Speaking Out for Respect

Dear Dr. Barresi:

I have waited a few days to respond to your weekly update in which you demonstrate your “appreciation” of teachers. I wanted to make sure I was responding as the professional I am and not the incompetent person you seem to believe all teachers are. I am a teacher. It is not what I do, it is who I am. I work in the public school system by choice, not by accident or because I am not trained for anything else. I am a licensed attorney and should I chose to do so, I could go back to practicing law. I do not so choose because teaching is my calling. It is a constant challenge, and it requires me to use every bit of creativity and knowledge I possess plus whatever I can borrow from others in order to accomplish what I need to in the classroom.

I spend countless hours at night, on weekends and over school breaks researching lessons, participating in professional development, taking graduate courses and reading articles on current research in education. Based upon your actions so far, I believe you need to be doing the same. I do not believe our education system is perfect, nor do I believe change is unnecessary. Quite the contrary, I spend a great deal of time and effort bringing change to my classroom and sharing with my colleagues locally as well as around the state and country. I am constantly assessing what I do, how I do it and how I can become better. The vast majority of my colleagues do the same. You could learn from us.

We are trying to reach out to you and to our legislators. We are asking - begging - for someone to listen to us. We are in the trenches every day. While you were composing and taping your “appreciation” speech, I was in my classroom feeding breakfast to the ten children who came to school without having any on a testing day so that they could focus on the all-important test instead of their growling stomachs. While you were fighting for and celebrating tax breaks for companies and wealthy individuals which allow them to send their equally privileged children to private schools on scholarships, I was tracing my student’s foot so that my colleague could buy him new shoes. Half of his foot was exposed through the hole in the bottom of the ones he was wearing. And while you were busy describing teachers as “destroyers of souls,” I was ignoring your insult and celebrating the success of my students. Attached you’ll find a description of my day. I sincerely hope you’ll read it, you just might learn something about the students you are supposed to serve.

I am only one teacher out of thousands who want to be part of the right solution, the right change, the right reform. Talk to us! Listen to us! If our children are to succeed, we need to be on the same side. We are willing. Are you?

Christine M. Paradise
3rd Grade Teacher
National Board Certified Teacher Candidate in Waiting



Superintendent Barresi, Representative Hamilton and other lawmakers:

I listened to the Superintendent's weekly message, supposedly honoring teachers during Teacher Appreciation Week. But the take-away for me is Representative Hamilton's message: schools are factories - sucking the souls out of our children. They're destroying futures. And, oh, by the way, it's Teacher Appreciation Week, so honor an educator. I cannot be the only person who is bewildered by the smiling message that both smacks teachers in the teeth, praises a private school voucher plan, and then tells listeners to go thank a teacher.

Factories? Well, in self-defense many schools are becoming test preparation factories. Fear has driven many administrators to insist on less social studies, less science, less art and music, less lunch, and less recess, as they chase the ever-moving target of AYP which will grade schools. Teachers who know part of their evaluation will be based on students' test scores spend time in class helping students, not become better readers or better problem solvers, but better test-takers.

High school students must contend not only with taking seven End-of-Instruction exams, and passing four, they must also hope and pray that the technology for their online tests won't fail them, as ours did at Norman North this afternoon. And soon our third grade students must worry about their performance on one test which will determine whether or not they'll become fourth graders.

Soulless factories? No, but test-preparation factories? We're getting closer and closer. When standardized tests, that were designed to show what students knew, compared to a normed group of similar students become horribly high stakes for students, for teachers, and for schools, we will creep closer and closer to test-preparation factories. Read “The Myths of Standardized Tests: why they don't tell you what you think they do, by Harris, Smith and Harris to learn how horribly we have distorted the purpose of standardized test.

Please find me a teacher or administrator who wants to cut music and art, cut recess, cut exploratory electives in favor of test preparation. Please find me a teacher who wants to spend time helping students practice a bubble test, rather than help students explore, learn, question ... Please find me a student who would rather spend time on a worksheet rather than a science inquiry.

The continued misuse of standardized tests to judge, to evaluate, to promote or retain, to grade schools, will continue to result in the narrowing of curriculum, the pushing to the side everything but reading and math from schools. It will result in the dumbing down of our work. This is not the choice of the student, the parent, the teacher, the administrator, the school district. This is our mandate from our state politicians. This is what we are required by law to do. You, Representative Hamilton and others, have voted for more and more punishments of children,
teachers, and schools based on standardized tests. Your votes have forced us to respond by adding test preparation to our curricula, and then you accuse us of becoming soulless factories -- we are factories that are attempting to do your bidding.

So, we're slammed for doing what Representative Hamilton and her colleagues have demanded of us. We are criticized for doing what the state law requires of us. And then our very bowing to the capricious wishes of non-educators is used as an excuse for a voucher bill to reward the wealthy and corporations to funnel money to private schools ... and to receive huge tax credits, further impoverishing the public schools and other public work. Everyone knows poor children will not be able to attend private schools with their paltry $5000 scholarship. But wealthy children, whose parents already have choice, will probably be doubly-privileged: their private school and a 'scholarship.' This bill will not provide true OPPORTUNITY for anyone but the already rich, the already 'opportunitied.'

Oh, and by the way, it's Teacher Appreciation Week, so honor an educator. They do important work, hard work. They need our support. They need to be appreciated. The irony of your weekly message, Superintendent Barresi, leaves me speechless. We are blamed for doing exactly what we have been required to do. And then you believe that a smile and a metaphorical pat on the head, we'll go away, to continue our work robbing children of their souls and futures? We hear your message loud and clear, and we do not feel honored in the least.

Your visible disdain for public education has always been apparent to anyone who looks beyond the rhetoric. In fact, anyone looking at your rhetoric cannot be surprised by your agenda. Not Rethink, Restructure, Reform – but Recycle public money into private hands, Reduce scarce public school resources, and Refuse to support public education, even while holding the office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction for the State of Oklahoma.

Representative Hamilton, I hear you were recently invited to a Teacher of the Year event in Rockwood and were unable to attend. I guarantee you would have been surrounded by the best and brightest, by teachers who give unselfishly of their time, their own money, their hearts, to give students the best education they, by law, can provide. You missed a golden opportunity to get to know the teachers in your district.

So, Superintendent Barresi, thanks, but no thanks. I don't need your appreciation. I got a hug from Ryan today, and a senior picture from Jordan. I had lunch with my club, Teen Volunteers, and we have a new slate of officers for next year. We planned our field trip to volunteer at State Special Olympics next week. I talked to students about books, I read their reflections. I watched young people grow in confidence, in thinking skills, in reading and writing skills. I earned my 'thanks' today from the people who mean the world to me: my students. By the way, I also got to lose my plan for the second day in a row, to cover colleagues' classes while they administered and monitored our EOIs.

What I, and every public school teacher in Oklahoma, DO need from you is support, advocacy, knowledge of best practices, and a commitment to the proper use of standardized testing. We need to know you're not simply chasing a partisan agenda, but truly looking out for the interests of every public school student in the state. We need you to stop badmouthing, blaming, scape-goating teachers and schools in your weekly messages. For once we'd love to hear you're on the side of students and parents and teachers in our state.

by Claudia Swisher (as posted on the SDE website in response to Supt. Barresi's 'Teacher Appreciation' message on the SDE website, April 29, 2011).


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