Tag Archives: #evaluatethat

The School Board Speech, A Little More and Why I WIll Always Fight for Education Based on Something Other Than Tests

Original title: Hey, Bill Gates, Reform This #EvaluateThat BUT then I thought, that’s preaching to the choir and this post isn’t, so I changed it…

Since it’s been in the paper, I thought I’d post my actual speech to the school board. I’ve added some comments at the end. I would’ve said a little more at the meeting, but that pesky 3-minute time limit got in the way. 🙂 The payoff for this post is at the end. I might be a little too honest with it, but honesty is what can bring true change. (If you read the TRN story, you can skip the speech part because Ann Work pretty much summed my words up perfectly.)

The speech:  My name is Mary Beth Lee. I’m the student media adviser at Rider. I’ve taught in the district for 20 years. I enjoyed participating once and then serving as a teacher leader in the Leadership Cohort. I have served on the Superintendent’s advisory committee several times. I’m a member of ATPE. Several of my former students serve as teachers in the district and elsewhere.
First I want to thank the board for their service. I can’t imagine volunteering the time you do in easy years and I certainly can’t imagine serving on the board in the midst of such massive change. I appreciate the board and downtown administration. Unlike so many politicians across the country, you haven’t blamed teachers for the problems in our schools.
I’m speaking today as a teacher and a concerned citizen. In the midst of the talk about buildings, I want to make sure the board remembers buildings don’t educate students.
As the Coalition for Hispanic Education report stated, the district is in the midst of huge change demographically. More than ever we need seasoned teachers in the classroom.
When I started teaching our buildings were filled with experienced teachers. My friends who signed up for jobs in the Metroplex were jealous of our career ladder that started far above state minimum and continued with its guaranteed raises that included a little extra on the five-year marks. They were even more jealous of the help mentor teachers gave us without being asked.
New teachers are so important to education. But I’m concerned that as a district we’re not doing enough to keep teachers in the district, to build loyalty to the community.
We need teachers committed to the district and the city. Teachers who won’t use us as a stepping stone to a bigger pay check.
There are several things the district can do to help promote life-long Wichitan educators.
First, it’s been shown several times over the years that guaranteeing pay raises doesn’t cost the district money. Because of attrition and moves pay raises for educators who commit to the district is a wash.
When the legislature cut funding to schools, every teacher I know agreed that we should all share in the pain of those cuts rather than see quality educators lose their jobs. Those lean days aren’t so far in the past that we don’t understand the need for austerity, but I sincerely hope the board is looking at ways to make sure teachers are rewarded for their commitment to the district.
Second, I hope the administration will look at ways other than a set career ladder to recruit and keep teachers. Finding a way to reward master teachers with continuing contracts would help in that endeavor.
I don’t have all the answers, but I do know we’re facing a real crisis in this town. Wichita Falls is changing. The school district can help. They can ensure we hire and retain excellent teachers. They can make sure our buildings have depth.
Yes, we need new facilities, but without a staff committed to the district and the city, facilities are like wrapping paper on an empty box.

Now the more…

I don’t think teachers should get automatic raises just for teaching. I think we should have a career ladder with clearly defined raises and expectations for getting those raises that center on TEACHING not TESTING. Expectations like multiple CE hours, pre-lesson objectives complete with what we think will happen and post lesson analysis over what really did happen. What problems do we see with the lesson? What could make it better? Truly studying our craft in action, and make no mistake, teaching is a craft. That’s what a test-centric system misses completely.

The rest of the story…Why the Fight Matters

When I hit ninth grade I developed this weird social anxiety problem. I couldn’t really talk to more than a couple people at one time unless they were really good friends OR unless I was wasted (I didn’t learn about how freeing alcohol could be until junior year. I was a pro pretty quickly after that). I don’t like to remember those days. High school wasn’t easy. I wanted to love it….but…yeah, not so much.

Thank GOD for my small group of friends and my amazing teachers.

My math teacher practically held my hand through every lesson in Intro. Algebra. He helped me see that my problem was a mental block, and he promised me that one day I would conquer the fear instilled by an evil monster of a teacher in junior high. If my test scores had been held against Mr. Brown, one of the best math teachers to ever grace a Burkburnett High School classroom, that would have been criminal. I wasn’t the only one in his class with math problems. He taught classrooms full of us. The best part of this story other than him being an angel is he was right. I would never go around solving equations for the fun of it, but I took the self-paced Algebra classes at Vernon Junior College, and I survived. And that evil junior high teacher that traumatized me so much I could barely see straight in math classes after…he taught most of the star students. He would do GREAT under the merit pay system that considers standardized test scores as the be all, end all.

My American Lit teacher, Mrs. Bo…probably the best English teacher to ever walk the earth…she made me LOVE literature. She taught me to write. She didn’t make me talk in front of the class, but she let me know that one day I’d be able to.

My eighth grade English teacher was brand new. I can’t remember her name, I think it was Ms. Reed,  but I wanted to be her when I grew up. She taught me research skills I used from eighth grade all the way through my MA in English. She changed my life with her passion for education and her absolute belief in me.

My journalism teacher Mrs. Gillespie helped me discover my passion and held me to a higher standard than I ever held myself. As a teacher now, I know she had to see me making those scary life choices and she had to be worried. But she didn’t hold the choices against me. She never judged me. Instead she showed me what the world could be.

And then there’s Dencil Taylor. He taught my college speech class. He told us all he knew we were terrified. I don’t figure I was the first person he’d run across who could barely whisper in front of a class. He made it clear we WOULD give our speeches, that we had no choice if we wanted a degree. I wanted a degree, but talking in front of five people terrified me. An entire class….oh God, that was torture. I had to leave class after my first speech to get sick. He told me I’d get over that. He didn’t coddle me, or let me make excuses. He made it clear I could drop his class, but I’d just be putting off the inevitable. He let me think it was my idea to stick out the class. The class changed my life. Without it, I wouldn’t be a teacher, I wouldn’t have spoken at the school board meeting. I also wouldn’t be married to the love of my life. I met my husband in that class.

The above story would be a great place to end, but I can’t without a shout out to Dr. Hoffman, yet another teacher who changed my life. He helped me see that I was smart. That’s such a strange thing to write, but it’s the God’s honest truth. He and I have talked about that often over the years since I was in his Sophomore Lit class at MSU. Back then he just encouraged me to keep writing. I did. AND I kept taking his classes. AND when I finished my BA, he dropped an application off at my house to start my MA. And he didn’t really take no for an answer even though I wasn’t all that excited about going back to school. God, I’m glad he didn’t let me cop out of getting my master’s with the “I’m too busy” excuse. Those seminar classes helped me truly fall in love with learning. I definitely wanted the advanced degree, but more than that I wanted to know more, read more, write more, debate more, research more. That hasn’t changed.

NONE OF THOSE stories can be measured on a standardized test. I doubt seriously I would have graduated from high school if I would’ve had to pass a standardized math test, but I’d put my writing, reading comprehension and problem solving skills up against any politician, any test maker, any CEO in this country.

I WAS poor growing up. I WAS a mess growing up. I WAS the kid in the gap the “reformers” say they’re trying to save. Well guess what, reformers: your kind of reform would have destroyed me. Thank God for the master educators who didn’t have their careers measured by my scores on a test. #EvaluateThat #QuitKillingOurKids #QuitKillingOrSchools

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A Snow Day That Changed the World

…okay, that’s probably a bit of an overstatement, but all day #evaluatethat has been trending on twitter, and that fact has me feeling a bit on the positive side. #evaluatethat is dedicated to stories  from teachers, students and parents about positive educational moments that can’t be measured on a test. I probably would’ve never seen the hashtag if not for Diane Ravitch’s blog. If you believe in public education, and you aren’t following Ravitch, stop now and go follow her!

In the midst of all these great tweets I’ve seen a few legitimate questions from naysayers. People, almost always non-educators, ask how can we rid our schools of bad teachers without tests and merit pay?

I have a couple answers.

1. A test doesn’t rid your schools of bad teachers. It doesn’t rid your school of bad teachers because a test doesn’t magically create good teachers. An AWFUL teacher can have a classroom of kids pass a test. And an amazing beyond belief teacher can see half her students pass a test and half fail and know those results are miraculous. The awful teacher with a classroom full of kids passing the test will go about the business of life without a care in the world but with a huge carbon footprint courtesy of his school’s copy machine, a curriculum provided complete with scripts and five bajillion practice tests. The great teacher will go home exhausted and horrified that students are missing out on amazing educational opportunities because of the test. A test 50 percent passed and that’s amazing and wonderful and rock star, but not rock star enough and it’s not worth the stress and anguish and constant treading water and trying to keep afloat because she’s going to have to go in and face the music for the 50 percent who didn’t pass even though those 50 percent might be special needs, might be hungry or beaten or homeless or their dad might’ve walked out on their mom last night or their brother got arrested for dealing drugs or they couldn’t sleep because it was cold and there wasn’t money to pay the electric bill and the heat from the candle didn’t quite reach the pallet she shares with her baby brother. AND NONE OF THAT MATTERS. Failure is failure is failure.
And she’s a teacher and failure is not an option and she was given the curriculum and she obviously sucks at this job and everyone knows anyone could teach and what’s so hard about reading some lines in front of a class and handing out some worksheets and hey, you get summers off so stop your whining, and people from the megabajillion corporate world know better than every just-waiting-for-their-public-handout classroom educator out there, so they’re right, you’re wrong and on top of being wrong about a test not actually showing anything, about how states like Texas have spent over a $1 billion on tests with no measurable increase in actual learning because  politicians still believe in Pearson’s Emperor’s New Clothes education policy, on top of being wrong about all that (despite the plethora of documentation showing the teacher is right), NOW the state’s going to give you a grade and make it public or let you know you need a growth plan because 50 percent is not cutting it and yep, you suck, you need to find something else to do because failure is not an option no way, no how.

Yeah. A test doesn’t measure quality education or quality educators.

2. ASK THE TEACHERS how you get rid of bad teachers. Master educators have those answers. Due process should be part of that answer. Growth plans and mentors should be part of that answer. Administrator and master teacher walk-throughs should be part of that answer. The answer changes from school to school, from state to state. But the answer is there, and, trust me, great teachers and administrators WANT the answer more than companies making billions and politicians and “reformers”. It’s not easy, but it is effective. EASY and quality education have never gone hand in hand.

I’m sick to death of hearing great teachers hurt over fear of test scores. I’m sick to death of hearing them say it’s not worth it to teach when they can make more with a lot less stress in the private sector. We’re killing our schools and politicians have turned teachers into public enemy number one. Something has to change. That’s what #evaluatethat is all about. And that’s why I love it.

If you have a story to share, head over to twitter and share. Don’t forget to add #evaluatethat.