Dear President Trump

president-trump

Dear President Trump-

Your slogan is “Make America Great Again!” The word again implies a return to practices that worked in the United States. Your choice for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, shows you don’t value past success but feel you know more about education than the experts. Mrs. DeVos has no public education experience. She never attended public schools. She didn’t send her children to public school. She holds no degrees in education or educational policy. Her only experience in the name of education has been funding of vouchers and school of choice policies across this country. Her proposals have steered public tax dollars away from public schools into the hands of private corporations. Would you hire someone with no business or real estate background to run your empire?

Does the American school system need some work? For sure, but handing it over to someone whose life’s work is to dismantle public education is not going to make it better. The school of choice reform movement is selling false dreams to divert public funds to private corporations. Their plan for education is for all public schools to compete for students. They argue when schools compete everyone wins. Last time I check competitions have winners and losers. Our students and public school systems will be the losers as funds are diverted to private entities. Would you build a Trump Hotel across the street from your current hotels? No, but that is what your Education Secretary is proposing.

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The key to making our educational system great again is COLLABORATION, not competition. If a publicly funded school has systems and structures in place that create success it needs to be shared to give ALL our students the opportunity for success. Students need to be offered “Real Choices”  in education. Not the pseudo choices that has been failing our students for the past three decades. Please rethink your choice here. There are many great educational minds that want to make our educational system great, not just great for their own pocketbooks.

Thanks for listening.

Sincerely a Michigan Teacher

 

Outdated Schedules…

scheduleBrowsing twitter the other day and I noticed a Think Progress article on Outdated School Schedules. Are school schedules outdated? YES! Casey Quinlan makes a glaring mistake at the start of her opinion piece.

“The vast majority of parents — 70 percent — work full-time from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., but the median closing time for a school is 2:30 p.m. On top of that, schools are closed 80 percent longer than the typical worker receives in paid holidays and vacation time, which works out to 13 more days off than parents have, according to an analysis from the Center for American Progress.”

Schools do have schedules that do not mirror our workers, should they? Absolutely not, a work day is longer than a school day should be, it is not age appropriate to have students at school in a rigorous academic program for 9 hours. By starting her opinion with this fact Quinlan is continuing the  American assumption that schools should be the child care provider. Schools have become the dumping grounds for every social ill in the United States. Bullying is a problem? Schools need to address. Drugs? Address in schools. Social Media skills? Lets educate students in schools. Now the issue is child care costs and the needs of our working class. Instead of paying employees enough to pay for childcare or having work provided childcare options, it becomes a school issue.

Our society isn’t worried about doctors and dentists offices that only have appointment hours during the school day! Or the fact that many families choose to pull students out for family vacations or to help out with daycare. So the question arises how can we make a flexible school that assists families with their busy lives, honors the educational process and is respectful to teachers.

Why not build a school with no defined hours? Have it open from 7 am till 7 pm. Teachers can build their schedules with in those hours. Parents then can design their students schedules (and at the upper levels students can). This model would make all school look more like college. The school could utilize a blended instructional model. Students find quiet spots to work, when needed teachers find them to hone their skills. Student experiences would be scheduled but optional to all. ALL students could take the classes they desired as long as they kept up. (Instead of now having pre-selected elective classes where class choice eliminates other classes.)

Schools need to build more flexible learning models for students and teachers alike. Let’s work at building a model that values student learning not parents child care needs!

Overloaded

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Image From: BoredPanda.com

Nine o’clock  Sunday morning a notification goes off on my cell phone.  Amy, my wife, picks up my phone to see what the buzz was about while I was readying breakfast for our 3 children. Was it an emergency? Was it an invite for an outing during the day? Was it Grandma asking us to attend church with here?  NO,  a work colleague had sent our building staff a survey to take by Wednesday to plan a parent engagement night for our school.  Amy threw my phone down on the table with disgust:”Why is your work ALWAYS budding into family time?”  A teacher working at 9 AM on a Sunday morning? Yes, this is the teacher’s life. So much work that even the day of rest gets compromised to check things off the to do list.

Teachers are overload with work, left with little time to check things off their “to do” lists. Often when teachers find time they use it for much needed unwinding and family time than to dive into new needed tasks. Teachers show up for their days early and work late into the evenings focusing on lessons plans and feedback. We worry about our students and spend time focused on relationships. Our jobs are full of activity and stress. Kaye Wiggins writes that teaching is one of the top three stressful careers.

There is this SUPERTEACHER myth advocated by education reformers that many believe. If teachers just gave more time, students will achieve. How much time can educators give? Most educators have families that they need to have time to support.  Educators are overloaded! It would be great if education was like many other professions, where time was flexible and work stayed at work.

To reform education, one might start by unloading the teachers, so they can FOCUS on their jobs of educating students.

Where have all the subs gone?

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Thursday morning our staff received a urgent plea from our principal, “We are short 4 substitute teachers for Friday. The district has spent precious funds to send our Language Arts department to a conference. We need teachers to volunteer their preparation time to make it happen.” Our staff knows the drill most of them volunteered their valuable time to make the day run smoothly. Sadly this is all to frequent a story for teachers. Teacher preparation time is valuable. It allows for collaboration and planning to occur. The rest of the day is spend in front of our students teaching. Where have all the subs gone?

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Billboards and yard signs are all over Michigan, yet there remains a shortage of substitute teachers. When I started teaching sixteen years ago, subs were abundant. Rarely was there a shortage. Most teachers would never have to give up their preparation time for the entire year. So far during the first five weeks of school, I have given up 3 prep periods and I have heard of teachers giving up as many as 5 prep periods. This is an unacceptable rate to be loosing preparation time. If the shortage continues the lack of subs will have a huge impact on student learning.

Schools need subs for a variety of reasons. Teachers get sick and have doctors appoints just like anyone else, can’t just leave the classes unattended. School districts also have to provide professional development and staff trainings as mandated by state law. Every teachers needs to be offered 30 hours of professional development per year.

Friday was a rough day for our teachers and students. Not only were preparation times lost, the few subs that our school could obtain were inferior. One sub was so bad our principal had to send him home in the middle of the day. Our schools deserve better. Our administrators and teachers should not have to worry about subs to start everyday. I know teachers who show up to work sick because they don’t want to be a burden to fellow staff if a sub can not be found.

Where is the administrative, parent and media outrage? When will our legislators address this issue? Probably never sadly. The responses I see some people asking why subs are need in the first place.

The time is NOW to address this issue. Subs are needed in every school district. Heck some school districts still have open full time positions. If you have a day or two free during the week sign up to be a sub, it will change our students lives!

 

 

#proudMIeducator

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#michED Team presenting at MACUL 2014 

Michigan Department of Education is launching #proudMIeducator initiative this week  “that aims to acknowledge, elevate, and celebrate the work of great educators in the State of Michigan.” This is a great idea, we need to celebrate the great work of all educators. Don’t many educators already do this on social media? Well as a matter of fact they do. In 2012 a group of educators started a community call #michED , I became a part of this grassroots group pretty soon after it started. Educators have been sharing positive stories and celebrating our success on social media for years. Michigan Department of Education is just catching up. Is this a sign of how long it takes change and innovations to enter the main stream?

Michigan has been a  great state for teachers. Home to Michigan State University, University of Michigan and many other great teaching colleges. Our schools have been top notch but in decline of late, mainly due to funding issues and failing infrastructures. Teachers do need to be elevated and celebrated more. Is a social media campaign going to improve education while drawing the best and brightest into the field? The jury is out on this one.

Michigan Educators are proud. Proud of our jobs. Proud of our schools. Proud to be innovators. Proud to inspire youth everyday. Proud to be helping educate the future of our state, but we are also tired. Tired of over crowded rooms. Tired of crumbing school infrastructure. Tired of being blamed for the societies flaws. Tired of no substitute teachers when we are sick. Just plain tired.

To elevate the teaching profession in Michigan it is going to take great efforts by all involved. Using the #proudMIeducator or #michED hashtags is a start. Where do we need to go from here? First and foremost we need a legislature that listens to the educators, treating them like experts. Michigan Department of Education (MDE) is heading down the right road, hopefully they will join up with the already established #michED community. MDE should attend all of the state’s educational conferences talking about how they are working to elevate teachers. MDE should encourage all legislators to get into teachers classrooms and see the greatness that occurs. What if we promoted education and educators like we do tourism? Can you say Education Week?  I can’t wait to see what the future holds, we can’t go anywhere but up!

 

but we focus on test scores!

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My students come to class hungry

not knowing where the next meal comes from

but we focus on test scores.

My students come to class tired

They have not had a full night’s rest

but we focus on test scores.

My students come to class anxious

living in fear of violence and abuse

but we focus on test scores.

My students come to class unfocused

so much uncertainty in their world who could

but we focus on test scores.

My students come to class sick

no insurance to help cure their ills

but we focus on test scores.

My students DON’T come to class

having to care for siblings at home while parents work

but we focus on test scores.

My focus will be my students

Maybe if our school reforms focused on students and not their test scores we could really fix education. Schools are but a reflection of the ills in our society. When we truly value education and educators we might find the solution!

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Real Choice Needed

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As I drove to set up my classroom this morning, I passed a brand new charter academy with a beautiful campus and two billboards advertising neighboring district schools. Educational choices are abundant like picking a brand of potato chips at the store.   Similar to picking chips are the school choices a REAL choice? or just choices based upon the brand names? My kids have long sense realized that the store brands taste the same as national brands. Aren’t mosts schools the same?

Of course schools have different physical facilities and staffs. The content taught and methods used in schools are predominantly the same. When picking a charters schools or school of choice it is more about the marketing campaigns, Zip codes and facilities than about educational choice. Districts and charters are competing for students. Money is being spent on advertising and “shiny” upgrades instead of going into the classrooms to improve learning. Instead of collaborating to offer students real choices in their education, districts are fighting for every last student. It is time to stop the cannibalization of schools! It is time for collaboration.

3 steps to improve choice:

  1. Charters need to offer something different working in conjunction with public school around them. Student populations are very diverse, one method of instruction does not fit every students. Charters should be offering this alternative. If school district offers traditional instruction then charters should offer Project based, flipped or blended options (Some do this now). This way when districts encounter students that are struggling alternative teach methods can be offered and students moved to proper fitting school.
  2. End open school of choice. Too often parents move from school to school based on zip code. This will allow all the funds used for marketing to be redirected into classrooms. Did you know some larger districts employ entire marketing departments?
  3. Encourage neighboring districts to collaborate and establish smaller alternative learning path schools. Many districts are doing these now with Career and Technical Education. Wouldn’t it be great to offer more students a similar choice? Just think if districts offered up a project based or blended high school or middle school option.

Without this coordinated collaboration districts will continue to drain their limited resources fighting for students. Charters will pop up offering no real choice in places corporations see the ability to make money. It works best when we all get better together.

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