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Teaching excellence should be celebrated

My 10 years as a high school English teacher at Volcano Vista in Albuquerque were awesome. I love the art of teaching, the science of teaching and the joys of teaching. My students’ learning came first, which is at the heart of why I love our profession – making an impact on kids’ lives.

Yet, in my career in APS, I was always struck by how my student achievement growth wasn’t acknowledged or rewarded by my school or district. I was treated the same as every other teacher – as if every teacher delivers at the exact same level for kids. It didn’t matter that my students grew almost two years academically in one school year. … This has been the nature of our profession for much of the past century.

And somehow the National Education Association of New Mexico has decided that teachers like me should be denied the opportunity of an Exemplary Teaching Award. NEA is supposed to represent teachers like me – or at least ask me what I think of the idea. They don’t, and they haven’t.

It’s not that NEA-NM doesn’t have some good ideas. Both housing and child care support would have been helpful as a single mom juggling my early teaching career. Districts such as Gallup already offer some housing opportunities – although not at the exclusion of retention awards.

The PED already funds Educators Rising annually to aid in the “Grow Your Own” approach. Wouldn’t it be nice to tell future educators that improving student achievement is their (top) responsibility, and there are meaningful career and compensation opportunities for those who do?

Since the NEA has been in existence since around statehood, it stands to reason they have collected evidence on what works in New Mexico. Instead, they’ve become focused on criticizing others’ ideas. During the session they kill good pieces of legislation on a daily basis…

And yet, somehow, they purport to represent me as a teacher.

As one of New Mexico’s teacher liaisons, I’ve had the privilege of helping select some of the state’s strongest teachers for the highest honors. We selected the 2018 New Mexico Teacher of the Year Ivonne Orozco last fall based largely on merit. Her courage and entrepreneurial spirit inspired us, but her academic results were front-and-center.

Melanie Alfaro, an outstanding sixth-grade teacher in Deming, was nominated by our team as well. She received a $25,000 award and a surprise rally at her school. The main reason she was selected: merit. The reaction of her fellow teachers at her school was pure celebration.

This is exactly the type of recognition that our profession needs. … It didn’t create any divisiveness. In fact, it elevated the profession.

The truth is that Melanie would not have been selected without a meaningful teacher evaluation system, without truly demonstrating that she is one of the state’s best teachers. The same holds true for Ivonne. Let someone stand up and say that this recognition and reward should be taken away from them. That’s essentially what NEA-NM is saying.

… No one has a monopoly on how teachers feel or what teachers want. A multi-pronged option approach is necessary. This session at the Roundhouse, joint House/Senate education committees heard from dozens of teachers throughout the state… Some teachers supported the Exemplary Teaching Awards; some didn’t.

Further, let us respect teachers enough to acknowledge their ability to celebrate one another’s success and find ways to learn from one another in the betterment of this craft that we love. Excellence in teaching is something we should honor and reward – hundreds of teachers that I now work alongside of every day deserve it.

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