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Over the weekend, many teachers were talking on Facebook and Twitter about a photo that was being shared showing a New Jersey teacher, Melissa Tomlinson, being yelled at by New Jersey governor, Chris Christie at a campaign stop. Her crime? Asking a question about his view of New Jersey’s schools. I got a chance to speak with Ms. Tomlinson to get her take on the whole situation and why she chose to speak out.
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Melissa Tomlinson is a special education math teacher for a middle school in New Jersey. Education is a second career for her. She started teaching in New Jersey ten years ago after finishing her Masters in Special Education, and has taught the last five in her current district. Not only does she teach, but she also runs the after school program at her school. She is a very busy and dedicated teacher. Tomlinson decided to speak out after becoming more educated about the condition of public education in her state over the summer. She spoke with me about how teachers are being demonized and forced to take the blame for what is seen as the failure of public education in New Jersey. She pointed out that in reality, New Jersey’s public education system is not failing them. New Jersey's test scores are higher than most countries in the world and the third highest in the U.S. Sadly, this trend of blaming teachers is happening all over the country. Tomlinson has decided to speak out whenever she can and help the public become aware of this misperception and misplacement of blame.
Her choice to speak out led to a very public confrontation on Saturday, November 2nd at a Chris Christie campaign stop. The election for governor of New Jersey is Tuesday, November 5th, and Christie is doing a last minute tour of the state. Tomlinson went on her own, with a sign, to one of his stops to see what he had to say: "
"I wanted to take a chance to try and educate some people about the fact that Christie is blaming us when he is not providing financial support that our public schools need.”
As Christie and his wife headed to the bus, she asked him a question: “Why are you portraying our schools as failure factories?” The situation suddenly escalated, at least on Christie’s end. According to Tomlinson, he turned on her and told her the following: “Because they are. I am sick of you people. What do you want?” Her response: “More money for my students.” He threw out some figures he spent on education. She responded that with inflation, it is not as much as he thought. There were other factors she was ready to respond with, but she didn't have the chance. He abruptly stopped her and told her told her to "just do your job." With that, he boarded his bus and went to Atlantic City for another campaign stop. Tomlinson attempted to go to the next stop, but the road blocks were already up. Slate reporter Dave Weigel caught the confrontation on camera and tweeted it, and Tomlinson's confrontation with Christie went viral.
She has continued to express her concerns in an open letter to Governor Christie. In it, she lays out her whole argument and offers advice on what he can do to listen to teachers. A portion is offered below. You can read the whole letter here.
“We got into a small debate about how much money has been spent on education. Too me, there is never enough money that is spent on education. To invest in education is to invest in our future. We cannot keep short-changing our children and taking away opportunities for them to explore and learn. As more money is required for state-mandated curriculum changes and high-stakes standardized testing, it is our children that are losing. Programs are being cut all over the state as budget changes are forcing districts to cut music, art, after-school transportation, and youth-centered clubs.
But let's put money aside for a moment. What do I want? What do 'we people' want? We want to be allowed to teach. Do you know that the past two months has been spent of our time preparing and completing paperwork for the Student Growth Objectives? Assessments were created and administered to our students on material that we have not even taught yet. Can you imagine how that made us feel? The students felt like they were worthless for not having any clue how to complete the assessments. The teachers felt like horrible monsters for having to make the students endure this. How is that helping the development of a child? How will that help them see the value in their own self-worth. This futile exercise took time away from planning and preparing meaningful lessons as well as the time spent in class actually completing the assessments. The evaluations have no statistical worth and has even been recognized as such by the NJ Department of Education. I am all for evaluation of a teacher. I recognize that I should be held accountable for my job. This does not worry me, as long as I am evaluated on my methods of teaching. I can not be held wholly accountable for the learning growth of a student when I am not accountable for all of the factors that influence this growth. Are you aware that poverty is the biggest determination of a child's educational success. If not, I suggest you read Diane Ravitch's new book Reign of Error. Take a moment and become enlightened.”
So why does Melissa Tomlinson want people to know about this encounter? “I want people to be aware of how teachers are being attacked these days. I want them to know that teachers are not lazy, greedy people who are just standing in a classroom.” She spends between 50 to 60 hours a week in her classroom and in her building. Like most teachers, she also takes work home, adding even more hours to her job. “[/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type="1_1" background_position="left top" background_color="" border_size="" border_color="" border_style="solid" spacing="yes" background_image="" background_repeat="no-repeat" padding="" margin_top="0px" margin_bottom="0px" class="" id="" animation_type="" animation_speed="0.3" animation_direction="left" hide_on_mobile="no" center_content="no" min_height="none"][Christie] claims that all we want is more money for us. This is not about me. This is about our students and the students across the state.”
So in what ways can teachers help support the cause Tomlinson and others are fighting for? “The best way they can help is to become educated themselves about what different politicians are doing across the nation. And also about what the actual agendas of the companies who come in and take this resource of federal money out of the school system and put it in their pockets.” She hopes that more teachers speak out and make others listen.
It is advice we can all use.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]
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