Sounding the Arizonan (Classroom) Alarm Bells

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BY: Cary L. Tyler
Guest Contributor & Author of DoThGrin BLOG

Do not let the state end up like your neighbor to the east.

According to an article from Kris Nielsen, just before New Year’s Day, New Mexico had nearly 400 teacher positions open.

Just to make sure one does not think this is a typo, let me write it again: 400.  The largest school district, Albuquerque Public Schools, had 170 positions open.

Here is a link to this article: http://atthechalkface.com/2013/12/12/teachers-fleeing-new-mexico-districts/, plus another one reinforcing the argument from an Albuquerque writer: http://www.dukecityfix.com/profiles/blogs/no-teachers-won-t-stage-a-walk-out-but-next-fall-might-bring-a

This is a huge problem for New Mexico, as it means that whatever jobs are filled will most likely be filled with inexperienced teachers with fewer mentors available to help them.

One of my former students in the state said this: “So many people ask me why I am not classroom teaching and this article covers a big part of the reason.”

I personally feel this person would be an awesome teacher, but I understand.

What’s happening?

NM’s governor, Suzanna Martinez and her appointed (though not officially approved) and heavily maligned head of education Hannah Skandera are trying to push for a sharp increase in testing and connecting testing to evaluations.

Not only are they doing this, but also they have been heavily putting the blame on teachers for the state’s educational problems.

First, understand this: I grew up in New Mexico (Albuquerque) and went to college there (New Mexico State University, Las Cruces). I worked there as a journalist (Albuquerque Tribune), then became a teacher and taught in Albuquerque for thirteen years. (Oh, and raised my three daughters in the Duke City).

However, by 2004, thanks to increasingly growing problems and grossly flawed educational policies, we moved to Arizona for a fresh start.

So, when I say New Mexico is not an easy place to teach, I am speaking from experience. Teen pregnancy remains the highest in the country in that state (and what are educators supposed to do about that). There are gross disparities in the economy. One can go from a high income neighborhood to a low income neighborhood in just three miles…and then the poverty may extend for as far as the eye can see.

The state’s diversity is beautiful, but also requires much more differentiated learning, something rigid testing standards do not allow and, as researchers such as Dylan Wiliam (a UK educator and researcher) and Grant Wiggins, a leading assessment expert state do not predict future success or performance.

Teachers have been up in arms for months in New Mexico, but even the state’s main newspaper, the Albuquerque Journal, has had editorials throwing teachers under the bus. Their feeling now: instead of going on strike, they just going to leave. Period.

The “shock and awe” that hit Arizona teachers from 2008 through 2013, including failed overrides, heavy layoffs, and long-term wage freezes, were rough, but should the state decide to drop similar heat on the state’s educators, another mass exodus is possible (It did for me…the heavy cuts at Gilbert High School were so hard on morale that even for those who remained, the back was broken, and it helped my decision to move to the Portland, Oregon area in 2010).

I already know of several former colleagues in the state who have left recently with no plans to return or are thinking about moving on. This cannot continue.

The approaches to teaching have become increasingly fun, rewarding, and proven to work on a much larger group of students than ever before, but blaming teachers and failing to give them the tools to be successful is only serving to make things worse.

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2 comments on “Sounding the Arizonan (Classroom) Alarm Bells

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