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Lawmakers Take Notes
Thu, 26 Jan 2012

11/17/2011 (Tulsa)

Dan Kirby may hold a seat in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, but all morning Wednesday, he sat in a pint-size one in Bonnie Stone's classroom.


After an early morning second-grade math lesson, it was time for a boisterous activity called "Word Study."

Students got out their green flash cards with vocabulary words from all of their current lessons and were called up in packs to practice writing "blurt," "password," "chart" and "thirsty" on the board.

In between Stone's commands, students gathered around Kirby to grill him on his age and whether he remembered their names from earlier introductions.

Kirby, who represents District 75 in east Tulsa and part of Broken Arrow, was one of a dozen or so state legislators who spent the day shadowing Tulsa teachers as part of the Tulsa Classroom Teachers Association's American Education Week activities.

He marveled at how different today's integrated curriculum strategies are from the rote memorization tactics used back in his school days in Eufaula.

After delivering her students into the care of another teacher in the art room, Stone, a veteran teacher with 22 years' experience, led Kirby on a school tour.

The variety of challenges presented by different students in her room, including English Language Learners and students with developmental disorders and learning disabilities, paled in comparison to the behavior challenges Kirby witnessed in the hallway as a class of unruly sixth-graders made their way from one class to another.

The students had gotten worked into a frenzy while under the supervision of a substitute teacher in the morning, their teacher said, part explanation, part apology.

"I don't see a lot of hall monitors," Kirby said as a fight nearly broke out between a shouting boy and girl. "I couldn't do this."

Stone didn't bat an eye as she and Kirby watched Jennifer Newton, the sixth-graders' next teacher, take control of the situation.

She lined them up along the lockers and told them they were going to have to compose themselves before they entered her classroom, encouraging them to take a couple of deep breaths if necessary.

A few minutes later, the group was seated in their desks in Newton's softly lit room, quietly reading novels.

"See what a difference environment makes?" Stone said to Kirby.

She said she hoped Kirby got a glimpse not only of the challenges teachers face but also of their dedication and professionalism.

"Teachers have been under fire lately," Stone said. "They're very smart, they're very compassionate and they are working very hard because they love their children. There are a lot of challenges - that's not an excuse. I hope he saw that."

Kirby said his experience Wednesday is something he will draw upon in considering education-related legislation in the future.

A day spent among teachers such as Merrie Wolf and Russell Pascarella in the math department at Memorial High School left Rep. Weldon Watson of south Tulsa's District 79 with similar feelings.

"We will never solve the problems with education unless we solve the societal problems with families," he said.

"These are very dedicated people," Watson said. "I sense they are overwhelmed. Class sizes are creeping up, and from what I've seen and heard, they've got a bunch of people at the local level trying to tell them what to do who are just out of touch a little bit with what these people are facing in the classroom."