Throughout the year, Crothersville teachers often wear red and Seymour teachers don purple to show pride in their schools.
On Tuesday, they were all united wearing red.
More than 15,000 people participated in the Red for Ed Action Day at the Statehouse in Indianapolis.
[sc:text-divider text-divider-title=”Story continues below gallery” ]Click here to purchase photos from this gallery
Crothersville was among more than 130 school corporations closed so educators could have their voices heard by lawmakers on issues like school funding, teacher pay and standardized testing. Tuesday was known as organization day for the lawmakers as they returned to the Statehouse to prepare for the legislative session that begins in January.
Seymour schools were in session, but about 20 teachers traveled to the Statehouse to participate in the rally. Brownstown Central Community School Corp. had its own Red for Ed day, and Medora Community School Corp. was in session, too.
Crothersville Elementary School third grade teacher Haley Deckert said while some people think the rally was all about teacher pay, there was much more to it. It’s about creating a better future for students, she said.
"Would I like to have a higher salary? Yes. But I also became a teacher not for the money," she said. "I became a teacher to shape the future of the country. I would do it for free if I had to because I’m that passionate about it."
Title I teacher Tina Kilgore said she also was there for the students.
"I’m very proud that as a staff, we were supported and provided the opportunity and how we were a part of that because it is important, and it’s not just about the salary. It’s about the kids," she said.
"I think it’s great that so many people showed up today to support educators that were not educators, as well, just to rally because we’re all in this fight together," said Cassondra Kelly, a kindergarten teacher at Crothersville and president of the Crothersville Classroom Teachers Association.
"It’s Indiana’s kids," fellow kindergarten teacher Holly Sweany added.
First-year teacher Tara Bedwell said she not only felt supported by her staff members at Crothersville at the rally but also by the rest of the state, and Deckert said it was great to see people of all ages there.
RaeAnn Wintin, a resource teacher at Seymour High School, said she was proud to join other members of the Seymour Education Association at the rally.
"It was very empowering to be out here together and to see people I know from across the state, people from school districts everywhere to be out here together unified for a purpose," she said. "We’re here for the kids. I know it seems that if I’m really here for the kids, I need to be in my classroom, but if the teachers aren’t going to advocate for the students, who will?"
Lisa Freeman, co-president of the Seymour Education Association, said one of the rally’s purposes was to bring awareness to proper funding for schools.
"To get the proper funding, schools have to be so full, and students’ needs aren’t being met being that full, so the funding formula isn’t sharing the funding equitably across the state," she said.
Seymour teacher Monica Kriete said the school administration does a great job with finances and the budget and always tries to do what’s best for the students. Many school corporations, however, struggle with finances and budgeting because of funding, and she said it’s important to support them.
"If we don’t support the school corporations that are having trouble, one day, it may end up being us because we aren’t getting the proper amount of funding," she said. "While our corporation is going to be creative and do really good things to keep us doing well, if we don’t come up here and fight the good fight for (those struggling), then what’s that say about us?"
Paula Weaver, the other president of the Seymour Education Association, said it’s important to ensure public education is fully funded so schools and students have the programs, facilities and resources they need.
"We have first-year teachers spend lots and lots of money out of pocket because it’s not provided," she said. "It’s something that we do all of the time because we’re teachers. We’re constantly buying, providing pencils, paper, binders. Sometimes, the schools provide clothing for kids because they don’t have it. We just need to be fully funded so that we can take care of our students."
According to the Rockefeller Institute, Indiana ranks 51st in the nation in teacher salary increases over the past 10 years. And an Indiana State Teachers Association public poll in 2018 shows 72% of Hoosiers say teachers are paid too little.
The National Education Association reports the average starting salary for a teacher is Indiana is $35,943 and the average salary is $50,615, both ranking 36th nationally.
Kelly said many education positions aren’t being filled by licensed teachers because schools can’t find any.
"Nobody wants to go into the education field because they see what’s happening, so I want these lawmakers to realize that to better our future, they’ve got to change what’s happening to create (young people) who want to be future educators," she said.
During the school day, Sweany said more and more students are coming to teachers with issues they weren’t trained to handle.
"We want to help these kids, but we don’t have the resources to do it," she said. "We have a child who has something we know they need. As much as our school might want to provide it, they don’t have the funds to provide it, either."
Outside their contracted school hours, teachers often find themselves on the phone talking to parents, grading papers and making lesson plans, Deckert said.
On top of that, Freeman said some teachers have one or two other jobs to make ends meet and accommodate their professional development to get their licenses renewed.
"We are having less people come to the profession and people leaving the profession in hoards," she said.
Kriete said teachers are sick of standardized testing, too.
"We take tests to prepare ourselves for the test. It’s just a never-ending cycle of testing," she said.
It’s also frustrating to teachers when their evaluation and pay are based on the test results.
"Was that child having a good day?" Kriete said. "My kids are not a test, and I don’t want to teach to a test. It’s just not fair."
Seymour teacher Sherry Dart said the test is so difficult, inappropriate and inaccessible for students.
"Not once have I had the results back in time to make a difference for the child who took it, and rarely have I had the results back in time to make a difference in the upcoming year," fellow Seymour teacher Robin Ramp said. "I think that’s symptomatic of what it’s really used for."
The scores also are affected by English Language Learners, who are learning the language and often come from non-English-speaking homes and backgrounds.
Teachers have to differentiate their teaching for those students, but they are expected to give them a standardized test, Kriete said.
"We get kids that are coming and have never even been to school before, let alone sat down and taken a standardized test on a computer even if they had the language skills, and our evaluations are tied to how they do on those," she said.
Seymour teacher Meghan Fleenor said more than half of her class consists of English Language Learners.
"They are being required to learn, and we want to help them, but when you put that student in front of that test, I feel sorry for the students," she said. "I have seen kids cry over them, and when they get results back and parents don’t understand, they come into school crying and don’t understand why this is happening."
Sharing their message
On Tuesday, Wintin had the opportunity to present District 69 Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, with cards written by Seymour teachers.
They shared stories of spending hours in the classroom and thoughts on salaries and testing.
"I hope that we can start a conversation with him and that he will listen to our stories and hear our concerns and that we can talk about solutions together because as long as he’s in office, I want to talk to him and try to convince him to vote to support public schools," she said. "Historically, he has voted to support privatization and private schools, so I want to convince him to support public schools more than he has before."
Ramp said for 10 years, teachers have met with legislators and lobbied in hopes that change would occur.
"We’ve reached an impasse, and the main issues of testing, teacher training and pay are symptoms of a brokenness between teachers and legislators," she said. "Children will never be served if we can’t come to a table and speak about these kinds of things. … With each of those issues, they are really just tip-of-the-iceberg issues for other things."
Kelly said even if they are baby steps, she hopes lawmakers realize change needs to occur.
Kriete said Tuesday’s rally felt different than the one in March — in a good way.
"It’s amazing. It’s history in the making," she said. "We had a whole bunch of little kids standing right in front of us, and we’re like, ‘Kiddos, you’re making history right here.’"
[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”Pull Quote” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]
"It was very empowering to be out here together and to see people I know from across the state, people from school districts everywhere to be out here together unified for a purpose."
Seymour High School resource teacher RaeAnn Wintin on the Red for Ed Action Day