I am a big supporter of the teacher strikes in West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Kentucky, with Arizona on the horizon of a strike. It is important that people outside the field of education recognize the important role teachers have and begin to treat them as other professionals with competitive salaries and benefits. While some view teachers as the single agent that can bring about change (propaganda brought upon by movies like Waiting for Superman), we should recognize that teachers have lives of their own, too, and cannot devote every single bit of their time to the classroom. From these strikes, we see an assortment of educators who work multiple jobs to make ends meet. How have the working conditions in this country deteriorated so much for teachers, such that it's similar to the working conditions of the 1960s (see linked article above)? Salaries are despicably low and many states are now right-to-work states, which cannot collect dues from members to collectively bargain, effectively crippling the union.
It is inspiring to see the teachers strike despite the right-to-work laws. Something is finally being done about the low salaries we have endured. Since becoming a mother, time has become even more valuable to me and I expect to be compensated for the good work I do. I prioritize my time very carefully at work--making sure the plans and materials are ready for the week's lessons, making sure I differentiate all the lessons so all my learners can achieve in their zone of proximal development, and making sure I stay on top of my students' IEPs (Individualized Educational Plans). However, this work often takes up more time than there is in the school day. I am allotted my lunch and one prep period per day to do all of those things, so yes, I will take work home to finish once my children fall asleep in their beds. I wish special education teachers and teachers in general were compensated for the many hours they put in to teaching their students.
I think respecting teachers also means respecting and valuing their time. Respect the hours teachers work (e.g. end the professional development workshop when it is supposed to end so teachers can get home to their families) and compensate them for extra work they do outside of the school building (e.g. planning for math curriculum, preparing for project based learning experiences, etc.). The budget is part of the conversation of what's wrong with education in America these days. If politicians actually valued their teachers, they would prioritize education funding and direct it towards teacher salaries instead of the next new trendy fad that an outside education consultant with limited classroom experience advises.
Unionizing (collective bargaining at its best, even without formalized union representation) is important because unions not only protect students' interests (e.g. lower class sizes, making sure special ed students are entitled to their services, etc.), but they also help ensure that their teachers are well rested (not working multiple jobs) and have a livelihood of their own. Pay our teachers well so that we can raise our families while not having to sacrifice the profession we love.
I am feeling particularly proud of my school because we are getting involved in the movement against high stakes testing. As one of the top 25 schools identified in NY state as high-achieving, we are protesting the use of high stakes standardizes tests and discussing the ways in which teachers have been negatively impacted by the tests. We are giving teachers a voice in this education reform maelstrom.
Check out the event and more information here: http://www.teacherstalktesting.com/
After the shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, one never wants to hear of news like that again. It could have happened again, but thanks to Antoinette Tuff, it didn't. Check out this article. Here is an excerpt from the Washington Post article by Petula Dvorak:
"...No one was shot Tuesday after a man slipped into an elementary school just outside Atlanta with an AK-47-style assault rifle, 500 rounds of ammo and “nothing to live for.”
Not because we listened to gun advocates who said we should arm teachers with weapons.
Not because we took the advice of the National Rifle Association, which said schools should have armed officers.
Not because we heeded the school board directives to make frightening “intruder drills” part of every curriculum.
Probably, a mass shooting didn’t happen because the gunman listened to Tuff, the bookkeeper at Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur, Ga. Police have identified the suspect as Michael Brandon Hill, 20.
On Thursday, President Obama identified Tuff as a hero, with a surprise phone call thanking her for her act of bravery.
As soon as the man entered the school and fired one round into the floor, Tuff called 911 and stayed smooth and calm as a computer help line operator. She kept a conversation going among herself, the gunman and the 911 dispatcher.
She calmed him. She told him that he wasn’t alone in having troubles. Her husband walked out on her after 33 years, she said, and she has a “multiple-disabled” son. She soothed that man holding an assault rifle by telling him, “We all go through something in life.”
“I’m sitting here with you and talking to you about it,” she told him when he mumbled something about no one wanting to listen to him.
As she persuaded the young man to surrender, she said: “We not going to hate you, baby. It’s a good thing that you’re giving up, so we’re not going to hate you.”
She offered to act as his human shield, to walk outside the school with him so police wouldn’t shoot.
She even told him she loved him, cared about him and was proud of him as he began to stand down.
Are you listening to her, America?
Her 911 call — listen to the whole thing; it’s riveting — is a portrait of poise, compassion and selflessness. She was exactly what America is forgetting to be.
..." (Click here to read more)
Here is an excellent analysis of the recent release of the value-added assessments in NYC. Liz Phillips, the principal at PS 321, lays out how these scores are inaccurate and lays out the deleterious effects the scores have on high performing schools like hers.
The article, published by the NYC Public School Parents blog:
A principal at a high performing school explains why she is "absolutely sick" about the public release of the TDRs
There have been so many disheartening and disappointing things that I've seen in the education system in NYC. The first disappointment came when I was in school at TC and I saw that Cathie Black, former Hearst Magazines president with no education experience, was named Chancellor of the largest public school system in the United States. At least she stepped down after three months. The second disappointment occurred today when New York City released flawed value-added assessment data of all its teachers to the public. The impact of this disgraceful public humiliation by the city of our hard-working teachers is something that cannot just be undone. It has lasting impact on not just the teacher, but the wider school and family communities. When confidence in teachers need to be strengthened, the city is shaming teachers with flawed, inaccurate data.
Schools are communities where everyone cooperates--to help those who need help, to educate those who have not had the opportunity to be educated, to learn together, strengthening our communal knowledge.
I want to make this point crystal clear so let me use the following table below to make clear why schools are, and should remain, communities. This will also help elucidate the contrast between the community based model of education and the business model being advocated by businessmen.
Schools are, and should remain, communities
Schools ought to operate like stores
If advocates of the business model want to weed out the "bad worker" or the "bad teacher," they need to first define who that is and develop a system WITH educators and administrators that reviews the performance of the teacher and determines that they cannot teach or improve.
As I teach my students when they face a bully who does not respect them and tries to shame them in front of their peers, rise above. Bullies are not team players and they usually have very few, if any, friends because bullies will turn on their friends, too. Bullies treat you like an object that they can just toss around, not asking for your opinion and not believing that people can change and grow. Perhaps bullies lost the confidence in themselves that they could change and grow and now can only exert power to humiliate others.
NYC, do not be a bully to your teachers and don't treat them like commodities.
With the onset of the release of public school teacher's ratings, I read this very good article on why one teacher is abstaining from participating in justifying the scores the NYTimes is planning to publish.
A few notable quotes from the post:
"No. I don’t want to justify or get validation for whatever the reports say about me. With this huge body of evidence and the growing backlash against such reports, why would any respectable publication diminish their own journalistic credibility by publishing them and systematizing them in their website? I have serious doubts about the validity of doing this insofar as asking teachers to contribute to the further deprofessionalization of teaching.
The logic is simple: if we give in to telling the New York Times about our data reports, then we’re actually responding, and by responding in the manner they’ve chosen, they’re actually telling us to defend ourselves in the court of public opinion.
I get that it’s the New York Times. I also get that the UFT chapter leader Michael Mulgrew encouraged us to give in to the process, probably as a form of protest. I respect that this is an opportunity to talk to the establishments that need our assistance in this matter. However, I just don’t think this is the right way to go about it.
All these intangibles I can’t quite calculate, and all these numbers I’d rather not validate.
Jose, who just won't accept it..."
This is an excellent article on the "schools we [should] envy" in Finland. I encourage anyone who wants to become more interested in education reform in the United States to read this article:
"Even the corporate reformers admire Finland, apparently not recognizing that Finland disproves every part of their agenda."
My long long overdue update from my trip to China. I went to China in August 2010 intent on finding a special needs school or any public school to visit. I was, and am, still curious about the education system in China. However, there is not a lot of research being done on special education pedagogy or policy, a specific interest of mine. On my trip, I really wanted to talk with some local administrators, teachers, and parents, to see what their experience has been like in China. It was not until the last day of my time in China, did I find a school nearby still in session. I was lucky enough to organize a trip to the school Beijing Xing Guang Road Development Center with my friend Xiao Ai.
THE ATTITUDE IN CHINA
From speaking with the parents and teachers, one thing is for certain, China's emphasis on special education is not nearly as strong as in the United States, for various reasons. Disabilities in general (learning, behavioral, emotional, physical, etc.) is very much looked down upon in China. There is a very strong social stigma against people with disabilities. China is a society where guanxi, or who you know and who is in your network, is one of the only ways to climb up the social ladder and get out of your impoverished or difficult living conditions. The rung you step on, isn't made from your hard work, it's the shoulder of another person that you are stepping on. Understanding that Chinese society is structured around relationships of people using each other to gain leverage or benefits in society, whether it means getting a job in government or an inside acceptance to Beijing University, helps us understand why it is that people with disabilities are shunned and literally hidden from view in society. It is a prevalent idea in China that people with disabilities have no immediate benefit to society; it is argued they harbor no political connections to let people in on certain jobs or positions and thus, people see no use in getting to know them or understanding/improving their conditions.
Chinese people with disabilities from an early age have grown up with this idea that they do not belong in society, that they should stay hidden if guests come over. This marginalized reality, I'm sure, is not just isolated to China. Depending on how society is structured and the openness of that society to talk about disabilities regardless of stigma can affect policy and how families get services.
THE CURRENT SITUATION
In China, there has been some improvements in helping finance the education of kids with special needs, according to the administrator I spoke to at Beijing Xing Guang Road Center. There is not enough funding, however, to support para professionals, social workers, physical therapists, and other various support staff at special ed schools. Much of the 1-1 individual work that students benefit from in the United States from social workers and physical therapists, is work that teachers have to do in the classroom in China. The teaching responsibilities are much greater in China because there is less staff to help.
Parents want to be proactive and improve, so many families have been reaching out of their shell to help their child. In a society where disability is rarely talked about, the government is at least issuing disability certificates that will allow families to get some special services for their kids. According to the administrator I spoke to, most special ed schools are in the form of after-school programs or all-day schools.
These classrooms, though, are not integrated with the mainstream population of kids. In other words, they have no inclusive classrooms where both special ed and general ed students work side by side. Taiwan and the United States have integrated classrooms, but it is only slowly getting started in China with a special needs class visiting a general ed classroom once per week, at best. I asked how the general ed students reacted to new students coming into their classroom and the administrator said that although their aim was amicability, there were some hostile reactions by both groups of students. As you can imagine, many students did not know how to interact with students who were very different from them. I hope that the teachers held discussions with the students about different and inclusion that would have eased misunderstanding, but it's very hard to operate in a society that still holds a strong stigma against people with disabilities.
TEACHING AND PEDAGOGY
Eventually, after touring the school and having long discussions with teachers and administrators, I gave a presentation on teaching methods that I have observed as a teaching assistant in a Kindergarten CTT (Cooperative Team Teaching) class in New York City.
The teachers were particularly fascinated by the "body breaks" and "use of pictures" as strategic tools for helping students. Body breaks, which I will also include in the "Teaching Special Education" part of my website, are essentially 2-10 minute breaks that students can take out in the hall where they do three physical activities like pushing a heavy object up and down the hall, a hand stand, crab walks, or pushing against the wall for ten seconds. These "body breaks" let students release the extra energy they may have. Body breaks interrupt the classroom and are seen as ways to help a student's body calm down.
Pictures are used in special ed to help the student identify with either themselves or friends doing the activity. By visually seeing themselves and others doing the task, they are more able to identify with doing it. There are many activities that can be constructed around this idea, which I will write about more later.
The presentation was informative to the parents and although I do not consider myself an expert on special education, an ever changing dynamic field, I told them what my experiences have been with special ed and teaching techniques I have seen work.
The teaching at Beijing Xing Guang Road School is primarily 1-on-1. The school is primarily geared for the younger grades, Pre-K to first grade. As such, parents will spend either the morning or whole day with their child, teaching them how to write and how to behave. Most classrooms have a 9:1 student to teacher ratio with parents allowed in the classroom. Many of their students need support (hence the presence of parents in the classroom), especially since there are no extra support staff. One area the school would like to improve upon is professional assessment of students, or writing Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) for their students. The next time I return to this school, I will bring sample templates of IEP reports for them.
The families, teachers, and administrators were very curious and it was interesting to see what their opinions were on special ed. Despite their being an even bigger challenge and hurdle to overcome in a country that does not support financially or philosophically people with disabilities, everyone at that school was hopeful. Hopeful that things would change and hopeful that a better future could be built that improves the education of their students, an under-served and alienated group.
I found this through a fellow teacher's website.
Florida Teacher's Essay Becomes Rallying Cry for Respect
I've pasted the teacher's essay below:
I am a teacher in Florida.
I rise before dawn each day and find myself nestled in my classroom hours before the morning commute is in full swing in downtown Orlando. I scour the web along with countless other resources to create meaningful learning experiences for my 24 students each day. I reflect on the successes of lessons taught and re-work ideas until I feel confident that they will meet the needs of my diverse learners. I have finished my third cup of coffee in my classroom before the business world has stirred. My contracted hours begin at 7:30 and end at 3:00. As the sun sets around me and people are beginning to enjoy their dinner, I lock my classroom door, having worked 4 hours unpaid.
I am a teacher in Florida.
I greet the smiling faces of my students and am reminded anew of their challenges, struggles, successes, failures, quirks, and needs. I review their 504s, their IEPs, their PMPs, their histories trying to reach them from every angle possible. They come in hungry—I feed them. They come in angry—I counsel them. They come in defeated—I encourage them. And this is all before the bell rings.
I am a teacher in Florida.
I am told that every student in my realm must score on or above grade level on the FCAT each year. Never mind their learning discrepancies, their unstable home lives, their prior learning experiences. In the spring, they are all assessed with one measure and if they don’t fit, I have failed. Students walk through my doors reading at a second grade level and by year’s end can independently read and comprehend early 4th grade texts, but this is no matter. One of my students has already missed 30 school days this year, but that is overlooked. If they don’t perform well on this ONE test in early March, their learning gains are irrelevant. They didn’t learn enough. They didn’t grow enough. I failed them. In the three months that remain in the school year after this test, I am expected to begin teaching 5th grade curriculum to my 4th grade students so that they are prepared for next year’s test.
I am a teacher in Florida.
I am expected to create a culture of students who will go on to become the leaders of our world. When they exit my classroom, they should be fully equipped to compete academically on a global scale. They must be exposed to different worldviews and diverse perspectives, and yet, most of my students have never left Sanford, Florida. Field trips are now frivolous. I must provide new learning opportunities for them without leaving the four walls of our classroom. So I plan. I generate new ways to expose them to life beyond their neighborhoods through online exploration and digital field trips. I stay up past The Tonight Show to put together a unit that will allow them to experience St. Augustine without getting on a bus. I spend weekends taking pictures and creating a virtual world for them to experience, since the State has determined it is no longer worthwhile for them to explore reality. Yes. My students must be prepared to work within diverse communities, and yet they are not afforded the right to ever experience life beyond their own town.
I am a teacher in Florida.
I accepted a lower salary with the promise of a small increase for every year taught. I watched my friends with less education than me sign on for six figure jobs while I embraced my $28k starting salary. I was assured as I signed my contract that although it was meager to start, my salary would consistently grow each year. That promise has been broken. I’m still working with a meager salary, and the steps that were contracted to me when I accepted a lower salary are now deemed “unnecessary.”
I am a teacher in Florida.
I spent $2500 in my first year alone to outfit an empty room so that it would promote creative thinking and a desire to learn and explore. I now average between $1000-2000 that I pay personally to supplement the learning experiences that take place in my classroom. I print at home on my personal printer and have burned through 12 ink cartridges this school year alone. I purchase the school supplies my students do not have. I buy authentic literature so my students can be exposed to authors and worlds beyond their textbooks. I am required to teach Social Studies and Writing without any curriculum/materials provided, so I purchase them myself. I am required to conduct Science lab without Science materials, so I buy those, too. The budgeting process has determined that copies of classroom materials are too costly, so I resort to paying for my copies at Staples, refusing to compromise my students’ education because high-ranking officials are making inappropriate cuts. It is February, and my entire class is out of glue sticks. Since I have already spent the $74 allotted to me for warehouse supplies, if I don’t buy more, we will not have glue for the remainder of the year. The projects I dream up are limited by the incomprehensible lack of financial support. I am expected to inspire my students to become lifelong learners, and yet we don’t have the resources needed to nurture their natural sense of wonder if I don’t purchase them myself. My meager earning is now pathetic after the expenses that come with teaching effectively.
I am a teacher in Florida.
The government has scolded me for failing to prepare my students to compete in this
technologically driven world. Students in Japan are much more equipped to think progressively with regards to technology. Each day, I turn on the two computers afforded me and pray for a miracle. I apply for grants to gain new access to technology and compete with thousands of other teachers who are hoping for the same opportunity. I battle for the right to use the computer lab and feel fortunate if my students get to see it once a week. Why don’t they know how to use technology? The system’s budget refuses to include adequate technology in classrooms; instead, we are continually told that dry erase boards and overhead projectors are more than enough.
I am a teacher in Florida.
I am expected to differentiate my instruction to meet the needs of my 24 learners. Their IQs span 65 points, and I must account for every shade of gray. I must challenge those above grade level, and I must remediate those below. I am but one person within the classroom, but I must meet the needs of every learner. I generate alternate assessments to accommodate for these differences. My higher math students receive challenge work, and my lower math students receive one-on-one instruction. I create most of these resources myself, after-hours and on weekends. I print these resources so that every child in my room has access to the same knowledge, delivered at their specific level. Yesterday, the school printer that I share with another teacher ran out of ink. Now I must either purchase a new ink cartridge for $120, or I cannot print anything from my computer for the remainder of the year. What choice am I left with?
I am a teacher in Florida.
I went to school at one of the best universities in the country and completed undergraduate and graduate programs in Education. I am a master of my craft. I know what effective teaching entails, and I know how to manage the curriculum and needs of the diverse learners in my full inclusion classroom. I graduated at the top of my class and entered my first year of teaching confident and equipped to teach effectively. Sadly, I am now being micro-managed, with my instruction dictated to me. I am expected to mold “out-of-the-box” thinkers while I am forced to stay within the lines of the instructional plans mandated by policy-makers. I am told what I am to teach and when, regardless of the makeup of my students, by decision-makers far away from my classroom or even my school. The message comes in loud and clear that a group of people in business suits can more effectively determine how to provide exemplary instruction than I can. My expertise is waved away, disregarded, and overlooked. I am treated like a day-laborer, required to follow the steps mapped out for me, rather than blaze a trail that I deem more appropriate and effective for my students—students these decision-makers have never met.
I am a teacher in Florida.
I am overworked, underpaid, and unappreciated by most. I spend my weekends, my vacations, and my summers preparing for school, and I constantly work to improve my teaching to meet the needs of my students. I am being required to do more and more, and I’m being compensated less and less.
I am a teacher in Florida, not for the pay or the hardships, the disregard or the disrespect; I am a teacher in Florida because I am given the chance to change lives for the good, to educate and elevate the minds and hearts of my students, and to show them that success comes in all shapes and sizes, both in the classroom and in the community.
I am a teacher in Florida today, but as I watch many of my incredible, devoted coworkers being forced out of the profession as a matter of survival, I wonder: How long will I be able to remain a teacher in Florida?
The views expressed on these pages are mine alone and do not reflect those of institutions, organizations, or employers associated with me, past or present.