Teachers aren’t the enemy

From Chris Christie wanting to punch the teachers union in the face to John Kasich‘s desire to get rid of teachers unions the teaching profession is under attack by bullies. It isn’t just the politicians that want to use the teaching profession as a whipping post, non-profits like The 74 and The Mackinac Center regularly take jabs at teachers under the premise of educational reform. Teachers are becoming afraid to share their voice due to the constant attacks. Fewer teachers are now drawn to the profession. Teachers are afraid to share their voice due to abuse. Where will it end?

Teachers are not the enemy to educational reform, we are the solution. Without high quality dedicated teachers, schools would not exist. Think tanks like to spend piles of money to break up teachers unions and belittle the profession. WHY? Wouldn’t their money be better spent in building up the teaching profession? How about opening a model school and see how their policies would make education better? It doesn’t happen because their solutions are short term, focused on saving money on teacher pay not creating a better system. The best educational systems exist where teachers feel valued and have a role in decision making.

The Mackinac Center under the pseudonym Capitol Confidential likes to constantly badger teachers sharing their voice. In a recent post “Teachers Making Over $80,000 need second job to pay bill” the center just wants to focus on pay of teachers. The article is quick to point out that teachers work 184.5 days and 7 hours per day. Lets start with the hours: NO teacher works bell to bell it is impossible to do so, most effective teachers work 3 to 4 hours beyond the bells. Next, no teacher only works the district calendar. Just stop by a school in the weeks before or after the school year and see who is there, most teachers. Sure, eighty thousand should like a good amount of money but few teachers make this salary. The state average is $57,000 and that number has been going down. Starting teachers make less, Average starting teachers salary statewide is $35,000. Remember these teachers have students loans to pay off, taxes, pensions, health care, homes and families to pay for. Yes, teachers are struggling just like many in our country.

If the Mackinac Center were a student in our schools they would be written up for bulling behavior under state bullying laws. It has been repeated and constant. Educators share their story, Mackinac Center attacks, in the name of school reform. Stop the bullying. Focus on being a positive voice not an attacking one. Focus on helping teachers not beating use up.

We are not the enemy you are looking for. Your public bullying behavior makes our job harder. If a public group like Mackinac Center can bully, why can’t our students?

Teachers aren’t the enemy, they are doing the best we can in the world we live in. Schools are a reflection of our society. Education reform should be about making our society better, so our schools reflect it.

Teachers can influence policy 

Photo by Todd Bloch

In July twitter was a buzz about pending legislative action mandating social media policies in all school districts. As a connected educator, I felt I needed to share how it could possibly impact state educators on my blog.  Fortunately for educators, the author of the House Bill 4791, Rep Adam Zemke of Ann Arbor desires educator input on this legislation.

After seeing my tweets of concern, Rep Zemke’s office contacted me to set up a time to talk to Rep Zemke. A day later we had a wonderful hour long conversation about the social media bill and my connected educator concerns. I was not speaking out only for my concerns but for the general concern of all teachers in Michigan who my be impacted by this bill and how districts might react. Not wanting to rely on one educator’s viewpoint Rep. Zemke asked if I could gather a group of educators to discuss this further with him.

On August 13, 2015 in Zeeland, Michigan Rep Zemke met with a group of seven connected educators from all over Michigan to discuss the intent and impact of this legislation. After a quick over view of the bill, the discussion turn to educator concerns. Rep Zemke listened and quickly took out a notebook and pen to record educator viewpoints. Everyone at the table knew the intent of the bill is to have policy in place to encourage positive social media use in our schools. Prohibition due to lack of knowledge was the largest concern.

At the end of the conversation, Rep Zemke asked for contact information of all educators and hoped to share final bill language with all (for input) when it was complete. I was impressed. This was the first time in 15 years as an educator I felt my voice was truly heard by a legislator. Rep Zemke drove across Michigan to listen to 7 teachers share their concerns, not one of which lived in his house district. Lansing and Washington, DC need more legislators who meet with people who are directly impacted by their policies.

Thank you Rep Adam Zemke, I hope our input on this policy helps create a bill accomplishes the goal on POSITIVE social media use in our schools. You did what all politicians should, looked for input and listened to concerns.

Educators if you have positive stories of Social Media use in your school please share them in the comments.

7 Educational What ifs ….

 Educators need to start thinking outside the box; focusing on WHAT IF questions. Here are some society needs to tackle.

  1. What if we funded education like we do sports? We spend billions on sports annually, do they add as much value to the world as our educational system?
  2. What if we stopped bashing teachers and supported them? Teachers have been slammed everywhere they go lately. Just think if teachers felt valued and were treated like professionals.
  3. What if all businesses had vested interests in their community schools? Businesses seem so disconnected with today’s school system, shouldn’t they be more involved.
  4. What if there was more collaboration in education? Currently most educational models have schools competing for students, shouldn’t they be collaborating for students’ learning instead?
  5. What if education was about sharing ideas instead of making capitalist profits? Many business models are set up to profiteer off of our public schools, should it be more about the common good!
  6. What if teacher voice was valued more than special interest think tanks and politicians? Teachers are the experts, shouldn’t they be listened to more than all the so-called educational reformers with no classroom experience.
  7. What if university schools of education worked with in school districts? Many schools of education are so disconnected with real schools. Need to make teaching schools, just like teaching hospitals for doctors.

I am sure their are many more What if questions we need to be asking, be sure to add yours to the comments.

The Real Choice in School of Choice

School of choice is a hot topic in political venues these days. From a teaching perspective it is cannibalizing our public education system. Student populations can swing drastically from year to year as districts spend money on marketing campaigns instead of in the classrooms. Creating unstable budgets and high teacher turnovers all in the name of choice. Recent studies in Michigan show that more than half of the school of choice students end up moving again. Is school of choice making the best educational system for ALL of our students?

Wasn’t a choice already made

Most parents make their school choice when deciding where to live. Real Estate brokers use the public school systems to market homes, apartment complexes proudly advertise the district where residents attend. Every friend I know took the public school system into consideration when choosing where to live. The decision is predominately made based upon test data and state ranking date. Do these numbers tell the true story of a school? No always, so of course many make a drive by of the community school to make a visual assessment and talk to parents who have children in the schools. After all this research housing choice is made that doubles as a school choice. As a resident of the community, parents will have a vested interest in maintaining quality schools.

 What if the community changes and schools slip? or Parents can afford to live where they really want to?

The REAL choice

Schools need parent involvement. Parents can’t just expect a district to have top-notch everything. They need to make the CHOICE to get involve in the school not abandon it. Communities need to rally around their school, asking what they can do to make student achievement happen. Instead school of choice has created a “its not problem, I will go elsewhere” attitude. Schools need parents in every aspect of the education process. From being on PTA to sitting on the district improvement team. Parents can coach sports teams, be hall monitors, and volunteer in the classroom.

It makes me sick when I see school of choice ads. Money that should be spent on students and learning is wasted to sell the dream that the grass is greener on the other side of the tracks. Pretty much same school just different zip code. Parents need to stop buying into this fade. Legislators need to end the concept as it exists today. Choice should be more about instructional practices not social economics.

Building an Education Coalition

There are some many groups with interests in education. From the teachers, their unions to administrators to civic groups and privately funded think tanks. We ALL have a common goal of improving our educational system. We are often working along parallel paths to obtain our goal. Our messages get blurred by each other. Right now perception is that all stakeholder groups spend more time fighting each other than accomplishing anything.

What education needs is less of this infighting and more unity. Stakeholder groups have to find common ground and build coalitions to accomplish our COMMON goal. Ideas that where agreement is found, collaboration is needed to achieve it. Focus needs to be on doing what is BEST for students while being FAIR to teachers. Often one of these is perceived to be compromised for the other.

Teacher evaluations seems to be an area where most can agree. Schools need a clear, transparent and proven evaluation system so teachers can grow and create college and career ready students. Currently here in Michigan the message has become so muddled that the government funded Michigan Council of Educator Effectiveness produced a report backed by most stakeholders. Now this report has been thrown aside for a lesser evaluation system. It is time for stakeholders to unite and DEMAND what is best for students, teachers and administrators, a high quality teacher evaluation system, that provided a state exemplar model and funding to train administrators to use it properly. Without a quality evaluation system our best teachers will leave and districts will be mired in high turnover with much confusion over evaluations.

Join me in using #MIeval hashtag this year to share stories of WHY we need to return to the MCEE report in Michigan.

I feel my district has evaluated me fairly because they have moved toward the MCEE report in anticipation of it becoming law, but I hear many stories of districts living in the dark ages with evaluations. Michigan deserves better! As JFK has said “A raising tide raises all boats” a high quality state evaluation system will raise all student learning!

Finding My Educator Voice

One year ago I was invited to apply to become a Michigan Educator Voice Fellow. Like many who received twitter and e-mail invitations to apply? I was a bit skeptical, but curious. Reading the description: “Be a leader, Use your voice, Elevate the conversation.” I felt it seemed similar to the goal of the #michED community of fostering a positive imagine of education, while raising voice of educators. I had to apply. I was accepted.

Once accepted I was still curious to what this Fellowship would entail. Friend questioned the funding and wonder if we would elevate our voice or the voice of a special interest group. Would I have to say things I didn’t believe? Would I have to sell snake oil? Valid questions of the unknown running through my mind as I drove to Lansing for the initial convening last November. Curiosity caught my attention, I had to find out the answers, knowing that I could back out if I didn’t believe in the voice I was asked to raise.

Arriving in Lansing I met incredible educators for all over the state, as we gathered many of us had similar concerns for the unknown. Quickly these concerns were answered. We were to elevate OUR voice in support of OUR passions sharing OUR experience. The fellowship provides support, connections, and delivery methods to TEACHERS voice. They provided training in message writing, social media and contact with legislators. Giving format models for us to follow and tools to use. Never once did they tell us WHAT to say. We were instead instructed to say what WE BELIEVE.

The year went quickly in the fellowship. I received support from the leadership and 49 other fellows. A weekly e-mail blast shared what we were doing with all fellows. We supported each other via twitter, blogs and at conferences. Many opportunities arose due to the fellowship for me to share my educator voice. I was sad to see the year come to an end.

Lucky, I was asked to be a LEAD FELLOW for 2015-2016. I get to share my voice about the state of teacher evaluations in Michigan. I will be working with teachers, administrators and stakeholder groups to lead our legislators to revisit the Michigan Council for Educator Effectiveness report of 2013. Michigan needs a top notch education evaluation system for our students, teachers and administrators. Senate Bill 103 does not provide us with one. Leaving evaluations up to local control with NO state model and NO local bargaining means districts can have unfair, biased evaluation systems.

Find your educator voice. Speak from your experience to make our states education systems better for students and educators. Follow Michigan Education Voice Fellows to see what they are sharing their voice about. Never be ashamed to share your voice, just make sure your respect others and their opinions.

7 hour work day and summer free must be the life ….

Photo by Todd Bloch
Photo by Todd Bloch

Tuesday morning I was taking out the trash, my neighbor waived then said “7 hour work day and summer free must be the life” jokingly as he placed the cans at the curb. Teachers hear these sentiments from non-educators all the time. Trolls fill the internet with animosity towards the teacher workday. Comments like “Teachers get full time pay but only work part-time” perpetuate the myth that teaching is a well paid, easy, part-time job. The common teacher comeback is “just work a day in my shoes”, ending the exchange. Ironically, when talking to others about teaching middle school the most common response is “you can’t pay me enough to teach teenagers.”

Why do comments like these feel like daggers in the heart of teachers? Teachers work hard and are passionate about what they do. Our career choice is unlike most other professions for many reasons:

  • Teacher preparation hour is like most other jobs. If teachers are lucky they get 30 minutes of preparation time per day. Most elementary teachers have roughly 200 minutes per week. This is when teachers can grade paper, design lessons, organize room, tutor students, communicate with parents, read and reply to staff communications and go to the bathroom.
  • Going to the bathroom has to be scheduled. Teachers spend most of their day in front of students, going to the bathroom can be a challenge. Elementary teachers especially have a struggle since they don’t have passing time between classes.
  • All meetings and collaboration happens after the bells. Most jobs have all their meetings during the scheduled day. For teachers this never happens because teachers need to be in front of students. Teachers spend countless hours before and after school in meetings or collaborating with co-workers to make the school days go freely. Think about all the afternoon and evening activities you see your children’s teachers attending. This is on own the teachers time. Many teachers have to miss events for their own children to be there for their students.
  • No going in late, cutting out early or extending lunch like most jobs for appointments. If a teacher has a doctor’s appointment it has to be after school hours or in the summer. Otherwise the teacher has to take the time off. Juggling these appointment can be a major struggle for educators that need to going to regular appointments. Just ask a teacher who has been pregnant during the school year.
  • Homework. Teachers have the most. What doesn’t get accomplished during their prep time still has to be completed at home for instruction to continue the next day.
  • During summer teacher do get a break but also attend professional development and hone their skills for the next year.

Teaching is a tough job. It is getting tougher with the lack of public support for our profession. If you are jealous of a teacher’s life then become a teacher don’t bash one. Nobody is bashing professional athletes for only playing at most 162 games in a season, so why bash teachers who make far less? Let’s stop bashing others and start understand what we each do to make this world a better place.

Teachers do one of the most important jobs in the world: EDUCATING the next generation. Shouldn’t their jobs be respected and supported rather than bashed?

Working hard to make sure teachers are inspiring the youth of tomorrow.

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