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Letter from a Florida Teacher and Mother

September 13, 2010

Kelli is a reading teacher in Florida whom I’ve recently come to know in the course of working on this project. After hearing from several intervention teachers and reading specialists who describe how their work has been changed by the heavy emphasis on testing and scripted curriculum, I asked her if she’d like to write a guest post. My sincerest gratitude to her for responding, and for being brave enough to do so by name.

Dear Sabrina,

When you kindly asked me to write a guest post on your blog, a million topic ideas immediately went through my mind. There is so much to this thing we call “education.”  I decided to write to you about some of the realities that I see as a teacher in a Title I school and some of my opinions about what is going on in education right now.

As you know, teachers are currently dealing with a massive attack on their profession by so-called “ed reformers”.  It is assumed by ed reformers and the billionaires who back them financially, that the public schools who are not making AYP and closing the “gap on achievement” are failures because of the teachers. These teachers are now labeled as “ineffective”.  Since I work in a Title I school and our numbers are not up to par with the “A” schools in my district, I am considered one of those “ineffective teachers”.

At my Title I school, I work as a Reading Interventions Teacher with our school’s struggling readers, K – 5.  I enjoy teaching and especially love working with poor children who need a little extra love and attention to help them battle the ills of poverty. At the school I’m at, the job is high pressure and extremely fast paced requiring numerous hours of preparation and documentation. We maximize every minute of our day to push students along in their academic growth. We cannot work any harder or smarter (without working even more insane hours) at what we do and we have made great strides in the learning gains of our students. However, year after year, the scores of our students are never quite good enough to be worthy of celebration or genuine praise. Every year we are pushed to work harder and told, “no excuses” when we express that poverty is a huge factor in our scores and that we need to address those issues.

We recently received last year’s FCAT results and we are still a “C” school. We missed a “B” by less than 1 point (happens just about every year).  Because of this, we are labeled a failure and will require closer scrutiny by the DOE and numerous highly paid consultants who will parade in and observe us to the nth degree to document why we are a “failure” and what we need to do to bring up our FCAT scores. It’s all a pretty sick game, and it is becoming increasingly more oppressive. We have teachers in my school who are barely hanging on…full of fear. They are so overworked and emotionally exhausted that I often see them near tears…walking down the hallways looking beat up. This is the environment that they work in everyday and it’s going on in schools across America. It’s inhumane.

I can’t express enough in words what it does to me and my colleagues, knowing that all of the intense effort we put into educating our students is considered a failure.  We have been labeled and dismissed by people who have no idea of the realities in our classrooms. Our school is not much different from the school in Rhode Island that fired all of its teachers and publicly shamed them.  When President Obama and Arne Duncan publicly backed the massive firing of those teachers in Rhode Island, I realized then that what is going on in education is truly wrong…bordering on corrupt.

All that has happened lately with RTTT has been a huge blow to the stomachs of hardworking teachers. It has changed my perception of my world and it has eroded away my trust in what I thought was a democracy in America. The push for mayoral control in cities to make unproven and ill-advised changes in education without including the voices of parents and educators has really demonstrated that Americans are no longer participating in a democracy; we are now a part of what I would call a dictatorship.  This top-down, “shut-up and do as I say” dictatorship is leading our nation into a high stakes test-taking environment that is actually stealing away education from our students, who now are taught with a narrowed curriculum and less learning opportunities in the arts, music. PE, etc.

While reflecting on all that has happened in education during the 9 years that I have been a teacher, I am reminded of the time I proctored my first Florida state exam (FCAT) for a class of 3rd graders. As I walked around the room helping these 8 and 9 year olds settle in and get ready for the test, I saw many worried faces, some with tears. One girl complained of a stomach ache and another student was so nervous that she vomited.  I realized then that Florida played things a little differently…that state test scores were used as a measure of one’s success or failure.  I also came to the realization that what we were doing to children was (and still is) bordering on abuse. These were 8 and 9 year olds who had the world on their shoulders and were fully aware that if they didn’t pass this one state exam, in this one moment in time, that they would be labeled as a “failure”. We’ve got to stop doing this to our children and we’ve got to stop abusing their teachers on test scores.

As an educator and a parent, I have watched how high stakes testing has continued to become more and more out of control.  Teachers and parents have stood up and voiced their opinions about this madness, only to be quickly silenced. Teachers are now in the way of Duncan, Obama, Gates, Rhee, Klein, Bloomberg, and their ilk. These wealthy “ed reformers” don’t have a genuine interest in helping children. If they did, they would have listened to teachers and worked on ways to help children living in poverty. What they really want is to privatize education and set it up for money-making profit centers…there’s lots of money to be made. The last thing they want is to deal with educators, like myself, who know that NCLB has created a sick educational environment that is abusive to our students, and to their teachers.

The push now is to cleverly replace experienced, higher paid, more vocal teachers with inexperienced ones, under the guise of getting rid of “ineffective teachers”. Recently, on Twitter, I asked Duncan’s PR folks at the DOE to tell me what they considered an “effective teacher”.  They couldn’t tell me. That’s because this whole push to reward “effective teachers” is a lie…a smokescreen…a red herring.

My hope is that all of this NCLB/RTTT fear-based madness will be put to a stop.  My view is that it is an attack on our children, their teachers and principals. It is a threat to our nation’s future. If it is not stopped, we will see more failure, but it will be cleverly covered up by many charter and private schools who have less requirements in reporting information.  How sad for our nation, for our educators, and most importantly, for our children.

Kelli Reyes

12 Comments leave one →
  1. christina Headrick permalink
    September 13, 2010 6:21 pm

    THANK YOU Kelli– reading your letter truly made my day. You express so logically and succinctly what so many, many if us need/ want to say. I will be copying and sending your words to other tired, frustrated professional educators who are desperately looking for emotional support… and I encourage all others who read this to do the same!

  2. bob marlin permalink
    September 15, 2010 5:58 pm

    I agree

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