Archive | January 2015

A Letter to Senator Alexander Regarding ESEA

Senator Alexander,

I thank you for hearing the voices of the nation as we clamor for a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
The stress that schools have been placed under has reached almost a boiling point level and the ones that will have to suffer the consequences of these courses of actions, if not changed, will be our children.
The stress of “do better”, “perform better”, “get a higher grade” has been forced down from the federal to the state level, the state to the district, the district to the school, the school to the administrators, the administrators to the teachers…to where it finally stops. On the shoulders of our children that are not equipped and not able to withstand such pressure. Something will give. Unfortunately, what will break will be the minds of our little ones as less coping skills are taught, less social behaviors and interaction skills, and less time to enjoy childhood is being caused by the need to simply race to the top.
I am a teacher of students with disabilities. My first classroom placement was in an alternative setting. I had a student that had witnessed her father kill her mother, one that had stabbed his brother, one that wore an ankle bracelet, and one whose mind had not progressed beyond the level of a 6 year old first grader, yet he was 14.
These students were still required to take the state assessment. the test had no concerns over if the child had slept the night before. The test did not make sure the student ate a good breakfast. The test did not see to it that the student had a coat when the weather was cold. these are things that teachers worry about when their is a disconnect between the way a child’s home should be, and the reality of what it is.
Now, I am in a resource room, teaching math to sixth through eighth graders. We try to follow the standards as much as we can, with modifications. But some of my students are not mentally developed for the level of understanding that they are expected to reach. Some of them take a week of practice to grasp a concept that may take others a day or two. yes, we are given the same tests. I have one student that tells me on a daily basis, just how smart she feels in my class and how much she loves math this year. How can I face her and look her in the eyes as she takes the standardized assessment when inside, I know, that the likelihood is she will not understand a lot of the questions. How can I knowingly do this when, at the end of the day, she will be calling herself stupid, and losing a part of the joy math has brought her this year.
Schools are teachers are being held accountable for issues that cannot be fixed by education alone. Yes, a good education can help a person raise him or herself up to achieve more than the previous generation. but without the resources to make the possibility of a good education viable, there is less of a chance of that happening.
We need a new discussion about standards. What about the standards of what all schools should have, so the real issues can be addressed and those in positions of decision making be held accountable.
We need a new discussion about testing. What is it that we really want to test? Do we want to test what a student knows? Or how hard a student can try to gain understanding, how much perseverance can they put towards a task, how can they maintain what they need to do, at such a young age, when the odds are stacked against them? What is the true meaning of rigor and grit?
We need a new conversation about evaluation? What is it really that we want to evaluate from teachers? Scores based on factors that are out of their control? Or a teachers involvement in the community, in the improvement of a school, in the families that the school houses, in the investment that a teacher makes in the child, for however long or short that teacher and that child are in that community. These are some of the characteristics that make our really wonderful teachers a true blessing.
Communities across this nation are in danger of dying. It is our responsibility as adults that shape policies to recognize that and to create a system of support that will assist these communities in restrengthening and rebuilding. Schools need to be the corner-stone of rebuilding these crumbling foundations.
Testing, evaluations, assessments, new standards laden with corporate created curriculum materials are all merely diverting our money, our energy, our focus and our strengths away from where they should be as they tell us we need to strive to compete in the 21st century global economy. Our eyes are looking out at the world, yet ignoring what is right in front of us, our children that are in need.
Respectfully submitted
Melissa Tomlinson
Mother, Teacher, Citizen
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