Mary Ann Blankenship is the Executive Director of the Kentucky Education Association.
Stu: Kentucky is showing good progress in college and career readiness - what feedback are you receiving from teachers about these accomplishments?
Mary Ann: Kentucky teachers are excited, overwhelmed, and proud of the accomplishments of their students. They are justifiably proud of what they have supported students in accomplishing. They love seeing the lights go off in students’ eyes both from learning and from realizing that they can rise to new heights. There is nothing like seeing one of your students head off to college as the first in her family who has graduated from high school.
At the same time, they are doing more with less than before. Many are spending more out of their own pockets for their students and their own professional development. Meanwhile, their salaries are at best flat and for many teachers, their take home pay today is thousands of dollars less than it was five years ago. In addition, demands on their time are increasing.
Stu: Kentucky was the first state to adopt and assess the common core standards. What are you hearing from teachers about this implementation and what can you share about lessons learned thus far?
Mary Ann: Kentucky teachers called for new standards because they believed the old standards were a “mile wide and an inch deep.” They welcome the opportunity to have students dig deeper.
At the same time, as with any systems change, there have been some hiccups in early implementation. Since the content taught at each grade level may have changed, there have been challenges seeing that every student gets all the content she needs. With the pace of implementation in Kentucky, teachers sometimes feel like they are running a race when the finish line keep getting moved further and further away while the time expected to finish keeps getting shorter and shorter.
Stu: Education Week’s Quality Counts report ranked Kentucky at 10th in the nation but with an “F” in funding. What are your thoughts about this?
Mary Ann: What it says to me, quite simply, is that teachers and other educators have been doing their part in the classroom but that those who have the ability to fund our schools - the Kentucky General Assembly and local school boards - have not always been doing their part. When education is a complete success, all partners do their part. We have high expectations for our students and also for policy makers on whose success ours depends.
Stu: Kentucky has made great progress since the 1990 reform act (KERA) moving from 49th to 33rd in the country and continues to move forward despite significant cuts in funding. What are your thoughts about this?
Mary Ann: I have never been prouder to be a Kentuckian, an educator, and someone who spends her time and energies supporting teachers. The parents and teachers of our Commonwealth deserve a great thank you from each of our fellow citizens. Our future economically depends on what teachers do every day in the classroom and what parents do at home to encourage, prod, and support student learning.
Stu: What are on Kentucky teachers’ wish lists?
Mary Ann: What a great question. First and foremost, what I hear from teachers is that they need more time. They are stretched so thin right now. Too often, needs of their own families and their own economic welfare are sacrificed for their students. Most love teaching and would not choose to do anything else. But they also deserve to have a reasonable work life.
Secondly, I think most teachers would ask for a stronger partnership with families of their students. Nothing is more powerful in students’ success than his family and teacher working together. We both care deeply about that child’s success. But too often, teachers and families do not feel like they have each other’s support.
Thirdly, many teachers would ask for stronger administrator support. Don’t get me wrong, there are many amazingly supportive principals, superintendents and school board members. But too many do still have an old-school type of management, believing their job is to catch people doing wrong and correct them. But luckily, more and more employers are viewing their role today as supporting the amazing work of Kentucky’s teachers.
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