Speak Up

I BELIEVE IN THE FREEDOM OF SPEECH.

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the first rally I’ve ever attended in protest of a bill I believe will detrimentally effect education forever. It was an overcast evening at the state capitol in Hartford; it started to rain, then a rainbow emerged, and a second rainbow about it. I was inspired. The energy was amazing– very positive. It felt good to be part of something– a just cause. Before I attended the rally, and just last night, I wrote two letters to my legislators which I’d like to share if for no other reason than inspire those reading this to believe in something for the greater good, to take action and to let your voice be heard.

Letter 1: I begin to speak.

Dear Legislator ,

I am extremely opposed to Governor Malloy’s SB #24 Bill and urge you to vote against it or recommend for a significant revision of it.

Having been a teacher inConnecticutfor 22 years, I have experienced the polarities of working with at-risk youths and  high school drop outs for 11 years inHamdenandNew Havenin addition to my current position as an English teacher of 11 years in the upper, middle-class community ofCheshireatCheshireHigh School.

I am a dedicated, passionate professional not only carrying out my responsibilities as an educator in the classroom, but also as an advisor of a number of after school activities, serving as a member of a variety of committees aimed at improving the quality of education, mentoring student teachers and those in their initial years as educators, in addition to facilitating authentic learning for students such as leading educational tours bi-annually, domestic and abroad, over break. In taking pride in what I do and continuing to maintain relevance to ensure my students are fully engaged, I am continually taking courses and seeking professional development opportunities (apart from those offered by the school) to enrich my teaching in the classroom.

I have not in 22 years been so disheartened by the state of education as I have from the ramifications of No Child Left Behind, which, I believe, Governor Malloy’s bill is a direct result of. While I agree we need to do something to work towards eliminating the achievement gap, there are so many factors for which teachers can not be held accountable (for instance, poverty, abuse, neglect, hormones…). The fact that  45% of teacher evaluations are tied to the gains of their students is unreasonable and punitive. There are factors that weigh far more heavily on the lives of some students, that educational performance is inevitably hindered.  I can rattle off a host of stories about students who endured such hardships that it was absolutely prohibitive of their advancement of their education; not the best teacher could rectify issues that we are talking about.

Moreover, data-driven instruction will be the downfall of education. In order for data driven instruction to be accurate, it needs to measure measureable (right or wrong) outcomes which totally discount higher order thinking. In today’s global and technological  society, students can find rote information; instead they need to be able to become problem solvers, entrepreneurs, collaborators, critical thinkers.

In Daniel Pink’s Drive, he talks about intrinsic learning being the new learning & motivating factor to learning in the 21st Century. No more can we dangle a carrot (test scores) over our students to get them to WANT to learn– because let’s face it, students need to want to learn in order to be successful. We need to design educational opportunities for them to use their multiple intelligences (both sides of the brain) in order for them to embrace education and be successful. Giving teachers the tasks of common assessments, common formative assessments, CAPT testing (and the like) will not produce students who welcome education– it will turn them off to education, setting students and teachers up for failure. The more we emphasize teaching to a test, the less authentic learning will take place.

In addition to data-driven instruction being problematic and directly connected to the evaluations of teachers, the new certification scale is absolutely punitive and under the guise of making better teachers. Do we need better teachers? Absolutely. Are there tenured teachers who should not have been tenured? Absolutely. So let’s address these issues specifically and not put a blanket policy in place when I personally know far more dedicated, effective professionals than I know ineffective ones. This sliding scale of certification that Governor Malloy proposes is unfair and degrades the education and professional development experience teachers of today really have; moreover, it discounts all of the education we’ve already accrued under the current policy.

There are too many variables that are not delineated in this bill which puts decision making in the hands of those more concerned about cost/funding than education. I fear upper level administration will be forced to lean toward decision making that is more fiscally driven than it is in the best interest of children and their education.

I was disillusioned when I began teaching in Cheshire11 years ago. Early on, I described it as the Shangri-La of teaching– a more affluent community meaning students who are invested in their education and parents who care (attributes that are virutally non-existent teaching at risk youth and high school drop-outs). What I have found instead is a local political government who undervalues their teachers, parents who manipulate the education system because they are so desperate for their children to get scholarships to college, and an administration who tries to balance the demands of town leaders (who are only interested in not raising taxes) with threats of being sued by parents. Why do I continue teaching?: I’m guessing you are wondering. I teach because I love working with students. I love the unexpected teachable moments and those carefully planned units that are met with success. I love making a difference in a student’s day, and in the lives of students everyday. I love that when my students return after they’ve graduated, they thank me and tell me how well prepared they were for the future. I fear with out the ability to meaningfully engage my students in authentic learning as much as possible, the love of learning and education I share with my students will be compromised.

What I feel needs to be addressed are ways to engage underprivileged, poverty-stricken children to become more engaged in learning (certainly more counseling & out reach services need to be part of this), ways to deal with ineffective teachers, more meaningful professional development for teachers that speaks specifically to instruction versus fulfilling administrative agendas.

I predict the effects of this bill will be unengaged students, teachers who are put in the position of fearing the loss of their jobs and compromising their ethics as a result, a decrease in quality teachers, towns imposing unfair requests upon their teachers.

In closing, I implore you reject this bill. Urge the governor to take the time to visit schools acrossConnecticut(of varying demographics), talk to teachers, talk to students and parents. While we do need to be fiscally responsible, if we are not putting students first, this education reform will fail.

Sincerely,

A VERY concerned teacher

Letter 2: One last effort

Dear Legislator,

I urge you to vote AGAINST Governor Malloy’s SB24 bill.

I have been a teacher in the Cheshire Public School System since 2001, and before that I worked in Adult Education, in bothHamdenandNew Haven, for eleven years with high school drop outs and at-risk youths. I know both ends of the spectrum. I have also taught as an adjunct at Southern Connecticut State University– so I also know the incoming  expectations of students’ abilities at the college level.

Moreover, I a parent of two high school-aged children at Cheshire High School and one who has graduated who is attending college.

I come from a position of experience and knowledge. This bill will adversely change the face of education and have severe ramifications for years to come. It is a drastic reaction to our current financial crisis, the tenure track and binding arbitration.

Governor Malloy claims we are a state that is in need of drastic modifications to our educational system, citing a decline in the graduation rate, a performance gap, and a tenure system that is not working. Do changes need to be made? Yes, but not this drastically, not this quickly, and not without the input of teachers who this will directly affect.

Governor Malloy’s claims are flawed. If we are an education system in such dire straights, why has U.S. News named Connecticutas the #1 state for performance in high schools (http://education.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/education/high-schools/articles/2009/12/09/americas-best-high-schools-state-by-state-statistics) ? We are a state in which 80% of all high school students graduate, up 5% from 2001, and among the top graduation rates in the country (http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/lookout/high-school-graduation-rates-states-lag-behind-152514652.html); so, why does Malloy in his television ads say that graduation rates are plummeting? He characterizes ours as a state lagging behind; I strongly disagree.

We need time to bring teachers together with legislators to discuss how to improve inner-city education (the education gap), true; we need time to bring teachers together with the unions and legislators to discuss the matter of tenure for teachers who are undeserving, true; we need time to bring legislators together with union officials and administrators to discuss how to be more fiscally responsible, true. We NEED TIME.

I hope on May 9th, you will consider these points when you decide to vote against Governor Malloy’s proposed SB24 bill. I have a personal, parental, professional and financial investment in this decision which I hope you will represent.

Sincerely,

Donna Norman Carbone

Crossing my fingers, that my voice has been heard!

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2 thoughts on “Speak Up

  1. hi. i just wanted to tell you i found it heartening that you’re still so passionate about what you do after (despite?) the years of experience you’ve had. i guess i came across your writing right about when i needed to hear something like this. 🙂

    1. I’m glad. I think we’re all in the same boat & need to rely one another to remind us why we love teaching so much because at the end of the day– we’re in it for the kids (and they didn’t make this mess!)

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