Dreams could change

USF student Levi Hargrove may surprise some people when he says he wants to be a teacher.

“I may not look like the brightest person, I don’t always use correct grammar … and my three favorite things are fishing, beer and guns, not always in that order,” Hargrove said with a grin. “But I love learning.”

And that love encouraged the senior – who is paying his own way through college while majoring in criminal justice, political science and education – to walk out of his education classes Monday morning.

At 11 a.m., Hargrove and about 20 other education majors stood outside the College of Education to protest Florida Senate Bill 6 – which, if passed, will increase the emphasis placed on standardized testing in elementary, middle and high school. It will also end tenure and switch to a performance-based pay system for teachers.

For USF student Elena San Pedro, the bill is not an option.

“At this point, a lot of us have considered changing majors or moving to a different state,” she said. “But I love this state, I have a family here, I have two kids, and I want to be a special education teacher in Florida, but if (Senate Bill 6) is passed, I don’t see how it will be possible for me to take care of my family.”

San Pedro’s oldest son, who has autism, inspired the junior to pursue a career in special education – a decision that could move her family to Georgia, a state she said that is ranked third in the country in terms of teacher benefits, if the bill passes.

“I just fell in love with doing volunteer work with his class and fell in love with the students,” she said. “But if I have students with learning disabilities … they may be learning but that won’t reflect on the standardized test. That’s not fair to the students or the teachers.”

Aside from eliminating tenure, if the bill passes, teachers’ pay and job security will be determined by their students’ test results and how much a student has learned after one year in the classroom, said Kelly Budnick, a senior majoring in elementary education and

“A lot of the students in our area come in and aren’t English speakers,” she said. “And for them to learn to read, write and speak in English and to test those gains in a year is something that is really hard to base a salary off of.”

The walkout was coordinated with other universities through the Future Florida Teachers Facebook page and by word-of-mouth. Budnick said students at Florida Atlantic University and the University of Miami picketed in front of
congressmen’s houses.

Hargrove, who plans to teach even if the bill passes, said his education professors at USF have shown a general dislike for the bill, emphasizing this “is going to decide whether you’re going to be a teacher or not, whether you’re going to have a job at the end of
the year.”

Some of his professors even canceled class to encourage students to attend the protest, he said.

The bill, which passed in the Senate on March 24, will be debated by the House this week and began its review process Monday by the House Education Council.

Hargrove said he thinks the bill will pass. But he said students are still “running on a big tank of hope in a vehicle called change.”

“It’s like the emphasis on being a voter. One vote can make a difference,” he said. “We know one voter won’t make a difference, but we do know that each person is supposed to have a voice, and hopefully one person standing here screaming, ‘I’m not going to take it anymore’ … just trying to raise a little hell might make a difference.”