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.

Ruffled Feathers

Its that time of year. The school year is ending and teachers prepare for the educational off season. Time to reflect on the year of teaching, take a break to refresh and plan for the year to come. For some the end of the school year goes smoothly, but for others feathers are ruffled. As districts are coping with declining enrollments and tight budgets, more and more teachers are faced new teaching assignment for the upcoming year. Many are changing grades, buildings, faced with reduced teaching roles or even lay-offs. The off season for these teachers is filled with transitioning to a new role.

For some this transition is smooth, like Miguel Cabrera moving from third base to first, but for others the change can be more like switching Miguel to the NBA. Teachers spend money and time preparing to do their best in the classroom. Purchasing books, supplies and attending training to make sure students succeed. If their position changes many times the purchases and training will not be utilized in their new position. Frustrations ensues.

Displaced teachers feel disrespected as professionals, having no voice or choice in the changes being made. Districts need to take a collaborative approach when making scheduling and staffing changes. Teachers often see avenues towards solutions that administration can’t see from their offices. With the investments districts have in training staff, it is wasteful to move these resources into positions that they are not best utilized.

How can districts work with their teachers to make sure staff are ALL placed in positions for optimal student learning? Education need to be a place where teachers feathers aren’t ruffled in this way. The off season should be about fine tuning skills not learning a completely new position. It is hard enough with changing standards and student populations.

What’s the story with the data?

student data

As I proctor my students taking the NWEA Science MAP test, I notice blank stares at the screens. Students are slowly absorbing the random test questions. Trying to put the words into a context, thinking back through classroom experiences. Attempting to find the correct answer. We have been studying severe weather events in class. Now the students are being bombarded by questions from physics to biology to geology. Some of the questions hit directly on units covered in our classroom, others were studied in previous years and some of the material has not been taught to my students yet (In curriculum for 8th Grade). I wonder: Will the results show that students grew their science knowledge? Are my teaching methods preparing my students for this type of assessment? Is this assessment meaningful for my students?

As the results come in I find that 72% of my students hit their NWEA Projected Growth Targets. Well that doesn’t seem bad. 7 out of 10 students in my class would hit the expected growth. But did my instruction garner these results? and Why do I feel the 72% should be higher? These are the hard questions to answer. I feel that many of the questions I observe from over the shoulder of a student taking a test are disconnected from my teaching. From the random sample observed, I did notice a few questions that go directly with our instruction. Many of the questions were totally disconnected from any of the units taught this year in seventh grade. If my students correctly answered these questions the credit should go to them, not my teaching since it was never covered in my class. 72% seems low because it is a C on most grading scales, I feel I am better than a C teacher. How can any test measure the effectiveness of teaching when it is not directly connected to the content taught in class? MAP does seem to measure a student’s ability in a subject matter and their growth over time. This could be tied to teaching but mainly is students learning ability.

I teach the way I have been trained. I teach units. Ideas are introduced with global experiences. Lessons are organized so students can learn related ideas together. This method allows students to make connections in their learning. Ideas seem to flow together naturally. Light and sound are taught together in a unit on wave energy. Cells are studied at the same time as genetics and plants. Students like the flow and can dive deeply into content with the connections. Standardized tests seem to forget this concept. Questions jump all over the place. The questions have no context or connections for the students to anchor their understanding. Simple reason why Jay Leno’s segments of “Jay Walking” are so funny and popular.

Should I change my teaching to be more random? It might help students think before jumping at the first thought that enters their mind.

My students hate the MAP test. They feel it is a waste of time. Many commented about how they had no clue on how to answer certain questions. Some felt frustrated during the test and gave up on trying when they encountered questions that had content that was never taught to them. Are these test necessary? Aren’t there better ways to show students are learning?

When we really look at the data what story does it tell?

Through the Hourglass

Close view of sand flowing through an hourglass. 3D render with HDRI lighting and raytraced textures.

At my son’s last Boy Scout Troop meeting, an analogy for schools surfaced. Griffin being new to the troop, I just took an seat in the back of the room taking time to search my twitter feed for articles to read. After reading a few tweets I notice a lady approaching me. She asks about Griffin, takes an order for the summer camp T-shirts and then asks about my occupation. When I stated that I was a teacher, a conversation began.

I shared how hard it was for some students to find their way in school. The curriculum is not engaging for them no matter how hard I try. Many students have made career decisions already, some wanting to be hair dressers, truck drivers, work in skilled trades or in customer service. I stated the need for broader educational standards so these students’ life needs would be addressed. “Where were they going to learn about interest, credit and insurance?” She listen to me attentively, then calmly offered an analogy: “Schools are like an hourglass, pulling our focus in for the few years we attend!’

How true! We come into the world all spread out, full of wonder. As we enter school our focus is pulled towards reading, writing, math and organized learning. For the brief span of time we are focused, sharing an experience with our peer group. When our organized learning is complete, we fall to our own will. Once through the narrows of the hourglass we guide our education to where we want to be. Some of us struggle to remain on top, others elect to be buried at the bottom, most of us lie in between. We all travel through the hourglass that is education.