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Teacher to Gov. Kasich: If you want to build effective education policy, visit a classroom

Posted: 8:57 PM, Mar 13, 2017
Updated: 2017-03-14 12:52:13Z

Gov. John Kasich’s budget proposal for 2018-19 would set an unusual new requirement for Ohio teachers seeking to earn or renew their licenses.

Alongside continuing to meet standard professional development goals, teachers would be required to complete "an on-site work experience with a local business or chamber of commerce," to familiarize themselves with the jobs their students might have in the future, starting Sept. 1, 2018.

Kasich has been advocating integrating schools and businesses since January, when he said he wanted three business leaders on every school board in the state and more programs built to give students work experience.

"Our workforce and our jobs are changing so quickly," Kasich's Office of Workforce Transformation Director Ryan Burgess told Cleveland.com. "To understand what our local jobs and in-demand skills are would benefit everyone."

But The Washington Post reported  that this proposal has drawn criticism from multiple teachers’ organizations who said it demonstrated a misunderstanding of their work and risked placing an additional burden on the already-hectic lives of teachers.

Julie Rine, an Ohio Education Association member who has spent 20 years teaching, wrote a passionate letter in protest of the proposal to Kasich. Her letter has been shared thousands of times. WCPO caught up with her via email to learn more about why she objects to Kasich’s idea and how she thinks legislators can work with educators to create better policy.

"The proposal of teachers shadowing a business person is not inherently a terrible idea,” said Rine, an English teacher at Minerva High School. “I just don’t think it should be a contingent of renewing or getting a teacher’s license. … A business teacher or a wood shop teacher might really benefit from job shadowing a business in their content area, but what businessperson will kindergarten teachers shadow?"

She added that she thinks it’s to everyone’s advantage when legislators, businesses and educators communicate with one another, but it requires investment from all sides. The best thing, she said, would be for legislators to actively solicit input from teachers when constructing education policy -- and she extended an invitation for lawmakers to join teachers in the classroom instead of sending them out to intern in local businesses.

"Education is an area that affects so many people: Parents, teachers, kids …  not to mention the future of our local communities and our state. It baffles me that anyone would consider making laws and policies that impact all of those people without talking to teachers or spending time in schools," she said. “All I’m asking for is one day."

Read the full text of Rine’s letter, which she originally posted on Plunderbund and gave WCPO permission to republish, below:

Dear Governor Kasich,

Your proposal in the budget to require teachers to complete an “on-site work experience” with a local business as a condition of renewing our teaching licenses is baffling. Even the state legislators in your own party didn’t seem to see the value in it, and have indicated that they most likely will not support it. What exactly did you hope to accomplish by our spending time observing or even participating in a field outside of education? Despite a lot of press coverage, we were given few details about the thinking behind this mind-boggling mandate, but the director of your Office of Workforce Transformation indicated that this added licensing requirement was intended to “help teachers get a better idea for what jobs are available to students and what skills employers need.”

Governor, even if your proposal does not become a requirement, you don’t need to worry. Teachers know the skills that employers value, whether the job requires a college degree or not: a willingness to work hard, to ask for clarification if a job expectation is unclear, to show up on time, to demonstrate respect when speaking to others, to take initiative and go beyond basic expectations, to work just as hard whether under direct supervision or alone, to accept criticism, to work well with others, to communicate effectively in person, on the phone, or through email. Armed with these skills, a person can be trained in any job from making a pizza to governing a state. Teachers don’t need to shadow a business person to understand what skills make a good employee. We know what those skills are.

And you know what? We already teach those skills.

When we give our students rules and procedures, we are teaching them that society does not operate well in chaos, and that there are certain expectations that must be adhered to for order to exist. When we give our students due dates for assignments and maintain consequences for turning in work late, we are teaching them that deadlines matter. When we ask our students to evaluate each other’s work, we are teaching them how to be respectful when offering criticism, and how to accept that criticism with grace; we are teaching them that all of us can benefit from meaningful feedback, both the praise and the suggestions for improvement. When we assign our students projects or other collaborative work, we are giving them valuable experience in the life skills of getting along with peers, of motivating others to participate, of seeing an idea from a different perspective, and of recognizing the strengths of someone else and utilizing each person’s assets to create a quality group project.

When we post our weekly lesson plans online and ask students to check what they missed when they are absent, we are giving them tools to take initiative and be accountable for their own work. When we ask a student who says to us, “I’ll come 2nd period tomorrow to make up that quiz” to rephrase that to “I see that I missed a quiz when I was gone; when would it be convenient for you to have me make that up?” we are teaching students how to respectfully approach adults and how to show courtesy to those from whom they need something. We know what skills employers are seeking, Governor Kasich, and we are already teaching them.

We also know what jobs are available to our students post-high school. We know that without a trained skill, military experience, or a college education, the only jobs available to our young people will not pay well enough to allow them to build a life or support a family. That’s why at my school, we counsel our students and help them help them decide if they should leave our campus to attend our outstanding career-technical school to learn a specific trade or if they should stay in our building and take a college-prep course load. Every teacher from kindergarten to high school knows very well she is preparing her class for the next level, and that the end goal is for students to be ready to face the challenges of the “real world” after high school graduation.

Incidentally, it would be a lot easier to prepare our kids for life after school if we didn’t have to spend so much time preparing them for a myriad of standardized tests.

The Common Core standards are supposed to prepare our kids to be “college and career ready,” but after getting into college or beginning a career, how many times do most adults have to take a standardized test? The emphasis on testing is counterproductive to the goal of producing kids who are college and career ready, yet we spend an inordinate amount of time teaching children how to pass high-stakes tests. You might not like that, and trust me, I don’t either. But the tests lead to scores which lead to data which leads to graduation rates and school report card grades and teacher evaluation ratings.

This is a system YOU and the legislature have developed, so don’t blame us if test prep has taken over our classrooms. It’s worth noting that in spite of that, our country’s public school teachers are doing something right; our students score exceedingly well compared to other countries in areas that matter to employers, such as creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship. Think how well our kids could do, and much better prepared they would be for the workforce or for college, if we could focus more on these areas instead of the tests.

Governor, your proposal indicates that you think teachers are in the dark about life after high school. Frankly, we think you are in the dark about life in the classroom. Perhaps this could be remedied if you and our state legislators spent time with a teacher.

Imagine if one day each year, across the state of Ohio, across all content areas and grade levels, in small schools and big schools, wealthy districts and high-poverty districts, every single state legislator and our governor shadowed a public school teacher for an entire school day. We could practice one of the life skills we both want our students to have: learning to see a situation from another’s point of view. Ohio’s teachers would know that when our legislative leaders discuss educational policies, each one of you would have had at least a one-day experience in our public schools with the students and teachers your policies will impact.

Your proposal argues that it’s important for teachers to know what jobs await our students and what skills they will need in those jobs; I would argue that it is at least equally important for our politicians to know what our jobs are really like and how your policies affect our ability to educate our students in meaningful ways.

My spending time working in a local pizza parlor would not likely improve my ability to teach, but your spending time in a classroom could improve your ability to enact policies that would have a positive impact on teaching and learning. Will you visit our classrooms? Will you talk to us? Will you listen? We will if you will. Our classroom doors are always open.

Julie Rine
Teacher, Minerva Local Schools