On April 1st, New York governor Andrew Cuomo got what he wanted. His budget was approved, much to the dismay of teachers all over the state. The changes he made to public education are disgraceful, appalling, and outright damaging to the education of our students. What are the changes? Well for starters, new teachers must now wait four years to receive tenure, and they must receive an “effective” or “highly effective” APPR score in all but one of those years. That’s pretty difficult to do, especially if they teach in grades 3-8, which have state assessments in math and English Language Arts. There is also no such thing as “permanent certification” anymore, since all teachers now have to participate in 100 hours of professional development in five years, with other requirements to be determined. State assessments now count as 50% of all teachers’ evaluations, making it quite difficult to receive that “effective” or “highly effective” rating, especially in grades 3-8. (I could go into great detail about the inappropriateness of the New York State assessments, but this post is not about that. Just know that the tests are not developmentally appropriate for the students that take them, and they are filled with errors and awkwardly worded questions.) The other 50% of our APPR score is based on classroom observations, though who observes us is not known as of now. It could be someone from outside the district who we have never met! Those are just some of the changes, and they affect all students and teachers in public education.
As a high school English teacher in a public school, I know these changes could affect me and my students, but for now I still have a job to do, and an important one at that. I cannot let these negative changes get me down, let alone give up. Yes, I do not teach students in grades 3-8, but, starting next year, the new Common Core Regents exam in 11th grade will affect my APPR score and my school’s graduation rate. My current 9th graders will be taking that test as juniors, and they will need it to graduate. They cannot opt out of it. It’s difficult, for it has those same awkwardly worded questions, as well as writing tasks that students will need to rush through if they want to finish on time. Yes, I need to prepare them for it, but more importantly, I need to prepare them for life after high school. Reading and writing skills are needed for all professions, and I want my students to be successful in college, as well as in their future careers.
So what will I be changing in my classroom? Absolutely nothing. My students will still come in every day with a book of their choice. They will sit down and read their books while I confer with various students about how their reading is going. I will share a new book (or two or three) each day to expose them to new titles. I know that giving students time to read books of their choice is the single most important thing I can do for them. We will be working on our writing skills through a variety of writing tasks (journals, quick writes, short answer responses, book reviews on Goodreads, narratives, articles, and essays), not just the type of writing that appears on state assessments. Students will use mentor texts, my writing, and their classmates’ writing to study craft and writing techniques. They will learn from one another, and I will give them the resources to do so. I will continue to do my best to motivate them in all that we do. I always tell my students I try my best to teach them, so they must try their best to learn.
I know I am not the only teacher who feels this way. I encourage other teachers to remember that we went into this profession for our students. We need to continue to encourage and motivate our students, as well as one another. I know that is difficult sometimes, especially when so many powerful people stand in our way, but policies have changed before, and they can change again. We need to do what’s right for our students, for they will be the ones who change the policies someday.
(A recent article about a rally for public education at my district.)