Saturday, May 30, 2015

Brilliant Speech by Music Teacher Alec Shantzis to New Jersey Department of Education

Good evening and thank you for this opportunity to speak. My name is Alec Shantzis. I have taught music in Cliffside Park for 12 years and been a Cliffside Park resident for 23 years. I am secretary of the Cliffside Park Education Association, a position I have held for 5 years. I am also a single parent raising three children by myself. My youngest son attends this school, Bergen Tech. I am also an Emmy award-winning musician. As a music teacher I have had the privilege of instructing over 2,000 students that are currently enrolled in my district and thousands of other students in the past 12 years. These remarkable young people are not just my students; they are the friends of my children and the children of my friends. I have not only taught them, but I have put band aids on scraped knees and mourned the passing of loved ones in my community, most recently Mayor Calabrese. Whose grandchildren I taught and whose family I consider among my friends. You would be hard pressed to find a teacher that cares about the students and people of a district any more than I do.

When Governor Christie took office, NJ had one of the highest achieving educational systems in the country. Immediately upon his election, Governor Christie began to defund schools, institute reforms and attack the reputation of teachers. These actions are not just our Governor being his usual genteel, caring self, they are part of a coordinated national takeover of the public education system in order to profit from it. New Jersey is only one cog in a much larger wheel of greed and profit-taking led by the AmericanLegislativeExchangeCouncil (ALEC), the Gates foundation, The Walton’s, Pearson and other billionaire campaign donors and falsely altruistic foundations that comprise a quorum of the sociopathic elite.

By over testing, over test prepping and mandating “reforms”, we are depriving a generation of young people of a proper education. Worse yet, by forcing a curriculum that was not designed by career educators, but by business people, by using poorly constructed tests that were designed with profit and privatization as a main goal, and not true assessment. We are creating students that hate school and creating tens of thousands of heavily stressed teachers nationwide. This is a horrible tragedy. Assessments are a tool for teaching, not for gathering data as a weapon against teachers or a tool to dismantle hurdles in the way of profit. Education should be filled with activities that nurture student creativity, that create a lifetime love of learning, activities that build self esteem and give students a physical outlet.

Since I teach such a large number of students, I have a unique overview of student behavior and attitude. I have seen is a rise of stress in students, a rise of misbehavior, a growing lack of interest in school and loss of respect for school and schoolwork. How can a student respect a school that in effect disrespects them, wasting their childhood wonder, turning it empty and cold? How can we ask teachers to say, “this test is important and meaningful and you should take it seriously” when we ourselves do not believe it? By tying evaluations to test scores, then tying evaluations to job security, underfunding schools, forcing millions of dollars in hidden costs as unfunded mandates onto districts (such as bandwidth, laptops, tech staff, evaluators, evaluative systems, and training sessions…) by reducing benefits, forcing payins into benefits, increasing meaningless paperwork for teachers and administrators alike, we have created a pressure cooker that is not only not in the best interest of our students or our teachers, it is doing horrible damage.

We have seen a mass exodus of the most experienced teachers because they will not bear witness to the destruction they see all around them. Teachers with 30 plus years of service forced to submit to punitive evaluations sometimes in the hands of brand new supervisors half their age that approach their new position as if there is a majority of teachers that are ineffective. “If the only tool you are given is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” and teachers are getting hammered. Now that the state has “shed” all its senior educators, our work force is young, less expensive, and living in fear. These young educators carry huge amounts of student loan debt and are questioning if they made the right decision. This is not the teaching they saw as children and aspired to grow up to be. It is, for many young teachers a sickening realization. There are so many facets to this issue that I do not have time to cover or even skim over. If time allowed, I would discuss charters and the investment opportunities they present which are the real reason so many Governors are pushing them and lifting caps on Charter schools. But, I must save that for another time.

I finish my testimony by saying; Pearson is no friend to education. PARCC is a mistake. Common Core is a mistake. To think that “the answer” is to have all students nationally adhere to the same curriculum, and a poorly written one at that (especially in the lower grades) is a huge mistake. I urge you each to consider our commitment to the lives of these young people. The ruse of the terms “college and career ready”, “21st century education”, “increased rigor” and other reform lingo is just meaningless chatter. We owe our young people joy in learning, we owe them a place to explore the wonder of learning, and we owe them a chance to enjoy the strong points of each of their different teachers. A cookie cutter, Walmart-ized approach to education is tragically flawed. These tests are wrong. These reforms are wrong. Making decisions about education without teacher input is flawed and unethical.

With that I say. I am happy to meet with any of you to discuss these matters in more depth. I thank you for your time and attention.


Pablo Casa said...

Great piece Alec! Kudos to you and thank you.

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