Archive for Sunday, April 6, 2014

Kansas teachers to take lessons from Statehouse back to classrooms

April 6, 2014


— Nathan McAlister has been teaching eighth-grade social studies at Royal Valley Middle School north of Topeka for some time. He teaches about the Constitution, about the three branches of government and about how a bill becomes a law.

But after spending one grueling and, at times, dramatic weekend at the Kansas Statehouse the last few days, McAlister said he'll have something new and personal to share with his students this week.

"Democracy in action works, and standing up for what you believe is important," he said.

Teachers who converged on the Kansas Statehouse this week found various ways to pass the time as they waited for the House and Senate to start debating a school finance bill. They urged lawmakers not to include language that would also repeal the rights of teacher tenure in Kansas.

Teachers who converged on the Kansas Statehouse this week found various ways to pass the time as they waited for the House and Senate to start debating a school finance bill. They urged lawmakers not to include language that would also repeal the rights of teacher tenure in Kansas.

McAlister was just one of hundreds of school teachers who converged on the Statehouse this week, hoping to persuade lawmakers not to include a repeal of teacher tenure rights as part of a school finance bill that was meant to address funding inequities between rich and poor districts.

"We talk about these kinds of things, and this is part of it," McAlister said. "Sometimes things go very slow in the Legislature, and how government works is not always what you want. It's not always clean, and it's not always simple."

The teachers were in Topeka already for an annual meeting of the Kansas National Education Association, the state's largest teachers union. But they began rallying at the Statehouse Saturday, soon after news broke that the school funding bill was being linked with other issues, including repeal of tenure rights.

For the better part of two days they sat in the galleries above the House and Senate chambers, gathered in the hallways meeting with legislators as they passed by and sat in on conference committee meetings as various deals were being negotiated.

And they took to social media, staying in contact with their colleagues throughout the state, urging them to email or call their senators and representatives.

But what the teachers saw and experienced over those two days seldom looked exactly like the textbooks. That includes meetings going late into the night, and into the wee hours of the next morning; conference committees meeting on short notice at 2 a.m., or even later; and citizens camping out on the cold marble floors during long breaks between sessions.

Jonathan Goering, who teaches in Kansas City, Kan., said regardless of the outcome, his experience will make him a better teacher.

"What's nice about the textbook now is, we're going to be able to talk about specific things like, 'Oh, this is what a committee is,' and you can take them through the process of what we've been through the last couple of days.

Karen Stockwell-Withers, who teaches ninth-graders at Atchison High School, said the experience will help her translate the textbooks into real life for her students.

"The textbooks make it sound boring, and this is exciting," she said. "I think my kids will benefit from my being down here and seeing it happen."

In the end, the teachers lost their battle. The House and Senate narrowly approved the bill Sunday, sending it to Gov. Sam Brownback for his signature.

But Stockwell-Withers said she's now committed to staying more involved in political issues.

"I think this has inspired me to get even more involved myself," she said. "It's exhilarating watching this happen."


Cheryl Nelsen 4 years, 2 months ago

I hope these teachers will take back to their students the full story of the Kansas legislature in action. I hope they make the world ALEC and special interest groups a part of their lesson plans. Of course, now if someone doesn't like what they teach, they can be easily disposed of.

Kathy Saving 4 years, 2 months ago

It will be very difficult for teachers to fully explain what happened in Topeka without being in danger of losing their jobs. I think what is also getting lost here are the tax breaks for large corporations included in this bill. Those credits will help to destroy public education which is ALEC's goal.

Clark Coan 4 years, 2 months ago

This will have a chilling effect on free speech for teachers (academic freedom). Now, teachers will think twice about discussing controversial issues with their students or advocating for unpopular causes because they will be afraid of being fired.

Sam Crow 4 years, 2 months ago

Why does a middle school teacher need academic freedom? They should not be advocating any issue or cause. Just teach their subject as the board and curriculum has directed them to.

Greg Cooper 4 years, 2 months ago

So, Sam, theachers should begin molding the capacity to think for themselves...when?

Your attitude is perfect for the bought-and-paid-for legislators who voted for this bill. I hope you reap the benefits of a stupid society as you age.

David Reber 4 years, 2 months ago

Sam, your myopia is illustrative of the problem here. We aren't talking about advocating/opposing issues to students. We're talking about participation in our own government.

Unless I missed something, the Bill of Rights has no footnote saying "unless you're a public school teacher." Teachers have every right to political speech - campaigning for school board candidates, for example.

And teachers must have free speech within their profession - board meetings, staff meetings, etc. Under this legislation, how many will opt out of speaking their minds....when doing so might cost them their job?

And it IS about academic freedom. How many school districts might be looking for a way to get rid of that science teacher who insists on teaching SCIENCE in their science classes? Or the health teacher who teaches about SEX in their sexuality unit?

I could go on.....

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 4 years, 2 months ago

"We're talking about participation in our own government." Thats what conservatives hate about Lawrence. People get involved and have an opinion. Try and get people to volunteer for the city committees in other communities. You would either get no one, or you would be discouraged from volunteering if you are not the "right kind" of person. They want dumb compliant people.

Sam Crow 4 years, 2 months ago

Reber, I was responding to the post by Coan where he specifically wrote "...advocating for unpopular causes..."

Of course, teachers or anyone else can participate in government. In fact, I encourage them to, if done appropriately, without repercussions. I also think at internal staff meetings it is great to challenge the staus quo.

Your comments regarding teaching science or sex is, in fact, imply advocating if it is not aligned with the curriculum that the district has chosen, and the method of teaching it.

Teachers are hired to teach with the assigned curriculum in a particular way. If they dont like it, they should leave.

David Reber 4 years, 2 months ago

"Advocating for unpopular causes...." might, in some communities, mean saying that interracial marriage is OK, or that atheists are people too, or that it's wrong to bully other kids because they're gay. In other communities, it might mean saying that YES, the 2nd amendment DOES protect the individual right to bear arms, and that concealed carry laws are a GOOD thing....

If you want teachers to challenge the status quo at board meetings and staff meetings, you'd better have due process protections in place for them. Otherwise, you're left with nothing but compliant sheep after everyone with a brain and a mouth has been fired.

Regardless of the published/required curriculum, you will find some backwards communities where the admin and/or school board doesn't want REAL science taught, nor do they want accurate and comprehensive sex education. Nor do they want diverse literature, arts, history...etc., taught. Anyone who strays beyond a flat, young earth full of god-fearing abstinent virgins might be out of a job.

Is that really what you want for Kansas' schools?

Larry Sturm 4 years, 2 months ago

This is not the way a democracy should work. A government should not run roughshod over the people it governs. What we have is a dictatorship. BROWNBACK AND THE REPUBLICAN LEGISLATURE ARE BAD FOR KANSAS.

Greg Cooper 4 years, 2 months ago

"Jonathan Goering, who teaches in Kansas City, Kan., said regardless of the outcome, his experience will make him a better teacher."

Yeah, Jonathan, it may make you a better teacher without a job when your "superiors" see that they can get rid of you simply for being at the statehouse and speaking/standing for the defeat of this bill.

Best of luck, guy. You, and all teachers with minds of their own, are in troouble.

4 years, 2 months ago

I would like to see teachers and students in the classroom discuss anything as long as it is done with the honest desire to learn and to communicate an opinion or idea. I think it would be interesting if, instead of changing the subject when a student says something controversial it is discussed because they might actually have a reason for what they think and believe.

Even if no one changes anyone's mind about anything, and that is okay, just having the discussion and knowing that all points of view are worth while is a win for all.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 4 years, 2 months ago

And setting the ground rules that they discuss with ideas and facts, and the teacher and other students point out what is an opinion and what is fact, so they learn the difference. And no drama queens or kings. Discuss like humans and not like online, anonymous trolls.

Sam Crow 4 years, 2 months ago

You both are referring to leading a discussion. Others on this thread wrote of advocating for unpopular causes. At least you realize the difference.
Of course, it must be age appropriate.

Seth Peterson 4 years, 2 months ago

Really? Because now those that do their job can be fired at someone else's whim for completely unrelated reasons. This hurts the good and qualified teachers far more than the bad teachers (who previously could be fired for being bad teachers).

David Reber 4 years, 2 months ago

(THEIR job).... And if there are teachers who remain employed without doing their jobs, you can bet there are administrators right above them who aren't doing THEIR jobs.

Due process allows the dismissal of teachers who aren't doing their job, or who for whatever other LEGITIMATE reasons should be dismissed.

Tenure also protects good teachers from being dismissed because they disagreed with the superintendent during a staff meeting, or because the board president wants to create a job opening for their nephew, or because they refuse to teach creationism, or because they're gay, or single and pregnant, or campaigning against incumbent board members, or refuse to give a passing grade to the star quarterback who should rightly fail, or complain about christmas trees in the school commons,....or because they can be replaced with a teacher half their age at half the salary.

Tenure doesn't protect bad teachers. It protects the good ones. That's why it existed in the first place, and that's also why the right-wing wants to get rid of it now. Good teachers are bad for plutocracy.

Phillip Chappuie 4 years, 2 months ago

Until a teacher does the right thing and flunks a star athlete and the boosters want to get rid of that teacher.

Until a teacher uses some material some parent my find objectionable and the board is pressured to remove that teacher.

The simple fact is that tenure protects these teachers from outside influences so they can conduct themselves in a manner conducive to helping kids learn. The scenario of dismissal potential is endless. And not if but when.

James Howlette 4 years, 2 months ago

I'm surprised nobody brought up the example of the teachers getting fired simply for being old and therefore expensive. They just saved a ton of money on those retirement incentive packages. Here's your retirement incentive: buh bye. Age discrimination is both illegal and very difficult to prove.

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