Posts Tagged ‘ teacher frustration ’

Teacher leadership is a title which comes with many perceptions. Just depends who you talk to. Some parents view teacher leaders as “practitioners” who can manage a classroom and consistently guide their students through quality lessons. Administrators may see them as accomplished “coaches” who model effective standards-based instruction, and assist peers to adapt their instructional practice accordingly. Many policymakers admire teacher leaders as “facilitators” who transform ever-changing education standards into quality instruction and improved student learning. These are just some of the perceptions held by folks in Oregon who are deeply invested in K-12 education.

 However, teacher leadership should extend beyond the confines of a school, and into the educational policy arena. For at the root of these perceptions lies a deeper question: “Should teacher leaders play a prominent role in education policy decisions?”


To help frame this question, I selected excerpts from an Ed Week teacher blog entitled “Teachers Should Be Seen and Not Heard.” In this blog article*, Anthony Mullen, the 2009 National Teacher of the Year, described his experience at a national education conference where stakeholders proposed needed changes in education. The blog commentary began as follows:

 I am a fly on the wall sitting at a table. Seated at a round table are three state governors, one state senator, a Harvard professor and author, and a strange little man who assumes the role of group moderator. The strange little man asks the group to talk about their experiences at the education conference. The ex-governor from the South begins to talk about how the traditional school model is not working and the problem of too many teachers who do not understand what they teach. Teachers, he complains, are not prepared to teach in 21st century classrooms because they possess, in his words, “only 20th century skills.” He does not provide specific examples or elaborate upon his theory but the other guests at the table nod their heads in agreement.

 One by one, other table members provide their commentary:

 A governor from the Midwest…tells us that his “good friend “is “right on target” about teachers not prepared to teach in 21st century classrooms.”  …the Midwest governor complains that teachers, particularly math teachers, don’t know their subject materials. Again, the other guests at the table nod their heads in agreement.

 The state senator from the West… is a diminutive lady and pauses to reflect… “I think we need to consider the role of teachers in the classroom,” she replies in a soft voice. “We are headed toward a teacher-less classroom and must be guided by this fact.” The senator continues her line of reasoning, asserting how the rapid infusion of technology in classrooms is better understood by students than teachers. “Teachers are best suited to facilitate the dissemination of knowledge through interactive technology rather than try to teach ideas and concepts using traditional methods.”

 What does Anthony Mullen think about all of this?

 Where do I begin? I spent the last thirty minutes listening to a group of arrogant and condescending non educators disrespect my colleagues and profession. I listened to a group of disingenuous people whose own self-interests guide their policies rather than the interests of children. I listened to a cabal of people who sit on national education committees that will have a profound impact on classroom teaching practices. And I heard nothing of value…..Today I have listened to people who are not teachers, have never worked in a classroom, and have never taught a single student, tell me how to teach.

 While the aforementioned scenario may not be a common occurrence at every large-scale conference, it happens all too frequently for practitioners who are given the chance to engage in education policy.  But perhaps more alarming are the lack of opportunities for teachers to provide their instructional expertise in a leadership role at the table with stakeholders, period. Today, a growing number of building administrators are utilizing teacher expertise to generate recommendations and strategic plans for how to improve instructional practice and student learning. However, these same practitioners are often not invited to contribute their professional judgment to school decision-making policy discussions. This “wisdom of practice” is an untapped resource which would not only provide invaluable advice to school districts, but also a governing board such as OEIB (Oregon Education Investment Board).

 I am disappointed that our Governor has not appointed a practicing classroom teacher to OEIB. This board is responsible for promulgation of critical “investment” decisions for education in Oregon. And yet no teacher leader is a member. Although state teacher advisory groups exist in some fashion (teachers seen), there has been no concerted effort to formally invite accomplished teachers to participate in significant education policy deliberations (but not heard), with the noted exception of the DEC (Distinguished Educator Council).

 Two years ago, Chalkboard Project empanelled the DEC to establish opportunities for teacher leaders to weigh in on education policy issues. DEC prioritized and selected their own policy issue agenda, and has successfully made inroads to endorse legislation on topics such as teacher mentorship, new models for teacher preparation.  CP should be applauded for its commitment to bring accomplished teachers together to not only deliberate over policy issues, but also to hatch plausible solutions. As a result, these solutions have real potential to be crafted into new policy recommendations. This model for enlisting the participation of exemplary classroom teachers provides a much-needed context for how education policy can be more clearly translated into classroom practice. I believe OEIB would benefit tremendously by appointing an accomplished teacher to the board. Increasing visibility and raising the voice of teacher leaders is worth the investment.

So what do you think? Should accomplished teachers participate in formal educational policy discussions in Salem? In a school district? In a school building? In what ways and to what extent? How should school districts in Oregon encourage and provide teacher leadership opportunities beyond instruction and assessment?

*Access Anthony Mullen’s entire blog article

We are excited to announce the formation of the Distinguished Educators Council!

From our press release:

Chalkboard is seeking 12-15 award-winning Oregon educators to serve on the Distinguished Educators Council. The Council’s mission will be to provide an independent platform for educator voices on reform efforts and implementation, as well as to advise Chalkboard and an array of stakeholders on initiatives not currently being addressed. Applicants should be current classroom teachers who want to participate on the Council in addition to their regular classroom responsibilities. Chosen applicants will earn a $1200 stipend for a year of service on the Council.

The Distinguished Educators Council will have professionally facilitated meetings and access to research on a range of topics related to strengthening the teaching profession including, educator evaluations, continuous growth and career paths, assessing effectiveness, principal leadership, and recognizing and rewarding great teaching. (more…)

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.


There were tears in the hall again today. No, I don’t mean a child was crying. It was a teacher.

Many teachers have been laid off from their positions for next year. It is a hard time in the year already. It’s the time when we teachers have to say good-bye to the kids we’ve come to know and love, and for some of us, it’s time to say good-bye to the profession that we have extensively trained to do, and one that we feel is meaningful and important.

Unlike the business world, our customers have not disappeared. They need us more than ever. Many more kids take home food for the weekends. Many more kids come to school with learning delays and unstable situations at home. Our schools need to ramp up, but instead we are under attack.

I hear all the talk about how we need to change the system. Meanwhile, the funding is held hostage—no one wants to pay for the children. It’s funny, because in houses across the country and world, kids bring in no income and yet families will go to great sacrifices for their children. But as a society, we can’t seem to do that for the education of our children. We teachers generate no money and yet we “feed” children. We feed them knowledge, feed their self-esteem, and in doing so, we feed society. Yet, society is starving us.


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. 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?

Traditionally, grades have been interpreted as C means average, B means above average, A means excelling, D means below average, and F means failing. Yet no student of mine in fourteen years of teaching believes this. My students view B as average, A as above average, C as below average and D/F as failing.

Furthermore, I’m unsure whether most students know what it means to excel. Most are accustomed to earning As for simply following instructions. It’s not uncommon for a student to ask me why an essay was scored a B, when they listed all the requested information. I’ll reply yes, you listed the information, but you didn’t explain the information, support the information, demonstrate that you truly understand the information. In other words, you met the minimum criteria, but you didn’t surpass them. Often I receive a blank stare in response.

It seems that our students are receiving increasingly better grades, and not necessarily working harder or smarter to earn them. A 2005 study by the organization that administers the ACT test concluded, after analyzing the GPAs and ACT test scores of 800,000 students per year over 13 years, that grades had inflated over 12% over that time period, meaning a student that scored a 20 on the ACT in 2003 had a 12% higher GPA than a student that scored a 20 on the ACT in 1991.

If grade inflation exists, if we instructors are assigning students ever higher grades, then we may be doing them a disservice. They may be learning that top marks are not hard to come by, and that’s certainly not going to motivate them to become the next great innovators and problem solvers our world needs.

I’m not suggesting teachers simply need to grade students harder. In truth, I wish we didn’t have to “grade” students at all. I wish, instead, that we could simply provide students and their families meaningful qualitative information and data to monitor and promote learning and growth. But as long as we do have grades — as long as colleges and communities look to grades, regrettably, as the sole barometers of student achievement — then we owe it to students to hold them accountable to solid standards and evaluate their work accordingly, and resist pressure from students, parents and administrations to grant favorable grades. That means when a student and/or parent asks for extra credit assignments at the end of a semester for the sole purpose of boosting scores, we should reply no, and let scores reflect actual performance.

Teaching is a lonely profession. At some point in their career, everyone bemoans the fact that teaching, planning, grading, attending meetings, and tending to bureaucratic necessities leaves little time to reflect on one’s practice, much less to talk to another knowledgeable adult about it. It’s one of the paradoxes of education: to get better at something, you need time to reflect on what you can do to improve, but with so much pressure to show improvement, there’s no time to get real feedback on how to get there.

With that in mind, I was thrilled to see how many English teachers showed up in Orlando last weekend for the annual conference put on by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). Over three days, teachers attended sessions on everything from using Facebook as an instructional tool to helping middle school students talk more deeply about literature, from improving grammar to being mindful of the social justice obligations of English instruction, and everything in between. Teachers had a chance to hear from other successful teachers what was working in their classrooms and also had the opportunity to mingle with principals, instructional coaches, and professionals whose experiences were drastically different from their own. It was an amazing opportunity to learn from each other’s experience and successes—not to mention a chance to be constantly inspired by the good work that’s going on across the nation.

Of course, the teachers who were there had predominantly been supported by their districts. Most needed to take at least one day away from their classrooms to attend; many balanced their time attending sessions and talking to other teachers by day with time spent in their hotel rooms at night, grading the student work that never quite comes to an end. Regardless, for one weekend, the focus was only on being reflective about one’s practice, about doing things better. To me, it seemed double or triple the worth of any district-sanctioned professional development.

So does it seem reasonable to assume that conferences like the annual NCTE conference, events that bring professionals from all walks of the nation together to reflect on their work, are the way education is going to improve? Sort of a grassroots movement that comes from those who are actually implementing change in their classrooms? To me it seems to embody the way change should happen: brought about by those who are most directly involved and knowledgeable about it. Is it possible that this is the way to make sure the important voices in educational change are heard?