Editor's note: Larry Lee is an Alabama writer with a keen and passionate interest in public education. We are also pleased that he is an Advocate of the Rural Schools Collaborative. Larry recently asked Jennifer Brown, the 2015-2016 Alabama Teacher of the Year, to respond on recent state policy decisions impacting public education. That interview is below. You can read more of Larry's writings at his blog, Education is Everyone's Business.
By Larry Lee
Spend a few minutes with Jennifer Brown and one thing is readily apparent–her days in the classroom at Vestavia Hills high school are not about a job, they are about a passion.
“I am passionate about student achievement, because I believe that all students can succeed.” she says. No doubt the passion she brings to her science classes is one reason she was chosen as Alabama’s Teacher of the Year for 2015-16.
However, her career path was headed toward nursing, not education, as an undergrad at UAB. But this changed when she was asked to help coach the softball team at Pleasant Grove high school, her alma mater.
“Before the first practice ended I discovered that I loved teaching the game of softball,” she recalls. She soon switched her major to Secondary Science Education and is now in her 17th year in the classroom.
Today a lot of Brown’s passion is directed at the proposed RAISE Act which she believes will only have detrimental effects on student learning.
We asked Brown about her feelings about this legislation.
With this act, teachers would choose either a tenure track or a performance track. Which would she pick?
My 10th grade science students take the ACT PLAN test which measures science reasoning, critical thinking and college readiness. There is no ACT/ASPIRE test for the 9th grade. So someone will have to create a test for them to take JUST so I can earn my performance pay.
The conundrum I have is that regardless of which track I choose my students will still have to take this performance pay test. (It will probably be called an achievement test, but it’s not.)
After 17 years of teaching, I only gain $1,941 in step raises according to my current salary schedule. I wanted to pursue a doctorate in education, but under RAISE it would just be a waste of money and time. Most importantly, I do not want to waste class time preparing students for a test that has no value to them.
The ACT tests have value, but they only test math, English/reading and science and are only given in grades 3-8, 10-11. I will always oppose tying test scores to teacher pay– no matter what test is used.
So I will pass on the performance pay track. Not because I care about tenure, but because my students are not dollar signs to me. They are precious human beings who mean so much more than the score on a test.
Are you concerned that educators were not asked for input on this bill?
I am very disappointed because to make improvements in education, we should work together. Educators truly want to strengthen the profession, but do not have a seat at the table.
To me this is the over-riding issue.
Do you think education is a profession and that you are a professional?
Certainly. Maybe I am lucky because I do feel valued by my community. I’ve had some success in the classroom and a lot of support.
What do your fellow educators think about RAISE?
I have talked to dozens of teachers and only one thought it might be a good idea.
I know of no educator who is more dedicated than Jennifer Brown. She is truly an inspiration. And it is unfortunate that she is having to defend her profession and speak out for her students simply because some non-educators think they know more than she does.