Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Letter to Senator Jolley

Dear Senator Jolley, 

I read about your adventure teaching class at Northern Hills Elementary School.  First of all, I want to offer a sincere “thank you.”  If more of our legislators would get out into the classrooms (and be willing to learn something), we would have far fewer divisions between the politics of education and the reality of education.  To that end, I’ll be sending copies of this letter to some of them.  I hope they appreciate the step you have taken.  Having had all day to think about what you said, I have some comments.

I am sorry you do not feel you have been invited to come teach or participate in classrooms before.  Thinking back on some of the things I have written, I suppose I could have been more clear.  To clarify my offer, you (and any other member of the Senate or House) are welcome to come into my classroom for any reason at any time.  If you would like to observe, great.  If you would like to read to children, great.  If you would like to teach for an hour or a day, wonderful.  If you prefer, I will happily meet with you and/or your colleagues and let you help create these lessons.  I will help make sure anyone who isn’t used to being in front of a group of kids is comfortable with what they would teach.  We can use technology (SmartBoards, iPod Touches, laptops), or we can go old school.  I will prepare lessons for any subject.  I will create short lessons or longer projects.  My students and I will blog with you, Skype with you or e-mail with you if you would like to participate in a unit instead of a lesson.  If you or your colleagues would like to visit/observe/teach/read to a class other than 3rd grade (which is what I teach), I will be happy to arrange that, too.  You are welcome and wanted at my school.

That said, please don’t feel like you aren’t accomplishing anything when you come and read to a classroom.  Research shows that children who are read to become better readers.  Very often, our students have no one at home to do so.  Because of all the content we need to cover in the classroom, it is often one of the things that doesn’t happen as frequently as it needs to at school.  If I could find someone to come in and read to small groups of my students daily, I would do it in a second.  Taking on that kind of assignment is worthwhile for those kids.  In addition, any time you spend time in the schools you are getting a picture of what is really going on.  It is the only way to know what needs to be done.

Thank you for recognizing that what comes from home affects what happens in the classroom.  Despite the rhetoric I have heard from many, many, many people in the last year, home life makes a huge difference.  It is not an excuse.  Nor is poverty.  Both are realities that need to be addressed.  There is a reason why it doesn’t matter what kind of tests we give, low income areas come out on the bottom.  When we start to work together to make sure these kids’ basic needs are taken care of, then I guaranty that the success rate of those same kids will skyrocket.

The problem of ability levels in classrooms is a tough one.  How does one teacher handle 6 levels of ability in one classroom?  Not only that, consider that some of those kids are high ability in one area (say reading) and low ability in another (like math).  Many of them need special services, but since Oklahoma only recognizes them as special needs if they are performing 22 points below their ability level (IQ), they don’t get that assistance until they are several grades behind.  Low IQ students will often never qualify because they are truly working to the best of their ability – even though that ability is below their actual grade level. 

So, how do we handle it?  I don’t know.  I work harder.  I try to work with the kids one on one so that I can address some of their struggles.  However, we need more support for those kids.  Very often the support we do have is stuck doing piles and piles of paperwork and testing kids for days on end.  That is not helpful.  I know what my kids are struggling with every day.  I don’t need 4 different reading tests to tell me that.  What I need is someone who can work with those kids to pick up what they missed somewhere along the way while I teach them the grade level content.  Don’t get me wrong.  Some diagnostic testing is necessary, and with some kids extensive testing is necessary.  However, because of the laws we currently have, all of the kids are tested and tested and tested and tested, not just the ones who need it.  There is too much testing, too little help, and too much time taken away from the classroom.

As for class sizes, I am certainly not going to argue with you about class sizes mattering in lower grades!  However, even though I am not an upper grade teacher, I am going to throw my support their way.  Class size matters in upper grades, too.  At least it does if you want them doing more meaningful, hands on, active lessons and fewer worksheets and seat work.  Even if individual instruction time weren’t an issue (which it is), and even if classroom management of that many students weren’t an issue (which it is), and even if trying to manage grading assignments for that many kids weren’t an issue (which it is) – even without any of those things, our classrooms are just not built for large class sizes.  If you want kids out of their seats, you need to make sure we have enough room for them to do so safely.  (I’m assuming you believe, rightly so, that active learning is better for the older kids as well.)  So, either we are going to have to have bigger classrooms or fewer students.  I would prefer both, but I do have to be realistic.

Finally, I want to repeat – thank you.  You made an effort, you learned some things, you experienced the classroom for a while.  That is all we can ask.  You referred to us as classroom professionals.  The wording and the sentiment are very much appreciated.

Christine Paradise

1 comment:

  1. Christine,
    Your letter is poignant and to the point. I hope every legislator reads it. I have forwarded it on to others in hopes of spreading the word. Thanks so much.


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