Yes, I Just Emailed This to the Governor

Yes, I Just Emailed This to the Governor

Hello Governor Deal (and whichever staffer is lucky enough to be reading this),

I am what you call a “veteran” teacher.  I’m on the downhill slide toward retirement; and I’ve gotten to the point that I’m tired of keeping my mouth shut about issues concerning my profession.
The GMAS system stinks. The Georgia Teacher Evaluation system stinks.  The fact that my elementary school children do more to prepare for tests than they do play outside stinks.  Are you seeing a pattern here?
I love to teach. I love my students, and like parents all over this state, I love my children and want what’s best for all of them.  However, tests that aren’t reliable or valid are not what’s best for them. Tests that generate no useful data for teachers are worse than useless.  Tests that are compared to different tests for the purposes of evaluating me are even more useless than that.
Tests that are far beyond the abilities of a disabled child are not good for them. Having little to no recess is not good for elementary school kids, and pushing small children to do what they are not developmentally ready to do does damage that takes years to undo.
Governor Deal (and your dedicated staffer), if you want to know what teachers and students need, how about asking teachers?  How about asking parents?  Ask actual experts instead of relying on the corporate input that got us into this mess; wouldn’t it be nice to go down in history as the Governor who actually made genuine change for the better in Georgia’s schools?
If you want to know how to do this, ask the people who know. Ask teachers. Ask parents.  And when you do, listen to them.  Sending them a survey and then ignoring what it says is not sound policy, Governor Deal.  If I ran my classroom like that, I’d be out of a job.
I would love to be able to come talk to you and the legislature in person, but our grades are due this week, and school policy forbids me from taking the day before a paid holiday off, or I would be there early Friday morning to talk some sense into you and the representatives you’re leaning on.
Instead, I have to rely on the saucy tone of my letter to do that for me.  Please encourage the legislature to do what’s right by teachers, students, and their families and pass 355 and 364.  It’s the right thing to do.  And since I voted for you, I wouldn’t be doing my duty as a citizen of the state of Georgia if I didn’t ask you to do what your electorate wants.
Tracy Saunders
18 Year Public School Teacher
Mom of Seven
Testimony to the State Senate Education Committee

Testimony to the State Senate Education Committee

Tomorrow, the GA Senate Education and Youth Committee is meeting to discuss the Student Protection Act, the 355 Substitute Bill, which addresses the following:

  • tests will not assess personal attitudes or beliefs
  • test reports will identify specific skills not just general domains.
  • school readiness assessments can be ITBS
  • paper and pencil tests upon parent request
  • school system must have policies for student learning activities during testing if the child is not to take the exam
  •  no child is to be punished for non-participation
  •  2% cap on testing time as part of total instructional time
  • parent refusal for any child who is disabled or seriously ill
  • physician refusal including therapist
  • a student who fails the first time may take a different retest (ITBS) and/ or may be retested at functional level.
  • if a schools rating is affected by refusals that fact will be indicated in final report by DOE as well as the score the school would have received if not for the federal 95% mandate
  • no teacher or administrator will be penalized by any refusals
  • promotion may be determined by ITBS scores.
  • DFCS attendance policies will not include days during testing where a parent keeps their child home.  (copied and reformatted from FB post in a closed group)

Here is my testimony, which will be read by a stand in for me, tomorrow at the hearing.


To the Education Committee of the State Legislature of GA:

As both a high school ELA teacher and a parent in the state of Georgia, I have seen both sides of testing:  I’ve seen what it does in my classroom, to my students, and I’ve seen what it’s done to my children.

As a teacher, I am ever so tired of saying, “You might see this on the test like this…,” “On a test your options might be phrased like this…,” and “When you do this on the test you’ll only have this many minutes.”  I used to be able to connect the content to future careers and real life scenarios, or to art and music and college.

Now, it’s all about the Test.  This is capitalized on purpose, because it doesn’t matter what manner of alphabet soup they’re called, they all do the same thing. They mostly check to see how a student does on a small range of skills in a stressful set of timed circumstances. Then the scores are stacked up against all the other kids in the state unfortunate enough to have to endure up to a month’s worth of testing at the end of the school year.

This doesn’t take into consideration the practice tests or the benchmarks given based on the district’s need for data, or the school’s determination to produce the best results possible. I don’t fault the teachers in my school or my administration, because we all have to earn our paychecks.  But the policy makers? The ones who have never taught a day in their lives?

Here, have some blame.

Many of my students are brilliant writers, but can’t do math very well.  Some have math smarts, and do ok in ELA. Others can take apart, repair, and reassemble a robot with their eyes closed, but don’t handle test pressure very well.  Some are fairly balanced in their academic skills. Some have serious deficits. Some can sing, draw, paint, connect with little kids (or the elderly, mentally ill, homeless, etc) and work wonders.  They are all expected to pass the same tests in the same amount of time, despite their differences.  Teachers have been told to differentiate, but the tests don’t.

Most of the things we want kids to be able to do to be successful adults aren’t things that can be measured on tests, but they are the things that have been removed from our classrooms to make room for testing and test prep.  I wouldn’t complain so much about it if the things measured and reported actually meant something. But they don’t.

By the time we get to the GMAS, my kids have pretty much decided the following:

  1. They hate writing because the only kind of writing we focus on is constructed response (paragraph long answers structured by a formula that must be followed to earn the points on the test) short narratives, and argumentative essays. The three types of writing on the GMAS test.
  1. They hate reading because it’s always followed by multiple choice questions that are stacked so if you miss the first one in a set, you’re likely to miss the follow-ups.
  1. They don’t know what they want to be when they grow up, but they know they don’t want to teach.

None of this is good for students, teachers, or the future of public education.  It’s not good for parents who want their kids to be successful, but realize that the current environment created in our schools by corporate testing and data crunching is creating physically damaging stress for everyone.

I’m extremely lucky, blessed, and happy to be at a specialty school, where our students have to apply to get in, and keep their grades up to stay.  Testing at our school starts in mid-April, and ends about two days before school lets out.  Between end of pathways testing, GMAS, AP, etc, our school is in test mode for about a month.

This means that we can’t teach new content because on any given day, we’ll be missing half our students for a test, and the ones missing on Monday may or may not be the same ones missing on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.  And if they haven’t tested for another class yet, most of us are willing to share our students for last minute cram sessions because we know what’s at stake. 20% of their grade in up to five classes at a time at my school.

What if 20% of your paycheck for a year was determined by one day’s worth of your work?

For my own kindergarten-aged daughter, N., I have seen the push to learn to read in kindergarten destroy my daughter’s love of school.  She used to get excited and yell, “Yay!” at bedtime when we said, “Yes, school tomorrow!”

Her big grin has been replaced with a deep sigh.  She spends a lot of her time at school drilling sight words in preparation for her next DIBELS test. She has a speech impediment, and that stopwatch is a mortal enemy.

How would that make you feel? The thing you have struggled the most with in your six years of life and someone is clicking a stop watch off and on in front of you as you try desperately to sound out an answer?  I work with my child daily, as does her awesome teacher (whose hands are tied by this craziness), and we can both tell you where N’s progress is in reaching the kindergarten goals.  DIBELS is unnecessary to our knowledge of her progress.  If you’ve never seen a DIBELS test, please consider looking up the test on YouTube.

I’m writing this tonight and emailing you because I couldn’t take the time off work to come see you in person; I have students and children who need me here, four hours away.  I seriously considered taking a personal day, and driving a total of eight hours in one day to come, testify for three minutes, and return home because I know you need to hear from real people, who are experiencing the real consequences of the direction our state’s education system is heading.  But I can’t.

So I’m pleading with you, asking you —one professional, one parent to another— pass the Student Protection Act.  It’s not the cure, but it’s a start; the children, parents and teachers in this state need it.

And, as much as I’d like to believe that you, as my representatives have our best interests at heart, I’m not sure I believe that.  You scheduled a hearing on an education bill at 1:30 on a Wednesday.  That speaks volumes.



Basic Wisdom: Teaching and the Value of Experience

Basic Wisdom: Teaching and the Value of Experience

Yesterday marked the first time in my 18 year career that I have had a brand new computer on my desk for just ME to use.

A brand new computer that showed up still in its box, with a fresh new keyboard without dust bunnies, and a mouse that was not pre-grubbified by years of other people’s cooties.  It still had the clear sticky protective tape on it.


Cue perky Pharrell Williams song here.

It’s so fast–click it and you are there.  I was giddy with excitement.

And then the internet crashed.

So just as I was about to use my teacher Youtube channel and a cool PowerPoint from the cloud: Poof. No internet.  This meant no pre-planned technology-infused lesson integrating various learning styles. I put my phone and my two remotes down. I turned off the projector, I went back to basics and I taught the old-fashioned way, remembering to angle my body just right so as not to have my back to the class while I wrote on the board.

And I was proud of myself, and all my former English teachers would be too.  I went technologically back in time to about 1995, the land of the whiteboard and erasable marker, and me and my ninth and tenth graders had an almost one-room school house kind of fun.

I taught grammar.  Now, anyone who knows me well knows how much I hate teaching grammar.  It’s almost like math.  And yes, I hate it that bad. But as a teacher, I don’t always get to do what I want (go on, if you’re a teacher, laugh at how silly it is to think that we get to do what we want in our classrooms.)

That afternoon, I taught coordinating and subordinating conjunctions like a boss. Dependent and independent clauses, and compound, complex, and compound-complex sentences like, well, like a pro.  (And later on, ask me about the cool metaphor I came up with help to explain it.)

Because when it comes down to it, no matter what happens in the classroom, teachers adapt to it, and do what needs to be done in that moment.   Would I have been able to do that in my first couple of years teaching?  Doubt it.  I’d have gone on to whatever was in the plans for later that week that didn’t require technology, grumping all the while about not being able to use my new toy.

But with experience comes wisdom, and wisdom says we don’t have moments to waste, or energy to burn skipping around the order of things, so I went on with what they needed to learn, and I got a very minor-league buzz from the board markers in the process.

Kidding about the buzz, but my years in the classroom have helped me learn my content enough that I can teach most of it off the cuff, with no notes if I have too, and those same years have also taught me that I can make it more interesting using technology, art, music, and yoga balls.

However, the State of Georgia, specifically Governor Deal, wants to change the teachers’ pay scale so we wouldn’t get credit for those years that gave us the wisdom we put to work daily.  He envisions a plan that would measure our value by what our students score on one test, compared to the scores of the kids who took it the year before.  There are so many flaws in that logic.  Stick around. I’ll write about those, too, eventually.

But even with other pieces of flawed logic, the core of Deal’s suggestion that experience and education don’t count in a classroom is so many negative things, I have to make a list.  It is:

  • fallacious,
  • insulting,
  • ridiculous,
  • politically-motivated,
  • financially irresponsible.

I could go on, but it really comes to this:  Governor Deal, if you think you (or anyone with your classroom experience) can teach kids barely into their teens how to develop fluidity, flexibility, and frequency in their writing by revising sentences,  go for it.

We teachers with our useless experience and education would love to learn from you, and hear the great metaphor you can come up with to help the kids remember the different types of sentences.


For more information on this kerfuffle:

And because I think it’s awesome that teachers are finally, tentatively, starting to speak out, read the comments posted on the Governor’s Facebook page:

PS:  Miss Hawley, Mrs. Pearson, Miss Garringer, Mrs. Bishop, Mrs. Pallant: Thank you.