Wednesday, March 24, 2010

My Letter Concerning Florida Senate Bill 6 -Teacher Pay Based on Student Performance

My Dearest Legislators,

I’d like to invite you to spend some time in my world for a little while. It’s really quite fascinating and I’m sure you’d love it if you just got to spend a few moments with me. Meet little Emerald. She has repeated the second grade twice. I’ve waited two years for her to get tested for some sort of intervention help but she is on the “waiting list” due to budget cuts. After six months of trying hundreds of strategies I finally got her to spell the word cat without help. She was very proud of that accomplishment and gave me tons of hugs and smiles. I call her mom weekly and visit her at her job cutting fruit at a local grocery store. After at least a half a dozen conferences, the latest in March I asked mom, “Why after eight months of school has she never turned in any homework?” Mom’s answer was, “We’ve been busy.” Oh I’m sorry mom; I didn’t mean to intrude on how you choose to raise your precious angel. I won’t bother you again.

My salary is now dependent on Emerald.

And I’d love for you to meet Ronald. In the months we have been together, I have never once seen him smile, not even once. When he’s not on his medication which is quite frequent, he has psychotic episodes where he tries to stab other children with scissors or threatens to kill himself. He doesn’t like class work because he’d rather be at home playing on the computer. He does love science experiments however. So I try to do them frequently. I had to put them on hold last month because I was mandated to “teach to the test” and do all the SAT prep, Test Ready, and any FCAT resources the school could get their hands on. That made Ronald mad. He told me that the books were boring and he wished he were dead. He refused to even make one pencil mark. On the real test, he scribbled any bubbles just to be done. He didn’t actually read it, even though he can read because he wanted to control the situation. Ronald is eight years old.

My salary is now dependent on Ronald.

Oh and Danny, how I love Danny. Danny was in a head on collision the day before FCAT. It left his brain swollen, his body semi-paralyzed and he was put in an induced coma to try to save his life. I visited him in the hospital, held his mom’s hand and cried with her. Many of his friends came by to just see if their dear friend would make it. The next day, the class sat stunned while the FCAT was being passed out. Gigi was crying, Kassie was inconsolable. Their hearts were aching. They certainly were not at their best that day.

My salary is now dependent on Danny and his friends. (And yes, a year later he made an almost full recovery; thanks for asking.)

Then there’s Monica. She arrived from Guatemala just last week. She’s never spoken English in her life. She only knows her aunt and uncle who she came to live with when her mom died last month. Their English is not much better. They are well meaning, hard working people that will give lots of love and support to Monica but they are limited in what they can do to help her succeed in school. I hope that in a year or two she may actually learn English. But we don’t have time for that now. She has to take her FCAT even though she’s never seen the English language on the printed page.

My salary is now dependent on Monica.

I’d love to let you spend some time with even more of my students. I have had hundreds of students over the years with stories similar to the above. I could tell you true stories of self mutilation, drug addicted parents, parents who prostitute their children for money, illiterate parents, parents that have told me they hate their kids, kids with schizophrenia, autism, mental challenges, blindness, kids’ on oxygen just to be able to walk to the bathroom, various psychotic illnesses, I’ve had them all and I’ve done my best to be their teacher. But now, how am I thanked for taking on the task of helping to raise the most challenging in society? I’m not thanked. I’m criticized, I’m degraded. I’m made to feel as if I am the problem, not the solution. And now, even though many of these obstacles are insurmountable, I must be the scapegoat for when they are not completely successful in life. Thanks a bunch. So tell me, who on earth would put up with this when my job is eliminated for insufficient progress? Hey, maybe you can do it. Maybe you can deal with these issues day after day. Maybe you can “show me” just how it should be done. And no, I won’t say thank you, or reward you with a decent salary or anything like that. I’ll just sick the community on you so you can be “public enemy number one” when you try like heck to get these kids to pass a once a year test. Would you do that for me? Would you spend some time in my world? Wait until there’s no one left who will deal with “these” kids. Then what? What do you say then? Mission accomplished? Ok, if that’s what you want. I guess I should just be grateful for this latest slap in the face. I’ll just be quiet now and go sit in my hole. Legislators know best. So have a nice day.