Let’s Spend some time together….

from Flickr  user: eye2eye
from Flickr user: eye2eye

Hello Legislator, let’s talk. You are on summer recess, hey so are us teachers. Roughly a quarter of your job has to do with passing legislation that controls my job. Isn’t it time we sit down and really talk? I see in the paper that you attend all the local business meetings hosted by the Chamber of Commerce, Kiwanis, and the Rotary club. When are you going to stop by and say hi at the meetings I attend?

Maybe you missed the invites or don’t know that teachers are busy all summer planning for the next year. If you are a Michigan Legislator here is a list of all the summer professional development where you will find many teachers who would love to talk to you. Maybe you could show up at an Edcamp in your district and host a session on educational legal issues or educational policy in action. You could join the educational conversation on twitter and connect with #michED teachers Wednesday’s at 8 pm ET.

Summer is a great time to talk to ALL of your constituents especially teachers. Sure you can stop by schools while in session but we are busy working. Oh also remember that when you are hearing testimony on educational issues: EDUCATORS are busy working so we can’t make it to Lansing for you to hear our voice.

We would love to have you stop by join our conferences, hear our voices like you do the business interests.

Need for Teacher Code of conduct ….

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Last night as I was reading my twitter feed, I noticed a tweet about House Bill 4791, that would require districts to adopt a social media policy for teacher and student interactions. This bill is being introduced by State Representative Adam Zemke from Ann Arbor, with the best intentions of making districts have a policy where many have none.  I quickly tweeted my hopes of having connected educators input on the bill, Rep. Zemke quickly replied that he would love to have input including his office phone number.

 

Having a Social Media policy sounds great in theory. This bill allows local control for districts to come up with their own policy. This is where I get scared for many educators. A simple policy that many districts could take is prohibition of teacher/student contract via social media. Teachers would lose a valuable tool for connecting with their students where they are spending most of their time. Connected teachers in these districts would feel like they are losing a huge part of their practice. Other districts will spend money on this mandate by having their legal team research a policy draining a part of already limited resources. Some district might even feel that a policy gives them licences to monitor teachers social media accounts. (This would be costly and invokes visions of George Orwell’s book 1984.) Leaving teachers feeling paranoid of any social media use. Is there a better path than having to pass legislation every time new tools come about for teachers to connect with students?

What if Michigan Department of Education in collaboration with ALL stakeholders created a “Teacher Code of Conduct”? This code could be updated by MDE when needed. It would be similar to Hippocratic Oath that Physicians take. This code would be published on all teachers certificates, reminding teachers regularly. The Teaching Code of Ethics would address all the concerns with those few questionable teachers. A simple line like:

I will have only professional interactions with my students (and former students until they are adults).

This covers social media, letters, notes, phones and verbal conversations in one line, without adding burdens to the 500+ districts to create new policies. Laws already exist to cover the underlying concerns with inappropriate social media contact.

Will district policy (proposed by this bill) or a teacher code  of ethics stop the few perverted minds that the bill intends to stop? History says, probably not. A teacher code covers the societal concerns with teachers and social media without mandating districts coming up with their own policy.

Next we will be discussing bills requiring districts to have auto use policies, physical contact policies (covering hi-fives and handshakes) to bill covering every aspect of teachers day. The teacher code offers a more sensible path to the same solution for all teachers in Michigan.

Thanks for reading.

Are Teacher Evaluations Measuring Up?

Every teacher wants to be highly effective in classroom. Spending hours researching best practices, planning lessons and setting up their classrooms. After just a few formal observations, teachers are handed their “report card” at the end of the year from their administrator in the form of an evaluation. Teachers receive daily feedback about their teaching from students and parents but often receive little to none from their administrators until the final evaluation meeting at the end of the year.  Educators can feel surprised by their evaluations if the results don’t match the feedback they received.

For evaluation systems to be accurate, they need to be administered with fidelity throughout our educational system. Using different tools and procedures creates a feeling of distrust in today’s schools, especially since teacher job placement is not based upon teaching evaluations. Deborah Ball and The Michigan Council for Educator Effectiveness have attempted to address these issues; Sadly the Michigan Legislature failed to approve and fund their plan.

A recent addition to the teacher evaluation is student growth data from standardized tests thanks to the Race To The Top initiative by the federal government. This creates an entire new set of concerns about evaluations. Do all students grow the same? Is learning growth linear? NO, but these are the assumptions made when using student growth data in teacher evaluations. Many times teachers are evaluated in content that they don’t even teach. Using student growth for teacher evaluations focuses on linear academic growth, it does not take into account where students start and what is occurring in a student’s life. Students that are all ready ahead of grade level will have a harder time growing since the learning targets for the grade level have been mastered. This means teachers of advanced placement or gifted students will have the largest struggle showing growth. What we really need to remember is that learning is NOT linear.

Of course teachers desire learning to happen in their classroom: many struggle with how to measure it. Why? Because learning has so many variable that are beyond the teacher’s control.

Teachers deserve an evaluation that is equitable to ALL. Let’s work on making one!

#semicolonEDU Reflextion 

 My Semi-Colon Side-Burns

Time for a pause; pause for summer: pause from stress to reflect.

This week Dr Joe MazzaNick Provenzano and many other brave  educators have shared their stories about dealing with depression, suicide and mental illness. Their actions are bring much needed light to mental health and how it effects all of us. The Semi-Colon Project exists to help anyone in need have hope that their story will continue. As an educator it is important to recognize students in need of help, academic and mental. Everyone has a story and it must be shared. Here is mine:

April 1, 1988 my life changed forever. Until this date my life was “normal”, sure I was a bit of a nerd, didn’t have a ton of friend and lacked social skills, but that is normal for a 17 year old. My parents and I were flying back from a college visit in Wooster, OH to our home in Quincy, IL. I was seated in the co-pilot seat in from with my father, my mother was in the back two rows behind on the pilot’s side. My father was an accomplished pilot having flow since his youth. The weather was beyond his control.

The flight ended  with me awakening 3 days later in the hospital. My parents having perished upon impact. My body was ravaged with injuries. I was the lone survivor of the crash. (My brothers skipped the trip to stay home with my grandmother.) Many nights I cried myself to sleep in the hospital. I kept asking myself: Why didn’t I die?I was nothing special, My father was a local doctor; my mother was very involved in our community and church, why did I survive and they have to pass? More than once during my physical recovery from broken bones, I considered taking my own life.

Lucky for me I was in the hospital where my father had worked, many doctors, nurses and community members stopped by to support me. One day the hospital chaplain stopped in to talk. As I shared my depression and desire to end my story, he made me pause to listen to his. He shared how his life was tragedy but also joy. He stopped in every day for the rest of my stay (3 1/2 months) to make sure that I knew I survived for a yet to be determined reason.

Every year since not only have I dealt with the physical pains of the accident but I fall into bouts of mental pains of depression. I can’t tolerate April Fool’s day, which can be difficult as a teacher. I feel lucky to have made it this far in my life.

We all have a story, we just need to share it. Society has to move from the position of judgement to one of understanding and respect. It shouldn’t be about whether you are black, white, gay, strait, battling mental illness or physical impairments: We are all humans, pause to hear each others story and give everyone respect!

All Aboard Twitter?…Its all about connections

Let me start of by saying I am an educator who loves using twitter. I have participated and moderated many twitter chats (too many to count) over the past 3 years. I have presented at conferences and Edcamps on how to use twitter. I vividly remember presenting at MACUL  two years ago and Nick Provenzano asked be what my presentation was on, after hearing my answer “Just Twitter” he replied: “Just the most powerful educational tool out there.”  Yes, Twitter is a powerful tool. In my presentations I call twitter, “The Entry Drug” to being a connected educator.

Lately I have seen a rash of blog posts and tweets proclaiming that ALL teachers/educators should be on Twitter. I want to say not so fast. The focus for all educators should not be getting on twitter, because twitter is just a tool and there are so many great tools that are similar to twitter. Twitter is a tool for connecting educators. Educators can also connect by using Voxer, Facebook, Google +, and e-mail to name a few others.

It scares me when the focus is on the tool not the product that the tool produces. Twitter is just one vehicle getting educators connected. Would we want every person driving a Ford? (Well maybe if you are from Detroit) ALL educators need to find a way to connect to others. Teachers need to see what is happening outside of their classroom, district, state and country. Twitter does allow this to happen very rapidly, but it takes work and effort through connections.

SO frequently educators hear the Twitter message, sign up and expect great things with little effort. At a recent conference, I over heard two teachers talking: ” Are you on twitter?” asks the first, “Yeah, but I only use my account at conferences!” replied the second. “Yeah, me too!!” Obviously the message of get on twitter is getting to teachers. Using Twitter to foster connections is lost in the message. Getting on twitter does little for educators if they don’t build connections.

This message needs to change from being about Twitter to being about CONNECTIONS. ALL EDUCATORS need to be connected in what ever means works for them.

Are you listening to educators legislature?

Amidst the constant political rhetoric of education reform are our legislative bodies listening to the educators? Do they even understand what is going on in our schools? In a recent conversation with a district business manager we talked about the need for our legislative body to understand how policies affect districts. He shared how in a recent conversation with state representatives illustrated their lack of knowledge of school funding. Representatives feel ALL schools were given equal increase in fund which is not accurate.

Education reform is always a headline when it is election season. School funding always comes up. Most legislatures choose to argue “We can just throw more money at the problem!” Are we throwing “more” money at it? YES, but schools need more money to keep up with the rising costs. The minor increases in school funding don’t off set the huge infrastructural increases that districts have to pay. Schools need to pay for their facilities, electricity, water, sewer, transportation, technology, supplies, insurance and salaries. Any funding increase is quickly off-set by increase in all the other costs. Many districts in Michigan will see a $70 per pupil increase in funding, this probably won’t offset the district’s utility cost increases! This is why the newspapers are littered with articles about school lay-offs. The only place for wiggle room in most budgets is employees. Creating an atmosphere in our schools where educators don’t feel valued.

High quality teachers are being forced to make tough choices. Stay in the classroom but suffer financially or leave their education careers for greener pastures. This climate has created steep drops in school of education enrollment.  Teacher turnover is higher than ever. Is this the reform climate our politicians want? I regularly receive emails for local teachers telling their story like this one:

I’d like to start off by saying I love working in this district. I love the staff, students, and families. I look forward to coming to work each day and I take a lot of pride in the effort I put in. I’m thankful to have a wonderful administrator who lets the staff know how appreciated they are. I don’t want to leave this district, nor do I want to take time away from my family by taking a second job. However, I’m fearful that if my hard work and dedication are not reflected in my paycheck, I will have to find other ways of increasing my income.

I’ve worked in the district for five years, and due to the salary freezes, my salary is $8,405 less than what it should be according to the salary schedule. This loss of income has taken a toll on my family and me. By the time I finish my Masters degree, I will have paid $17,271 in tuition. It’s been very challenging for me to pay my tuition bill each semester as I’ve only watched my paycheck go down due to rising health insurance costs. The cost of living has risen significantly since our salary freeze started. This has made it difficult to provide for a family, save for our children’s’ college tuition, while trying to pay for our own tuition and student loans.

I’m asking you to please consider how the personal lives of your employees are effected by continuous salary freezes, and to consider releasing the freeze and re-instating our steps. Thank you for your time and consideration!

A Dedicated Employee”

Is this how we treat what we value? Lansing are you listening to teachers? We need to fix school funding! Education reform happens by showing educators that they are valued in society!

Gov. Snyder its cold outside for teachers..

Our legislative bodies seem to be always concerned about education, teachers and student learning. Do their actions show it? New Michigan Schools Superintendent Brian Whiston has been credited with asking “If education is our state’s priority, why don’t we pay teachers like it is?” The educational reform movement seems to be about cutting the cost of educators NOT building up the profession and making it a priority. My school district has been dealing with cuts like many districts in our state. Teachers are feeling devalued and disrespected. Superintendents and school boards are trying to do their best with what little funding they have. As a local MEA leader I am responsible for bargaining our contract. New laws require that school district employees pay more for pensions and health care. As salary schedules are frozen, teachers have taken home less pay each year over the past 4 years, with no hope for relief in sight.

I recently received this message from a colleague:

“As you may or may not know teaching was not my first career path what you may not know is that when I came out of college I sub taught for my brother for a semester because he had undergone neck surgery.  After that semester I thought teaching is NOT for me, so I promptly found a cooperate position as a management trainee for Cintas where in 4 years I was promoted 5 times and was now the boss of the person who hired me. During that time I was still coaching and matured quite a bit.  My passion for helping kids grew and I thought if I was truly going to make difference I needed to become a teacher.  That summer I turned in my resignation and began going to school full time while subbing here in the woods almost everyday.  3 years later I was hired HERE at WWT and I couldn’t have been more excited.  I felt the decision I made to leave a position where I earned $20K more was worth it because I was here, where I really wanted to be.  I knew I would start at step 0 but in time I would again earn a salary I could raise a family on.  While I am grateful to have a position doing what I love… love don’t buy diapers.  I understand that times in education have been tough for all of us but for those of us who have been frozen at or near the bottom of the pay scale it has been extremely difficult.  Eventually they guy flipping burgers will either surpass me on the pay scale or take my position as an educator if something does not change.  I also believe our administration is doing everything in their power to preserve positions and for that we should all be grateful. I’m not trying to blame anyone or point fingers that’s not how I do things I’m merely stating the facts… its cold on the bottom of the porch and many of us my be frozen right out of the profession.

If it helps I can speak to the salary freeze, and concerns many of us have.  As a relatively new hire but someone who has been around here for a long time I can speak to the impact this is having at least to my family.  While our salaries have been frozen our lives have not.  Since being hired 6 years ago I have had three children and anyone can understand the difficulties that carries alone but factor in the increase in health care, 3% that still goes (I don’t know where) and rising cost of living…. Dude we are struggling!  So much so I am considering leaving the profession all together, not because I want too but because my family deserves the most from me and I just can’t provide that at this time.  I love what I do and believe I make a difference in the lives our kids and the community but I can’t afford to do what I love, teach and coach.  I have not put a time table on this decision but it is one my wife and I are considering. Thank you for listening and feel free to share my thoughts if you think it will help. ”

Sadly this is the story for many educators all over the country. How can we expect our best to stay in education when jobs in other sectors will value them more?

Its cold outside for educators! We need the legislative body to take action and show our profession RESPECT not lip service during election season then attacks the rest of the time. Incredible teachers are considering leaving the classroom daily, the colleges are empty of replacements, if this continues our schools will be barren.

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