The winds of change are blowing through the Louisiana educational system with the strength of a Category 5 hurricane. Governor Bobby Jindal longs to make a name for himself on the national stage, a name that was somewhat tarnished by an embarrassing rebuttal to one of Barack Obama’s first speeches made as President. So desperately does Jindal want this national attention that he is willing to take down the entire Louisiana Public School System to do it. Lucky for him, an ignorant public and a slew of greedy charter school businesses are more than happy to help him with his plan.
There has never been a worse time to be a public educator in the State of Louisiana. Who would have thought that those of us who chose to mold the future of this country would be held in such low regard by the very parents of the children with whom we work? The public sentiment right now disgusts me. How dare people judge teachers for finally standing up for ourselves and, more importantly, the students of this state? I wonder if these people would change their tunes quickly if we held their children in the same regard with which they hold us. Of course, that will never happen. We don’t hold the students accountable for the sins of their parents. It’s not what we do. We spend our time worrying about other people’s children.
In the interest of fairness, I must admit that something needs to change. While our schools continue to improve, Louisiana consistently ranks near the bottom in the nation when it comes to education. I will also admit that, as with any profession, there are some poor teachers. There are some men and women who either do not possess the ability to properly teach or lack the desire to make a difference. These people should not be educators. There are schools that are failing to provide Louisiana students with the education they deserve. These schools need to be fixed. There has to be an answer to this problem. I can assure you, sixteen years of teaching has taught me that the proposed bills are not the answer desperately sought by many.
After years of the appearance of relative apathy, the teachers of Louisiana decided that it was time for our voices to be heard. It was time to take a stand against the bills that we felt were both unfair to us, and the detrimental to our students. As with any job, teachers are allotted sick days for use throughout the year. These are to be used at our discretion. While any teacher will tell you it is easier to go to work sick than prepare for a substitute, sometimes there are that days have to be missed. I decided that Wednesday, March 14, 2012, was just one of those days for me. Let me state that my parish did not shut down schools. I got a substitute teacher for my class. As a parent, I can completely relate to any frustration felt by the residents of the parishes whose schools did close for the day. I’m sure it was a great inconvenience to have to make plans for their children with such short notice. Having said that, it was NOT the teachers who closed down the schools. It was the boards that govern the schools that made that decision. The media skewered teachers for missing a day of class so close to the high stakes LEAP (Louisiana Educational Assessment Program) testing.
The media blasted teachers for causing the shutdown of various schools around the states. Call me crazy, but I was under the impression that it was the job of the reporters to report the news, not share their personal opinions with the public. If Governor Jindal was so concerned about the students of this state and teachers’ ability to utilize their constitutional right to free speech, he should have scheduled the meeting on a Saturday. I can assure my teacher friends that I would still have been there. And with regards to the LEAP, any teacher who is worth their salt in education has been arming his or her students with the skills they need to succeed on the test since the first day of school. Personally, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Governor Jindal planned this committee meeting during this week.
The teachers who showed on the State Capitol steps were looking for seats in the Statehouse chamber. We were looking for our chance for our voices to be heard. Yet, surprisingly enough, the seats for the chamber were already full. We all found that interesting, as the front door to the Capitol, the only door in which people are allowed to enter, was not open yet. Needless to say, this was not well received by the crowd. Finally, we were told that there would be seats for us in the overflow rooms in the bottom of the Capitol building. I signed my card in opposition to both House Bill 974 and House Bill 976. I checked the box that signified I was interested in speaking in front of the committee. Then we sat through hours and hours and hours of testimony. I was constantly editing my speech as I heard the utter nonsense that was being shared from the various speakers. My adrenaline was at an all time high and I was anxiously awaiting my time to share. Unfortunately, many people, including myself, were not able to get our chance. However, I was impressed to hear my fellow educators share their opposition to the bills.
Outside the statehouse, my fellow teachers listened to a slew of speakers. Many of them were informed, professional, and well-spoken. It was no surprise that the only interview I saw play on all three local television stations was the one whack job who decided to use profanity in her speech and was unable to correctly pronounce the word, “tenure.” We left the Capitol feeling dejected, unappreciated, worried for our students, and proud to have been part of standing up for what we believe. Finally, I think I can sum up my feeling about this whole situation with a reference to a lobbyist who spoke on behalf of the bills. She said she was frustrated with the state of our education system. She was frustrated that we were, supposedly, sending out a work force that was sub par. All I could think was, “You want to know what frustrated is?” The very definition of frustrated is being an educator in a state that values revenue over the well being of their students!
Today’s guest contributor wishes to remain anonymous, but would describe herself as a fourth grade teacher in a high-performing Louisiana elementary school.