Sunday, August 17, 2014

Teachers, leaders stand firm

Our family walked together through the pasture of my grandparent's farm excited to bring back the perfect Christmas tree. It was my mom and dad, my little sister and I, all enjoying family time during a season of making family memories. But suddenly, my dad noticed something menacing. Up by the pond he spotted a bull we called Victor trotting in our direction. This animal was extremely large and capable of doing great harm, but he had never acted like this before. Now he was running straight for us.

I sensed the danger even more when my dad gave serious instructions. "Get behind me," he urged. We all quickly huddled in his shadow as the bull continued his charge. My dad threw his hands in the air and called out with several loud and authoritative words intended to let the bull know he was in charge. The bull was not deterred until he was within inches of my dad, when the creature dug his front hooves into the ground slowing his massive frame. Dad wielded the handsaw he carried to harvest the Christmas tree, and smacked the bull right across the nose, yelling again as if to remind him who was boss. Victor retreated.

Now these events, lasting a matter of seconds, have been glued in my memory ever since. I knew in that moment what courage really meant. I saw love carried out. I witnessed a lesson about leadership I would only later fully realize. My dad was my hero, standing firm in the face of a palpable threat.

As educators we are facing real threats too. Outside influences with harmful agendas are trying to force their 'reforms' on public schools. In Missouri, a billionaire named Rex Sinquefield has spent millions in his attempt to buy education reform. His narrative is that if we run education like a business, we can 'fix it.' I'm here to say education doesn't need 'fixing,' and especially not by the misguided agenda Sinquefield and his political allies are advancing.

Now Sinquefield, who has no background in education, and his political machine have gathered enough signatures to get a constitutional amendment on the ballot in November that would require teachers to be evaluated by 'quantitative' measures and would effectively end teacher tenure. This amendment is a direct affront on local control of public schools. Similar efforts have been launched nationwide. The message inherent in these attacks is clear: education is broken and teachers are to blame.

But what I see in my school everyday is something entirely different. I witness educators who are deeply committed to students' success, educators with a vision of making the world a better place by investing in the lives of children. These teachers love their students and recognize the influence they have in building the lives of young people. We don't need external bureaucracies or billionaire reformers telling us what is best for our teachers or students.

So as the threats materialize, we must stand firm. Like my dad held his ground for his family, all educators must hold to core beliefs and persevere even in the midst of these attacks. Moreover, we must push forward with improvements that will work and tell the stories of how our schools are succeeding even in these challenging and uncertain times.

As a school leader, I hope to protect my teachers from messages that disrespect their work. I hope that my words and actions are encouraging and appreciative to each one who gives so much to helping young people reach their dreams. I feel a sense of obligation to protect and encourage. The work of a teacher is a calling, and it is complex. Your value as a teacher cannot truly be understood by standardized test scores. Stand firm.

Amendment 3
Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to:
• require teachers to be evaluated by a standards based performance evaluation system for which each local school district must receive state approval to continue receiving state and local funding;
• require teachers to be dismissed, retained, demoted, promoted and paid primarily using quantifiable student performance data as part of the evaluation system;
• require teachers to enter into contracts of three years or fewer with public school districts; and
• prohibit teachers from organizing or collectively bargaining regarding the design and implementation of the teacher evaluation system?

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