Policymakers hear concerns from classroom teachers


Utah Classroom Realities: The Teacher’s Perspective

Do policymakers really know what’s happening in our schools?

In an effort to inform those who make education policy decisions, the UEA invited legislators, superintendents, school board members and state administrators to hear from teachers. About 50 policymakers gathered at the UEA Office Dec. 16 where eight accomplished Utah teachers shared their experiences and explained how their policies impact classrooms (view teacher panelist profiles).

UEA President Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh introduced the program by recapping a few things that have happened in the past few months.

“We recognize that we have a responsibility to ensure that we have a high quality teacher in every classroom, and so the UEA has contributed approximately three-quarters of a million dollars to support the efforts around teacher evaluation,” she said. She also discussed the UEA’s support for 2012’s Senate Bill 64 that ties successful evaluations to teacher pay and recommendations for improving teaching quality made by the UEA Educational Excellence Task Force.

Teachers then responded to prepared questions before taking questions from the attending policymakers.

Asked how the Utah Core Standards impact students and teachers, Barbera Whitman said she supports the Core Standards, but needs more time to implement them. “My students need rigor, they need to collaborate, I love those things. But I can’t do all of that and deep thinking in 10 minutes. It takes time. That is my battle as a teacher every day – to decide if I move on and teach shallow, or do we go deeper.”

“You’ll hear us ask for time,” explained Dan Rozanas. “More time doesn’t mean more school time or longer school days. The data doesn’t support longer school days or hours. With extra time, teachers have time to look at data, to create better lesson plans, to use technology, for professional development opportunities.”

When asked about her biggest concerns as an educator, Laura Wheeler said, “One of the things we learn as teachers, is to be effective…you have to teach the whole child, their mind, their body and their spirit….Because our class sizes are so large, it’s tough to give those kids the individual attention they need.”

“Also, all the auxiliary people that have important jobs that support us in the classroom – the school counselors, the school nurses, the librarians – they’re not there anymore to back us up and help meet the needs of those whole children,” she said.

“What our teachers need first and foremost are fewer students in their classrooms, because as we know, education is not one size fits all,” agreed Anna Williams. “And with the changing demographic we’re seeing in Utah, our learners are bringing a variety of learning styles and learning needs to our classrooms, and we need to meet the needs of a diverse learning population. We need smaller class sizes so that we can spend time with students one on one, differentiate our instruction, and give every student exactly what he or she needs.”

“I love technology in my classroom,” said Denise Ulrich responding to a question about using technology to alleviate class-size problems. “I find it to be a great tool for individualizing instruction. It can enhance, it can supplement, however, it cannot replace teacher knowledge about the individual learners in their classroom.” She shared examples of sitting down with advanced students and designing individualized projects and with struggling students to determine what type of computer-based instruction is appropriate for their situation.

“If I had 50 students in my class, the effectiveness of the computer learning experience is going to decrease significantly because I will not have the time and means to select effective and appropriate practice for them,” explained Ulrich. “We would do our kids a great disservice to assume that a computer can teach them and direct them to the kinds of things that will help them reach their full potential.”

“I hope you trust us as educators,” said Jennifer Graviet. “A lot of times education will be compared to business. I don’t understand the business world, but I don’t pretend to. I would never assume you should run a business the way you would run a school. In business, you’re dealing with winners and losers. In education, we’re not dealing with losers. We want everyone to win. So I guess I would just ask every single one of you that anytime you make a decision that impacts education, ask yourself ‘how is this going to help kids?’”

Responding to a question from the audience about the role of public education, Curtis Benjamin said, “The Core Curriculum talks about getting kids career and college ready, It’s missing a “C” – citizenship.” Students need to learn how to be citizens and how to talk about issues they have not yet confronted, he said.

Teacher Panel Participants

Curtis Benjamin worked 23 years with students in the classroom before taking a position this year as UniServ Director to help teachers. He taught 11th- and 12th-grade English at Richfield High School in Sevier School District.

Beyond the classroom, Benjamin coached cross country, track, speech and debate, resulting in several Region and State championship trophies. A runner himself, he has participated in several marathons, including Boston.

A BYU graduate in history and English, Benjamin also has a Master’s in Education with emphasis in Language Arts and successfully defended his doctoral dissertation in Curriculum, Leadership and Instruction last August.

In addition to his extracurricular assignments during the school year, Benjamin fought fires in the summers to make ends meet. A lover of literature, writing, film, history and politics and without a captive audience of students now, he may engage you in a discussion about Romantic poetry or the next election—and certainly education policy.

Jennifer Graviet has been teaching English and creative writing at Sand Ridge Junior High School in Weber School District for more than 20 years. She’s been instrumental in creating school-wide programs including a mentoring program, a transitioning program for incoming seventh graders and an informational text reading program.

Along with teaching, Graviet has been a coach, a student government advisor, leader of the School Improvement Team, chair of the Accreditation Team and department head. She has served on panel discussions for the state, was a member of the Utah Educational Excellence Task Force, and is currently co-chairing the National Education Association’s Teacher Leader Initiative for Utah.

Graviet’s teaching awards include 2013 Weber School District Teacher of the Year, second runner-up for 2013 Utah Teacher of the Year, 2014 California Casualty Award for Teaching Excellence, Alpha Delta Kappa’s Utah Excellence in Education Award, and Alpha Delta Kappa’s Southwest Regional Excellence in Education Award.

Dan Rozanas is a social studies teacher at Alta High School in the Canyons School District. For more than 20 years he has been actively involved in both his own education and in improving education for all students at the classroom, school, district and state levels.

Rozanas earned a master’s degree in Clinical and Health Psychology and has successfully taught psychology, philosophy and history during his high school career. He has served as an AP reader and table leader, worked for ETS in test development and has co-organized a professional conference for Utah psychology teachers for more than 10 years.

Rozanas has been a part of many committees through his school, district and local teachers association, serving in a variety of roles including teacher mentor, building leadership team member and executive board member. As a member of the Utah Education Excellence Task Force, Rozanas also helped draft a teacher-led vision for Utah teaching excellence.

Jennifer Tanner is a special education teacher with more than 15 years’ experience teaching secondary students with mild to moderate learning disabilities and behavior disorders. She currently teaches reading and English at Woods Cross High School in Davis County School District. She has also had junior high school and Title I teaching experience.

Tanner has a Bachelor’s degree in Theatre and Music and in Special Education and is just finishing a Master's Degree in Teaching and Learning. She has an English as a Second Language endorsement and has met the requirements to be highly qualified to teach English, math, science and history in her field.

Tanner currently serves in her school as a department chair, National Honor Society advisor, link crew mentor and member of the school data and assessment team.

Denise Ulrich has served in Utah’s public schools for 12 years and currently teaches second grade at Foxboro Elementary in Davis School District. After graduating with honors from Weber State University, she spent three years teaching second grade before working as a reading specialist and instructional coach.

While earning reading endorsements, Ulrich’s passion for teaching drew her back to the classroom where she has been for the last six years. Since returning to the classroom, Ulrich has been involved in her school’s Joint Staff School Committee and School Community Council.

Ulrich has recently been a leader in her district in developing engaging resources for the language arts core curriculum. On her grade level team, Ulrich facilitates collaboration across the curriculum and helps maintain a positive morale among her colleagues. She also helped develop policy recommendations regarding teaching quality and effectiveness by serving as a member of the Utah Education Excellence Task Force.

Laura Wheeler has been an educator in the Salt Lake City School District for 34 years. She graduated from the University of Utah with a Bachelor’s degree in Education with dual certification in Early Childhood and Elementary Education. She also has a Master’s of Education degree in Curriculum and Instruction.

Wheeler is the 2002-03 Sugar House Kiwanis Distinguished Teacher, the 2005 Salt Lake City Kiwanis Club Teacher of the Year and the 2008 Salt Lake City School District Teacher of the Year. She currently is a consulting teacher for the Salt Lake City School District Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) program.

PAR is a joint collaboration between the Salt Lake City School District and the Salt Lake Teachers Association focused on improving the quality of teachers in Salt Lake City. PAR promotes effective instruction by providing guidance and support to novice (beginning) teachers and veteran teachers who are deemed to be minimally or not effective.

Barbera Whitman has been teaching for 13 years and currently teaches at Roy High School in Weber School Districts. She teaches 10th grade regular education and special education math classes.

Before moving to teach high school four years ago, Whitman taught all elementary grades (K-6). She also taught for five years in a mild/moderate behavior unit. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice with and emphasis in corrections and worked in the juvenile justice system for many years before earning her teaching credentials from Utah State University. She is working on a Master’s degree in Special Education.

Whitman currently serves as the Weber Education Association President and has served on the UEA Board of Directors as the Ethnic Minority Director.

Anna Williams is an instructional coach for the Park City School District, working with Spanish Dual-Immersion teachers as well as provisional teachers in Park City. She facilitates professional development statewide to enhance instructional practices for English language learners.

Williams is Park City School District’s 2010 Teacher of the Year and received a 2012 Excellence in Teaching Award from the Utah Education Association. She also chaired the Utah Education Excellence Task Force, which developed a series of policy recommendations regarding teaching quality and effectiveness.

Her teaching career began in California where Williams taught English as a Second Language. She went on to teach English and Spanish at both the high school and community college levels in California, Mississippi and Texas. She has an undergraduate degree from the University of San Diego and a master’s degree from Boston College.

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