Category Archives: Training

The Ultimate Disrespect

Teach For America is attempting to gain a foothold in Washington State and primarily by gaining positions in Seattle. However, TfA is unnecessary in Seattle.

(Even one of TfA’s own has spoken out against TfA entering Seattle’s schools.)

First, there is no shortage of teachers in Seattle. Seattle Public Schools had over 800 applications for the few open positions in the schools. Teachers have been given pink slips and many, many teachers are waiting for their first jobs as things stand right now.

Also, TfA teachers have less experience than teachers who graduated with teaching degrees. While teachers who have earned their full certification degrees have been trained for a year or more, TfA teachers have completed a 5 week course.

I can’t think of a major professional field that actively recruits lower-skilled, less-trained, and minimally experienced employees over higher-skilled, better-trained, and more experienced employees.

The Seattle School Board and the Seattle Superintendent have revealed their disdain for the profession with their allowance of TfA in the district.

In addition, TfA teachers only continue teaching after 2-3 years at a rate of about 33%. This means fewer of these teachers remain in the profession than those who complete full certifications. And we all know that consistency and experienced teachers are better for schools and children–especially in neighborhoods of poverty–than high turnover which TfA creates. Besides, teachers of poverty need people from their own cultures and backgrounds to serve as models, and TfA teachers are very often students from upper and upper-middle class homes.

Hiring a TfA teacher requires that an experienced teacher mentor the new recruit. This, of course, creates more work for an existing teacher and costs a district money and time. Granted, the state may save some money on hiring an inexperienced employee who is lower on the salary scale, but it will incur organizational, training, experience, and student achievement costs.

Bringing TfA recruits into our schools is insulting and one more way to discredit the hard work being done by our current professionals. Plus, it’s one more way to allow privatization into our public system (since the backers of TfA are often those backing privatization).

Please talk some sense into the Seattle School Board and the Seattle Superintendent!

P.S. Lynne Varner, the author of the first linked article, has advocated time and again for experienced teachers in the classroom over inexperienced ones as well as getting minorities into teaching, and in this article she reverses field. She is not an advocate of public education, and she loves any attempt to unionbust.

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Our Lost Generation

An excellent blog you should visit is Stories from School: Practice Meets Policy. Important issues in education are raised, discussed, and analyzed. Check it out.

On a recent post I made the comment below. I’m curious if you agree with it or do not. Let me know.

We are in a profession that eats its young. We fire them first, often provide them little support, expect much of them, and give them extra requirements to complete upon starting the job.

My district is facing a gap of 3 years of not hiring a new teacher. With the budget cuts, we’re losing FTE and not bringing in new people. On top of this, we have now left our newest teachers to seek out their own improvement. Not promising.

Will this be education’s Lost Generation?

Administrators Need Professional Development Too

I somewhat facetiously say, “Schools with bad teachers have bad administrators.”

To generalize in such a way is obviously unfair; however, I do believe that good administrators try to improve poorly performing teachers or get rid of them. In my time I have not seen a situation where a bad teacher in my building–including an alcoholic who did not show up to work regularly while others covered for him–was put through due process and terminated.

Often I hear how bad teachers are ruining schools and education, but rarely do I hear the same rhetoric aimed at the leaders in schools. When have you heard a call from the state or federal level for “highly qualified” principals?

Professional development has been eliminated in my state for teachers, which probably hurts new teachers more than experienced ones (as one astute blogger noted), but administrators need it too.

A study published in Education Week concluded that “high student achievement is linked to ‘collective leadership.’” This type of leadership and decision-making includes educators, principals, and the public. Additionally,:

Elementary school principals demonstrated more of these instructional leadership behaviors than their peers at secondary schools, Mr. Pauly said. Secondary school principals said that they delegated instructional leadership to department chairs…

The researchers noted that the study “makes it completely plain all of these school improvement efforts have to have a focus on the leadership of the school.” With this I agree wholeheartedly. Having the greatest teachers in the district makes no difference when they aren’t allowed to teach in the way they know best. I agree with Dr. Diane Ravitch that “master teachers” should become principals, not just those climbing the ladder. But, teachers also need to help in this endeavor, too, as noted above.

Now many principals wish to do a great job–just like teachers–but may not have the knowledge or tools to do so. To illustrate this further:

Professional development for principals is fragmented, the study said. “The whole notion is, you need to have professional development as you do for teachers—it’s ongoing and it’s iterative,” Ms. Wahlstrom said. Day-long seminars are not the answer, she said. Principals are finding professional development through associations and other sources, but “the districts themselves don’t have any coordinated plans to assess where principals are and to meet their needs.”

Moreover, the study’s results revealed that “data-driven decision-making” is more of a buzzword than a practice. Effective principals “were able to use data and show teachers how to use the information” and “provide structured opportunities (collegial groups and time for data use), sessions for data-use training and assistance, access to expertise, and follow-up actions.”

I know my school often touts itself as data-driven, but in reality the departments seem to use the data with more purpose and allow that data to guide their decisions in the classroom (especially now that we have implemented the DuFours’ PLC process). I definitely get a sense that preconceived conclusions are held by leadership and then the data is interpreted to fit those conclusions. We’ve recently seen systems put into place that are debunked by numerous studies and organizations but put into place seemingly to create an appearance of change.

Personally, I feel some of this is not evil in intent or any sort of desire to do harm, but it may be that the pressure placed on districts and schools based on impossible goals and the threat of job loss for not meeting these insurmountable goals are causing change for the sake of change.

Maybe this is where the professional development and leadership by committee comes into play. If decisions were made by analyzing data collectively and continually monitoring progress and assessing effectiveness, schools would improve more rapidly and consistently. Faculty and the public would have buy-in and principals would not be alone when a schools’ efforts and effectiveness are assessed.

Of course, it may also require money that isn’t sustainable.

PLC Basics

At the Seattle Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) conference, Richard DuFour explained the basics of what a PLC is and the principle responsibilities of a PLC’s members.

First, one must distinguish between a group and a team. DuFour used the metaphor of a marathon to explain the difference between groups and teams. Since most people define a team as a group of people with a common goal who are working towards that goal, he noted the inadequate nature of this definition. All marathon runners state the goal as “finishing the race,” but this does not mean the runners are a team: same goals but no interdependence. A true team must depend on one another to achieve a shared goal. A group simply has a common goal but no interdependence.

DuFour stated three core elements of a PLC team:

  • Common Goal: A PLC team must have a common goal. DuFour mentions using a SMART Goal (strategic, measurable, attainable, results-oriented/guided, timely) to guide a team’s work. Regardless, the team must have a primary goal by which the team measures its progress and determines its success.
  • Interdependence: The members of a PLC team must depend on one another for reaching the desired goal. No individual is responsible for the common goal, which also means no one may work in isolation. Michael Jordan was perhaps the greatest basketball player of all time, but he alone could not reach his goal of an NBA championship; he needed a team who were all working towards the goal and dependent on one another.
  • Mutual Accountability: The members of a PLC team must be mutually accountable to one another. Often teachers will say something like “my kids are doing fine, so all is well. I’m not responsible for her students.” However, a member of a PLC is responsible for the group’s efforts, not just his own. Thus, the team’s goal must be one that everyone works towards meeting and one that does not allow for individuals to use on their own. For example, the goal may be for all 4th grade students to reach 80% on the state exam. In this way, everyone is responsible for everyone’s student progress and also means group data must be shared along the way, preferably using formative and summative assessments.

Of course according to DuFour, teams are course content specific. This means that my department is a group, not a team, since we teach different classes. We will have, most likely, four teams: ELL, Freshman English, Sophomore English, and American Literature.

My department was already organized into grade-level teams, which is a bonus for us. Now, we have to create common formative and summative assessments and to start sharing the data. Of course, we need to create a common goal in each team first.

Well, those are my first reflective thoughts after the conference as I’m planning my first meetings with the department.

Is anyone else’s school jumping head-first into the PLC waters?

Obama Wants the Bad Teachers Out

Obama wants to see “bad teachers” moved out of the classroom, as reported in a recent article. The reporter notes, “If the nation’s schools are going to see improvement, President Barack Obama says there has to be a way to ease bad teachers out of the classroom.”

Further, “Obama said some people just aren’t meant to be teachers.” I think he’s right on this charge. I don’t think there’s a panacea for solving all the ills in education, but I do see people in my own building who are not there to be better teachers.

However, I also feel that administrators need to take some of this on their shoulders to do one of two things to help the situation: 1) go through the lengthy steps to oust poor teachers or 2) become teachers of teachers and make those deemed “poor” improve.

As a teacher, I’m limited in what I can do to help; peer pressure only goes so far. I really think the easiest way to see improvement is to get help from building and district leadership (better and more authentic professional development, help for struggling teachers, paid time to observe other teachers, and so on).

What do you think?

Free Speech For High Schoolers

One worry I have while working in my high school is the continuing trend to silence the students. Just because the students disagree with the teachers or the administration, their rights should not be parsed and their speech silenced. An article in the Seattle-PI highlights the rights of students and the efforts to limit those rights.

The “Bong hits 4 Jesus” case scared me, not because of the message, but because this case extends the administrators’ power beyond the school and outside of school hours. While I think the message was light-hearted and harmless, it was also somewhat asinine. However, I don’t believe it warranted the consequences levied against the student and should not allow those in charge to reach outside their jurisdiction. Continue reading