Why I teach and why I fight

February 12, 2013 2 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

I am a teacher because I want your children to succeed. This is why I maintain a transparent grading process for students and their families to completely understand how I arrived at my grades and how we can work to remedy these grades if indeed we are all trying to make a good faith effort to improve their learning. I am a teacher because I want your children to make real progress.

This is why I stay up late at night grading papers in my pajamas and this is why I accept late work even if it means that I have to alter my home, family and private life to help your children make the grade.  This is why I will often drop everything to even help former students who need letters of recommendation for scholarships, for admission to college and even when they need a job reference.

The politicians and administrators cannot say the same for educators.

This is why I work under a system that uses an evaluation tool that, when it is completed, is written in stone.  There is no changing or altering teacher evaluations to include our own efforts to improve ourselves.  There is nothing in this instrument that addresses what we do beyond preparing our students for the test that drives everything that we do in the classroom.

The politicians and administrators use the ‘bad’ teachers to justify their witch hunt against all teachers, good and bad.  What they do not understand is that the bad teachers may be more effective at coloring between the lines and putting together a show that impresses the right people while the good teachers are forced to spend their own time, treasure and talent on efforts that ultimately get absolutely no recognition.

The politicians and administrators are not interested in teachers who do the right thing.

If they indeed really cared about helping good teachers become better, they would be as swift with the praise as they are with the condemnation.  Why is school recognition money distributed at a snail’s pace while the negative news of school grades and teacher growth plans arrives faster than a delivery boy can bring a pizza to my doorstep?  I have learned in my professional development classes that it is important for educators to give praise to their students often and efficiently.  This is why it makes me and my students happy when we celebrate our successes publicly.  I also learned to keep my criticism of student work private as I know that they can do their best when they are not under the pressure of knowing that I will broadcast their failings and challenges.  So, why do we treat educators any differently?  The main reason why teacher morale is so low in this time of testing and evaluations based on testing is that every day is judgment day for us and the powers that be are much more interested in proving their point that the teaching profession is populated by men and women who rank down there with horse thieves and convicted felons.

The system is rigged to punish more than help.

This is why our state legislature and Department of Education are scrambling right now to adjust the teacher evaluation that they created – because there were too many ‘good’ teachers.  Surely, there has to be something wrong with this evaluation system, right?  There are too many C, D and F school grades and too many teachers who are graded as ‘effective.’  Don’t worry, there will be changes made to make sure that this never happens again.  You can take my word for it when I say that next year’s evaluations will present a more ‘realistic’ picture of how awful our teachers ‘really’ are.

The politicians and administrators cannot handle the truth.

This is why we have educators who attempt to present their side of the story and are rebuffed in their efforts.  I have a colleague in Florida’s public schools; she sent a portfolio of data and anecdotal evidence of her work to the human resources department of the school system because of the poison pen evaluations that she received from her administrators.  They made it a sport to walk into her classroom and degrade her teaching in front of her students.  They took an almost sadistic joy in telling her that, in spite of being a National Board certified, she was not making the grade for her students.  They ignored the fact that a former student of hers went on to win the Emmy award for the writing skills that he learned in her classroom.  None of what we really do in the classroom matters when politicians and administrators have made up their minds that we need to be taught a lesson.

The politicians and administrators do not care what we say or do.

This is why I had a private meeting with some influential people and said that I would be quiet and let the system fix itself.  This is why I decided to be polite and back away from being such a loud mouthed activist for a while.  What came of this?  Some of my fellow union members accused me of selling out because the same shenanigans continued to come from politicians and administrators regardless of what I said or did not say.  I learned how to play along and get along and go nothing in return.  I extended an olive branch and ended up with a knife in my back.

I will use whatever constructive and legal means that I can to advocate for my profession and for my students.  I will use whatever constructive and legal means to exercise my First Amendment rights to challenge the system that attempts to use the tired and trite platitudes that they are putting children first – while insisting that they must put educators and education support professionals last.

This is not a partisan crusade that I am launching today.  The late Senator Jim King happened to be a Republican but also happened to be a friend of our state’s public schools.  Former governor Charlie Crist was a Republican at the time that he vetoed legislation that I believe was designed to harm our educators.  I believe that the leaders in Tallahassee happen to be misguided because of my silence and because of our collective silence.  If we do not speak up, they will assume that we approve of everything that they do.  There are men and women in our state leadership, beginning with Governor Rick Scott, who are making long overdue overtures to us.  They are extending a hand to us that I want to accept in earnest as it takes us all to create a better education system for Floridians that works for all Floridians.  That is why I wrote this message, and I approve this message.

Editorial by John Louis Meeks, Jr., who teaches gifted world history at Mayport Coastal Sciences Middle School.

Title image taken inside the Oakland Grammar School in 1957. Courtesy of the State Archives of Florida.