Moana- the story of our education system

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I was recently watched Moana with my children. I was stressed about the pressures teachers feel to perform daily in our classrooms. It was nice to sit and relax with the kids on the couch and watch a great Disney film. Then my mind started to focus on the the educational value of the film. I realized the Moana is a parable for our education system.

Moana represents our students, eager to learn, take risks and find adventure. Her parents represent parents that want to hold on to traditions, their children to be the same as them and experience a similar education system. Moana’s Grandmother represents the possibilities of our education systems to take students where they desire to go in life. Maui the Demi-god  and Heihei the dim witted rooster represent our politicians.  Maui has good intentions but is full of ego, wants to be praised for accomplishments instead of empowering others. Heihei follows misguided instincts even when others try to lead him in the right direction. The heart of the The ocean represents the value of education, which has been lost in our society.  Moana is on a quest to restoring educational values and ridding our society of the demons Kakamora, The Realm of Monsters and Te Ka. These demons represent our societies value systems currently. Kakamora are the “haters” and “trolls” the extoll negatives towards anything and feel they are always right. The Realm of Monsters is social media that loves the shiny and bright of entertainment disregarding knowledge. Te Ka is our government influenced by the Kakamora and Realm of Monsters focusing on blame and angry public opinion.

It is a hard battle for Moana and she needs the help of her Grandmother for guidance and Maui for strength. Just like our students need teachers to guide and our legislative bodies to pass laws that empower our students to be successful. Our students and their needs must be the guides. Educators need to work with legislators to help them focus on our students needs or they will focus too much on their ego (Maui) or on their own misguided instincts (Heihei).

It is time for us to return the heart of education where it should be. Our society needs to value the educational system and educators. The Kakamora are allowed too much voice currently. We can’t let them dominate the educational landscape and control the heart of education with their blame and punish attitude. As educators we have to be stedfast in guiding our students to the heart with consistent encouragement. Time for legislators to listen to our students voice and drop their egos and misguided instincts.

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Legislators hear our voices!

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Education is a hot topic in politics. Legislators run on platforms that promise improving schools and educational outcomes. Often these platforms go against the experts in the fields opinions. The teacher’s unions have long been the voice of teachers, but lately unions have lost the ability to be seen as non-partisan.  Legislators feel unions work solely for their own benefit not for the best interests of students. This is an attack on teacher’s voices. Classroom teachers’ voices need to be heard by legislative bodies.

Does the legislature make changes to insurance programs without testimony from insurance providers? Do they consider changes to medical laws without consulting doctors? Highway funding proposals without listening to engineers? The answers is a resounding NO to these questions. WHY then does our legislative body act on educational policy without hearing teachers’ voices?

It is almost structurally impossible for teachers to testify on educational policy let alone be heard. The legislature bodies are in session only during the school year. Meeting Tuesday to Thursday while school is in session. All school holidays seem to match up with legislative recesses. State boards of education typically only meet during the day while schools are in session too. SO, if a teacher was to take a day off to possibly share their expertise by testifying on legislation about their chosen profession, the first concern from most legislators is “Why aren’t you in your classroom?”

Instead of listening to teachers, the ones who are on the front line of education everyday, the bulk of testimony on education legislation is from “Think Tanks”. Think Tanks might have great ideas in theory but educators can testify how they might see theory put into practice. No wonder teachers feel disgruntled with their profession. A first step might be treating teachers like professionals, listening to their voices and showing them their value.

All states need legislation that mandates classroom teacher testimony on all legislation that impacts the classrooms. The teacher’s voice should be equal to if not greater than that from those not in the classrooms. All educational policies need to have hearings where classroom educators can attend without taking their day off from work. This would make the education committees meet during nights, weekends and summers. I hope to see draft legislation soon in Michigan that allows teachers equal voice.

Dear President Trump

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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

 

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!

 

 

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 charter school 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.