Washington State, like many other states, is hurting financially. No one questions this; however, the recovery methods and suggestions do cause me to pause and worry about the state’s and nation’s education futures.
One column’s composer basically says teachers should be able to overcome all odds to create student success. Granted, the author states that parents are the most difficult group to involve in education, and he also thinks that schools should focus on what they can control (as if that hasn’t been happening for years). However, he concludes with the lazy argument of getting rid of “weak teachers” and “better compensating” the better teachers as if these two ideas are novel and haven’t been a part of the educational landscape.
Ironically, at a time when so many call for this better compensation and merit pay for effective teachers, the state is looking to cut the stipends for National Board certified teachers and freezing pay for all. Once again the highest striving and most vulnerable in the profession are being hurt by the cuts. Those who were promised extra pay for achieving what is perceived to be the most prestigious teaching accomplishment and those who are in the early stages of their careers are losing pay–up to 10-20% depending on years of service and NB certification. Broken promises and hypocrisy are not helping the debate.
The state is still fighting the case it lost when a judge ruled that the state is failing education. Instead of increasing funding or services to education, the state is wasting money fighting the ruling.
Still, legislative leaders and the media are calling for the raising of standards without clearly thinking through what is happening with those standards. The mess of higher standards, testing, and holding kids accountable has created a quagmire of regulations and inanity that threatens the graduation of students caught in the middle.
All the while the state and nation call on educators to raise those standards, expect more of our teachers, and pay them less. “Highly qualified” has been a major focus of the so-called reform and ensuring that a minimum standard is in place…until a private industry wants the standards lowered to allow their people in, despite having no shortage of available and qualified teachers. And then, to make matters even worse, the feds agree that trainees should be deemed “highly qualified” even with no experience. The question seems obvious: why not let people into classrooms who have taken a 5-6 week training course instead of people with education degrees, a 3-6 month internship, and (normally) multiple endorsements or degrees (I wrote on this topic here.)? Besides being an issue of sensibility and professionalism, it’s a civil rights issue!
Oh, but let’s not forget the “blame everything on the unions” crowd. Their flags fly just as high. Even though the article means well, look at this title: “How a teachers’ union actually helped kids (not just adults).” Or, how about this one? A writer calls on the public with his editorial to “Professionalize the teaching profession” by treating teachers as professions and “not union workers.” How did professional and union worker become mutually exclusive? In fact, in Washington State, about the only group truly advocating for living wages and research-based education initiatives is the union. This second article writer, of course, blamed less effective teachers being in the work force on the unions–a group with no power to terminate its own members (and why would it?)–instead of placing the blame where it should lie, on those with this power, the administrators.
In an era of blaming the teacher, cutting teacher salaries and incentives, raising standards, increasing testing, devaluing the profession, and demonizing the unions, what do we do? How do we effect change? How do we protect our profession and our kids?
I know Brian from Stories from School is advocating talking to legislators. I know many of my colleagues are writing and visiting legislative offices.
I’m thinking of advocating a new tactic: accepting a couple furlough days. I know, I know. It costs the teachers money. That’s true. But it costs everyone money: teachers, support staff, administrators, the district, and–most importantly–the parents. If we continue to absorb the effects of these cuts quietly, no one will care or listen.
But, by sending Timmy and his pals home for a few extra days and by forcing parents to deal with the problem, we might just see some change. Make the public deal with this mess too. Let the public outcry arise not just from the educators but those at home. They outnumber us any way. Plus, I have seen very little to alter the glacial rate of change more than angry parents.
Here’s another idea: instead of considering strikes, consider getting everyone to work their hours and go home. Show people what their money gets them. No more extra tutoring sessions, no more recommendation letters, no more enrichment sessions, no more grading and planning at home, no more meeting parents outside the work day, no more calls home at night, no more independent research, and so on. Until the public feels the effects, the public will not advocate for us during these times of unjust cuts.
January will be an interesting month as my school heads into the final weeks of 1st semester. It’s a fun time of the year, but it’s also one full of pitfalls and the one I dread the most is the grading conversation on the horizon.
While helicopter parents can be annoying, they are (for me) less daunting than the parents who simply want to negotiate the final grade a student earns. I have already received fair warning that one student’s parents will be trying to increase her daughter’s grade if it’s not an A.
I simply find these conversations annoying, and a no-win for anyone. I find them tedious. Parents walk away without a change.
I never change a grade that a student earns based on a parent conversation. I tell parents and students that “I record what is earned.” I often repeat that “I don’t give grades. Students earn grades.”
Well, this is put to the test each year, so when a parent asks me to raise a grade I respond with one or more of the following depending on the situation:
- “So, you’re asking me to cheat for your child?”
- “Are you asking me to lie?”
- “Do you often ask people to lie for you?”
- “What would this teach your child?”
- (if speaking to a fellow teacher) “Do you cheat for your students?”
- (if speaking to a fellow teacher) “Do you lie for your students?”
Most of the time, one of these questions ends the discussion. Then I document the incident for future reference.
Parent-teacher conferences were this week, and I’m exhausted. Whew!
I love meeting the parents and figuring out ways to assist the students, but I also just get worn down. It’s an intense process of a series 3-4 hour meetings after teaching each day.
However, what strikes me the most every year is how much my students have gone through in their young lives: beatings, emotional abuse, rapes, gangs, disorders, living with grandparents, death, loss, and more.
I heard a fellow colleague wondering why a certain student “even comes to school,” and after talking to his grandmother I think his showing up is a minor victory. His father is finally out of the picture (grandma won in court), his sister is back in rehab, his bruises are healing, and he’s finally eating three meals a day. School is a safe haven–not a place where he may be successful if measured by grades–and he attends for a semblance of normalcy, safety, and positive social interaction.
Not every student is going to be a Horatio Alger story, and I wonder how these students will function in the future. Where will they find success?
I composed a post the other quickly detailing the difficulties of a class I have. The majority of the students have a history of failure and have just been passed through year after year. I couldn’t even get that group to turn in a summary assignment that we started in class.
I appreciate the comments I received: advice, commiseration, and support.
Generally, I start with simple assignments such as the summary to build the students’ confidence and then we gradually build to the more complex skills. However, this group of students refuses to do anything outside of class: no vocabulary practice, no rewriting, no reading, nothing. If this continues, they will not make it through another English course. Homework will have to be done; not everything can be done in class.
Besides this, the course has 6-8 required assignments which must be passed to pass the course. We are about to begin the first two (both small), but the students will have to do some work outside of the classroom. This is the great hurdle for me: convincing this group that the homework must be done.
I also believe that the general system of education has harmed these students in the past (social promotion, no requirements to move onto the next level course, etc.), but my school has enabled the unwanted behaviors as well.
I mentioned a year ago a program that has now been required of all Freshmen where students are blocked together. What I didn’t mention as particularly then as I will now is the hand-holding that occurs.
Some of the assistance is quite positive such as extra support from counselors, additional layers of intervention for math, and added time for tutoring. These actually help the students and provide a support system which forces the students to improve.
However, there is a downside too. Referrals are intercepted by office staff to have “talks” instead of consequences for misbehavior (it takes three referrals for admin. action with these students versus one for everyone else), the teachers are encouraged to make “deals” with students, the teachers are often (indirectly) judged by passage rates which encourages grade inflation, and at least three teachers with whom I’ve spoken have had to write out student assignments for them.
Regardless, whether the system or my school may share some culpability, ultimately the student is responsible. I do put some of the onus on the parents (as one commenter noted after my last post), but the student has to grow up at some point.
At what point do we stop providing the excuses for the students? The system didn’t prepare them well enough, they’ve been passed through, the home life is difficult, and so on. I don’t want to sound heartless, but an employer is not going to care about any of these pardons. Yes, the students are kids, and I do not believe in making non-academic items part of an academic grade, but at some point the students must step up or suffer the consequences.
And what frightens me the most is–above all else–is that these students just won’t have the skills or concepts mastered to allow me to mark a passing grade on their report cards. Timmy may arrive with a 3rd grade reading level and leave with a 7th grade reading level, but if Timmy doesn’t meet the course standards I can’t mark a passing grade. He may need more time than some of his classmates, but Timmy still has to meet standard to pass the course.
At some point the students have to do the work.