By Amanda Menas / photo courtesy of FEA
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2016 is destined to be a year of change in this country, and the teachers from across the state of Florida are taking action to make a difference early on. Nearly 3,000 supporters came together in Tallahassee mid-January to rally for the end of over-testing of their students.
Vanessa Skipper, an 8th and 10th grade English teacher at Cocoa High School met the buses of teachers who drove for hours to attend the rally. In describing the success of the peaceful portrayal of political participation, she said, “You could see teachers from all around the state were fed up.”
“The students are over-tested, exhausted, and have anxiety” said Skipper. To combat the take-a-test-forget-the-information mentality of the upcoming generation of students, Skipper uses the Diary of Anne Frank to teach her students how to write research reports, and give presentations without prompts.
Her active role in politics from local school board races on up gives her credibility with her students, allowing them to see her passion for them outside the classroom. Finding a balance in explaining the importance of politics allows her students to realize their most powerful voice is their vote, and until they are of voting age she will be their voice.
Skipper’s activism began the moment she began teaching and joined her union. In 2009 when Senate Bill 736 was passed, a “revolving door” of teachers began due to new rules of annual rehiring and ratings based on student performance; she immediately took action to write letters and call her legislators.
“I found my voice. My local [union] gave me the voice to speak out and be heard on behalf of my students.” Skipper is also part of Florida’s Young Remarkable Educators, or FYRE, which is an advocacy group for professional educators who share a similar mission.
“If [legislators] take a minute and listen, the message being portrayed is that we are tired and we need a common sense approach. Ask the teachers what they need for students and you will get pretty good answers.” Skipper has been a long-time advocate for the end of over-testing, but also issues such as planning periods which give teachers the time they need to ensure that students get a quality education, and autonomy in the classroom away from politics.
Skipper is also on the Superintendent Advisory council, the 8th grade lead, and a mentor teacher. Balance is the hardest part of her day, but acts as a positive force for her students and fellow educators.
For the aspiring teachers, educators currently in the classroom, and those on the way to retirement, Vanessa Skipper is an advocate for you. Her advice: “Never hold anything inside; don’t feel like you have to fix all the problems by yourself.”
To continue the conversation with fellow teachers for the empowerment of students, use #teachingNOTtesting, #4PublicEd, #enoughisenough, and tweet @BetterSchoolsFL.