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About a week ago, ABC Action News caught up with the Florida Department of Education’s Commissioner, Pam Stewart. The reporter in the video had been trying to get an official comment regarding the on-going saga of teachers who are losing their jobs due to not being able to pass one of Florida’s teacher certification exams.

Bear in mind, however, that many of these teachers have already demonstrated their skills in the field, had been rated “Effective” or better, had developed a rapport with the students they serve…yet were let go nonetheless.

This truly is “must see television”:

To provide some context, ABC Action News has been investigating this issue for about a year and a half, starting in March 2017. They had updates to this story in July of that same year, May 2018, again this past July, and culminating in this report from last week.

The shortest version possible of what has happened is this: in 2015 Pearson debuted new tests and pass rates quickly plummeted. Many teachers discuss their struggles with the mathematics portion of the General Knowledge Test, despite the majority of these teachers not even teaching math. Ever.

The one year I worked as a new teacher mentor coincided with the new, more challenging tests, and it was almost always the General Knowledge Test that was holding back first and second year teachers. One of my mentees, for instance, couldn’t pass the essay portion of the GK. She hailed from Puerto Rico, taught Spanish, was adored by her students, yet had to pass a meaningless portion of a test that had no real bearing on her ability to teach Spanish.

Compounding this problem is the statewide (national, really) teacher shortage. More and more “new” teachers are people who are making the transition to a new career, not a young person entering the profession from college. If someone hasn’t used their math skills in 10 or more years, they will have eroded significantly.

And, again, if a person is hired to be an art (or any subject not related to math) teacher, should she need to be able to do the following?

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Sample Questions from the GK test, courtesy of Jeff Solochek and the Tampa Bay Times

In the midst of a teacher shortage crisis, one would hope that the state would offer some temporary reprieve on some of the testing requirements, especially the General Knowledge Test that seems to be the biggest barrier to staying in the profession. What’s more curious is that Florida does this to no other profession. No one who is going to take the bar exam to be a lawyer has to also take this test. It seems logical that if a person can earn an undergraduate degree such as a B.A. or B.S., s/he has the basic skills necessary to work in any professional domain.

Eliminating the GK test would not necessarily mean it is easier to become a teacher. A person still would have to pass the Florida Teacher Certification Examination and a Subject Area exam, and rightly so. A candidate should be able to know and understand the laws that govern the profession, the ethical obligations they hold as teachers, and demonstrate mastery in the content the educator will teach to students.

But having to prove you went to college 10 or 20 years after the fact by taking and passing the “General Knowledge” test? Absurd.

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(Sweet Incredible Hulk GIF that wouldn’t embed. You know you want to click the link.)

Other questions arise with this approach as well:

When these teachers who have already been deemed effective during their first few years lose their jobs, who replaces them? Who will connect with those students? A long-term substitute? Pam Stewart realizes that teachers aren’t growing on trees, right?

Why do only traditional public school teachers have to pass all these tests to earn their certification? Charters and private schools can hire people with no credentials, yet the FLDOE will kick good people to the curb because they have rusty math skills?

In the end, Commissioner Stewart’s horrible handling of this reporter is telling in three ways: 1) she’s hangry, and you wouldn’t like her when she’s hangry; 2) the FLDOE clearly does not want to discuss this issue, with her even going so far as to offer a deflective answer about turnaround schools; 3) she clearly has never, ever–not once–understood nor empathized with the plight of teachers and ESPs all across the Sunshine State who routinely sacrifice their lunch time for their students on an almost daily basis.

But, hey, like the Tampa Bay Times editorial board recently wrote, “No wonder there’s a teacher shortage in Florida

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Carole, Fed, and Andrew
Carole (left), Fed (center), and Andrew (right) are looking to “Transform Action Into Power”

This edition of the Teacher Voice podcast features three guests that comprise one of the election tickets running to become the leaders of the Florida Education Association. Fed Ingram, Andrew Spar, and Carole Gauronskas are running to be the President, Vice President, and Secretary-Treasurer respectively. We sat down earlier this summer at the AFT Convention for them to share why they are running, their vision for the future of the FEA, and why teachers and ESPs should join their local unions. Please listen and share with others, especially those who will be delegates at the FEA DA next month.

If you’d like to learn more about Fed, Andrew, Carole and their candidacy, you can Like/Follow their campaign page on Facebook, and follow/interact with Fed (@fedingram), Andrew (@VUEPresident), and Carole (@cgauronskas) on Twitter.

Thanks for listening, everyone!

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Backside of the #GoForIt Campaign Card
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Front of the TAP / #GoForIt Mailer

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But before I say why I’m voting for Val, a confession: I never was a “union” person for the first decade of my career.

In the podcast in which I interviewed both Rob and Val (listen here), I talked about this at the end. I joined for two basic reasons: 1) out of gratitude for the new payscale that economically changed our lives for the better; 2) out of concern for what was happening to public education in Tallahasse, which began to make me sit up and take notice eight years ago in 2010. In fact, this op-ed that landed on the front page of the Opinion section of the Sunday edition of the Tampa Tribute was the first time I publicly waded into the waters of education policy here in the Sunshine State.

Thank you, Tallahassee, for making me realize why I needed to become part of a union.

As a member for the last four and half years, as well as a building rep for the last two years, and now executive board member for the last seven months, I am proud to be part of a dedicated group of education professionals who work incessantly to give each and every child the very best quality education while simultaneously advocating for all students and our entire profession.

Perhaps more importantly, being a member of HCTA has given me strength through solidarity and the courage to share my perspective with my “teacher voice.” But ultimately what being a member has taught me is that it’s not about any one person at all.

It’s about all of us. Together.

When I recorded the podcasts for all four of the candidates, I was trying to be as impartial as possible, which is why I asked five essential questions and did not interact with any candidate’s response. Every candidate had great things to say, and I wish I could have an amalgamation of them all. But I realize that’s not possible, which is why I have been pondering this decision for the last few months and only decided today.

In my mind, Rob Kriete and Val Chuchman are tied. I honestly cannot really separate them, mainly because they both bring numerous tangible assets to the role of president. I even went so far as to write out a list of pros and cons, and still couldn’t make up my mind.

My gut, however, tells me something else. It tells me that we are walking into a storm the likes of which I doubt anyone in our district has seen in the last twenty years. The locus of this storm, of course, is the capitol; what the GOP-led Legislature has wrought over the last two years between HB7069, HB7055, and more cannot be ignored, especially the unwillingness to truly invest in public education and instead take what scant money exists and pour it into dubious ventures that only erode the entire education ecosystem.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because we all read about it a great deal a few years ago when it happened in Wisconsin. Now it seems as if “reformers” are trying to replicate that here, and we need someone who has the experience to take the fight to them by activating members and engaging our community partners.

We cannot afford to let them win.

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Val has this experience. She fought for teachers and all union workers in Wisconsin. She is not afraid to confront our elected officials, speaking truth to power while respectfully being a staunch advocate for all education professionals and our profession overall. Here’s one small sample and more can be viewed here. Anyone who watches will notice time and again Val going to bat for us all.

All candidates reached out to me for their support immediately after our current president, Jean Clements, announced her retirement. I was hesitant to fully commit to anyone, and I will say that initially Rob was my front-runner due to his diplomatic approach. But I knew I  wanted to interview them all myself to get a better grasp on who I would vote for while also informing our HCTA membership.

And after all the interviews and much thought, still unable to truly make up my mind, Val called. That really was the tipping point. More than anything else, Val’s tenacity tells my gut to vote for her. If she shows such persistence to earn a single vote, how relentless will she be as a leader and our next president? How dogged will she be in defending our education professionals throughout the entire district? How unflagging will she be in advocating for public education here in Florida? My gut says more than I can put into words.

Val’s got the fire. And that’s why I’m voting for her.

If you are an HCTA member, don’t forget that voting begins tomorrow at noon and will run through Wednesday, February 21st at noon. If you are not a member, I sincerely hope you consider joining; though you won’t be able to vote in this election cycle, you will still have a voice as a member and can help shape the future direction of our union.

This is about all of us. Together.