Susan E. Strauss
I have been an educator my entire professional life. The last 20 years of my career were spent as a college faculty member and administrator in teacher education, and I have been in many K-12 classrooms to observe student teachers and talk with the classroom teachers who supervised them.
I am motivated to write this out of frustration and anger with recent legislation that serves to undermine teachers and school leaders.
I believe, as many do, that education has the power to transform students’ lives, and I also believe that teachers are an essential component of a child’s education.
As such, teachers must learn what they are to teach and how it can best be taught. They need to know how to assess students appropriately and differentiate instruction so that students of different proficiency levels can learn. They must be familiar with their students’ cognitive, emotional, and physical development.
They should know how to set up a classroom for optimum learning for their students and how to establish and grow a community of learners who trust that they are safe, and that they will be heard and respected.
Good teachers know how to choose good books for their students, how to acquire them, and how to stay abreast of new standards, new curriculum, and new resources.
In short, teaching is a profession. It requires professional knowledge and time spent under the supervision of an experienced teacher before licensure, and yet many Florida legislators and the governor supported bills that will seriously undermine teachers and the teaching profession.
The non-issues recent legislation has addressed include blocking teachers from talking about LGBTQ issues, opening the door to lawsuits if teachers make students feel “guilty” or “uncomfortable” in conversations about racism, discrimination, or injustice, restrictions for selecting and curating library books and textbooks, and censorship of books that teachers choose for their classrooms and/or libraries.
To date, I have never seen a teacher try to indoctrinate a student into any type of lifestyle or sexual choice. I have never seen a teacher try to make any student or parent feel badly about themselves because of historical or civic events. I have seen them work hard to choose materials that are appropriate for their students, both academically and according to their ages and reading proficiencies.
I have seen them work to communicate regularly with parents and make sure that parents know what their children are reading and learning and to keep them apprised of academic growth and how it can be supported at home.
Furthermore, the pandemic of the last two years has required teachers to do their best to keep themselves, their classrooms, and their students as safe and sanitary as possible, while many of us were able to continue work from the safety of our homes.
In the blink of an eye they learned to teach virtually — often at the same time they were teaching students face to face in their classrooms. What teachers have done for students and parents and our state is nothing short of heroic, and they have been repaid by the imposition of restrictions and censorship by anyone with an axe to grind.
Enough. It is time to take educational policy out of the hands of legislators and give teachers, like other professionals, the power to guide and monitor themselves.
We are going to continue to lose good classroom teachers if we allow our elected officials to denigrate the professionalism and worth of educators.
We owe them respect and a debt of gratitude, and we should be ashamed of ourselves if we reelect the state leaders who supported this legislation.
Susan E. Strauss, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus, Flagler College.
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