Last year on Presidents’ Day, thousands of Idahoans in more than a dozen communities protested the education reforms that were making their way through the Idaho Legislature. Educators, parents, students and business owners spoke out against how State Superintendent Tom Luna did not involve Idahoans in his scheme.
It’s a year later. Luna’s reforms are law, but they are subject to a vote of the people this November 6. This Presidents’ Day, educators and public school allies statewide met again to talk about the current and coming impacts of the laws and mobilize for “No” votes on Propositions 1, 2, and 3 in November. Meetings were held in Boise, Idaho Falls, Lewiston, Pocatello, and Twin Falls; the Payette Education Association planned one for Tuesday, February 21.
Several dozen people attended a meeting at Boise High School sponsored by the Boise Education Association and Meridian Education Association. People were invited to briefly share stories of how the new education laws have affected their students and their lives. Several teachers new to the profession spoke about feeling insecure in their jobs. Wade Anderson, a math teacher at Borah High School, said he entered teaching after military service and a layoff from Micron. “I was told in almost all cases 'You are making a big mistake,'” he said. “But I did it anyway. I want to make a difference.” He said he got lots of training in his previous jobs and would like more mentoring and training as a teacher.
Yet many veteran teachers who serve as mentors are demoralized and close to leaving their jobs — and not necessarily for a more secure field. Shannon Decker, a teacher at Ponderosa Elementary in Meridian, reported that a colleague plans to leave education for real estate. “The sages and mentors have had it. They're leaving,” said Donnette Thaemert, a Spanish teacher at Longfellow Elementary International Focus School. She noted that the new laws don't respect children's learning differences and decrease the amount of individual support they receive. Meridian speech language pathologist Tonie Bzdell described how she has lost five colleagues and deals with crushing loads of paperwork and technology snafus that have her working 14-hour days and weekends.
“We know as a reult of last year's laws class sizes have grown,” said Idaho Education Association Executive Director Robin Nettinga. She referenced the recent report showing that nearly 1,300 people left the teaching profession in Idaho last year, more than half of them for personal reasons. And as people have left, many jobs are going unfilled.
Most speakers noted that, in one way or another, politicians do not understand what's needed in Idaho schools. “Why are they so concerned with our bargaining rights when we have classrooms with eight or nine different languages being spoken?” asked Nicole Perry, a teacher at Collister Elementary School in Boise, which serves many refugee children. “I don't understand. There's no reality.” Sam Perez, an English Language Learners consultant in Meridian, echoed the call for more attention to the growing diversity in Idaho's classrooms, where the needs of many students are being ignored. “You can spend money proactively to teach all students or spend the money in court,” he said. Boise High teacher-librarian Pat St. Tourangeau pointed to the broadband capabilities of the Idaho Education Network and said the IEN should be maximized to help outstanding Idaho teachers deliver classes statewide, rather than have students take online courses from for-profit vendors.