So, as a teacher, what do I wish ed policymakers understood?
- What they do affects us. People with power make decisions about education, testing, funding, and it comes down to our level and often makes our lives much harder. Our governor cut funding for the prekindergarten program I teach, and since then we have cut classrooms and been able to reach far fewer children. Meanwhile, in my building, budget cuts have meant 45 kids in a 5th grade classroom, no more small reading groups in kindergarten or first grade because we no longer have money for resource teachers, and we have one adult supervising one hundred children at recess.
- What they do doesn’t affect us. People with power decide that we need to use this curriculum or that philosophy or undertake this reform, and really, what happens is we go back in our rooms and close the door and teach the way we always have. If policymakers want real change to happen, they’ll have to back it up with funding, make sure what they want us to do is reasonable and logical, and provide us with thorough training, mentoring, and support.
- There’s nothing harder than working in a high-poverty school. One year I got a lot of pressure from the district to make my kindergartners jump through hoops and reach a certain level by the end of the year, and I did want to succeed. I wanted to close the achievement gap for my students of color, and I worked myself ragged teaching and assessing. However, I lost a student every few weeks, gained a new student every few weeks, and by May I had gotten TWENTY-FOUR new students over the course of the year. Here are some of my stories: One boy arrived and left and came back and left again — I was both his 2nd and his 4th teacher that year. One boy came to school grey with hunger; Mom was lost to drugs and then Dad succumbed and none of their money went to food anymore. Another one had no mom, a dad in jail, and moved from relative to relative each week. One boy aspired to be a pimp, just like the guy his mom worked for. Another boy whispered to the girls in my class, “I want to rape you and cut off your breasts.” And the girls in the house corner played “call 911, my boyfriend is coming over to kill me.” Yeah — this was kindergarten. If we are going to teach children, we need to take care of them, and we need to provide both children in poverty and their teachers extra support.
- Maybe they should take a look at our schools of education. I hate to say this, because it seems disloyal to my colleagues and also to the place where I was trained, but our schools of education are sub-standard. If we want to improve our schools, we need to improve our teaching, and to do that, someone should really take a look at the places where teachers get their training.
- We need universal preschool. That doesn’t mean every four year old has to go to preschool, it means every four year old who wants it or needs it, gets to go to a high-quality preschool program. If we are ever going to close the achievement gap, we need children in poverty to have access to great preschools.