Lawmakers schooled by teachers on education reform
BY ANDREA EGER World Staff Writer
Thursday, January 24, 2013
1/24/13 at 8:24 AM
Shadowing public school teachers is giving local legislators an opportunity to contrast ideas that go into policy decisions against classroom realities.
"It is really important to see the effects of legislation that has been passed and to get feedback about what's working and what's not," said state Rep. Katie Henke, R-Tulsa. "You wouldn't build a building without an architect's input, so we should be talking to teachers about education reform."
Henke was one of a host of lawmakers participating in the Oklahoma Education Association's Giving Legislators an Education Experience Week, which runs through Friday.
Henke was only recently sworn in to represent Tulsa's District 71, but she's no stranger to classrooms, having taught previously at Tulsa's Little Light House, Undercroft Montessori and Riverfield Country Day School.
So when Eliot Elementary School's Internet and phone service went out and the co-teacher of her host, third-grade teacher Stefani Bartholomew, called in sick for the day, Henke didn't flinch.
She swooped in to read chapters of "Where the Red Fern Grows" and helped one class of students line up so another could be ushered into Bartholomew's class.
"Because she's been a teacher, she understands the difficulties today," a harried Bartholomew said, with a laugh. "At the same time, she taught in private schools, and I want her to see our diversity and the real needs of public schools."
Bartholomew said she was eager to impress upon Henke the need for greater flexibility within state laws and regulations.
"I have math books stacked to the ceiling because the Legislature mandated one textbook for every student, but I don't need a book per pupil," she said. "I use software on the Smart Board, handouts and chart paper - things that are more interactive because that's what my students need.
"If they had asked for more teacher input - I think that's what's most important."
Lynn Stockley, president of the Tulsa Classroom Teachers Association, an OEA affiliate, said she hopes the shadowing days will help legislators create relationships with teachers.
"We just really want them to see what a teacher does, what her experience is for the school day," she said. "Doing playground duty, seeing breakfast served in the classroom, it just gives them a different reality check. Just because you went to school once doesn't mean things are that way anymore."
Henke was curious about the impact of the state's standardized testing requirements, which she said are disruptive and expensive and have narrowed the breadth of what students are learning.
"I want to minimize the time standardized testing occupies in the classroom," she said. "You lose a lot of individualization and creativity when you're concentrating on that, and we need to be creating lifelong learners and productive members of society. We need to be developing the whole child, and that includes critical thinking and group learning and participation."
She added, "We absolutely need accountability, but mandates, testing - all of these things are only as good as their implementation."
Other local legislators who will shadow educators this week are state Reps. Weldon Watson, Kevin Matthews, Dan Kirby, Seneca Scott and Jeannie McDaniel and state Sen. Jabar Shumate.
State Rep. Eric Proctor, D-Tulsa, is a former teacher who spent most of Wednesday shadowing a teacher at Bell Elementary School, which is in his District 77.
"I'm excited legislators are having an opportunity to visit with kids and see what educators go through," he said. "A lot of educators say education is the most important issue, but when it comes down to it, they're nowhere to be found. It's something I wish every legislator would do."
Original Print Headline: Lawmaker receives lesson in classroom
Andrea Eger 918-581-8470
State Rep. Katie Henke leans forward to hear a question from third-grader Jacob McElroy at Eliot Elementary School in Tulsa. Lawmakers are shadowing teachers as part of OEA's Giving Legislators an Educational Experience Week. JOHN CLANTON/Tulsa World
State Rep. Katie Henke, R-Tulsa, stands in line with third-grade students (from left) Jacob Mc- Elroy, Damian Munoz, Charlie Nickel and Bam Greyson as they line up to go to another classroom at Eliot Elementary School. JOHN CLANTON/Tulsa World
Carson Brett (in pink) and her third-grade classmates listen as state Rep. Katie Henke reads to them at Eliot Elementary School. JOHN CLANTON/Tulsa World