Teachers on NYSUT's English Language Learners Committee identified so many pressing issues that they want to work on, they had a tough time narrowing it down to three top priorities. Ever the visual communicators, they put it to a good old fashioned vote — with brightly colored sticky dots.
The ELL Committee was one of several NYSUT Subject Area Committees that came together to kick off a new three-year term and identify priorities for their specialty areas. About 125 teachers from around the state attended the groups' joint meeting Dec. 1–2. Other SACs will meet in January.
"You are the leaders in your curriculum areas and will be our eyes and ears in the field," said NYSUT Executive Vice President Jolene T. DiBrango. "You are our first line of defense, an early warning system … We rely on your expertise and perspective."
DiBrango said the SAC members will be asked to provide NYSUT with ongoing feedback, such as sharing concerns over standards implementation or providing a reality check for how state policies are playing out in the classroom. SAC members, who are recommended by NYSUT's Board of Directors, will be among the first recommended to serve on various State Education Department workgroups.
The 11 SACs are: Arts: Music, Dance, Theater & Visual Arts; Career and Technical Education; Early Childhood Education; English Language Arts; ELLs; Health Education, Physical Education and Family & Consumer Sciences; Languages Other Than English; Math, Science & Technology; Social Studies; Special Education; and Teacher Centers.
Many of the committee discussions revolved around the state's rollout of the Next Generation Learning Standards, emphasizing that educators must be involved in professional development planning. Talks also focused on students.
The ELL group, for example, talked about how students are identified and too often are denied the services they need because districts want to save money or lack adequate staffing. Career and Technical Education teachers talked about ways to recruit more students to explore CTE options. Special Education Committee members shared concerns about the state's policy of granting variances for districts to exceed class size and other regulations governing special education services. Jo James of Saratoga Adirondack BOCES Educators Association said her union always requests a list of state-approved variances. "I didn't know you could do that," said another member of the committee.
"It's helpful information and we're entitled to it," James said. "I think parents should be notified when there's a variance. It has a direct impact on their children's education."
In a show-and-tell lesson, Bayport-Blue Point TA's Rochelle Petre offered colleagues a look at how to incorporate instructional shifts under the state's new science standards.
"I have to be more of a facilitator," Petre said. "The questions come from the students, not me. There's more hands-on work and problem-solving for the kids. When they have ownership, the students are definitely more engaged."