Schools need a state budget!

budget

On March 5, 2019 Michigan Governor Whitmer proposed a state budget. Today is August 26, 2019 and the budget has yet to be adopted. Our “Great” state is gearing up to shut down October 1.  Our legislators have been on sumer recess despite the governor asking for them to work until a budget is approved.
Our students deserve a state budget! It will provide stability and funding for their classrooms. Most school districts had to set budgets for the 2019-2020 school year in July. Not knowing funding levels for this school year, means districts have made conservative budgets, not funding extra supplies or staffing to create smaller classes. When a budget passes districts might change staffing (if they can find teachers) and order supplies but this impact the students, shifting their schedules. I urge any Michigan Citizen to write their legislators NOW so our students can receive a well funded education! Below is the letter I wrote to my legislators if you need a template for your letter.  If you need to find your legislators the MEA can help you here.
Dear Legislator;
As the 2019-2020 school year begins most school districts are under a cloud of uncertainty. This is the first time in a decade that there is not a state budget before the school year starts. Most School’s financial year starts July 1. School have to adopt budgets and plan staffing for the year. Without a budget this creates uncertainty. Schools plan conservatively so cuts don’t have to happen once school starts. This means schools are understaffed and students might have to change classrooms and teachers once a state budget offers some stability. Michigan students need our state budget NOW!
Please get back to work, working with all parties to adopt a fair budget that provides the stability and opportunity for ALL students seeking a public education in this state.
Thank you for your time and efforts.
Sincerely
Todd Bloch
7th grade science teacher
Parent of 3

5 Ideas To Recruit and Retain Educators

Best

As the 2019-2020 school year commences, media outlets are reporting about the shortage of certified teachers while classrooms are filled with long term substitutes. Districts and Politicians are looking for solutions. Problems like this don’t have quick and easy fixes, too many components to the shortage: Pay, Workload, Flexibility, Respect and Job Growth to name a few. A person with the right skill set to be an educator can easily find a high paying, more flexible and respected job in the current market.

To be a successful teacher one has to have many skills: presentation, technology use, communication, organization, personnel management, data analysis and reporting all come to mind. Having a skill set that includes all of these would make an individual very marketable for careers in most fields. Most fields can offer quicker job satisfaction than education.

A friend recently left the education field to find more career satisfaction. He is becoming a truck driver. When I asked why he shared this information:

Student truck drivers earn $41,000 a year on average. CDL truck drivers can expect to earn $66,000 a year on average. OTR CDL truck drivers earn the most, with salaries averaging $82,000 a year. Team truck drivers earn an average of $71,000 each per year. https://www.truckdriverssalary.com/how-much-can-you-earn-your-1st-year-as-a-trucker/

He went on to share: “I will work less hours and won’t have my work life mixing with my home life. I want less stress and more time for my family” It made sense for him not to teach.  How can we fix this?

Why teach?

Most people who go into education do it for the love of learning and youth. I previously blogged my WHY.

Society needs to make the profession attractive again.

How?

First stop all the myths about it being a part-time job for full time pay. Do we say this about actors, athletes or any other profession that doesn’t work 40 hours a week 50 weeks a year, nope so why do we do it to teachers?

Second: Remember that it is a profession, not a job. Treat teacher like the professionals they are. Professions are respected not treated like babysitters. Ever since the saying “Those that can do, those that can’t teach” surfaced teachers have been under attack. Time rephrase it to “Those that can do so due to teachers.”

Third: Flexibility needs to built in to profession. Right now summers is the only flexible time for teachers. But on every school day teachers have to show up, this makes it hard for people who love their own kids. Many teachers use up sick days to go on field trips and spend time with their own kids or even go for doctor’s visits and the dentist office. With the rise of flex time in every other career but education no wonder many are flocking towards the door.

Fourth: Refocus education away from test scores towards quality of life and growth. Test score focus is forcing many educators to leave. Student scores focus on students  individual mindset and social-economic backgrounds. Rating teachers on student scores changes the role of teachers, teachers now feel they are motivators in chief versus educators.

Fifth: Pay! A respected profession is paid well. We pay for what we value. Sadly Instagram promoters and Fortnite players can quickly make more than educators. The pay has to be competitive for educational level. Teachers currently make 17% less than those with similar educational levels. We need people in all careers but the most important one is education, but is society showing that educators are valuable with current pay and school funding?

I love being an educator. There is no greater joy that helping students have Ah-Ha moments or seeing them grow from beginners to experts in a skill.

“I am not interested in picking up crumbs of compassion thrown from the table of someone who considers himself my master. I want the full menu of rights.” Desmond Tutu

Hopefully the profession can be built back up so more can discover the joys of being an educator!

Teach Like A …..

Teach Like A

 

When asked by a new teacher about how to teach, the first thing that comes to mind are the teaching similes: Teach like a …Pirate, Champion, Boss etc. They are catchy and have been used by authors to hook people into reading their books. These books are good reads full of reminders of what great teachers do. Each author takes a different angle highlighting what they found to be meaningful to them as a teacher. I have enjoyed reading many of these books learning many new ideas. These similes help catch the essence of teaching, but what happened to teaching like a TEACHER? (maybe it doesn’t sell books)

Sure the quick comparisons are great but lets really think about them:

Pirates sail around to their own tune with no loyalties, robbing others for their own good. Teachers have to be loyal to their students and districts.

Champions are the best, better than the rest. Accomplished for self/team winning metals by defeating others. Teachers have to work as a part of a large team and collaborate with those on all other teams for the good of all students not just theirs.

Bosses are in charge of every aspect of their company ordering employees to  do their will. Teachers know that many aspects of their job is out of their control and work hard to guide students to where they want to go in their learning.

I could go on to all the other “Teach like a” smiles I have found as book or blog titles. (Even teach like a cat?) Teaching is a very diverse and complex job. Teachers need to explore the many ways/ styles of teaching, finding what works for THEM and their STUDENTS. While books are full of incredible ideas it is important to find methods that work for you.

In my experience I have just kept evolving. As I watch and talk to more teachers, I pick up tips and tricks of the trades. Occasionally I am reminded of methods I used to use but moved away from due to my students population but might work for the new students in my class this year. Educators have to remember that judging others from what we hear or passively observe in their teaching style is dangerous. I have observed many teachers instructing in ways I would not teach but it was working for them. I wouldn’t expect teachers to copy my methods. Good teachers have their own unique style.

Teach like a teacher owning your methods. 

#Clearthelist – equity comes to question

I noticed a conversation today on twitter around #Clearthelist.  Apparently Courtney Jones started a movement about a month ago on social media to help support teachers called Support A Teacher , where teachers can share their Amazon (or other) wish lists in hopes of having them filled by generous donors. Sounds cool!! Until you really think about it. Why do teachers need to post wish lists? Don’t taxes fund schools? Yes taxes fund schools but right not it is hard for schools to keep up with the ever growing needs of their student bodies. With the costs of salaries, building maintenance, transportation and curriculum needs, classroom supplies often get short changed. Teachers often dig into their own pockets to make sure classes have all the supplies needed. On average teachers spend over $500 out of their own salary to equip their classrooms.  Teachers that want to try more hands or engaging activities often spend more or end up asking their students for supplies.

Crowd funding for classrooms is nothing new, Donors Choose has been around for awhile. Crowd funding seems to be popular thing in the internet era. From medical costs to new product development to films crowd funding is happening. Now it is building steam in education. For me it brings to question Equity! Teachers that are more connected to resources will ultimately have more donors. Think about it, a teacher in a poorer community will not have parents who can afford to reach into their pockets for more, since they are struggling just to get by. Teachers in wealthier districts will have parents that are eager to donate, many of them already are via class supply lists. Social media will help equalize a bit allowing teachers to reach out of their local community but is this really equitable? How many items are needs vs wants or wishes? Then I worry about teachers who create list but nothing is purchased, who will they feel? Is this just luck of the draw?

I want to thank everyone for wanting to help teachers. Here is my wish list. The basic needs are on my listed, I added a few reach desires as I plan on teaching coding with drones  and could always use more tools to reach more students. But after helping a teacher by sending supplies, it is time to help schools get funding for these supplies by voting.

Teachers shouldn’t have to beg for pencils, folders, or books for their students. It is time to fund school adequately.

 

 

Drones in the classroom?

Today I was lucky enough to attend a training at Macomb Intermediate School District sponsored by REMC, called “Coding and Drones”. I had no idea what I was getting into but I had always been interested in drones and have taught coding in one of my classes. When the flyer hit my in box back in June I remembered about meeting up with a twitter friend, Brian Cook, at AMLE conference in Philadelphia where he shared how he had a drone club at his school. Why not give up one day in summer to check it out? Today was worth it! I am just imagining the possibilities of using drones for learning.

First off WHY!

At the start of the presentation the why was answered quickly. Drones are used in so many industries for so many tasks. From the Military (the obvious news making use) to Television to airlines to energy industry to agriculture drones are used regularly. Drones go where humans struggle to go. Usually inspecting with video relays and often performing repair tasks. First thought in my head is that Spiderman Far from home drone use aren’t fiction for much longer. Our students will most likely encounter drones in their careers. Of course we can’t really know because most of our students will embark in careers that aren’t around yet. Drones were fiction when I was in middle school.  Using drones will engage our students in applied technology. Students will see the value of accurate measurements, coding with a purpose and understanding of the thinking by design process.

Now the How…

It will take some time to figure out just exactly how to incorporate drones into the classroom but today opened the door to many ideas. As we worked to learn how the drone worked each table group talked about how to use them in their classrooms. I was lucky to be working with two other middle school teachers. We quickly focused on the tasks that students could complete; flying an obstacle course or completing tasks. We were introduced to a program called DroneBlocks a quick block based coding program. DroneBlocks has tutorials and has some tasks for students to complete with the Tello Drones. I feel that the coding with drones will fit in with as an extension station to my current teaching. I can’t wait to watch what the students learning with drones.

My only concern is that I have only one drone. I will have to seek grants and share my successes in hopes of getting more. Maybe Amazon would want to sponsor school drone programs in the future due to their ambitious plans to deliver packages via drones!

Follow my twitter and Instagram feeds to see what we are doing with drones in the classroom this year.

All I can say is if you get the opportunity to learn about using drones in the classroom don’t pass it up!

Find Your Educational Niche

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Education is not a competitive sport! Educators should not look at others for comparison’s sake. 

 

Education is a collaborative practice. Educators look to others for ideas and inspiration.   

 

A Cautionary Tale: 

 

My first year of teaching felt like a competition. My principal’s observations noted comparisons to other teachers. I was asked to observe others and “be more like” a few veteran teachers. Pressures forced my teaching style not to be genuine, I was attempting to mimic teachers who were viewed as highly effective. Every lesson attempted to use a best practice listed in the school improvement plan. I desired to be the best, thinking it meant being better than others. I was competing with my colleagues as if I was attempting to make a sports team. 

 

My mindset was a product of my education and the leadership in the school. In school, I always competed with my peers academically. I rushed to be the first done, have the best grade and get into the best college. In college this remained, competing to achieve. I compared teaching to sports; there is a best way to run a play. There must be a best way to teach. My first principal made me feel inferior to others. Constantly pushing me away from my natural teaching instincts towards being the same as the more seasoned teachers in the building. Test scores and a variety of teaching methods consumed my quest to be the teacher others followed. 

 

The harder I tried, the more I struggled. Trying to be just like other teachers, focusing on outcomes was not making my classroom better. Each day was more frustrating than the last. Why didn’t my students behave the way the other classes did when I observed? Best practices filled my day but learning was still a struggle. I had fallen victim to the super-teacher myth. Best practices and copying successful teachers had ruined my first year teaching. I tried too much. I lost focus. 

 

Fresh Start: 

 

Lucky for me the summer gave a break, switch to a new building, a fresh start. Walking in for the first teacher day, I received the best advice: “Don’t copy the other science teacher, do it your way!” I slowly changed my focus to my students. Finding practices that fit their needs, not just deemed best by school improvement specialists. My principal encouraged purposeful teaching methods. Teaming was a focus in this new position. We discussed our lessons and helped each other hone our craft. I stopped comparing myself to the teachers around me and focused on making myself better each day.

 

As the years have passed, I observe other teachers to find practices that might blend well with my style of teaching. No longer looking to copy, but seeing if I can add to my tool box as a teacher. As a science teacher, I focus on creating students that question WHY things happen in the world around them. Engaging them in the process of understanding processes that cause changes in their lives. I use formative assessment practices to monitor my students learning. No longer looking at summative assessment results for validation of my teaching. My students let me know daily how successful I have been. 

 

Moving Forward: 

 

From Project Based Learning to Service Learning from Flipped Classroom to Gamification, there are too many practices and teaching styles in education for any teacher to keep up. Teachers need to find their niche, focus on students, and be genuine. Observing other teachers to gain ideas is very helpful. Just be careful to not compare your teaching to others. Many new teachers get caught up in comparing themselves to veterans. This practice can lead to devastating results. 

 

After over fifteen years of teaching and hundreds of classroom observations, I have learned, no two teachers are identical. Each develops their own style. What works for one, won’t for all. Education has many paths for success. Our students learn in many different ways. This diversity in the classroom is a necessity for ALL to succeed. Find your niche as a teacher, then get better every day!

Be the Advocate For Your Students

advocate

I never took a class in college that told me a large part of teaching was advocacy. Most teachers spend their time focused on lesson planning and relationships with students, we feel politics should be left to others. I have found politics have impacted education and it is time to make sure our students’ voices are heard. Over the years I have witnessed the lost of elective classes, funding for supplies, class sizes increase and no longer having a media specialist to support my students reading need. All of this has been a result of policies enacted by state and federal legislators.

While education is a much talked about issue during campaigns very few politicians follow through on promises to educators. The tide seems to be turning slightly in Michigan where our new governor, has been steadfast in holding education as a high priority in the budget, while also creating a educational advisory panel of teachers from around the state. These big steps can only be maintained by persistent educational advocacy from teachers.

Teachers know what is going on in the classrooms. Teachers are trained in assessing and meeting our students’ needs. Teachers are busy with all that they do, but advocacy matters, when we show up our voices are heard. Today I wrote my senators and representative in support of Success in the Middle Act of 2019  to ensure that all students in the middle grades are taught an academically rigorous curriculum with effective supports. I urge other educators to do the same.

For the same reason many educators in Michigan have and will march in #RedForEd Rallies in Lansing. The next march is Tuesday June 25. Teachers have to keep the pressure on legislative bodies to fund their priorities in education.

Keep speaking out and sharing your voice on behalf of our students!

Lorax

My previous advocacy post: Be A Lorax for Education