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Friday, February 3, 2012

A Teacher's Letter to Congress

My name is Jason Roy McKinney. I teach at Los Lunas Middle School.  I am a 7th & 8th grade science teacher and this is my 11th year teaching middle school science.  I love my job!  I love the opportunity to help students recognize the wonders of the world as well as their own significance within the world.  I do not believe in complaining.  I do however believe in always striving to improve the system that drives the framework for my expected success and in this case it is the United States education system.   
       Budget cuts are always a cause for discussion and I am not disillusioned to think my school is the only school with significant budget cuts.  As a civil servant I am willing to find a way to teach my students with only 1 box of paper, allotted to me for my daily 160 students, for the entire school year.  I will consider it a step towards becoming more "green".  I can figure out a way to run my classroom without tape or paperclips because the school cannot afford to provide any.  Those 'cracks' in the educational budget can be smoothed over.  However, there are some recent shifts in the foundation of education that I believe are true causes for concern. 
       President Obama has consistently stated that he wants to advance student proficiency in both math and science.  What have I seen in my classroom to help further that vision?  I have seen my class sizes swell to a point where no class has less than 31 students in it. 
       This large quantity of students could be overcome successfully if enough tools and supplies were available.  Unfortunately however the increase of student numbers has occurred with a simultaneous reduction of ANY funds to provide materials for these future scientists, inventors, and mathematicians.  There is a chemical shower in my room that now acts as a place to hang posters because there are no chemicals.  No chemicals can be obtained because there is no budget for such items.  Even "household" chemicals cost money.  On my salary I cannot afford to buy household materials for 160 students for every lab that is needed to be conducted. 
       Now, I DO see a lot of money being put into education.  I see companies being paid very large amounts of money to come in and train us on how to best assess our students.  I see lots of money being spent on new textbooks.  Textbooks are nice but if I had to choose between lab materials and books (especially with the internet available) I would choose lab materials.  I would choose the tool that would best allow the students to practice what President Obama wants young Americans to be able to do.  He wants them to be able to reason through a problem, test for a solution, and think critically for themselves.  In science this CANNOT be done with a textbook, 30 plus students in a class room, and nothing else.  I challenge anyone who says it can be done to visit my school and show me how.
                 This brings me to the last defect in the foundation of education.  Educators and pediatricians are given arguably the most important resource of our nation to cultivate and care for, children.  Doctors are required to attend  professional conferences in order to stay current on the latest innovative techniques and information.  This makes sense.  Science teachers might also be sent to conferences but they are NOT conferences on how to teach science and interesting ways to engage students.  They are conferences on how to make tests and then analyze those same tests that were made.  In my 11 years  of science education I have NEVER worked at a school that has had a budget to allow ANY science teacher to be sent  to the NSTA annual conference.   I have gone as far as applying for grants so I could attend but have never been granted one for that particular purpose. 
                There is something fundamentally unsupportive about this current system.  I accept the challenge to increase the science  proficiency for ALL of my students.  However, I KNOW that increasing class sizes, having no budget, and training in the wrong areas is not the way to get there.  I am doing my part, please do yours!


             Jason R. McKinney 

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