ELYRIA — Dawn Neely-Randall is the kind of teacher who will have her fifth-grade language arts students read a novel featuring a biscuit-baking contest as a plot twist, and then bring her students homemade biscuits to wrap up the unit.
Or, she will assign them to write essays to civil rights leader Dr. James Lawson, all the while telling them to keep in mind their hands will touch papers that will be held by a man who with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. worked to change the world.
A mock inaugural ball to correspond with President Barack Obama’s historic win, Neely-Randall did it.
Lessons on etiquette with a professional coach, it has happened in Neely-Randall’s classroom.
After a career that spans 24 years, Neely-Randall knows how to reach even the toughest young minds and bring the most reluctant student over the academic finish line. Yet, with just three years until she is eligible to retire, the teacher, who has weathered numerous unfunded state mandates dictating how she should work in her classroom, says she has reached her breaking point.
“At this point, the first job outside the classroom I am offered, I’m taking,” said the McKinley Elementary teacher. “I can no longer do this job and be a part of the torture we are inflicting on students in the name of accountability. There comes a time when enough is enough.”
Neely-Randall let that mantra speak for scores of teachers recently when the Washington Post published her essay, “Why school isn’t for children anymore.” It was posted to the newspaper’s website Monday morning and reflects how Neely-Randall feels about the testing cycle of public education.
“I wrote it because the system is getting very abusive and I, as an educator, can either just keep plugging away, doing what’s best for kids and stay quiet, or keep plugging away, doing what’s best for kids and speak out,” she said. “I chose to speak out because education is becoming less and less about kids and more about these tests, the scores and the labels associated with them.”
The state academic achievement tests, changes to curriculum known as Common Core standards and even a new mandate known as the third-grade guarantee, which will result in hundreds of students not advancing to fourth grade after this school year, are working in concert to change public education in the state.
Teachers have largely remained silent, choosing instead to navigate the system in the best way they can for their students. Neely-Randall said she was one such teacher. But this year, her mindset changed, due mainly to the various nuances of the changes that baffle her.
Neely-Randall said she is not opposed to testing. It’s a necessary part of the education process. But this new form of high-stakes testing puts too much pressure on students, teachers and school districts.
Elyria Superintendent Paul Rigda supports Neely-Randall and her decision to write the essay, said Amy Higgins, district spokeswoman.
“Paul is proud of Dawn’s ability to speak her mind in such a professional manner, capturing the feelings of so many teachers, her passion for teaching and her frustration with the testing,” she said.
“I am extremely proud that I work for a district that supports one of its own who wants to speak out about her deepest convictions. But even if (Rigda) wasn’t, even if the district wasn’t, I would risk my job to do this,” she said.
“These are some of the darkest days in standardized testing right now and I wish more teachers would speak up, whether it’s anonymously or standing with me with their knees shaking. It’s time for them to do it for the kids and profession they love. It’s time to speak out and maybe, just maybe, we can take back our state.”