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Here is a teacher worthy of joining the blog’s honor roll. She is willing to risk her career to do what is right for her students, her colleagues, and her profession. Let’s hope that speaking out protects her from vindictive retaliation.
From Kim Irvine, English teacher, Utah
To Whom It May Concern: The decision to write this has been a difficult one. I am the breadwinner for my family. I have an adult handicapped daughter who needs her seizure medication to survive. Without my insurance, her pills would cost over $750 a month, which I cannot afford. I put all of this in jeopardy by voicing my concerns. Many teachers feel the same as I, but are too afraid to speak. You must understand that teachers who speak out are labeled, targeted, and either forced to retire or resign. This may come as a surprise, but I have watched this happen to colleagues over and over. I know that I will now be a target, but the risk is something I have accepted because I must speak out for the sake of my students and my profession.
My philosophy of education and learning is simple. I believe that all students can learn. I believe that student learning is incumbent upon me, the teacher. I believe that authentic learning can only occur in an informed, stimulating, and safe environment, and I believe that the creation of that environment is my responsibility. I believe that the future of the quality of life for each of my students is directly related to whether or not they learn what I have to teach them. In short, I believe that my job is the most important job in the world because we desperately need the future innovations and ingenuity my students are capable of.
This is why I love my job, and all of my eighth graders. I like the way the adolescent mind approaches life. They are positive, creative, brilliant, and fearless, and I often end up on the other end of the teaching as their horizons expand and carry me with them. Every day is different and challenging, poignant and heartbreaking, but thoroughly exhilarating. I spend my days looking at life through the lens of an eighth grader, always looking for stimulating ways to teach. I’m fortunate because anything beautiful, noteworthy, or of good report, fits neatly into the English curriculum.
I have been teaching for 16 years and have always felt a special thrill when a former student contacts me saying they want to be a teacher just like me. But, lately, I hesitate because I am not sure what to say. Teaching is not the same profession it was, and many of my dear colleagues are leaving. It is not surprising to see that many of the states, that are paying attention to this exodus, are predicting a looming teacher shortage like we have never seen before. For example, in Indiana, the data show an alarming decrease in teaching licenses issued from nearly 7,500 six years ago to a measly 934 for 2013-14 school year.1 These figures are the canary in the coalmine and the culminating disaster in education will have rippling effects for a long time to come.
So why are we facing such a decline? Ask any veteran teacher and you will hear the same story. We can’t keep this up. The thirst for data is killing my profession and becoming the supreme focus above all else. Currently, we sacrifice over 30 teaching days a year currently with all of the mandated testing, and the fact that the data is used to discredit teachers is insulting. I will tell you right now that if I am unable to articulate where a student’s skill level was when they started my class, what specific skills we (the student and I) have targeted for the year, their current progress, and where we expect to be by the end of the year, I should be fired. That is my job. I am the professional. I have spent years perfecting and honing my craft of teaching. I collect my own data and drive my instruction based on that data. The data I get from the testing is nice, but frankly redundant and expensive and time consuming. I can teach reading to over 30 students at a time with reading levels ranging from 3rd to 11th grade in the same room at the same time and not only keep them all on task, but I can make it an exhilarating, successful experience for all involved. That’s what a professional teacher can do. That is the “art” part in the art of teaching.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. There is much at stake. Utah has many dedicated, passionate teachers who are working nothing less than miracles for our students. But, we are weary, and gun shy, and frustrated as we watch our class sizes increase, our pay and benefits decrease, and the mandated data-driven paperwork increase exponentially, while our state superintendent constantly reminds us that we are whiney, ineffective, and not worth our salaries. No wonder our numbers are dwindling. In sum, it is obvious why this next generation of college graduates is not choosing education. Why would they?
My father was a seminary teacher for over 36 years, and taught all over the world for the LDS Church Education System. He taught me an important precept, “Faith without works is dead.” The current state superintendent, Mr. Smith, recently explained that the thing our Utah students need most is faith, not necessarily more funding. 2 I disagree. I believe we need work; a lot of work, but we need to be careful to look closely because everything is not always as presented. Instead of spending ridiculous amounts of money on risky, unproven products created by vendors, we need to address the real issues that determine success or failure of our students. We need support for our students living in poverty and support for students struggling with language barriers. We need to insist on best practices for not only from Utah teachers, but our Utah legislature and Utah public servants as well. We need transparency and candor. We need authentic exploration into policy based on sound educational research, not propaganda produced by greedy vendors with intentions of using school funding and taxpayers’ dollars to line their pockets and increase their profit margins.
Education is not a business. Business is motivated by profit. Doing what is best for our students should be our motivation. We cannot serve two masters.
Sincerely, Kim Irvine
Utah State Democratic Education Caucus Chair