Category Archives: Teacher voice

Life in the Middle: #ProudMIeducator

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Anytime someone finds out I teach in a middle school, the responses are: “I couldn’t do that!” “You must be a saint!” or “God Bless You and thank you for what you do!”  Being a middle school teacher is a calling that many teachers fall into by chance rather than by choice. Once a teacher spends a year in the middle, they often never want to leave. Middle school students are no longer kids but not quite adults. They are eager sponges with attitudes, never afraid to ask a question in class but too timid to say hi at the grocery store. Teaching in the middle means no two days are the same. We learn to expect the unexpected.

During the past 16 years of teaching middle school, I have worked with the most giving, passionate staff. Teachers arrive early to tutor students in need. As the first bell rings teachers walk the hallways greeting students with smiles and high fives. Most middle school classrooms have wide ranges of student ability levels. Teachers tirelessly prepare to meet their students’ many needs. During lunch, students find refuge from the cafeteria in classrooms where tutoring and camaraderie are offered. When the final bell rings, the teacher’s day is not done, coaching or advising a club is on many teacher’s schedules. Then off to home to grade papers and plan for the next adventurous day in the middle. Middle school days are always full. Full of energy. Full of excitement. Full of Drama. Full of problems. Full of answers. It can be easy to get swallowed up by the middle school schedule. To be successful, a good supply of coffee and a positive support network is needed. I am a proud middle school educator.

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My students are growing physically, emotionally, intellectually and socially. They don’t all grow at the same time or at the same rate. It is a daily challenge to motive a classroom of 32 students growing in 32 different ways. A lesson that works second hour often won’t work third hour. Changing plans on the fly is necessary to meet the many needs in my classroom. Last week I found myself pulling supplies out of a cabinet to do a hands-on activity after students got confused reading about diffraction. Students ended up using a metal cooking tin to make waves bend around a rock.

March is Middle Level Education Month, all middle school teachers should be proud for making a difference in students’ lives daily. It may look different in each classroom but in the end we make students smile, laugh and feel good about learning. Be a Proud Michigan Educator like me. Proud for working hard everyday for our students.

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Image from AMLE.org

#proudMIeducator is a Michigan Department of Education initiative that aims to acknowledge, elevate, and celebrate the work of great educators in the State of Michigan. This is a collaborative venture including any supporters in Michigan who want to celebrate our educators.

Celebrate Proud Michigan Educators – use #proudMIeducator to share your own stories!

Interested in writing a #proudMIeducator blog post or learning more about the campaign? Visit www.michigan.gov/proudMIeducator or contact Alaina Dague at daguea1@michigan.gov.

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.

#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!

 

Honoring Time

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“It must be nice having summer off!” Rick exclaimed as he climbed into the passenger seat of my car. “Sure” was my quick response as I put the car in drive as we headed downtown to the 1 pm start of a Thursday Detroit Tigers game. “Hold it a minute, Rick, aren’t you working right now? Must be nice to work from anywhere with flex time.” Rick along with 4 others in my car were technically working on this afternoon. I was the only one with the summer “off”. All jobs are different and honor time differently. Many of my friends work in the corporate world having the flexibility to go to sporting events or other outings as long as their jobs get done. Often these outings are done in conjunction with work. As they are jealous of my “free” summer, I envy their working conditions that honor their time. A teacher’s day is very different than any other professions. My previous blogs: “A Teacher’s Day” and “7 Hour work day and summer free must be the life” talk about how a teachers work is different than other careers.

How can the educational system honor teachers’ time? It is critical for us in education to answer this question. As other careers create flexible conditions that honor employees time, the education field appears less and less desirable. Millennials desire a work-life balance. Does our current system allow for this balance?

During the school year, teachers teach during normal school hours. Then they are often expected to attend meetings and other school functions outside of the school day. While still creating lesson plans and grading student work during their evenings. Many teachers end up putting in 50 to 60 hours a week and sometimes more. Teaching pay is not growing at the same rate as other college graduates, but pay alone won’t keep them from quitting. Our educational system needs to change so it honors teachers time! How?

Some suggestions:

  1. Remove mandated number of school days and hours. Focus instead on student learning.
  2. Build time into the school day for lesson planning, feedback and meetings. Many educational systems around the world have figured this out. The US is lagging behind here.
  3. Allow more flexibility in the scheduling of school hours. Why do schools start so early? Couldn’t teachers design their schedules in conjunction with schools?

Education is an inflexible profession because society views the education system as daycare. Schools are used as babysitters for kids while adults work. We need to end this notion and fix our educational system.

Inflexible Profession?

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Schools are seeing teachers leave the profession in record numbers. When teachers are sick districts struggle to find guest teachers to cover all of the classes. Many states feel that they way to address the shortage of teachers in the classroom is to hire non-certified teachers. This will not solve the problem, it will only continue to devalue our trained educators and destroy our education system.

To address the shortages the issue needs to be examined by comparing teaching to other jobs that require similar educational backgrounds and skills. The once rigid corporate structures in the business world have transformed to  more relaxed corporate culture. Perspective teachers notice that schools have not kept pace with the transformations that have occurred in the business world around them.

Here are a few items that teachers notice which others might take for granted.

  • It is a 9-4 world: Most appointments for doctors, dentists, banks, or anything really occur during the regular school day. Teachers have to take time off work to make any of them. Other professionals flex their schedule to go to these important meetings. In most cases it requires 1/2 day off for teachers to attend.
  • GO at Lunch is not an option: Teachers usually have around 30 minutes for lunch. Not time to do much but for teachers it is packed with phone calls, helping students and trying to get a bite. Other professions just take an extended lunch.
  • Bathroom Breaks: Teachers have to schedule bathroom visits to fit their class schedule, many times going 3 hours holding it. Lunch and prep time are greatly valued just to get to the bathroom.
  • Meetings: Most employees expect meetings during their work day. In educations most staff and committee meeting are help before or after work. Teachers aren’t typically paid extra to attend. In other professions these meeting ONLY occur during the work day. Many of these professions also celebrate their successes during their work hours as well, going on corporate outings etc. Again in education this doesn’t happen.
  • Being accountable for time off: It takes teachers up to an hour to get ready for a day off. Creating lesson plans and getting supplies ready. Most jobs, a day off is a causal phone call and no more thought. Teachers usually come to work sick because the plan for the day requires them.
  • Changing on the fly: Most jobs have a regular pattern and plan. If something is changing plenty of notice is given. In schools the days plan can change in a moments notice. On the day you have a technology infuse lesson the internet goes down. In other jobs this is frustrating but employees often go home to wait for the system to get back online. Teachers still have their class to lead in a lesson.
  • Constant scrutiny:  Beside politicians, what other profession is under more scrutiny? Teachers here the constant bashing our profession takes in the media and by the water cooler. Who wants all this blame?
  • Attend children’s school functions: Teachers value education but so often they miss their own child’s milestones. Most celebrations overlap and occur at beginning and end of year when teachers are limited in ability to be absence for personal business. Other professions flex their work schedule to make it fit.

Educators are asked to be flexible to make learning happen for their students. Their work environment needs to catch up and be just as flexible. Can education become a more desired career if it can be more flexible?

To some these observations may seem petty or part of the JOB! But when the Profession is finding it hard to attract the brightest and best it might be time to look at how it compares to other fields.

Teachers teach because it is their calling! Many are being called but not picking up the phone! It is time to raise our profession!

 

Time To UNITE Educators

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Dear Michigan Educators-

It is time for all of us to unite in Michigan. From Superintendents to paraprofessionals, teachers to bus drivers, we need to stand together. Our profession is under attack from legislators in Lansing. Last night the House worked till dawn to pass punitive legislation to address the financial woes of Detroit Public Schools. The ramifications of this legislation will negatively impact us all. Nick Krieger of Fix the Mitten compares these bills to setting off a nuclear bomb.

We need to stand together to have our voices heard in Lansing. DPS teachers have tried with sick outs, Michigan Association of School Boards, MEA, AFT and even Mayor Duggan have lobbied against these bills to no avail. Together our voices will be stronger.

What happens in Detroit will be a model for the rest of our school districts when times are tough in Lansing. We can’t have non-certified Educators in front of our students full time. It devalues all of us, minimizing our profession. Teacher certification should not be a legislative tool thrown around to save money. Constitutionally certification is handled by the Michigan Department of Education. Removing ALL Detroit Public Schools Employees from the state retirement system. It places all of our retirements jeopardy. Do we want our pensions to head down the path of the Teamsters?  Adding to a list of broken promises by the state!

Nothing in the DPS “rescue” bills helps education. They leave the district still under state control with less resources, less QUALIFIED teachers and on a path towards failure. These bill have been paid for by for profit charter school advocates that are selling choice at the price of future generations of students.

Every district in the state will be adversely impacted by these bills. It is time ALL School Boards and Superintendents stand together to rise up and help Lansing hear our voices. Brian Whiston it is your defining moment, lead the charge. There should be a state wide, “Snow/act of GOD” in protest to the House of Representatives actions. Superintendents you have to have the courage to lead and do what is right for ALL student in the GREAT STATE of MICHIGAN. All parents, students and educators will stand behind you, our voices will be heard!

IF NOT NOW WHEN? IF NOT YOU WHO?

BE THE LEADERS OUR STUDENTS, TEACHERS AND COMMUNITIES DESERVE!

Teacher Certification Matters

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Would you go to an non-certified doctor? Lawyer? Dentist? Probably not, those are all professionals that have a high degree of schooling. How about have an non-certified nurse or mechanic? No again. We value our health and our cars. Here is Michigan our legislators are considering allowing Non-certified teachers with HB 5384. Is this something we should be even considering? Do we value our students learning as much as our health and our cars? Teachers are professionals with a high degree of much needed education.

Not everyone is cut out to be a teacher! Legislators say they want the best and brightest teaching our youth, this bill shows that is just lip service to the voting masses. Teacher certification matters, just like licensing and  certifications in all other fields. Teachers need to have skills to work in the classroom. In fact Michigan recently changed the teachers certification test making it harder for candidates to pass. Now they just want to put anyone with a pulse in front of our students? Certified teachers aren’t what created the mismanagement in Detroit which has lead to its financial problems. It has been corruption by management.

Why is having certified teachers so important? Teaching is an art that requires certain skills. Without these skills teachers will fail and quickly leave the classroom, creating a steady flow of teachers out of the classroom. Teachers need to be masters of content while also understand how to manage a classroom. The teaching channel presents a great list of 8 essential skills for new teachers. These skills are keys to ALL teacher certification programs .

Certified teachers know:

How to teach

What to teach.

How to differentiate.

How to motivate.

How to integrate technology.

How to address every students needs.

How to manage a classroom.

How to connect to parents and community.

That relationships are key to success.

That flexibility and adaptability are needed.

Their students are more than a test score.

It takes training to learn these skills. Even our most skill profession, medicine, makes error. Currently the 3rd leading cause of death in the US is medical error!  Does this mean we should start allowing non-certified people practice medicine? NO, time to fine tune training to help reduce errors.

It is time to TELL Lansing to stop devaluing the education profession and OUR KIDS EDUCATION. We need certified teachers in EVERY classroom. HB 5384 is a step backwards in time. It is not good for our students, our schools or our communities! Don’t we value today’s youth enough to know this is a bad move!