Dr. Beth Gotcher
Education must prepare a diverse group of talented, well-educated students. The nation needs electricians, business professionals, mechanics, blue and white collar workers. Diversity in talent and developing the skills to meet the needs of those talents can make students successful contributors to society. Successful contributors make a successful society.
Making any country great begins with expectations: the expectation that every student can be successful, the expectation that poverty does not have to be a cycle, the expectation that the right tools in the right hands can change lives. Greatness does not manifest itself the same in every person; it is unique—just like our students. If you want to make America great, make educational opportunity great.
Amanda has taught English at Dobyns Bennett High School for the past five years. In that time, Amanda has served as the English 9 CoTaught Team Leader, English 10 CoTaught Team Leader, CoPresident of the Alpha Zeta Chapter of Alpha Delta Kappa International Honor Society for Women Educators and on the Tennessee Digital Learning Team. Throughout her career she has served as a school-wide Title I coordinator, school-level testing coordinator and 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant coordinator. She holds a Bachelors and Masters degree from East Tennessee State University. In 2010, she earned an Educational Specialist degree in Instruction and Curriculum Leadership from Lincoln Memorial University. She also serves as a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow, engaging her colleagues in providing classroom feedback to the Tennessee Department of Education on public education policy issues.
There are many different types of schools. Some are productive and innovative and some crush the spirit of innovation before it can grow and flourish. Some are tech-centered and engineering-minded, while others are pitifully technology poor. Some embrace best practices and collaboration, while others are seemingly stuck in the past with doors and minds closed to one another.
If I could communicate one thing to educational policy-makers, it would be to find room for the human element. So often it seems that educational policy only focuses on data and test scores. I believe this human element is the thing which teachers see so intimately and bemoan as the un-testable variables. It comes in the form of heartbreaking stories:
Mom and dad were fighting last night...again.
The electricity was turned off three days ago. I hate cold showers.
My baby sister screamed all night. Will she ever stop?
We've been living out of a tent, but we lost our campsite today.
I wanted to come to school, but mom didn't wake up.
My dad died last week, but no one will talk about it.
My shoes don't fit, but I don't want to tell my mom, because we don't have any money.
And the day-to-day speedbumps in the road of the educator:
We're a sub short today, so we had to divide Mr. Allen's class. You're getting 5 extra kids.
Fire drill today at 9:30 am!
Cookie-dough sale kick-off celebration in the gym at 2:30 pm.
Pep-rally on Friday!
We're experiencing problems with the WiFi again.
We want the best for our kids. We move mountains for them—of fundraiser cookie dough and wrapping paper and coupon books. And we do all of this to get the funds we need to have the right technology in their hands or to have books for them to read. But it isn't equal. Not all communities have the same luxury of time and disposable income to make those sorts of things happen. Title I funds are supposed to reduce the inequity but still fall short. In addition, many schools who do not qualify for Title I funds struggle to provide for their students when the population does not quite reach the poverty threshold for Title I, yet cannot afford to self-fund.
Critics of public education often depict educators as inadequate for the job or unmotivated to teach students properly. I would argue that we are very motivated for our students. Motivation isn't the issue. It likely comes down to resources and culture. Have we enabled the resources needed for change? Have we dealt with the human needs and cultural needs creating barriers to academic gains?
So, though I appreciate the information that assessment data provides, I plead—look beyond the statistics and into the numbers and see the children they represent. Look beyond the school and see the community it serves. Educating our children is a beautiful, human act. Let's keep the humanity in the process.
Kimberly has served at the Big Ridge Elementary School for the last seven years. She has worked as a music teacher and a Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA). Kimberly has served as Department Chair, RTI Coordinator, Next in Line for the Principal, Technical Contact and Chair for the School Wide Positive Behavior Support Cadre and she has been a Public Education Foundation’s Leadership Fellow. A recipient of the ETS Recognition of Excellence award for Principles of Learning and Teaching, she received her Bachelor of Music and Master of music degrees in music education from Middle Tennessee State University and from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, respectively, and a Master of Education degree in school leadership from Trevecca Nazarene University. She also serves as a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow, engaging her colleagues in providing classroom feedback to the Tennessee Department of Education on public education policy issues.
For that first year, I lent books out of that cardboard box haphazardly, not even keeping track of who borrowed them, and the next year I started with an even smaller box of books to share. While our students are fortunate to have a hard-working librarian who provides them with access to great books, I still wanted to have books to share with them in our own room. My cardboard “library” just didn’t send the message I wanted to send in my classroom about how important and enjoyable reading is, so each year, I have worked toward the goal of building my library and refining how it’s organized and operated.
I still have a long way to go to have the classroom library I dream of sharing with my students, but I’ve come a long way from that original cardboard box and want to share some of what’s helped me most with other teachers building their own libraries.
Getting More Books
An Always Growing Library
It may seem small to more seasoned teachers and book collectors, but I’m proud that our classroom books finally overflowed my two school-issued bookshelves this year and am excited for the challenge of figuring out what to do with all of the new books we get. What seems like a small start or a small addition will make a big difference over time, and the important thing is making our students’ lives more rich with literature, even just a few books at a time.
Natalie has taught seventh grade language arts at Shafer Middle School for six years and was named Shafer Teacher of the Year for 2013-14. She sponsors the school literature and arts magazine, was a TNCore Learning Leader for 2014-15, and has served on district planning committees and as part of the Mid-Cumberland CORE Region Teacher Roundtable Discussion. Natalie graduated from Vanderbilt University in 2009 and was awarded Peabody College’s Kevin Longinetti Award for Outstanding Secondary-Level Teaching. Outside of school, she tutors for Christian Women’s Job Corps of Middle Tennessee, where she has volunteered for seven years. She also serves as a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow, engaging her colleagues in providing classroom feedback to the Tennessee Department of Education on public education policy issues.