by Colleen Flaherty
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Rachelle Moore has been teaching first grade in Seattle for the past five years in a high-needs school and has seen what can make the difference in her classroom.
“I have a wide range of learners, kids from all different backgrounds, a number of which are minority students, live in poverty and lack early educational experiences, as well as students who have been afforded more opportunities that help them prepare to be successful students,” said Moore.
“Being at my school, I’ve learned how important it is to kids who maybe don’t have the same opportunities that I had growing up be given really high quality teaching and be seen as an individual, a whole child, and feel like they’re a valuable part of our classroom.”
To share her experiences and an educator voice with Congress, Moore traveled to Washington D.C. to testify before the Senate Committee on Health, Educator, Labor and Pensions (HELP) to discuss what should be included in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).
“I’m here today to share a teacher’s vision of what’s happening in our schools, and hopefully help them shape education policy,” said Moore. “There is no ‘average’ student. Each student is shaped by individual experiences, and those experiences must be taken into consideration when shaping policies geared towards improving student success.”
Moore was especially passionate about was training and retaining quality educators in the classroom. Thanks to a program called the Seattle Teacher Residency, which places new educators with teachers in the classroom, her class of 20 has two teachers meeting the diverse needs of her students.
“High-needs schools like mine often have difficulty retaining experienced and highly effective teachers,” said Moore, a National Board Certified Teacher. “It’s a very challenging environment to be placed in without proper support from more experienced colleagues.
Not only is the program good for the new educators, said Moore, but the co-teaching model is ideal for students as well.
“The student-teacher ratio is lower, which allows us to differentiate instruction and spend more time working one-on-one with individual students. Instead of providing individualized instruction for just some of our students each day, with co-teaching, we can meet the needs of all 20 of our students every day.”
Senator Patty Murray, the ranking member on the HELP committee and Moore’s senator from Washington, visited Moore’s classroom a couple weeks earlier to talk about ESEA reauthorization.
“[Senator Murray] read to the kids, and they just loved it. As a former preschool teacher, she is a huge advocate for students and student learning,” said Moore.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, another HELP committee member, pointed out that now a majority of public school students live in poverty. Warren asked Moore, what can be done to combat poverty in schools?
“In order to provide more equity for classrooms across the country, I think it’s really important that people shaping policy look into providing early childhood education experiences for all students as well as making sure the best educators are in the classroom.”
Many educators across the country are also concerned about the testing mandates introduced in No Child Left Behind, which more than doubled federal testing.
“I definitely understand the need to hold teachers accountable, but I think teacher evaluation needs to be done differently. We need to be preparing teachers to be high quality, not just based on a test score, but really looking at performance assessments and what the kids are doing on a daily basis.”
Moore’s father, who has been an arts teacher for 35 years, has seen the focus shift away from creativity and more on tested core subjects. Even in her first grade class, they are feeling the effects on the over-emphasized high stakes testing.
“My school is definitely encouraging us to get kids to go through story problems and prepare for those testing skills,” said Moore. “Even as an arts teacher, my dad sometimes had to go in and teach social studies and math. His passion is art, and he wants to give that to his students.”
The educator voice is so essential when discussing ESEA, said Moore, because they are invested in student success and have seen what works.
“I want to advocate for my students because they care so much about learning, and they have really big dreams. They want to do things like be president or be doctors, and it’s really important that they be given the resources they need to be successful.”