Here is the letter I sent to FLDOE and district leadership regarding the chastising email sent to Polk County teachers threatening their jobs if they took their approved personal days to attend the Rally on Monday 1/13/2020 to make their voice heard the day before the legislative session begins on 1/14/2020.
In education, we are often faced with teachable moments–the term we use for opportunities that present themselves for us to truly teach our student a valuable lesson that, we hope, will have a lasting impression. This rarely comes from a planned lesson. More often than not, it comes from an interaction while passing in the hallway, during a lesson that has gone completely awry. This could be on a perfectly good day, or on a day when we are trying to recover the point of learning when the internet is down, the copier is awaiting a repair man and we spilled our morning coffee down our shirt when we were already running late after being up all night caring for a sick child or loved one. How we respond defines us as a person, a leader, and a teacher. And it doesn’t require one to be in a classroom to be defined by a teachable moment.
My husband and I are both military veterans and former Polk county public school teachers that left for health reasons–the demands of the classroom were negatively impacting us that severely. We are both a product of Florida schools through our college degrees. Our children are both in Florida schools–one a 3rd grader and the other a senior in college. I now teach from home for another Florida school. Teaching is not standing in front of compliant and obedient kids delivering a rehearsed lesson on a standard, giving an assignment and grading it. Teaching is a skill set that requires reading students carefully, finding their strengths and weaknesses and finding a way to meet somewhere between what they need where they are and what the state or district demands they achieve, even if they are miles apart. In essence, without legal requirement, we create an Individual Education Plan for every child that enters our room, even when those numbers in one school year are 150 students or more. And, if we do it well, students from prior years come back for help.
I recall hearing about the Rally in Tally as early as last summer. That means that Polk County Schools and the State of Florida have had several months to prepare for this date. They could have met and changed the calendar to make this a teacher work day. It could have been a staff/student holiday. The legislative session that was scheduled, and the prompting catalyst for this date could have been set for a week later when educators would be off the day prior for a holiday and could be present without any impact to their jobs in any way. But none of these things were done. This is not a teacher problem, this is a leadership problem.
Teachers that followed the protocol of applying for a personal day and had it approved are being threatened in an email sent out after work hours on Friday night regarding an absence for Monday as a result of a lack of coverage by the district. This is not a teacher problem, this is a leadership problem.
So, this is your moment. You are the leader. This will define you. This event will make your mark on history. Will you support your educators on the front line, teaching children that disrespect them because they see leadership disrespecting them, not supporting their efforts in the classroom, providing support services for those children, adequate resources to teach with, sufficient time to meet the required content, and appropriate compensation for their efforts in relation to the years they have committed? Or will you continue to blame them for their circumstances and use fear to control them?
What kind of leader will you be? I pray it is the kind that stands in solidarity with teachers, works to solve the problem instead of finding blame, and supports educators being present for decisions being made that impact them.
Sonya Barnes Veteran, Educator, Parent, Advocate