Archives for category: Teachers and Teaching

Robyn Brydalski is a third grade teacher. When she gathered up the Common Core tests at the end of three days of testing, she cried.

She cried for her students, who had spent hours and hours responding to questions that were often poorly written.

She cried for her profession, because the state had forced her to follow scripted modules, abandoning her own professional judgment.

“My blood boiled and anger seethed from the deepest parts of my heart when I saw the confusing passages and misleading questions. This test played on an eight year old mind taking advantage of these literal thinkers full knowing, on their own, very few students would be able to analyze, synthesize and evaluate an author’s message. The sheer volume of passages was exhausting. One of my brightest students was so confused by a question that she shut down and gave up. She looked at me and said, “I’m just stupid, I guess.” She is eight years old. No eight year old deserves to feel this way. I cried tears of pain when many of my students looked to me for guidance and clarification. I encouraged them but I knew without a teacher guiding them, they would not be successful with the expected question and my students knew this. How is this right? How is this just? How is this a true measure of good teaching? My students persevered through day one, toughed it out for day two but by day three could not demonstrate any evidence of learning. They were academically beat, physically exhausted and morally defeated.”

The poem below was written by Holly White, an English teacher and parent. I asked her to explain why she wrote it, and she did. Oh, when you read the poem, you will come to the acronym HEDI, which means “highly effective, effective, developing, and ineffective,” the ratings given to teachers based on test scores and observations.

 

Holly White writes:

 

“After graduating from Colgate University in the small town of Hamilton, NY, I was given the opportunity to stay in Hamilton and pursue my career as an English teacher. I have taught at HCS, the community’s P-12 public school, for 14 years. I’m proud of our creative and talented students, of our incredibly dedicated faculty and staff, and of the broader Hamilton community that supports us.

 

“As a teacher, and as a parent with two children in elementary school, corporate education reform is often on my mind, especially during testing season. One evening in early March, I was reading a few Dr. Seuss books to my children. I paused in the middle of the book “Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?” after reading the following passage:

 

Out west, near Hawtch-Hawtch,
there’s a Hawtch-Hawtcher Bee-Watcher.
His job is to watch…
is to keep both his eyes on the lazy town bee.
A bee that is watched will work harder, you see.

 

Well…he watched and he watched.
But, in spite of his watch,
that bee didn’t work any harder. Not mawtch.

 

So then somebody said,
“Our old bee-watching man
just isn’t bee-watching as hard as he can.
He ought to be watched by another Hawtch-Hawtcher!
The thing that we need
is a Bee-Watcher-Watcher!

 

“After tucking my kids into bed, I still couldn’t shake the image of the Hawtch-Hawtchers lining up to watch the “lazy town bee.” I pulled out my laptop and–attempting to channel Seuss’s use of verbal irony and absurdity–wrote for the next four hours.”

 

A Portrait of Education Reform, Inspired by Dr. Seuss

 

We said students would be proficient, all 100 percent!

 

But the year 2014, it came and it went…
There’d been little improvement after 12 years of tests,

 

So we searched till we found the most “rigorous” ones yet.

 

What those teachers must need is more accountability,

 

Then they’ll surely work harder, every he and each she.

 

As soon as they hear about APPR,

 

They’ll take their feet off their desks, make their lessons five-star,

 

And strive to earn back the public’s trust

 

(A tough task, since they’ve been treated with scorn and disgust).

 

Once they know that we’re watching, and changing cut scores,

 

And counting all the 1’s, 2’s, 3’s, and 4’s,

 

They’ll teach and they’ll prep and they’ll drill for the test,

 

They’ll strive for a HEDI score that shows they’re the best,

 

They’ll cut back on art, science, creative writing

 

(The things they say students find most exciting).

 

They’ll overcome all of those pitiful excuses:

 

Poverty? Absenteeism? Hunger? Abuses?

 

Learning disabilities? Disobedient teens?

 

And kids who don’t read, but just stare at their screens?

 

Each student is different, learns at his own pace?

 

What’s that you say – learning isn’t a race?

 

No more excuses! With 40 minutes a day,

 

They can mold kids and shape them in every which way

 

(They can start in first grade, which is no place for play).

 

And all the while, schools’ funding will slow,

 

Because the harder we make things, the better they’ll go.

 

Each student will succeed, a year’s worth they’ll grow,

 

They’ll all factor trinomials and use “soak-a-toe”

 

If their teacher works hard like a real go-getter,

 

If she only works harder and faster and better…

But here I must pause in this poetic pretense,

 

(It’s been hard not to laugh while spouting nonsense).

 

Silly teachers, good luck being “highly effective,”

 

The system’s designed to say you’re flawed and defective.

 

The problem is, as by now you can probably tell,

 

Who’d want “reforms” if they knew teachers were doing well?

 

That just like most doctors, nurses, and crossing guards,

 

Most teachers are competent and already work hard.

 

What would happen to Pearson, McGraw, hedge fund investors,
Charter schools, EMOs, boards of directors?

 

Education’s a great source of new revenue,

 

The possibilities abound, and profits accrue.

 

But please, keep this between us; no one else needs to know.

 

As long as no one speaks up, then onward we’ll go…

 

by Holly White, HCS teacher

David Greene taught for many years and most recently has been mentoring new teachers. He read Pasi Sahlberg’s post this morning which said that Finnish teachers are not “the best and the brightest,” but those who are both capable and are committed to becoming career educators. Reflecting on Pasi’s article, he wrote this one of his own. 

David is upset by the suggestion of the Chancellor of the New York Board of Regents that “high-performing districts,” with high test scores and high graduation rates might be exempted from the teacher-principal test-score based evaluations. Her purpose, one suspects, is to tamp down the opt out movement, which is especially strong in suburban districts.

He asks:

So, according to [Chancellor Merryl] Tisch, those who teach our “best and brightest” (i.e. mostly wealthier and whiter) would be exempt as a result of New York’s two-tier education system that also is the most highly segregated in the nation.

Tisch makes me wonder. Was I a highly effective teacher in wealthy and white Scarsdale High School when I taught her nephew? Was I a developing or effective teacher in mostly middle class and integrated Woodlands High School? And did that make me an ineffective teacher at Adlai Stevenson High School in the Bronx, the nation’s poorest urban county, regardless of the huge number of success stories that emanated from there?

The following comment was written by a young man just returned from teaching in the Peace Corps. Responding to a request from the Network for Public Education, he wrote a letter to Congress about NCLB:

 

Diane-

 

I would like to share the letter I wrote (at the urging of NPE) to my congressional Representative concerning H.R. 5:

 

This time last year I was a recently returned Peace Corps Volunteer, coming home from service as an English teacher in a Cameroonian public school. Shortly before I left Cameroon I attended a disciplinary hearing convened for the purpose of meting out punishment. I sat with other teachers in a ring at the edge of the principal’s office while students were shuffled in by grade level, given the chance to explain their infractions, then made to lie on their stomachs on the dusty floor while an administrator whipped them. It was against the law, but they did it anyway. This policy was intended to regulate student behavior, and it was shamefully successful. They followed an ideology of control and never have I seen such a passive group of students. My colleagues and the administrators managing us weren’t bad people–or even bad educators. I still marvel at their drive to impart knowledge, but their instructional model followed a paradigm that mirrored their discipline: students are, to lean upon a cliche, vessels to be filled, objects to be acted upon.

 

It may be hard for us to see, but their ideology is our ideology. By conventional standards I was a good student; in me the systems of reward and punishment accomplished their goals. My success, however, was bounded by its context. The social psychology research that claims traditional classroom practices limit student interest, reduce depth of thought, and discourage a challenge-seeking orientation resonate with my experience. When I reflect on my education I feel the deep tragedy of my untapped potential. Here was the refrain of the times: “Why would I put more effort into this? I already have an A.” I was lucky because many other students repeated its more destructive corollary: “Why would I put any effort in to this? I’m just going to get an F.” No matter what a student’s place on this artificial spectrum, reducing performance to an externally imposed measurement of a pseudo-objective standard constitutes control. When, later in my academic career, I did fail one class, I imagine the emotional pain I felt was a close cousin to the physical pain of my future Cameroonian students.

 

Whether or not there are legitimate uses for standards in today’s world, the current political environment has paired standards with a toxic accountability. There’s an or else. Pay teachers following our formula or we won’t send federal money your way. Raise your students’ scores to the level we say or we’ll give your school a failing grade. Do better or we’ll close it entirely. As a country our greatest shames have been perpetrated under contingency and duress. This is no different. My educational history has been filled with motivated teachers who didn’t require bribes or threats to seek self-improvement, who didn’t need standardized tests to gauge student proficiency.

 

If we want our students to learn to function in a democracy, why are our classrooms structured like dictatorships? Why are we pursuing a path that further alienates students from content by adding additional separation between teachers and curriculum? Why, if we expect students to learn independence, are we stripping it from educators?

 

Best Regards,

 

Jakob Gowell

 

B.A. English, Grinnell College 2011
RPCV Cameroon 2012-2014
Education Volunteer (TEFL)

Last year, when I spoke in Indianapolis to the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education, I was interviewed by Gregory J. Marchant, professor of educational psychology at Ball State University. He published the interview, and it was recently selected as the most read article in the journal in 2014. Greg asked some penetrating questions about my personal journey in the world of education research. You might find it interesting to read. He is a good interviewer, and I was very colloquial, as I tend to be.

Mate Wierdl, a professor of mathematics at the University of Memphis, explains to another reader why the management model of education is different from that of business:

 

 

“Another reader wrote: “Before you even ask those questions, I believe you have to establish a consensus about purpose. What are public schools supposed to accomplish? Then you ask, Are they accomplishing it? How well?”

 

“I gave my opinion on this in other posts in this blog thread: in math, kids need to understand math (calculating using crazy formulas they forget within a week is unimportant), they need to enjoy thinking, problem solving, experimenting.

 

“What teachers don’t accomplish very well is to get kids excited about learning. I submit, the main reason for this is overwork: US teachers and students have to work way too much. For example, in Hungary, a teacher’s daily load is four 45 min classes with 15 minute breaks between classes—about 60% of what US teachers have to endure.

 

“Since teachers have to keep kids excited, they also need to be excited, enthusiastic, but that’s impossible to do 6 hours a day—plus grading, preparing, communicating with parents. If we want to improve education, the first thing to do is reduce teaching load, and reduce school and home work time for kids.

 

“My understanding is that you are worried that if the public doesn’t look over the teachers’ shoulders, they won’t do a good job. But teachers have a completely different management style from corporations.

 

“Simplistically, there are two kinds of evaluation/management systems. One is what we can call the military style with its hierarchical chain of authority. This is what seems to be preferred by big corporations: the “CEO system”.

 

“The other one is the democratic management system where each worker has full authority over her work. In this system, the quality of work is ensured by a peer review process. This democratic management system has been used in education, but many small businesses have been using it too.

 

“The controversy is that powerful people like Gates, who believe in the almighty CEO system, refused to believe that the democratic system works well in education—or anywhere, and so they decided to implement the military style management in education. This happened despite the fact that the US had the best higher ed system in the world and it’s based on the democratic management system.

 

“When people on this blog are pissed about, say, Gates, and they say, they don’t want to be evaluated by a military system Gates invented for them, they don’t imply that they don’t want to be responsible to the public. No, they just have a democratic management system that has been working very well for decades, and in some instances, for centuries. What teachers see is that outsiders want to force a different management style on them which has been proven ineffective in education numerous times in the past.”

Steve Matthews, superintendent of the Novi school district, here explains how the education profession has been attacked and demonized, with premeditation.

 

He begins:

 

So you want to kill a profession.

 

It’s easy.

 

First you demonize the profession. To do this you will need a well-organized, broad-based public relations campaign that casts everyone associated with the profession as incompetent and doing harm. As an example, a well-orchestrated public relations campaign could get the front cover of a historically influential magazine to invoke an image that those associated with the profession are “rotten apples.”

 

Then you remove revenue control from the budget responsibilities of those at the local level. Then you tell the organization to run like a business which they clearly cannot do because they no longer have control of the revenue. As an example, you could create a system that places the control for revenue in the hands of the state legislature instead of with the local school board or local community.

 

Then you provide revenue that gives a local agency two choices: Give raises and go into deficit or don’t give raises so that you can maintain a fund balance but in the process demoralize employees. As an example, in Michigan there are school districts that have little to no fund balance who have continued to give raises to employees and you have school districts that have relatively healthy fund balances that have not given employees raises for several years.

 

Then have the state tell the local agency that it must tighten its belt to balance revenue and expenses. The underlying, unspoken assumption being that the employees will take up the slack and pay for needed supplies out of their own pockets.

 

Additionally , introduce “independent” charters so that “competition” and “market-forces” will “drive” the industry. However, many of these charters, when examined, give the illusion of a better environment but when examined show no improvement in service. The charters also offer no comprehensive benefits or significantly fewer benefits for employees. So the charters offer no better quality for “customers” and no security for employees but they ravage the local environment.

 

Then create a state-mandated evaluation system in an effort to improve quality…..

 

That is how it begins.

 

For his willingness to speak out honestly and courageously, I add Steve Matthews to the blog’s honor roll as a hero of public education.

 

 

 

Peter Greene has a problem. He is at the top of his district’s seniority ladder. His wife is at the bottom. Under seniority rules as currently written, she would be first to be fired. He says she is an awesome teacher. Everyone tells him so.

But if the legislature eliminates seniority, he will be first to go, because he is the most expensive.

“This is exactly the sort of law that would conceivably save my wife’s position. Ironically, it would probably end mine. For a district in economic hardship, the most attractive layoffs would be to axe the most expensive teachers. Under an “economic hardship” rule, my career would have ended a decade ago. So in state like Pennsylvania where the legislature has been systematically underfunding schools, either my wife or I are vulnerable to furlough.

“I asked her what she thought about devoting herself to a career in which every step up the ladder of success would mean one step closer to being fired. She responded with some NSFW language (my wife is quite the sassmeister when she wants to be). And that’s the thing about non-seniority rules. Under the current system. it’s hard to get a lifelong teaching career launched and safely under way. Under anti-seniority systems, it’s impossible. The world needs more teachers like my wife, and my wife is not a dope. How do you recruit and retain her by saying, “You can have a short-term job in teaching, but you will never have a career.”

“Look, nobody has to tell me that the way this is working sucks. Sucks with a giant suckness that could out-suck the suck of the biggest darkest suckingest black hole in the universe. But as much as this sucks, every alternative proposed by reformsters sucks even more. Pennsylvania schools should be properly funded. My wife should be in a classroom for the rest of her life, and all present and future students deserve to have a teacher of her caliber and dedication. That’s the world we ought to be living in; destroying seniority gets us further away from that world, not closer.”

Despite the challenges, despite the toxic policies, despite the outpouring of “I Quit” letters, young future teachers are taking a stand.

Stephanie Rivera describes a new organization called the Young Teachers Collective. They will plow ahead. They will stick with their chosen profession. They are not afraid. They want to teach. They want to have a voice in the national debate about teaching. They want to give each other hope.

Stephanie started a resistance movement as an undergraduate, inspiring other young teachers to persist. Now she is a graduate student at Rutgers, and she believes in teaching and wants to work with others who have the same aspirations.

Here is the website for the Young Teachers Collective.

 

They say:

 

The current climate of the education system is not inviting. We constantly see poor reforms implemented by people the most distant from the classroom. We constantly hear “don’t go into teaching.” Regardless, we see the profession as something worth fighting for. In order to win this struggle, we understand the importance of coming together to support each other and lift each other up–even if it’s only through an online community. By creating this collective, we hope to:

 

Develop political consciousness among our peers that will be entering the education profession.

 

Develop the tools/skills necessary for young people to organize themselves.

 

Create a network of support while in college and during the first years of teaching

 

Provide young teachers with both a sense of hope and tools on how to fight for a better education system.

 

Advocate and work towards a common vision for the future of education

 

Strengthen our presence in discussions about education

 

Create a space to share\suggest resources to build consciousness as well as materials to use in the classroom

 

In order to do this we plan to engage in the following:

 

Weekly blog posts by members of YTC discussing an issue of their choice

 

Host monthly Twitter Chats. Our past chat includes improving teacher education.

 

Host monthly Google Hangouts

 

Host webinar workshops

 

Host workshops and\or discussions on our campuses\in community when possible

 

IMPORTANCE OF YOUNG AND FUTURE TEACHERS’ VOICES

 

“While many of us have been inspired by teacher-activists currently in the field, we have come to recognize the importance of creating our own collective voice. The voices of young and future teachers are largely ignored in the education movement. We are often dismissed because we are viewed as not having the experience to truly understand the issues facing public education. However, there is no doubt that our voices are valuable and even necessary in this struggle. We are in the unique position of simultaneously facing issues affecting both students and teachers. At the same time, this position presents different challenges that students and experienced teachers are not aware of. Young and future teachers are the only ones who can really speak to these challenges, which is why it is so important that we speak out and have our voices amplified.”

 

While it is heartening to see Stephanie Rivera and other future teachers taking action to save the profession they want to enter, there is something terribly sad about the fact that future teachers feel they must act to do so. In what other profession would future professionals feel they must try to save the profession before it is destroyed by malignant outside forces?

Thank you, Susan Jolley, for sending this comment. I love this line from one of my favorite works of literature (yes, fiction, not informational text, which can teach us so much about the world and what matters most even when it cannot be tallied):

 

There is a line at the end of George Eliot’s Middlemarch that I have always loved about the value to society of the many people who never become famous but add immeasurably to other people’s lives: “for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.” It reminds me of the good but unheralded work done by so many teachers,

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