LAFAYETTE — State lawmakers should substitute teach for at least 40 hours a year in a school rated a “C” or lower to understand the plight of classroom teachers amid sweeping state educational reforms, a state representative said Thursday.

Legislators “need to go in the classrooms and see what you’re dealing with,” state Rep. Vincent Pierre said during a community forum held by the Louisiana Association of Educators.

Pierre’s recommendation was met with a standing ovation from a crowd of about 100 at David Thibodaux Science Technology Engineering and Math Magnet Academy.

Much of the panel discussion centered on the state’s new teacher evaluation system and changes in how teachers earn and retain tenure, a form of job protection.

Pierre said he volunteered as a substitute at “C,” “D” and “F” schools in his district and saw firsthand that the new evaluation process is “unfair.”

“The next session we will be working real hard to undo some of this unreal stuff,” he said.

LAE President Joyce Haynes said she believes fear kept some people at previous forums in Baton Rouge, Shreveport and Pineville from speaking because the news media were present.

“Silence is not golden anymore,” she told the Lafayette crowd, the largest of the forum crowds so far, before the start of the panel discussion.

“You must speak,” Haynes said. “Speak out, speak up and let the world know what’s going on in our classrooms. It’s about our children. It’s about their education.”

Legislators echoed Haynes’ call for teachers to “speak out.”

“You can’t change it by sitting in your classroom complaining,” state Rep. Jack Montoucet said.

The evaluation system is flawed, and smaller, rural districts, such as Evangeline Parish, are losing teachers without prospects of recruitment, some panelists said.

“The teachers I work with day-to-day are so frustrated,” said Karen Martin, a Lafayette Parish teacher and president of the local LAE chapter. She said she thinks the state has failed to adequately train districts on how to administer the new evaluations.

“My biggest toil with the whole thing is that they couldn’t tell me how they were going to evaluate me,” Martin said. “That proves the point that our state is not training the people.”

Karen Richardson, a special education teacher in Vermilion Parish on the forum panel, said teachers are willing to change, “but we can’t keep up with the pace.”

Evangeline Parish personnel supervisor Mike Lombas said the number of teachers leaving his district midterm grew from only two last year to 15 this year. Those 15 spots will be difficult to fill, he said.

“The love for education is dwindling fast,” Lombas said. “They’re stressed out over this new evaluation system at the exact same time that we’re changing the curriculum on them.”

Vermilion Parish Librarian Sheila Hebert-Collins said in her 34 years of teaching she had never been evaluated as ineffective — until this year.

“I got someone who did not have a background for libraries,” Hebert-Collins said. “To me, you have to be aware of the library and all our standards to evaluate me.”

Hebert-Collins told the panel that she’s fighting the rating, but initially, it devastated her.

Lombas said it’s likely that Collins was evaluated with the rubric for classroom teachers.

Richardson said as a special education teacher, she was also evaluated with a regular classroom teacher rubric that included tasks that her students are incapable of performing, such as leading the class.

While the LAE and the Louisiana Federation of Teachers are opposed to the new teacher evaluations, a third teachers’ group, the Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana, is embracing the overhaul and instructing educators on how it works.

The state used to rely on classroom observations, mostly by principals every one to three years to rate teacher performance.

But critics said that, since more than 98 percent of educators got satisfactory marks, the reviews meant little and student achievement suffered.

The new system requires teachers to undergo annual reviews.

Half of the job check will be linked to the growth of student achievement. The other half will be based on classroom observations.