Teachers Act Up!

Thoughts on Teaching, Language, and Social Change from Melisa "Misha" Cahnmann-Taylor

Dear Superintendents of the 26 Georgia Counties Who Decided that Teachers’ Pay Increases Should Be Based on Test Scores and Not on Advanced Degrees:


Let me introduce myself: I have been in the Department of Language and Literacy Education at the University of Georgia since 2001.   For over ten years I have been fortunate to work with numerous Georgia teachers from your districts and this year is no exception.  I am currently advising an incredibly bright educator from one of your districts who is in her first semester of the Educational Specialist (Ed.S.) degree  program in TESOL & World Language Education. She brought  distressing news yesterday. Her district will not acknowledge this degree  and she will likely drop out of the program. If my UGA courses were only filled with Georgia teachers, then I might soon be out of a job.

Though she is not an ESOL teacher, her elementary classroom is filled with over 60% of students for whom English is their second or additional language.  She came to our department and program to deepen her understanding of language arts and literacy instruction with English language learners.  She is to be commended for pursuing a degree that will require extensive reading, applied projects, research practice, personal time, and ultimately, curriculum modification.  Her degree program, if she is allowed to complete it, will ultimately help her  improve instruction, increase job satisfaction, and promote her own retention and professionalization in the field, allowing her to become a literacy leader in her classroom, school, and district–contexts that are increasingly multilingual and multicultural.

However, I have just learned that she may have to drop out of her degree program. Due to changes in your districts’ policies, she and her colleagues will no longer receive any compensation for advanced degrees (beyond a B.A. with certification), no matter how much it may help her to improve practice and enhance student achievement outcomes.  In a climate that does not reward the rigor and expense of her study, she feels she has no choice but to quit.  She is extremely disappointed.  I can imagine other young Georgia teachers who might desire to  enhance their understanding of practice and improve instruction, feeling trapped in a climate that uses test scores as the basis for advanced pay but discourages any further study to understand how tests and curriculum work, especially with the huge number of newcomers to our Georgia school districts.

Your teacher and I wondered: is this about finances–the district need to halt salary increases? Is this about politics? The district afraid of teachers who become advanced critical thinkers and ask questions about the testing climate that we find ourselves in and explore complimentary additions or alternatives? Is this about scandal–wanting to stem the tide of teachers pursuing “advanced degrees” from untrustworthy institutions (online or otherwise)? Is this about distrust and disappointment–believing that degrees even from recognized institutions such as UGA–have little effect on practice?

As a Professor who has worked intimately with so many Georgia pre- and in-service teachers (helping many of them to achieve their initial certification for your employ) and who hopes to continue various partnerships with your linguistically and culturally rich school systems,  I would like a better understanding.  What is the reason School Superintendents use to justify a policy that will ultimately discourage educators from pursuing advanced knowledge?

In speaking to one district’s administrative secretary by phone this morning, I heard an unusual name (I’ll call her “Brigitta” to maintain her anonymity)–so I asked: Are you German? Indeed, she is! She was an immigrant child when her family moved to our state from Europe.  However, her English is so proficient and Georgian, that I would not have known this unique history had her name not been an indication.  All Georgia students bring with them unique lingustic and cultural histories–English dialects and world languages, past and future tenses filled with diversity.  Present-day ESOL students add an opportunity for all Georgia students to increasingly recognize and build upon the languages and cultures around and within us and become advanced in world literacies–joining global markets with people who will often look, speak, and act differently from ourselves.  I believe Georgia teachers who are in our TESOL & World Language program take back a wealth of strategies to their classrooms,  strategies to  help ESOL students acquire English literacy as well as strategies for ALL students to acquire multicultural skill sets in regular education as well as foreign language classrooms, skill sets that are invaluable in today’s and tomorrow’s economy.

I am afraid these new county policies will have adverse effects–forcing teachers to choose between remaining stagnant in your districts or pursuing advanced degrees and seeking other districts/states for employment or other professions that will honor them.

What are the discussions on your end? Help me to understand your dissatisfaction or distrust.  I don’t think this is just because you want to empty my classrooms.  This will not be the case.  We have growing international enrollments from students from around the world who know the value of additional languages, language teaching pedagogies, and multiculturalism.  If your constituencies do wish colleges of education to retool and reform to your needs, what do you perceive those to be? Are you interested in knowing more about we have learned through our studies and collaborations world-wide?

We are very interested in a dialogue between Education Professors and Education Stakeholders–Superintendents, district and school administrators, teachers, staff, parents and children.  Let us imagine the future together, identifying the complex and varied literacy skills our students need to be able to successfully join international university classrooms and workplaces in our state.


Sincerely yours,

Dr. Melisa Cahnmann-Taylor

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