Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Lobby Day in Richmond

What an experience visiting our capital and doing our best to "MAKE A DIFFERENCE" for kids and teachers across Virginia!

A small, yet mighty group!

Although I was nervous and unsure of the process, lobbying was an experience that I WILL do again!

Coming from rural southwestern Virginia, the "big city" can be rather intimidating!  I was blessed to travel with two colleagues that have represented our Education Association in years past.  They were familiar with the ins and outs of Richmond.

Even though Virginia sits in the middle of the United States map on the east coast, we are southern!  AND southern hospitality reigned!  We were treated phenomenally by all we came into contact with from secretaries to restaurant employees to shuttle drivers! What great people live in our capital!

The evening before lobby day we were given a briefing about the issues that are important to Virginia education. Of course, high on the list was the Standards of Learning and reducing the number of tests students must take.  Our VEA leaders explained what questions might be asked of us and we were given some ideas for responses.  (Sooooo helpful!)

We had appointments with three legislators that represent our districts.  At first, I felt out of my element, but as the day progressed I realized that the legislators truly needed to hear our stories of how children were being effected by the testing and policies made by our government.  Most were open-minded and understanding of our issues.

(Of course, politicians can say what you want to hear.  We will see what happens when voting takes place.  Make no mistake, we WILL be watching!!)

It is always good to branch out of your comfort zone. I would definitely lobby again. It was an eye-opening experience. If you get the opportunity to lobby for your association, DO IT!!! Only together can we make a true difference for our students and ourselves!!

The Zookeeper

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Road Trip

Monday four fellow teachers and I will be talking to our legislators in Richmond to stand up for education and reduce the number of tests and stress associated with our state testing- the Virginia Standards of Learning.  (Yes, our acronym is SOL and we do associate that with another acronym.  Haha...)

I am excited!!

For a while now I have been fired up about changes in public education.  Don't get me wrong. I believe we need standards and (a reasonable amount of) accountability for all teachers.  What I don't agree with is the way it is happening now!

I LOVE TEACHING.  For 16 years it has been my heart and soul.  Many of you understand this completely.

BUT, I haven't loved teaching the past two years.  Why not????  As all educators know, the ever increasing amount of paperwork, documentation, professional development, and testing have sucked the life out of us!!  I NEVER thought that I wouldn't love to come to work each day.  Now, I show up with a smile on my face and a positive attitude, but now my smile is called (by my teammates and I) our 'game face'.  We go through the motions. Do our best.  Love our students. But we are constantly reminding ourselves to put on our 'game face' so that no one suspects our real thoughts and feelings.  It used to made me soooooooo sad.

But after reflecting on it I have become just flat out MAD!!!

As a teacher...YOU SHOULD BE TOO!!!!!  It is a travesty what is happening right now in American education.

Many of you have different standards than we do here in Virginia, but you face the same pressures and frustrations.  I've heard arguments for and against Common Core Standards. As Virginians we do not use these, but they are similar to our Standards of Learning.  The arguments against Common Core that you have can be used in our state as well.

I often wonder what goes through the brains of those that are setting these goals and making the tests.  I set high expectations for my students.  I want them to become the best that they can.  I want them to love learning and to show perseverance in all that they do. I want them to analyze and interpret information. But it frustrates me to no end that sometimes my students aren't developmentally ready to do this.  My students are eight and nine years old.  Their brain is far from being that of a functioning human adult.

Because students aren't developmentally ready for some of the standards, many of my students now suffer from anxiety about school.  Just this year alone I have been told by three different parents that their child cries and doesn't want to come to school.  That breaks my heart!

Children want to please us and their parents/guardians.  They want to know that they are doing the right things and making progress, but when they are afraid of the tests, we are getting NOWHERE!!!!!

I have really tried this year to downplay the tests.  Instead of saying, "you will see this on the tests at the end of the year."  I say, "You will need this to become a better you!"  It really hasn't helped. It's hard to fool a child no matter how hard you try!  :(

I have one student that often bites and sucks on his t-shirt as I help him one-on-one.  He wants to understand, but it just isn't happening at the same rate as the others.  Does he have hope? Of course, but it's slower.  Sadly, he's not the only one.

It's hard to take the time to focus on making our children into caring, loving, and kind individuals, when we are going at a neck-breaking speed to fit all the standards in and still have time to review before the tests. (And we wonder why our society acts the way they do.)  Sigh... it hurts my brain thinking about it.  We fit in anti-bullying and character development lessons when we can.

I hope we get our message across and that our legislators listen to what we have to say.  I'm feeling hopeful!  Only we can make the changes necessary.

Please send your prayers and good vibes up for us and wish us a safe and fruitful trip...

The Zookeeper