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Education Opinion

Saving the Family Business

By Nancy Flanagan — July 05, 2011 3 min read
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Today’s guest post is by Claudia Swisher, beloved English teacher and inspirational reading guru of Norman, Oklahoma.

Why am I marching? I’m trying to save the family business. My husband is a retired

teacher; his mother was a teacher. My father was a teacher. His mother and father were both teachers. My mother’s grandfather was a teacher. My son and his wife are teachers. Two of my four granddaughters have shown interest in becoming teachers. I march because I fear greatly for this profession that has marked my family indelibly.

My father was my principal in junior high...he once substituted in my English class. I’m still traumatized. My dad’s mother was his English teacher - I can only imagine! His father was his principal in high school. On the wall of my classroom is my father’s high school diploma, signed by my grandfather. They’re both there with me every day as I teach.

I march because the family business is under attack. Smug bureaucrats who’ve never stood in front of a hostile class of non-readers, or a fidgety group of kindergartners just before lunch are now calling the shots in education, at the national level, and in my own state of Oklahoma.

When did the Billionaire Boys’ Club get their education degrees? Where did they intern in the classroom? Why is their voice valued over mine?

I just finished my thirty-sixth year in the classroom. I have taught every level in public education, kindergarten through seniors. I’ve taught in three states, in seven schools, for ten different principals. I’m a National Board Certified Teacher, renewed until 2020. I have a master’s degree, a reading specialist, and hours in special education past my masters.

When did my voice and my experience become a liability? Why does the world believe Bill Gates and not me? Why do my letters to my legislators and my own State Superintendent of Public Instruction get ignored?

I am marching to join my voice with others as committed as I am to a quality education for every student, not just students whose parents can afford to buy homes in “good” school districts, or even afford to send them to private schools. Every child, every day, deserves the best teachers, the best schools, the best administrators. My daughter-in-law teaches elementary music in a school that is 99% free-and-reduced-lunch. These children deserve and receive her best every day. These students are the consumers of my family business.

I’m marching to draw attention to the horrifying abuse of standardized testing in the nation and in my own state of Oklahoma, where all third graders now must read at grade level, teachers will be evaluated partially on student scores, and schools will be graded based on the same scores.

I remember when we took a test at the end of the school year, the results went into our permanent file, and perhaps, someone compares scores from previous tests, and that was the end. Now, however, the testing industry has taken over education. Now, instead of teaching, we prepare students for tests. Now, instead of learning, students prepare for these tests.

In my state, just this year new laws are being enacted that will retain any third grader who does not read at level on one test, one day. Teachers will be evaluated on students’ scores on that one test, one day. And schools will be graded according to the scores of one test, one day. Legislators enacted some of the most repressive laws, and now they leave schools and teachers to figure out how to make all these mandates work.

We know what will happen: curricula will narrow, recesses will be shortened. Instruction will cease as we all chase the all-important scores. Even though we as educators know the scores are not a true measure of learning or of teaching.

I’m marching to make the point to my granddaughters that there will be an honorable profession for educators when they graduate from college. If they choose to join the family business, it will still be there for them, as it was for me.

The last time I visited with my father we found a little hole-in-the-wall lunch room in Southern Indiana. As we sat and had really bad coffee, an equally elderly man approached my dad and asked, “Are you C.B. Lisman’s son? He was my geometry teacher. He helped me understand that class.” Then these two old men sat and laughed about their high school careers in tiny New Lebanon High School, their faces lit up while talking about a teacher. That’s what I want for my son and daughter-in-law. That’s what I want for my granddaughters.

That’s why I’m marching in Washington, D.C. on July 30 with the Save Our Schools movement.

The opinions expressed in Teacher in a Strange Land are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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