I especially need to hear from teachers…
I genuinely love being a teacher and I know that’s also the case for many, many others. Now more than ever, we need to stand together and add our voices to the conversation. We are the professionals with experience in the classroom, and we have wisdom to share with those who shape our policies and decide the fate of our funding. There are roughly 190,000 K-12 educators in our state, and if we include professors at our colleges and universities it easily eclipses 200,000. Surely we have something to say and make a sizeable contribution to the dialogue that only seems to be happening among legislators.
So how can you help? Though this is just a short list, any of us can do one or more of the following: become highly informed by reading about education issues affecting us all in Florida; develop relationships with your elected officials, both at the local and state levels, and share your ideas with them often; attend local school board meetings to speak or simply oversee the policies being implemented in your district; seek out and discuss the issues with fellow education advocates; be exemplars of humility and life-long learning, something all students should see and emulate on a daily basis; last yet certainly not least, write a 500 word blog post for Teacher Voice or join me for a podcast, even if you just want to brag about your kids and the awesome things they’re doing in your classroom or out in the community.
With the advent of HB7069, education has clearly been at the forefront of many peoples’ minds throughout Florida. It’s not often that our collective attention is so acutely focused on what’s happening happening to this vital public good, and hopefully this project and many others will help sustain this focus so that we can do what’s best for our kids and our future.
P.S. – As always, please continue to share this website and/or Facebook page with your family and friends. I believe we can accomplish amazing things if we all stand together. And, of course, if you’d like to write or meet up to chat, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks!
Teacher Voice is seeking guests to either write short posts (500 word limit) about current education issues or to discuss them in person for the biweekly podcast. Interested? Fill in the form on the Contact page or email directly at email@example.com