Listening to teachers

Teachers are passionate about their work. They love their daily interactions with students, value collaborating with each other and feel strongly about the importance of public schools. They’re also frustrated by accountability mandates that make it harder to do their jobs. But they see value in some required tests, and they aren’t letting the annoyances keep them from doing their jobs.

Those are a few take-away messages from a panel discussion this week by seven Bloomington teachers: Sheila McDermott-Sipe and Kathleen Mills from Bloomington High School South, Kathy Loser and Greg Chaffin of Bloomington High School North, Megan Somers-Glenn of Marlin Elementary and Erika Peek and Ben Strawn of Summit Elementary. Some highlights:

      • Support is important. McDermott-Sipe said the local district’s adopting of Professional Learning Communities to facilitate collaboration was “a wonderful, wonderful development.” Mills said reading intervention staff, funded by a 2010 tax referendum, have been “life changing in high school.”
      • Panelists feel strongly about public education and fear it’s threatened by forces that, as Somers-Glenn said, “want to make money from our children.” Loser urged people in the audience to read Diane Ravitch’s book “Reign of Error” and vote for candidates who support public schools.
      • Strawn, who teaches third grade, said rounds of standardized tests and a state-required 90-minute block of uninterrupted reading instruction don’t leave enough time and flexibility for creative teaching. He said IREAD-3, the state’s third-grade retention test, puts “incredible stress on teachers.”
      • At the high school level, high-stakes assessments for sophomore English and algebra produce stress. But McDermott-Sipe said NWEA tests help tailor teaching to student’s needs. Mills said standardized tests don’t drive her teaching. “I definitely don’t feel I’m living a life of test prep,” she said.
      • Loser and Chaffin highlighted the fact that schools are about more than academics. Both talked about the importance of clubs, activities and informal relationships in keeping high-school students engaged – and not just sports and band but book clubs, groups for LGBT youth and international students, counseling groups, etc.
      • Teachers like talking about why they love their jobs and how much they enjoy their students. In an anecdote that could only happen in a public school, Mills said she overheard two students talking about their parents. One’s father went to Harvard; the other’s mother went to hairdressing school. The students, she said, were genuinely curious about each other’s families and their experiences.

The Monroe County Coalition for Public Education sponsored the discussion because teachers’ voices are often missing from public debates over education policy. Teachers are busy and many don’t have time for politics and public advocacy. They won’t all agree with each other. But when they talk about their work and their schools, those of us who claim to care about education should listen.

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4 thoughts on “Listening to teachers

  1. IRead 3 was hard on everyone…parents included. My child’s math grade went down because she missed ‘balanced math’ every day for 2 months (before I found out and fixed that) because they were pulling her out for extra reading help. The entire time, she never went below an ‘A’ in Reading. Her teacher saw a section of another standardized test (there are several…Acuity, Star, etc.) that was marginally close to being under where she needed to be for the IRead in the spring. She missed so much ‘balanced math’ that her math grade sharply dropped. When I went in to discuss it…I was essentially told that no one even cares about the math grades in third grade. Passing IRead is the ONLY thing that is focused on because the pressure is there on the teachers to get the kids through that come hell or high water.

  2. Erika Peek taught two of my children. She is one of the finest teachers I have ever had the privilege of knowing. She knows how to keep a room full of youg children both amused and yet truly engaged, without letting anyone throw the room’s dynamic out of balance. I am sorry I was unaware of this panel discussion. It sounds like it was an excellent conversation.

  3. Erika Peek taught two of my children. She is one of the finest teachers I have ever had the privilege of knowing. She knows how to keep a room full of young children both amused and yet truly engaged, without letting anyone throw the room’s dynamic out of balance. I am sorry I was unaware of this panel discussion. It sounds like it was an excellent conversation.

    • It was an excellent conversation — very positive, student-focused. It was so cool to see the genuine affection and respect that all these teachers showed toward their students.

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