MAXWELL:  Center for teachers inspires and enriches

7/11/2001 – Printed in the EDITORIAL section of the St Petersburg Times Newspaper


Like many other Florida residents who support our public schools and real learning, I am disappointed that Gov. Jeb Bush vetoed the $275,000 allocation for the Florida Center for Teachers.

The center, under the auspices of the Florida Humanities Council, holds seminars for the state’s most outstanding teachers. Myopic and arrogant, Bush has no good reason to take away the funding.

His apparent reason for slashing the center’s $275,000 was echoed by Florida TaxWatch President Dominic Calabro. “A lot of programs are well intended,” Calabro said in the St. Petersburg Times, “but the question is: “Is this likely to drive substantial improvements in the academic achievement of our kids?’ ”

Substantial improvements in the academic achievement of our kids? Let me frame the question the way that Bush and Calabro really mean it: Are the seminars likely to help students score high on the FCAT? The answer: No.

Now nine years old, the Florida Center for Teachers has the only statewide staff-development programs in the humanities for Florida’s K-12 teachers. Its many seminars, moderated by some of the state’s best scholars, inspire teachers and enrich their knowledge of Florida literature, history, folklore, social issues and other topics.

“What teachers get in our seminars is a chance to be learners again,” said Ann Simas Schoenacher, the center’s program coordinator. “The enthusiasm for learning that is generated in a classroom by a teacher who has been renewed and has been allowed the freedom to think about “big picture’ issues cannot be measured yet by the FCAT.”

Bush’s action dismisses the intangibles of good teaching. He wants teacher training to focus on school safety, data analysis, assessment, subject content, teaching methods and classroom management.

The governor is right to insist on these areas, but he is wrong to ignore teacher enrichment _ that special nurturing that pays homage to a job well done, that professional camaraderie that sustains and reignites love of the classroom. FCAT does not measure these intangibles.

“Year after year, veteran teachers tell us after they have returned to their classrooms that the FCT renewal seminars are the best professional development programs they have ever attended,” Schoenacher said. “More teachers than I can count have told me us that they had made concrete plans to retire in six months or a year. But after they had the intellectual stimulation they experienced in our seminars, they decided to hold on and stay in the classroom.”

Last year, I spoke with Mary Conway, a seminar participant who teaches in Manatee County. She shared with me a letter she wrote to David Asburn, the state’s director of Human Resource Development. Her enthusiasm is the rule:

“I have been participating in FCT seminars for approximately five years. Every seminar I have attended has allowed me to return to my classroom with new material to use in the teaching of my students. It also has allowed me to return to my students with a deeper understanding of who they are.

“The FTC keeps teachers like myself trying to reach our hard-to-reach students. The FTC is the only place I have ever felt appreciated and celebrated as a teacher. I would have left the classroom long ago had it not been for the FCT staff. These professionals make me feel that what I am doing is truly making a difference in the future of our society. The FTC is the only place that acknowledges how hard Florida’s teachers work and struggle.”

At a time when Florida, like many other states, faces a critical teacher shortage, Bush and some of his supporters blatantly snub teachers and their concerns. They seem to be ignoring the fact that effective learning occurs when good teachers feel good about their work.

“The governor’s veto has a huge psychological impact on teachers,” Schoenacher said. “The message it sends to teachers says: “My state is willing to kill the only statewide reward and renewal program for excellent teachers in the classroom. My state pays only lip service to keeping excellent teachers in the classroom. My state finds that its excellent teachers are expendable.’

“When you consider the number of children affected by each teacher who comes through a seminar program, you can see that the money would have been used exponentially to reach a much wider audience than the 25 teachers sitting around the table of each seminar.”

Instead of discounting the value of teachers through stinginess and crass politics, Bush needs to serve and celebrate our public school teachers. In turn, our children would benefit for a lifetime.