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When I decided to attend the University of Miami in 2002, I wanted to follow in most of my family’s footsteps and become a teacher. I always had a passion for mathematics, so I decided to double major in probability and education. Five years later, I completed all of my classroom required training and was ready to take the plunge. Graduating in May of 2006, I took on a teaching stint at Coral Gables Senior High in August of 2006. The job paid $450 a week, which wasn’t great for a kid with over $150K in student loans (for an undergraduate degree … I know, I know) but I knew if I stuck with it, I could be an excellent algebra and geometry teacher. In December of 2006, I resigned.
I taught five out of the nine periods of the day. This means that I had about 120 kids under my wing and of those 120 aspiring minds, around 30 of them spoke English as their first language. Another 30 or so had a firm grasp on the English language and the remaining ~60 struggled to understand me. These were not children that just moved here from another country, they were students passed through the system year after year. Mathematics, you see, is like a ladder. You take something you learned yesterday and apply it to what you’re learning today. Each step allows you to take the next and skipping steps causes future steps to be farther and farther apart.
I spent every minute I could trying to get through to a lot of these kids, but I ran into three major problems. Problem one was that some of them were habitually absent from class. How can I teach them if they aren’t there? Problem two was the language barrier. I spent three years in college studying German and outside of Fritz and Franz Bierhaus, you won’t find many Germans in Miami. The third and final problem was that they had no background knowledge of mathematics. I spent an entire week after class teaching long division to 14 and 15 year old 10th graders.
December rolled around and I was struck with a dilemma. Without a doubt, 60%+ of my students deserved a failing grade. I could either pass them along to the next unsuspecting teacher or start my career off with a bang. In a life filled with tough decisions, this was one of the easier ones, and I flunked all of em! Well, that didn’t sit well with the principal and when I was asked to re-think my decision, I did. The next day, I decided to resign from the decision I made in August to teach mathematics in South Florida.
Bringing this story full circle, the Florida Congress passed a bill a few days ago, known as SB6, that changes the pay structure and job security for teachers in South Florida. Beginning July 1st of the current year, new teachers that are hired will be given one-year contracts. The decision on whether to renew the contract depends on the students’ progress on state test scores and the school’s review of the teacher (usually completed by the principal). Graduate degrees and tenure are a thing of the past ladies and gentlemen and existing teachers will have their raises based solely on student performance. The 61 page bill includes the following changes in Florida:
- Decrease the ability of local school boards and school districts to make a wide array of decisions having an impact on local schools and replace them with a one-size-fits-all approach mandated from Tallahassee.
- Require that all teachers be retained, certified, and compensated based on student test scores on standardized tests — not years of experience or degrees held.
- Penalize school districts that even consider the length of service or degrees held when determining compensation or reductions in force.
- Order that teachers be issued probationary contracts for up to five years; then an annual contract every year after that eliminating due process.
- Mandate more standardized testing for students (end of course exams for all subjects) and for teachers (additional certification requirements).
- Exclude the salary schedule as a subject of collective bargaining. The state will decide what categories of differentiated pay will be provided for.
- The state will have a much greater hand in appraisals.
- Abolish an effective and popular program that rewards those who become National Board Certified Teachers, a rigorous national program that awards certification after a yearlong, independent review of a teacher’s work in the classroom and knowledge of their field.
The governor of Florida, Charlie Christ, has until Friday to veto the new bill, otherwise the bill is final. While teachers cannot officially go on strike in the state of Florida, many have organized a “sick-out” where they are calling out sick to protest outside of schools. In some schools, over 75% of teachers have called out, making the day virtually lost for educators. Any channel I turn on right now is focused on this story, and I felt compelled to write about it to see what others outside of my state think about it.
The education system found in Florida has never been highly regarded, and the day Florida is known as “average” will be monumental. Had my four month salary been based on my students’ performance, I may have been required to pay back everything I earned, plus interest! While I understand the reasoning behind regulating teacher salaries like this, I think the execution has been downright deplorable. Teachers’ salaries in the state of Florida are already in the tank, and while lawmakers think teachers will work harder this way, I think it’s the exact opposite. Current teachers will become extremely frustrated when the raises they see aren’t what they expect and new teachers won’t be as creative as they can be knowing their job is on the line the second they step in the classroom. Some people handle pressure well, many do not.
Nearly all professions in this world base their pay on performance. If you do well, you are rewarded. If you do poorly, you are not. Should teaching also be added to the list? It’s pretty difficult to pinpoint a teacher’s performance, and I think basing it solely on state test scores is shortsighted. There’s a lot more to be learned in the classroom than the answer to a multiple choice question, and if this bill is signed by Charlie Christ, I fear Florida will lose every bit of the little progress they have made over the last few years. How would all of you feel if this bill were passed in your state, teacher or not?