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Teachers Need to Have A Plan

December 22, 2011

School Testing

I have said many times on these pages that teachers need to be active and we need to know who we are supporting and voting for.  Teachers are interesting in that we have such incredibly busy and hectic schedules managing all the demands that we must tend to that we sometimes just “decompress” when we get some time to ourselves.

I am saying that we need to use some of our free time to be active, vocal, and interested in how public education is being attacked in this country.  There are serious, coordinated, and well-funded efforts out there trying to destroy public education and the benefits that we bestow upon our students.  In that vein, I came across this article in the Oklahoma Observer titled: Teachers, What’s Your Plan?  It is written by Claudia Swisher a 36 year veteran teacher and she has some excellent insights, let’s take a look:

Teachers have unwittingly contributed to the recent attacks on our profession by not becoming political, not being active and involved. These attacks and the damages they’ve done to public education are, therefore, self-inflicted wounds. The question is, will we staunch the bleeding or sit helplessly by and allow the damage to continue?

By nature, we teachers are apolitical. Since we work with all children every day we try to balance and respect the views of our students, their parents and our administration. That balancing act demands that we not take sides in the classroom, be open and accepting of all, as we teach our students to analyze ideas, and points of view through close reflection.

We are engulfed by the demands of our jobs – with planning, delivering instruction, revising, teaching, assessing, planning, instructing, revising … Our teaching life is more than a full-time job, and often we’re so weary we hesitate to take on “one more thing.”

If you are a teacher reading this, you must admit that everything Mrs. Swisher writes is true.  But, what I am espousing and what she is stating is that we must take on that “one more thing.”  We have to, what we do is in the cross-hairs of those who want to turn classrooms into little test-taking assembly line factories.

After 36 years in the classroom, voting in every election, being the best citizen-teacher I could be, I decided teachers cannot afford to sit quietly on the sidelines, voting, but not speaking up. Or worse, not voting. Or worst, not even registering to vote.

Today, teachers’ very apolitical stance, our acquiescent silence, is being used against us, and more critically, against the students we teach. Policymakers count on most of us staying quiet.

Very well put!  I can only imagine how teachers must feel in Oklahoma.  I feel lucky to be in California (even with our budget mess) because we have a Democrat Governor, Legislature, and two Democrat Senators.  The right-wing push to enter education is starting with Michelle Rhee’s recent tour (more about that later), but so far we have suffered far less than educators in Tennessee, New Jersey, Michigan, Wisconsin, and of course, Florida.

One statistic I’ve heard suggests only 30% of the teachers in Oklahoma even vote. We have ceded our rights and our voice by not voting, or by voting without thoroughly checking out the platforms of candidates.

Some of us, like some voters in general, vote straight party tickets without investigating the messages of candidates who become our elected leaders. Some of us vote for one knee-jerk issue that in no way actually impacts what really happens in our classrooms, issues that are used to manipulate and enflame.

So, if only 30% of teachers vote, we have given up our right to affect educational policy, and to share our expertise.

If only 30% of teachers vote, policymakers assume we’ll sit quietly as they attack our retirement programs, our professional organizations, and our commitment to our own personal and professional growth.

You are right, they will attack you, and they are attacking you, and teachers HAVE allowed this to happen!

If only 30% of us vote, lawmakers assume we’ll accept laws that mandate more testing, more testing misused to promote students, to evaluate teachers and to grade schools. Lawmakers, many of whom have never taught a day in public schools, now decide they know what and how we should teach, and they assume we will quietly continue working under a heavier and heavier burden of mandates.

This is so true and it galls me.  People who have NEVER stepped foot inside a classroom to teach (see: Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Whitney Tilson, etc…) are always trying to tell teachers how to do their jobs.  I would like to see some of these people teach in an inner city urban environment, it would be comical.

It’s an ugly truth, but teachers must accept partial responsibility for the current anti-teacher, anti-education climate in our state, because we have been apolitical. We don’t vote. We vote without studying the issues.

We have elected, or allowed to be elected, lawmakers whose stated plan is to cripple public schools, to send public tax money to private schools, to encourage charters to squeeze public schools, to invite for-profit online schools to cannibalize our schools.

We have allowed policymakers to label us as whiners when we point out the promises that have been broken. We sat still as teacher evaluations are now based on student test scores.

We are complicit. We have chosen not to vote, to not even register to vote. We have chosen to vote without investigating candidates’ motives.

Mrs. Swisher, you are 100% correct!

Our current anti-teacher, anti-public education climate is, in part, a self-inflicted wound. Not only is the profession, and indeed, all of public education, bleeding, we stood still as it happened. We helped; we allowed others to damage our profession and the public education system we’ve devoted our lives to. We did not protect ourselves and our students and our profession from attack.

Now, what’s our plan to heal the damage?

Mine is to continue contacting my legislators, to tell my story, to volunteer my expertise. I will educate myself about the legislation coming forward. I’ll confront my legislators about any involvement with ALEC, which writes much of the current legislation being passed around the country. I’ll get involved with candidates’ campaigns, volunteering time and donating money if I can. I will ask questions. I’ll find other professionals who feel as passionately as I do, and I’ll work with them, together, for all students. I will be loud.

Teachers, what’s your plan?

My plan for the past 8 months has been to diligently write this blog on a daily basis, and to talk to people within my sphere of influence.  I will take your advice and start contacting my local and national legislatures, good idea.

– Claudia Swisher teaches at Norman North High School and is a National Board Certified Teacher. She is a regular contributor to The Oklahoma Observer.


















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