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Merit pay for teachers: Would a test score tell us more than a teddy bear?

I read a lot of education-related essays submitted to the AJC. Few make me tear up. This one by local first grade teacher Linda Ramsey did.

Enjoy and share. Ramsey directed her column at Georgia policymakers but it's worth everyone's time.

By Linda Ramsey

I am a teacher. I am committed to my students. I have spent more than 30 years teaching elementary children. While I am proud of helping children to read and write, I am most proud of becoming an important person in their lives. Students who return to school to hug me, thank me, or to say hello warm my heart. I have had previous students thank me for being nice, being strict, being easy, being hard, being creative, and being curriculum intense. I have had students thank me for just “being there” when they were having a tough time. I have never, ever had a student or parent thank me for any standardized test. I have cried at the deaths and funerals of three of my students. I have been to the funerals, memorial services, or visitations of at least 10 of my students who lost a parent or sibling. A few months ago I helped a child to understand what would happen at his father’s funeral the next day because his mom asked me to meet with him and answer his questions.

I have taught children who were in foster care and those who had been recently adopted. I have taught children who had been in our country for only two days before being dropped off at school to learn to speak English and acclimate to American ways. I have been hugged so tight I could hardly breathe by these children and their parents. They thanked me for “being there” when their lives were being tested but they did not once thank me for any test I ever administered.

Early in my teaching career, I had a student named Mary. She came from a large family and, while her parents were rich with love and support for their children, they had few possessions and sporadic employment. Mary spent two years in first grade, and at her mother’s request, both years in my class.  She matured and blossomed into a confident little girl who was ready for the next grade. I was invested in Mary. I intervened to get her placed with caring, dedicated, and strong academic teachers. I made sure she had a friend in her class. I checked in on her for the next four years.

Mary is now married with four children of her own and lives in Washington D.C.  She moves often because her husband is in the Army. Today she posted this picture on Facebook for me to see. It is a photo of her youngest son holding Mr. Bear.  She kept him for more than 20 years!  Her comment “I love that bear.  He means a lot to me” defines teaching for me.

Teaching is not just about test scores or standards. Teaching is about forming meaningful relationships and helping students develop confidence and security as learners. If we really want a community of life-long learners, we must change the directions of education. I am a teacher and I am saddened by the attack on teachers by the media, government officials, and those in the private sector.

This is a test. Are we going to pass the test and save public education for all students? Does anyone believe teachers are responsible for student poverty, malnutrition, parental involvement, regular school attendance, motivation, interest, self-control, attention, or natural ability? My effectiveness as a teacher is impacted directly or indirectly on these factors.

I ask that you commit to minimizing standardized tests, fairly compensate teachers for sharing their time and hearts with children, dictate that teacher prep periods be protected from administrators who want to use it for trainings and meetings, require systems to regularly purchase texts and materials, and eliminate the use of standardized tests to evaluate teacher effectiveness.

Remember Mrs. Ramsey, Mary and Mr. Bear. #evaluatethat



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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.