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COMMUNITY VOICE

You have made us information-pushers, test-givers and paper-passer-outers. LET US TEACH!

Sunday, March 24, 2013 - 12:01 am

I recently received a copy of a letter that was presented to the school board of Lafayette Parish in Lafayette, La. My friend, who sent it, remarked that it reminded her of me, and after reading it I totally agree that it could have been written by me or a million other frustrated teachers in this country. The letter written by Abby Breaux has been making its way through the Internet and the entire piece is a must for any educator and every parent as well. I’m going to quote parts of the letter and include my thoughts on the subject.

Breaux begins, “I keep hearing statements that only ineffective teachers are leaving the system. That upsets me. Many, and I mean many, teachers like me who have been evaluated as effective and highly effective for many years by the administration are leaving the public schools.

“These are teachers that have been elected Teacher of the Year, LEF winners and have received many other awards. Even more than that, they have played a part in hundreds of thousands of students becoming great citizens and grownups. Teachers have also been criticized for leaving during the year, interrupting student learning. But these teachers have had enough, and many are actually getting physically sick and can’t make it to the end.”

When I left teaching, it was not because I didn’t love teaching. I became physically sick with high blood pressure and I was afraid I could die if I didn’t get away from all the pressure and stress created in my classroom. More and more was asked of me, and I was told that the way I taught math, for example, was the wrong way. It was irrelevant that my class scored the highest in the city on part of the ISTEP test. The paperwork was overwhelming. I felt no one would listen, and I was expected to be a puppet for the administration’s demands. Consequently, I took early retirement and stayed in my profession by research, writing and tutoring.

Breaux continues, “Teachers are not the bad guys here. You tell society that we have three months off in the summer and get off at 3:30 in the afternoon. Well, I can tell you for a fact that we work at least 10 months a year. What about all the teachers that either go to school early or stay late? We give up a lot of time for our school children — sometimes our students are getting more time than our families.

What about all of us who after 25 or more years are working all day and working more hours at night? We stay late after school for meetings and programs, and we are constantly grading papers, at night, on weekends and even on vacations. We attend in-service for either no or minimal pay in the summer or weekends. Not to mention all of our own money we spend on students. We buy our own class rewards, incentives, classroom decorations, books, etc.

And if you think that doesn’t happen ask a real classroom teacher. So don’t tell me that teachers don’t care.

Teachers are required to pilot all of these new programs year after year that have been tried already (just under another name), not worked and tried again. We keep reinventing the wheel. I hear that teachers don’t teach any more. We don’t. You have made us information-pushers, test-givers and paper-passer-outers. LET US TEACH!

You have taken all of us this way. You give us a new common core curriculum that is almost impossible to finish in a year. You are setting teachers up to fail. Teaching was once a noble and creative profession. Learning was once fun. If you want kids to stay in school, make them want to come.

Our jobs depend on two lessons a year. Principals should be able to walk into a classroom any time and do a true evaluation. To tell children that our jobs depend on them is giving the students the upper hand. They now have the power, and they know it. Some kids are “out” for some teachers and are going to score low on the standardized tests on purpose.

You have made it all about what the teacher needs to do instead of what the students need to do. Hold them responsible. We should not be held responsible for apathy and wrong choices.

If you want to change one thing in a school system start with discipline — simple, nothing else, just discipline. Follow through from first grade on up to 12th grade. Be consistent, give consequences. Teachers should not be repeating rules to the same students over and over again. If you would listen to experienced teachers who have good discipline, it works and learning is going on.

No fancy programs, no bells and whistles, just the teacher in charge. Stop moving students from school to school. This just dilutes other schools. You are hiding the problems, not solving them. The same students that we see get away with the “little infractions” over and over again are the same students who end up in the paper under “local arrests.”

This statement is so true. There is a warrant out for one of my former students at the present time. He has been in trouble since day one and has been incarcerated for rape and about every other crime one can think of. He threatened to kill me when he was in fourth grade. Teachers can usually spot kids like this, and it was obvious a 10-year-old child was headed for big trouble down the road.

Another stabbed me with a pen, but nothing was really done about it. The boy didn’t have any problems; it was the teacher’s fault. This kind of thing goes on in classrooms a lot more than the public knows.

Breaux continues, “We are not here to be popular or please parents, we are here to teach children. Small things like uniforms, gum chewing and tardies may seem small to you but to a classroom teacher they are small things that lead to larger problems like disrespect. If you don’t back us up on these issues the students know it and lose respect for us.

“Don’t give in halfway through the year or keep changing things. Follow through. Back your teachers up. You have taken the power away. No discipline equals no teaching.

“You have basically taken “morals” and work ethics out of our schools, yet now our tax money is paying for students to go to private schools where they teach morals and work ethics. I believe we should bring both back to our schools, and this will bring our students back as well.

“You want to save one child by not removing them from the classroom because you don’t want that child to miss out on learning, but you are doing a total injustice to the average and above average students who want to learn and know how to behave. The others are not learning because teachers are spending their time repeatedly correcting, constantly documenting, meeting one on one, and conferencing with the one child who chooses not to behave. I have about 10 behavior plans with only two out of 10 working. Why is this? There is no followthrough at home. Teachers work harder than parents to help their child succeed. If you don’t think this is true, again, just ask a classroom teacher.”

I always referred to my students as “my kids.” A very rude female administrator told me I was never to refer to my students as mine because they didn’t belong to me. In many cases I had more contact with their kids than the parents. Oftentimes students tell teachers, whom they trust, many things that parents aren’t aware of. I had a three-page parent questionnaire that I gave to parents at the beginning of every school year. Many times the parents would ask me the answer to a question about their child.

Breaux knows that all teachers are different, and that makes public education so special. “Students get the affection, nurturing, life lessons and education from each of them over their 12 years. Some experiences will be good, some not so good, but that is called life.

“Children need to learn to cope. They will need this skill for the rest of their lives so they can become good problem-solvers on their own and not have everything catered and changed to their every desire. Having their parents just being able to call the central office and have teachers give in to ‘solve the problem’ to make it easier for the child is not a coping skill. You are doing the students and parents a total injustice.

“If you are thinking getting rid of classroom teachers is the answer, then shame on you! It takes experienced teachers to help new, inexperienced teachers with the overwhelming burdens of classroom management, helping with background knowledge and learning how to build relationships with the students and the community that these students come from. There is so much more to teaching than getting in front of a class and giving a lesson.”

Breaux concludes, “I am very proud to have worked with the many amazing and hardworking teachers, administrators and staff over the years in Lafayette Parish. We want a positive system and a system that continues to improve. We would really like for you to not only hear us, but make necessary changes.”

Isn’t this what every teacher wants? My 35 years of teaching with Fort Wayne Community Schools saw teaching go from being a top-rated system in the state to what I consider now to be a mediocre one that only cares how much money they will get per student.

How much learning really takes place over and above the teaching for the tests? How many students can think outside the box or do they just repeat memorized unrelated information that will give them a passing test grade and make FWCS look good? Think about it!

Ann Rickert is a retired Fort Wayne Community Schools elementary teacher.