Meme: Five things policymakers ought to know

I’ve been tagged!  This is the first time someone has reached out and tagged me to participate in a meme.  Thanks, Science Goddess.  This meme originated with Teacher in a Strange Land.

So, as a teacher, what do I wish ed policymakers understood?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Now, I get to tag some teachers.  I’d like to hear what Teacherninja, Mrs. V. , Splatypus, Michaele, and Mister Teacher have to say about what ed policymakers ought to know.


7 thoughts on “Meme: Five things policymakers ought to know

  1. I agree with you!

    We need universal preschool. As a 6th grade teacher I feel the effects of students who attended preschool vs. schools you did not. I know first grade teachers who struggle with challenging students who went to preschool while teaching the students who did not how to hold a pencil, their alphabet, colors and numbers. Children across the country are not starting off at the same starting point.

    I remember visiting my preschool class during my lunchtime. I would sit at a table with a group of children teaching them how to open milk, ask for more food, use a fork, etc. The teacher would tell me stories of having to set up rules as to what and what not to say during the morning circle time because the stories were getting to explicit. I remember a little boy running and jumping around the room with a beeper on his hips, earrings in his ear, an expensive leather coat when he left but he could not count, recognize letters and he didn’t know his mother’s name. The teacher had to dismantle the bed in the playhouse because the boys and girls were getting in the bed together and pretending they were mama and “friend”.

    I believe that everyone who is in charge of educational policy should have to teach in the classroom once every 1 to 3 years. Teachers have requirements that they must fulfill to get their certificate renewed so I feel that those making policy should also have to fulfill requirements in the classroom. This will keep them in touch with the teachers who are on the front line. I just heard a story today about Reagan not knowing the price of jeans, Bush not knowing the price of gas and Obama thinking middle class family makes $150,000.The people who make policy must be in touch with the people!

  2. Great ideas you shared!

    I completely agree with the comments about working in a high poverty school and the need for universal access to pre-school. I don’t think that most of the public (policymakers included) has any idea what most schools are really like. Even worse, what they do think they know they associate with “teachers at fault.”

  3. I like all of them, but #3 really resonated. I too teach in a high poverty school and I really don’t think the general middle-to-upper class public have any clue of how far behind these kiddos are when they start on day #1. Not to mention the laundry list of tragic home-life stories they are dealing with. How can a kid concentrate on learning when they’re starving? Or exhausted? Or abused? Or all three?

  4. Pingback: Five Things Policy Makers Ought to Know « Don’t put boogers in your neighbor’s cereal…

  5. Hey Kiri. Thanks for carrying on the meme… I especially like the juxtaposition of #1 and #2, which aren’t in any way contradictory (although someone outside of SchoolWorld might think so). As a 30-year veteran, I have lived through some 180-degree swings in policy creation with few visible effects on the actual work of my teaching colleagues. We’re still standing in front of the room, believing that we’re dispensing knowledge. And sometimes–it still works.

    Brilliant analysis. Thanks for playing.

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