By Melissa Katz
My name is Melissa Katz and I am 18 years old. I am a freshman at The College of New Jersey studying urban education. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been asked, “Why do you want to go into education? Why do you want to be a teacher? Don’t you know how much more money you could be making in another profession?”
The answer to all of these questions is simple: I have an undeniable belief in and love for our public schools, because public education is the great equalizer among us.
As an urban education major, many people have asked me about my plans for joining Teach for America (TFA), and my answer is always the same – I will never join Teach for America because it is fundamentally flawed in its ideals. Imagine your teachers – those who have dedicated their lives to children, to the profession, and to educating the next generation of thinkers and creators –replaced by someone with only five weeks of training, and who is only obligated to stay for two years. Teach for America brings in some of the most inexperienced teachers and puts them into low-income schools and communities, the same places that need the most experienced and dedicated teachers.
They will never understand that these are the community’s schools, the livelihood of the community. Our schools are places where real learning happens. Our schools are places where students get involved in all different activities that they are interested in – student council to develop leadership skills; mock trial to develop both leadership and debate skills; and art and music clubs to develop and express creativity. There was nothing like going to art club after school and being surrounded by amazing teachers and incredibly talented students all sharing their love for art. Art club may have not prepared me to be “college and career ready”, but it prepared me for life. Creativity, original thinking, and leadership skills – I promise you that none of these will ever be found on a standardized test. But I can also promise you that these skills will better prepare me for my future than anything I can do on a Scantron.
We are up against a lot locally, statewide, and nationwide. Between CCSS, PARCC, unfunded mandates and budget cuts, increased standardized testing, the new teacher evaluation system, and everything else that impacts education today, the list is endless. Despite all of this, I want to make a few things clear:
My teachers are not common. They are one-of-a-kind educators who put their all into making sure that their students experience true learning. My teachers went above and beyond for me – they stayed after class and talked with me about anything and everything, from politics and English to my worries and life questions. My teachers answered my emails after midnight without question if I was concerned about something. They provided me with support and guidance when I felt lost or worried. My teachers not only taught me in the classroom but they taught me about the bigger picture and the world as a whole. My teachers played a huge role in shaping me into the person I am today – they developed personal relationships with me. And I can guarantee you that none these things will be found in a teacher evaluation or on any standardized test.
I am not common. I am a creative person who loves expressing myself through art and writing, which was instilled in me by my art and English teachers. I am an original thinker who takes the initiative to do independent research and studying outside of the classroom, which was instilled in me by my parents and my teachers. I am not afraid of failure because my parents and teachers taught me that I could learn, grow, and become a better person through my struggles and setbacks. And once again I can guarantee you that none these things will be found on any standardized test.
I read an article by Allan Golston on the Bill and Melinda Gates website in which he stated “businesses are the primary consumers of the output of our schools today.” I take many issues with this article and his statement. First of all, I am not an ‘output;’ I am a person with thoughts and dreams and goals, and I can promise you that my goal is not to work for a giant money-making corporation like the ones trying to take over education today by making money off of student’s backs. I didn’t love school because I cared about what big business I would end up working for – I loved school because I LOVE learning more than words can express. I loved school because it allowed me to go to a place where I could be among professionals who are experts in their field teaching me all that they know. I loved school because my teachers helped me discover my passion for education, the news, and journalism. I loved school because I could explore, discover, and express my creativity.
I’m only 18, and because of that, I was always under the impression that I am ‘only a student.’ But I am not just a student – I’m a person with a voice. I’m a member of this state and these communities. I am a product of our schools that taught me how to think, not how to fill in a bubble on a standardized test. I stand behind our schools. I stand behind our educators. I stand behind our communities. And I stand in front of you to tell you that I will do whatever it takes to protect my schools for corporate takeover in any shape or form.
Stop closing neighborhood schools. Stop attacking and scapegoating our educators. Stop the high-stakes testing madness. And fully fund our schools according to the law.
Let’s stand FOR our children, FOR our democracy, FOR great schools, FOR our dedicated teachers, and FOR local control.
Ms. Katz delivered a shortened version of these remarks as a speaker at the March 27 Trenton rally in support of public education. She can be reached at email@example.com.