Posts Tagged ‘
Teacher advocacy ’
Mandy Zatynski writes for Education Sector’s blog, The Quick and the Ed.
Education Sector is an independent think tank that challenges conventional thinking in education policy. It is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization committed to achieving measurable impact in education policy, both by improving existing reform initiatives and by developing new, innovative solutions to our nation’s most pressing education problems.
There’s a lot of talking that goes on here in Washington. Policymakers, state leaders, nonprofits, and think tanks (like us) all have an opinion about education, its current state, and how to make it better. But there’s often an essential voice missing from this conversation, the point-of-view from the front of the class, next to the students, in front of textbooks, and inside the person that matters most: teachers.
As a former ESL educator, this baffles me. I am surprised by the amount of conversation and decision-making that takes place regarding the role of a teacher without a single, working educator present or weighing in at any point of the process.
Washingtonians can talk about the realities that a teacher faces daily, but an educator knows them, lives them, battles them every day. Washingtonians can break down budget cuts and how they will increase class size; but a teacher can show us what the cuts look like, from students two-teaming a single desk to cramped, overheated spaces that lead to uncomfortable, disruptive students.
In Washington, we like to talk about reform. We need to better train our teachers. We need to better assess our teachers. We need to better track our teachers from graduate programs to first jobs.
How about: We need to better listen to our teachers?
Because the fact is, we cannot talk about improving training for our teachers without first asking current educators how they could have been better prepared for Day One. And we shouldn’t talk about budget cuts or make assumptions on the effect of larger class sizes without consulting the folks who are actually affected.
We talk about teachers like they’re the big elephant in the room, and they’re not. There’s 7.2 million of them, in fact. They’re in metropolitan cities and country towns; affluent areas and poverty-stricken neighborhoods; from the snow skis of the Appalachian Mountains to the surf boards of the Pacific coast. And with today’s technological wonders – from live webcasts to video conferences, from Twitter feeds to blog posts – there’s absolutely no reason why teachers shouldn’t be included in the conversation.
That’s why my organization, Education Sector, has launched a Facebook group for just that. Called Teacher Sector, this page is for educators only. Here, you can weigh in on one of our poll questions or respond to the day’s top news in the education world. Or maybe we’re missing the big issue altogether, so post your own thoughts. Tell us how those new teacher evaluations are going. Are they fair? Are they useful? Or just come and network with other teachers. We designed this space to get a pulse, if you will, on the teaching industry; to make sure our work is improving your work; and to collect feedback along the way. The bottom line is: Your voice is missing, and it’s desperately needed.
As we’re just beginning our outreach efforts with Teacher Sector, we’ve added a limited time incentive for participants: like us on Facebook, www.facebook.com/TeacherSector, and answer a quick poll question to enter a drawing for a year’s worth of school supplies ($450, to be exact). Only the first 500 teachers to do so will be included in the drawing, so hurry!
After completing an MAT at Pacific University in 2008, Melissa Cantwell is now certified to teach Middle and High School English. She has been a substitute teacher for two years in Oregon City, Reynolds, David Douglas and Gresham Barlow School Districts and plans to continue substitute teaching until she finds a full time teaching position.
As a relatively new teacher, I’m well aware that the changes that result from education reform efforts going on now will have a huge impact on the future of my teaching career. I want to have a voice in the discussion about the future of public education.
And yet, I am continually amazed by the negativity of so much of what I hear. A 2010 Time article about the movie Waiting for Superman really piqued my interest in education reform. It discussed the overall negative state of public education in America, the negative effects of bad teachers in the classroom, and the desire of those in education reform to recruit the best and the brightest to the education profession.
I wanted to try and figure out what a “bad teacher” looks like in the classroom. How could I spot a bad teacher, and more importantly, how could I make sure that I didn’t become one? So I started reading more about education reform and realized the characteristics of “bad teachers” are never explicitly defined.
. . . Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
Lately I’ve been thinking back to an earlier part of my life and using those experiences as a lens for our current efforts around school system change. For about ten years, I was a teacher with Outward Bound. OB’s name has nautical roots—when a ship leaves the safety of the harbor and heads out in to the unknown it is said to be outward bound. Their motto “To Serve, To Strive, and Not to Yield” comes from the amazing Ulysses by Tennyson (as does the quote above). It is about balance—between self-reliance and being part of a larger community; between tenacity and sensible self-denial; and between compassion for others and taking care of one’s own. So, with that in mind…
Let’s take a moment to celebrate. I am truly excited by our opportunity to begin the process of public school system reform that is possible through SB 909. All is not fixed, everything didn’t go our way, there is so much to do, but there are moments of beauty in small victories. As I often find myself saying these days, we now have the possibility of possibilities. Once we’re done with this brief self-congratulation, let’s get to work.
One thing I know is that commitment is not enough. In my heart of hearts I believe that we are all committed to our kids—the work ahead will require determined single-mindedness, and it will certainly take a deep collaboration that is unusual and unlike any other we have attempted. It is not left and right, rural and urban, black or white, across this or that aisle—it is a moral imperative and it is for our kids. We are leaving the safety of this moment, the security of this small but important victory and heading into uncharted waters. We must build and maintain unwavering collective capacity for systemic change and we can accept no excuses. The legislative session that brought us to this time was filled with moments of political will, charismatic leadership, and fierce advocacy, while we also glimpsed petty infighting, fear mongering, misinformation, and other devils of our nature.
Jennifer Singleton is an elementary school music teacher with seven years of teaching experience in Portland metro area schools. She was born, raised, and educated in Oregon, and loves nothing more than connecting with kids through music. We’re excited to have her joining the conversation about teaching and education reform as the newest member of the ChalkBlogger team.
My seven-year teaching career has taken me to five different schools in the Portland metro area. Most of them, including my current school, have had low socio-economic status (SES), which refers to the income, education and occupation of the students’ parents. While there were definitely some advantages to teaching in a high SES school, I choose to teach in a difficult school because for me, the rewards outweigh the challenges.
Obviously, there were a lot of great things about working in a high SES school. For the most part our students were well cared for physically and emotionally. Classroom management mostly meant controlling chatty kids. My program was adequately funded, and our school had a supportive community with plenty of volunteers for classrooms and school events. In many ways, teaching in a high SES school was a breeze.
The learning environment I’ve just described sounds ideal, but there were also some frustrating problems. I have a few colleagues who, like me, have taught in both kinds of schools. And like me, they prefer to teach in a low SES school. When asked about it, one of my colleagues even exclaimed, “You couldn’t pay me to go back!” The question is: Why? With all of the advantages, why choose a school with so many struggles? The answer for us boils down to a lack of appreciation.
My class of teacher candidates and I are reading Teaching 2030, a book that uses wonderful ideas from practicing teachers to discuss their changing roles. As the title suggests, the authors (Barnett Berry and the TeachersSolutions 2030Team) offer analyses of the present to project a positive future. The book discusses the union movement and its effects on the present roles; learning ecologies and technological changes; differentiated pathways and careers for teachers; and teacherpreneurism and innovation. It is the latter concept – teacherpreneurism – that most intrigues my teacher candidates and me.
First, a definition. Teacherpreneurism is not educational entrepreneurism: recruiting people from outside schools to “fix” what is inside the present schools. Instead, teacherpreneurs are “teacher-leaders of proven accomplishment who have a deep knowledge of how to teach, a clear understanding of what strategies must be in play to make schools successful, and the skills and commitment to spread their expertise to others – all the while keeping at least one foot firmly in the classroom.” (Teaching 2030, p.136) In other words, the goal of these people would be to work from within to make schools better. The premise is that good teachers, especially, but not exclusively, young ones, want to stay within teaching but not within the cradle to retirement of working only in a classroom. Instead of moving to administration, these newly envisioned roles would allow teachers to work with students but also with their colleagues and students beyond their own classroom in a variety of ways – and they would be paid accordingly, both in personal satisfaction and in salary differentiation.
When my students talked about these ideas, they became interested in what happens in schools now and wondered why these sorts of opportunities don’t seem to exist. So I had them watch videos of the CLASS Project, especially the Sherwood District which is trying anew salary schedule to allow teachers to move in that direction. http://educators4reform.org/participating-districts/sherwood-school-district/ I wanted them to see that in Oregon change has begun. (A side note: many were really surprised how the teachers in the CLASS project talked about the lack of supervision and evaluation before implementing these changes. Most of them have a very limited understanding of the profession they are entering, and I often think how their lack reflects society as a whole.)
We here in Eugene are experiencing yet another round of deep cuts, school closures, and furlough days. All of this publicity discourages my class – will there be jobs for them? And that is why I have them read this book so they can envision an alternative kind of schooling. While Rahm Emmanuel’s comment of “a crisis is a terrible thing to waste” came back to bite him, I do agree that this present funding crisis offers us a way to rethink how we teach. Or, more specifically, how children learn. Whether we reexamine our outdated high school Carnegie units and the structures that result or apply technology to allow for individualized instruction in our over-crowded classrooms or some other yet-to-be-thought-of idea, we have the opportunity to create a new future. We Oregonians pride ourselves on innovation in environmental and health issues; why not in education?
Originally published in the Oregonian, as “How about some straight talk about fiscal crisis?”
This past election I received 146 political mailings. They contained hundreds of promises, including vows to support businesses and seniors, improve healthcare and education, and reduce taxes and regulations. Beautiful promises all. But not one of the promises was to cut public programs or raise taxes. Troubling, since state and national fiscal crises suggest we must do both.
My economics students understand this. This fall we watched “I.O.U.S.A.,” which revealed that federal debt swelled to $12.7 trillion in 2009. Bad news, considering we have not budgeted for the additional $46 trillion Social Security and Medicare will cost over the coming decades.
My government students understand as well. A state senator visited with us recently and said Oregon must cut over $3 billion from a $15 billion budget over the next two years, about 20%.
Our national leaders understand, too, but sadly, they’re unwilling to admit it. This month our president and Congress turned their backs on the recommendations of the deficit reduction commission, then declared victory as they extended expiring tax cuts and heaped another $850 billion onto our mountain of national debt.
Why won’t they confront reality? Is it because we aren’t willing to? Consider Oregon. About 93% of our discretionary budget is spent on education, human services and public safety, so cutting 20% means cutting vital services. And in education, where about 85% of spending goes to wages and benefits, that means cutting people. But public servants are quick to react against this, understandably so. (more…)
Even though I’m not teaching this year, I often miss having students. I miss the personal connections with kids and their parents; I miss having my own classroom, a safe space for learning and exploration. I miss the creativity of lesson planning and the challenge of developing good curriculum. Sometimes, I just miss school.
In those moments, I’m lucky to have a lot of friends who are still teachers. I can often visit their classrooms, help out for as long as they need, and leave feeling refreshed, hopeful, and invigorated by what I’ve seen. My last visit, however, to see a friend who’s in his third year of teaching, left me feeling disheartened and frustrated—not because of his teaching, but because of the policies that are making it increasingly difficult for him to continue teaching well.
During his three years of teaching, my friend has taught four different subjects: language arts, social studies, PE, and finally this year, his actual endorsement area, math. As you might imagine, even with the best of intentions it’s been difficult for him to improve his teaching of any one subject. With the district bumping and reassignment that happens every year, it’s not what he’s good at or trained in that matters. What seems to matter is simply that he’s a warm body, capable of being plugged into any necessary teaching assignment. Is this the way we want to be using our skilled teachers, as interchangeable and menial labor?
Furthermore, my friend just received news that his district, still facing budget shortfalls, will likely be cutting an additional 100-120 teachers at the end of this year. As a teacher at the bottom of the experience scale who has each year very narrowly avoided being laid off, he’s fairly certain he will finally lose his job this time. So even though he, like me, is excited about teaching, loves his students, and wants to give them the best education possible, his motivation to improve on what he’s doing this year or to create long-lasting curricular plans is basically shot. Who wants to pour their soul into something, only to have it taken away, again, in several short months?
I don’t want this to simply be a complaint about Oregon’s districts, because I know that some of them are doing great things to avoid what my friend is going through. But I just want to know what the plan is here. Clearly schools are going to have to get used to not having enough money, but how can they adjust to that while not killing teachers’ continued desire to do well? How can we continue to give good teachers a chance to shine?
Today, November 22nd, has been declared the Day of National Blogging for Real Education Reform. Educators and advocates across the country are sharing their visions for education and their perspectives on the challenges we face.
See the full list of blog posts here: http://coopcatalyst.wordpress.com/2010/10/29/ideas/
Follow the Twitter conversation at #blog4reform.
Spend some time today reading one or two entries or, even better, leave a comment! Share your perspective and have a meaningful conversation about the future of our schools and children.
Let us know what you read. Did you have a favorite post? Did you happen upon a good conversation?
Names have been changed to protect the innocent, the delinquent, and the negligent.
My friend, who is a first-year teacher in an Oregon public school, is beginning to get an inkling of the demanding and sometimes absurd dynamics of the classroom. He offers the following insights, and asks you to laugh instead of cry.
1. Assigned seating in rows is the norm for a very good reason. The pedagogy course book suggested arranging students’ desks in groups, to foster the exchange of ideas, and encourage collaborative learning. So why did all the veteran teachers gather and snigger the morning my friend set up this arrangement? It took only five minutes of the first class that day for him to get owned. For a rookie teacher, there’s nothing more dangerous than allowing chatty middle-school girls and surly underachievers to man up in learning-proof pods.
2. Translated, “teacher prep time” means weekends and evenings. My friend’s school can afford to allocate teachers one paid hour a week for team meetings, teacher collaboration and lesson planning. For a new instructor with no lesson plans in pocket, this has meant cancelling the gym membership, staying up late and neglecting all home maintenance except personal hygiene.
3. School lunches have not improved since you were in school.
4. Parents are not always grownups. A fellow teacher was interrupted mid-class by a brusque mom who was delivering a stack of late homework. A quick glance revealed it was not the student who had completed it.
Mom: Here’s Timmy’s late homework.
Teacher: This is not Timmy’s handwriting.
Mom, annoyed, speaking to Timmy: I TOLD you to change the writing.
Mom to teacher: What are you going to do? How are you going to grade him?
Teacher: Well, I can’t grade you because you’re not the student.
Mom: leaves in a huff.
In another incident, the school counselor called home to report to parents that Chad had not turned in school work and was failing multiple classes. This spurred them to action. That afternoon they called those teachers they had numbers for and berated them loudly for their son’s failing grades.
5. Teaching is a lot like parenting in this way: you have to show up, day after day, no matter how blah your mood, what the weather is like outside, or how little sleep you got. You’ll be expected to be prepared and to perform your best for a very demanding audience. Few, if anyone, will thank you. You’ll do it all gladly, for not enough pay, for those moments when you see the light bulbs spark up in young minds.
Waiting for Superman is a powerful reminder that children and parents care about their own education. By choosing to focus on several children and their families, the director Davis Guggenheim translates large data sets about school and child failure into personal stories. The two former elementary teachers, present teacher educators, who attended the film with me, were in tears at its end. (Even this hardened secondary teacher’s eyes were moist!) All three of us are familiar with the statistics, with the arguments of the policy makers, with the demands from our own constituency to send them better prepared teachers; those numbers and demands are never as convincing as seeing the effects of bad policies and unresponsive schools.
And it is just that manipulation of our emotions through the struggles of five students and their search for better schools that worries the film’s critics. They know that tugging on heart strings will get a greater response than, for example, Deborah Meier’s argument in the October 27, 2010 Education Week. She says that, instead of blaming “‘lazy’ teachers and power-hungry unions” (p. 12), Guggenheim might rather illustrate the issues between the wealthy and the poor that allow people like him to escape the public schools. Her exposing an obvious, but still extant, problem is important. It does not, however, resonate as much as hearing the story of Bianca whose mother can no longer afford the small tuition of a Catholic school and hopes the public, free charter school is the answer.
I am a great admirer of Meier and certainly agree that our country’s acceptance of the wealth gap is a disgrace. Her own response to that gap was to start her own successful alternative school in Harlem; she is certainly familiar with the stories in the film. Those stories bring us closer to the problem than any kind of lecture on the problem: poverty, systems’ failures, bad teachers, unions. I often have to counter my student teachers’ comments that a lot of parents just don’t care. These novices reflect the beliefs of some other teachers who, working under demanding circumstances, feel a loss of effectiveness. That loss of self-efficacy often turns into scape-goating – parents are a natural target. This film might work to counteract that response.
Unless….unless we decide to focus on the film’s deficiencies: (more…)