The governor of West Virginia, Earl Ray Tomlin, introduced Senate Bill 359, an educational reform bill, which will be voted on soon. Teachers have given the bill a big, fat F, which in my opinion has nothing to do with reform.
Reform- to amend or improve by change of form or removal of fault or abuses.
I’m not going to go into each point of the bill, only to say that it is a slap in the face to all educators in the state of West Virginia. You know, teachers in the Mountain state make one of the lowest salaries in the nation. Many teachers head east to work outside the state borders to garner higher wages. But, in the end, teachers are working the best they can, despite the obstacles that are coming directly from the higher ups.
Obstacles, you say? Absolutely. Someone a few years ago had decided teachers need to test more. I give a beginning Math and Reading test at the beginning of the year. I give Benchmark tests twice a year in four subjects and the students have two online writing tests to get ready for the big one in March. The Westest is held in May. Now, mind you, this is on top of the tests I give weekly in Social Studies, Reading, Spelling, and Science. I also have to give end of the year tests.
I would just rather teach.
I’m 56 years old and I think I received a pretty good education when I was young. We memorized our multiplication tables. We learned our state capitals, had spelling bees, and wrote and presented book reports. It was all about Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic. We grew up fine. Some of my peers did better than fine.
But, something along the way changed. Someone has decided that to exist in the 21st century, we must bathe our children in technology or they will surely die. So, in the elementary setting we are testing, and we are teaching technology….on top of Handwriting, Math, Spelling, Grammar, Reading, Science, Social Studies, and Health. And we are doing this in crowded classrooms.
If you want to reform, let’s first take a look at teacher/student ratio.
The governor wants to require early childhood education programs to be made available five days a week for the full day; allowing program to be for fewer than five days per week and less than full day under certain circumstances.
I don’t understand this. This is not the reform that we need. Before adding new programs, we need to address the teacher/student ratio in k-2. Class size should be limited to no more than 16 students and the curriculum should be restricted. Let me explain:
Years ago, there were a lot of two-parent households. A lot of the moms did not work outside the home. Someone was there to make sure students did their homework, and were more hands-on. Now, I’m not saying that a lot of people don’t still do that. Of course they do. But, for the most part, it is fact that the divorce numbers are much higher than they were years ago. Even without divorce, economics force both parents to work. Some single parent households need help. Grandparents are raising many of the children. Many children come from homes where abuse is a way of life. Drug use is more prevalant than it was years ago. Some children go to bed hungry. Yes, I realize that has also happened in the past, but in the end, the classroom is now a home- away- from- home for a lot of children.
I have fifteen students this year in my fourth grade classroom. Last year I had twenty-one. Six less students makes a world of difference. And those teachers with twenty-five and twenty-six students are overwhelmed. I know my students. I can look at one and know she is not feeling well because I know her so well. I send her to the office to get her temperature taken…101.6. I smile and give her a hug as she leaves to go home. I know not to give much homework because it is an unfair advantage to the several who are lucky to have a piece of notebook paper or pencil at their homes. No one goes through their backpacks at night. No one helps them practice their multiplication table. My mom drilled me nightly when I was in third grade. I knew them when I went to fourth grade. Some students in general just have no clue. Some children have behavioral issues. Some are learning disabled. Some have attention deficit problems. This is not the same mix of students that I went to school with, but yet, nothing has changed in the way of class size.
So, I teach time management skills in the classroom and basically let them do some homework during class time. This only seems fair to those who aren’t lucky enough to have help at home. Sure, in the end, fourth graders can learn to do their homework on their own, but they need guidance and direction..but sadly, a few are not receiving it at home. They are allowed to sit and kill things while playing their video games. And I know a majority of the boys do this. I ask these things…. Technology at its finest. When I was young we had three channels on tv and the World Book Encyclopedia as our internet. We honestly didn’t have much to do but our homework on school nights.
When you shove many children into a classroom, something is lost. So, let’s begin our educational reform by taking a look at teacher/student ratio. I know you won’t, because that would mean hiring new teachers. It’s bad enough that the governor wants to hire anyone with a bachelor’s degree to enter the classroom. You are going to be opening a can of worms if this hiring practice is passed, however. It will change the scope of teacher education in this state forever.
I know some of you will not agree with me on this next point, but I think technology is making us stupider. (Yes, I realize that is not a word.)
“The fog of information can drive out knowledge.”
Don’t get me wrong. I think technology in the classroom is great. I use it in some form every day. If we are studying volcanoes, I have a volcano simulator waiting on one of the computers. I have a penguin cam up some days. There are many, many internet sites that are extremely beneficial. That’s not what I am talking about.
The state of West Virginia implemented a program called Tech Steps. All students from kindergarten on must complete about six assignments. In my opinion, this program should not be used in the elementary school setting. Why do elementary school children need a technology component when we should be concentrating on core subjects? If you want our test scores to rise, don’t inundate us with work that can wait until fifth or sixth grade. You are making us waste precious time. Do third graders really need to learn how to use a spreadsheet? Sure, we are in a different world now, where computers and technology are at our every turn. I get it. I think it has merit in junior high, but not in the early grades where everything depends on them learning the basics so they can go on to the next year and build on that.
In the end, it is not the same as it was. We are forced to test too much when we should be teaching. We are forced to teach more children in our classroom than is beneficial to their educational growth. We are forced to teach technology, when in fact, we should review our multiplication one more time instead of completing yet another techsteps assignment that will have no bearing on other important educational milestones, such as defining words, rounding numbers, and correcting a run-on sentence. K-2 teachers should be teaching a limited curriculum, plain and simple.
There are only so many minutes in a day for an elementary school teacher. We have to teach Spelling, Social Studies, Science, Math, Reading, Grammar, handwriting, and Health. We are also referees, bankers, counselors, and health inspectors.
So, Senate Education committee people, there you have it; the rambling of a fourth grade teacher. If you truly want an educational reform in West Virginia, start with kindergarten and give those teachers a small class size. We teach with kids squished into our classrooms because that’s the way you want it. We test and test and test to make sure we are testing because that’s what we have to do. We teach technology subjects that the wee ones should not have to be introduced to until an older age. We do all this because you told us to. If something is broken, it’s not with the teachers. It is with the system. Please be careful with every point of our governor’s education reform bill. It needs to be chewed up and digested to see if it sits well with teachers. Take us in consideration instead of pointing fingers at us. Because after all,
You can lead a student to the test, but you can’t make him pass it.
Enjoy this story? Jumping in Mud Puddles is now an ebook that you can download on your Kindle. Don’t have a Kindle? No problem. Amazon will let you download their Kindle app FREE…Yes, free. Have a look see. My literary debut….. Amazon.com for $3.99. It’s sort of funny.