Massachusetts Representative | Teacher Turned Legislator
By Mikel Chavers
The phrase “teaching to the test” is not something that’s in Massachusetts Rep. Antonio Cabral’s vocabulary list—at least it’s not something he would ever grade as passing.
As a former public school teacher of social studies and foreign languages, and now full-time legislator, Cabral knows well teachers aren’t the only ones who should be held accountable for student and school performance. In a world where accountability is a hot button issue for education debates in the legislature and schools alike, Cabral brings his experience as a teacher to the policymaking process.
“Any school that might be designated as underperforming is not just due to the teachers,” Cabral said. “It is not the intention to hold just one sector of a school accountable. I think teachers are very important—without a teacher, you can have all the books you want, but you’re not going to get much achieved.”
Teaching is a calling, he said.
Although standards and measuring tools are important to get a sense that a school and its students are learning what they need to learn according to curriculum standards, Cabral said, at the same time teachers’ hands shouldn’t be tied to meet certain numbers for a certain test.
“Sometimes when we talk about standards, we get sort of bogged down on tools that we think the average person can almost touch and feel—and teaching is not that kind of profession. You’ve got to allow some freedom in the classroom … because teaching is a creative thing,” Cabral said.
“You should not be teaching to a particular test.”
In every educational reform debate in Massachusetts, Cabral shares his classroom experience. Whether it’s debating the state’s exit exam or whether superintendants or school councils have the power to dismiss teachers outright, Cabral and fellow colleagues who are former teachers bring a unique voice to the table.
“When we talk, people listen, and that’s rewarding,” Cabral said. “And we don’t win every debate but it’s very rewarding to know that colleagues take our life experiences into consideration.”