Saturday, May 8, 2010

Many teams on the same league - the NJ League

NJEA President, Barbara Keshishian & me at my "Women of Distinction" award

Everywhere I go, I see teachers, administrators, school boards and students with the same worried faces. We are all worried about the future of education in New Jersey. For many years, our state has been able to boast about our excellent progress and success in public education.

But right now, I feel like we are living in a great big disconnect.

On the one hand, we have big dreams for success, for all students, coming to us from Arne Duncan and his team in Washington. There are many parts of ESEA that I do not agree with (merit pay & the turnaround plans' effectiveness, for example), but I see that it sincerely comes from a desire to graduate all students from high school with a full array of skills necessary to build this country.

I mean, we simply cannot have undeserved youth in the USA, whose voices are not heard by the status quo. Everything that happens everywhere in the USA affects the nature of our lives here.

We cannot have bad schools "across the river" and bridges that are not part of us. We cannot have disenfranchised youth who do not belong to us. We cannot allow schools that do not provide up-to-the-minute tools, much less basic literacy, to continue to flounder, anywhere in our nation. We cannot have our last ditch "alternative education" be a massive system of incarceration that confines our failures so that we don't have to see them any more. Our educational system needs to include all children to help them become the intellectual leaders and social contributors they are capable of being.

New Jersey is proud of its education today, but we and the nation have far to go. We cannot take one baby step backwards because each loss in our forward movement represents an untold number of lost youth, lost hope, lost dreams.

As New Jersey residents, we need to look at our public schools and celebrate what works and then we need to fix what doesn't in an atmosphere of absolute transparency and respect, give and take and energy.

We know some things that matter to provide the best experience for our children:

1. Class size
2. Teacher quality
3. Involved parents
4. Supportive communities
5. Positive social & emotional climate
6. 21st Century tools, language, culture, diversity
7. Responsive programs

In the middle of all of these pressing needs to reinvent ourselves, continually, we have the worst budget crisis we can remember. That's the other part of the disconnect. We have mandates for improvement, but the lowest funding ever to make this happen.

We need to pull together and recognize that though we may be on many teams, we are all in the same league - the New Jersey League!

Right now, Governor Christie is saying that he believes in education, yet I am hurt by the hostile comments and measures he is endorsing. The incredible cuts to education have increased class size, cut programs and laid off teachers.

What's more, the negative tone and comments directed at teachers are horrifying to us and disheartening. We're baffled.

My fellow educators say: "When did we become the enemy?" "How did this happen?"

Young teachers in education programs wonder aloud to me if they have made the right choice to study to be teachers.

Veteran teachers, who have spent a lifetime working for the young, for the future, wonder if they should retire right now.

Programs have been cut mercilessly, jobs slashed, classrooms stuffed to the brim.

In a time of economic crisis, we need to support education more than ever. What we do now, will affect the future.

Did you know that jails are built based on the reported third grade reading scores?

We know too much about how much educational failure costs to allow it to happen. The current cuts to education will threaten to put us on a downward spiral. We will lose programs that matter, teachers who care. The price we will pay is literally in human lives.

I'm happy that my New Jersey Education Association has represented teachers all across the state in a tireless and informed way, protecting the rights of teachers and the appropriate flow of funding to our classrooms.

You've seen the talk about "the bosses in Trenton," haven't you?

These so called "bosses" are teacher leaders, all of them. The NJEA folks are educators who have the ability to do advocacy and they have stepped up to the plate to do it. They believe in the children, their colleagues and our shared future. You can take my word for it because I have met them and I can read hearts.

The NJEA leaders are also fighters who will not stop when the going gets rough. They represent us. They are us. We are the NJEA.

We are teachers who want to work with all stakeholders to create a more perfect future for the children of our great state. We are learners who are excited and energized by the new tools and resources we want to learn about and share. We love our job because we get to see the magic of learning happen in our student's faces.

We are a strong, dedicated team.

The people in the Department of Education are also a strong and devoted group.

Our School Boards are composed of tireless volunteers donating hours of professional time to help run schools.

Our school's administrative teams have stepped up to organize and lead efforts to keep our schools great and the best administrators share power well with teachers, parents and students.

Our students - the point of our efforts - are on the front lines, making new knowledge, teaching us, growing into vibrant and important leaders in their own right. Their real world is now - in the classroom - today!

Government officials are the servants of the will of the people. They are in power because this power is bestowed upon them by the voice of the people.

The government is not any individual or group - it is all of us and we have an infinite right and obligation to voice our concerns, expand its possibilities and participate in this great and hard won democracy.

I'll close my entry to you by remembering "The Wizard of Oz."

You'll remember that Dorothy and her friends were going along the yellow brick road to get to the Emerald City.

Oz was a great place, but the best thing about Oz was the Wizard. Great and powerful, was he, and possessed of the unbelievable skill that would help Dorothy go home to Kansas.

Well, we all know how this story ends. Dorothy gets to Oz and pulls aside the curtain and finds a small, elderly man managing the magnificent light show that she sees. It's all a charade and Dorothy finds out that she has had the power, with a click of her red slippers, to go home to Kansas on her own.

Lately, I've been rethinking Oz.

Now, I think that we go along our yellow brick road and we get to Oz, but when we pull aside the curtain, there is a gigantic mirror and we see ourselves. The Wizard is us and has been all along.

During this time of crisis, our individual voices have never been more important. Do not ever believe that teachers are the enemy or that the designated voice of the teachers are bad guys.

Stand up and be counted. Create the future of education, voice by voice. Do not be intimidated by the forces which seek to mute you. Call your representatives. Add your voice. Be the one to make things happen.

You are Oz.

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