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On the Front Lines Of Education: Q&A With Teacher Vilma Godoy

A recent conversation with Kentucky High School Teacher Vilma Godoy confirmed a few things for me. First, no education policy should pass without considering how teachers will have to implement it. Second, it takes more than just a strong teacher to educate our kids – parental involvement cannot be overstated. Third, teachers aren’t shying away from setting a higher bar for classroom expectations, and parents shouldn’t either. Embracing high standards helps students develop the critical thinking skills they’ll need to compete and succeed after high school.

Here’s a transcript of my conversation with Vilma. I hope it serves as a reminder of the challenges teachers are facing and why it’s so crucial that educators be a central part of education policy decisions at every level.

Jim Cowen: It seems like, more than ever before, teachers are making their voices heard on policy conversations nationwide – including more former teachers running for office in 2018 and a teachers’ strike in Los Angeles. What’s your take on this?

Vilma Godoy: I have to say that it’s surprising to me that it hadn’t happened sooner. I believe we’ve reached a point nationally where teachers feel that we’ve been balancing several plates for as long as possible, attempting to be successful in how we teach and support students. Many teachers are now trying to have a greater say in what’s going on, since it sometimes feels like policymakers make decisions about education with little to no knowledge about what goes into what we do every day. It can often feel like teachers are taken for granted, such as when people say that teachers have it so easy because we get summers “off.” I think that teachers want the public and policymakers to have a better understanding of our contributions and ne, and therefore respect our profession, which is ultimately focused on helping kids succeed.

You grew up in and used to teach in Los Angeles, where there was a teachers’ strike earlier this year. What are your thoughts on those strikes and, more broadly, the impact on your experience as a teacher?

Strikes are not something to take lightly, especially for teachers – we know that if we aren’t in our classrooms, students and families are greatly affected. Teachers are also afraid of what repercussions could come from going on strike. We don’t want to hurt student success, but it’s also important for us to feel supported by our district and state so that we can do our best for our school and our students. I believe that a strike must always be a last resort. But moments like these in other cities reinforce to teachers and districts that there should be constant communication among all parties so that educators and administrators alike can focus on doing our best for students.

What is the greatest aspect of teaching you’ve noticed since you became a teacher?

I’ve been teaching for seven years – two in California and five in Kentucky. The greatest aspect of teaching I’ve noticed in that time is that engaging both parents and children in a child’s education is critical for making sure that that child will learn the skills they need to succeed. It’s important for teachers to make sure that their lessons are engaging for students, especially as technology changes rapidly. It’s also important that parents and kids know the importance of school, and that parents understand the role they play in their child’s learning. For example, I think it’s important to emphasize the equal responsibility between parents and teachers in supporting students. Teachers must make content engaging and bridge gaps in students’ understanding, while parents must communicate with teachers about their child’s ne and provide additional support to their child’s learning.

One ongoing discussion in education is around high academic standards. What has been your experience with academic goals in your classroom? How have higher standards changed your instruction and your students‘ performance?

High standards are an important part of my work because they set a high bar for my students. These standards are challenging – but in a good way – because we are no longer asking students for just basic recall of facts. We are asking them to gain critical thinking and collaboration skills that they will need throughout their lives. The academic standards we have now help me teach those skills through literature in personalized ways and tailor my lessons to my students’ ne.

What is one education topic that you think doesn’t get enough attention but is critical to student success?

Programs for English language learners (ELL). I came to this country at almost five years old from Guatemala with my parents and didn’t speak any English. Yet my educational experience was great because Los Angeles public schools had a bilingual education program that helped me transition into traditional English classes by the second grade. As a teacher, I have also seen that ELL programs can be more effective than English immersion tactics. And in a state like Kentucky, which has over 22,000 ELL students, these programs can be highly impactful for those students’ success in our schools. They don’t often get attention, but I’ve seen and believe that the best ELL programs receive emphasis continually, not just once a year when test scores come back.

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