it's not just our money we're worried about...

There is an unfunded bill running rampant through the Florida Senate and House. While I NEVER like to get political with anything, this bill is ridiculous! This bill will kill education in the state of Florida. This is my letter to our legislators:

Proponents of SB6/HB7189 have alternately described this legislation as a “hammer” and then as a way to “honor teachers.” Others have taken the stance that the “good” teachers have nothing to worry about and will get fabulous bonuses. I believe that most of the public recognizes that teachers do not go into the profession for the money. Many universities in our state charge more for one year of studying to prepare to become a teacher than a beginning teacher will actually earn in one year.

The Florida legislature is now proposing that I receive no compensation for my National Board Certification. I currently teach Elementary Art and wonder how this bill (which is mainly academic) will affect me. This has me worried so that this year I went out and also took the test to become certified to teach reading. The State of Florida currently charges $200 to take each of these examinations, and an additional $75 a piece to add each subject to an educator’s certificate. I received no pay raise for adding these subjects, but was happy to pay the fees and add the subjects that have helped make me become a more well-rounded teacher. Last year I went through the vigorous process of National Board Certification because I could not afford (on my teachers' salary) to get my Master's degree. The supplement has been taken away, but I still provide the extra instruction. I spend hundreds of dollars of my own money buying materials for my classroom. This does not make me special – this is what teachers do. We’re not in it for the money.But that’s not to say that teachers don’t worry about money. We worry about money every day – but not just our money, as some legislators would have you believe.

We worry about the money being cut from the education budget, tens of millions of dollars in Sarasota County alone. We worry about the money that Senate Bill 6 will hold back from school districts for the next four years (the bill purports to “set aside” over $900 million for teacher bonuses, which is politician-speak for withholding that amount from district budgets). We worry about unfunded mandates from Tallahassee affecting local control and property taxes. What I mostly worry about is the money it will cost for districts to develop tests in every subject for every grade in order to determine the “merit” of teachers. Since these tests are supposed to measure “student growth” it will be necessary to test beginning points and end points. This means the first weeks of school will be spent taking pre-tests in addition to the post-tests at the end of the year.

I just came off a week of FCAT testing where seven entire instructional days were disrupted to take reading, math and science tests. In order to tie every teachers’ pay to test results, pre- and post-tests will have to be given in every subject. For example, just to determine the “merit” of an average high schooler in Sarasota County Schools, taxpayers will have to pay to have pre-tests and post-tests developed for Economics, Government, Leadership, Grade 12 English (but don’t forget separate tests will be necessary for Grade 9, 10, and 11 English), Environmental Science, Psychology, and Weightlifting. Ridiculous to make a state weightlifting exam? Yes, but how else will the state tie the pay of the weightlifting teacher to a test?

Since pay raises will be attached to the outcome of the tests, the tests cannot be made by or administered by classroom teachers. Test-making companies must be salivating over their potential bonanza should this bill pass. I’d like to make it clear that I have every confidence that my elementary art students would perform quite well on any test developed and I believe I would be one of the teachers receiving the “merit pay” – but I don’t want it under these circumstances. I don’t want to teach to a standardized test which would replace creative thought, exploration and independent thinking with skill-and-drill. I don’t want our district coffers raided and instructional time wasted with a multitude of new tests. Businesses want employees who can think on their own and innovate, not ones who can correctly choose an answer on a multiple choice test. I do want to look at my students as potential college graduates, potential lovers of art, and potential civic leaders - not as potential bonus bucks for me. God forbid the day a student enters a classroom where the teacher has been trained to think, “Well, I won’t be making any money off of this one!”

Some teachers – teachers I am in awe of – spend their day teaching children with profound learning disabilities. They are working miracles with these students but their results will not be reflected on a state mandated test. One of our exceptional education students just learned to write his name. How do we reward these professionals under this plan who do so much with so little? The legislature is trying to push this bill through now and work out the details later. The teaching profession, like any other, has bad apples which need to go. However, the solution is not to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Let’s come up with a better way.

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I am a mother,a wife, and a National Board Certified Art Teacher. My family is my love and photography is my passion!

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