“So, do you miss teaching?”

I get that question every once in a while. People also ask if I miss the kids.

And the answer has steadfastly been: “No, I do not miss teaching.” “No, I do not miss the kids.”

I don’t know why, I just don’t. And, I feel no guilt about it. My current job is vastly different from teaching, even though it is tied directly to public schools, education, teaching, and kids. I just began my third year as president of the state education union. My last classroom assignment was during the 2010-2011 school year, when I completed my 39th year of teaching.

However, I do miss teachers. I miss hearing about teaching and staying connected to the classroom through their stories. My best friends are teachers. Or, more likely, were teachers. I still have a few close friends who teach. But, my besties are retired. I am the lone working member of two long-term groups of friends–including the GNO group–Girls Night Out–women who used to teach together (or at one time or another) at H. B. du Pont, and, my Breakfast Buddies–women educators who meet every Saturday for breakfast or lunch. The Union Girls group are all still working teachers, except for me.

So, I spend a lot of time listening to teachers, reading about teaching and teachers, and even attending conferences and workshops for teachers. I get to visit teachers in their schools; I see them at union functions; I run into them when I am out and about. Last night at a local restaurant, our waitress was a teacher. So, of course, we talked about teaching and kids and school, and–well she did have to spend some time out other tables,…

One source of satisfaction has been finding smart and clever blogs about teaching–by teachers, in real time. I like funny and I love satire, so, any blog that moves in that direction keeps my attention.

Some suggestions:

Teenagers Are Ridiculous

But, Wait! There’s More… a teacher’s take on life, her career, being a mom, and everything in between

Ms. M’s Apples / Exploding furnaces, pink eye, and other unexpected events in the life of a middle school teacher…

Warning: These ladies do not pull any punches, and on some sites there will be occasional vulgarity and/or swearing–admittedly part of the appeal for me. I frequently check out blog sites listed by bloggers on their blog rolls–found in the side bars. Great way to wile away an entire afternoon.

I have failed to post for three months. What is wrong with me? Other interests? Other responsibilities? Too pooped to post? All of the above.

Spent most of July out of town on union business for 16 days total and 10 days on family vacation to Maine. Older son got married to a sweetie pie woman. Caught up on some personal interest reading–murder mysteries and spy thrillers. Got a Kindle. Just started Wolf Hall.

Totally wrapped up in keeping up with/catching up on several fascinating TV series: Newsroom (HBO), The Bridge (FX), Broadchurch (BBC America), Thorne Mysteries (Encore), The Killing (AMC), The Americans (FX), Homeland (Showtime–I don’t have this channel but caught all of Season 1 during a free week), and of course Game of Thrones (HBO). These series rock. Heck, there’s not much else worth watching on TV–reality shows hold no interest.

I would promise myself to do better on posting, but,… I could and would easily overlook my intentions.

Posted in Blogs and Blogging, Humor, Interesting Bits, Teachers and Teaching, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Teacher Prep, Teacher Salaries, Teacher Opportunities

This is the testimony that I gave before the House Education Committee this spring. It is long–turned out to be too long. As the president of DSEA, I am usually afforded three minutes–they were only giving two that day. Not many public speakers, but lots of good comments and questions from members of the committee.

“For the past two years I have had the rare opportunity to meet hundreds of new teachers across the state of Delaware.  They come across as smart, eager, committed, and ready to step into classrooms of their very own.  A few months later, I am not surprised to hear their wishes that teacher training programs had better prepared them for dealing with parents; managing discipline, time, and transitions between lessons; using classroom technologies; grading student work; managing record keeping, and working with the unimaginable student diversity in many of our classrooms.

The stated intention of recent legislation [that has since passed in both the Senate and the House] is to “improve” the preparation of new teachers to be hired by schools in Delaware.  The bill puts in place additional controls to college-level education programs in the state’s five institutes of higher education.

I see this kind of legislation as strengthening teacher preparation in Delaware, rather than improving it.  Improvement often implies fault or flaw or error.  I believe that Delaware institutions of higher learning and their staffs have repeatedly demonstrated their interest, intent, and capacity to provide the best for prospective teachers.

However, times have changed and we must all be prepared to change with the times.

Tomorrow’s teacher prep programs must prepare candidates:
For students who will grow up and work in an interconnected world.
For highly mobile students and an increasing number of students in poverty.
For teaching in a wide range of classroom environments, including face-to-face, blended, and virtual.

A colleague uses this quote as part of her email signature:  “Teaching reading IS rocket science.” She’s right. Reading instruction is incredibly complex and demanding.  Effective math instruction is equally challenging.  I’m a science teacher.  In Delaware K-8 classrooms, we have all been trained to teach science in a unique and powerful way; inquiry-based, hands-on science instruction–in-depth, about a limited number of topics.  This all requires special training and practice.

To some, teaching is a job; many teachers make it their career.  To me and my colleagues, it is also an honorable profession.  We are proud to teach.  In our minds, it is as worthy and principled a profession as law or medicine.

And, as such, standards for the profession should be established and maintained by members of the profession.  Those standards include the establishment of program admission criteria; completion requirements; demonstrations of competence in content knowledge, as well as the skills and strategies of pedagogy.

Additionally, I believe that comprehensive, in-depth, up-to-date, real world preparation programs should regularly involve the advice and involvement of skilled working teachers.  I believe there is real value in having Delaware teachers directly involved in the planning and implementation of teacher preparation.  I would love to see more opportunities for prospective teachers to be taught by exemplary classroom teachers.

[THIS IS WHERE I WAS CUT OFF–however, the legislators each got an email copy of the entire speech sent to them. Here is the rest of the speech.]

Teacher preparation is important.  However, it goes hand-in-hand with (1) dedicated recruitment of minority candidates in our colleges, but also in our high schools; (2) enhanced training for teachers who host student teachers; (3) strengthening teacher induction practices for new teacher; (4) providing adequate and meaningful support for novice teachers; (5) upgrading compensation for new teachers; and (6) creating career opportunities for master teachers that keep them involved in teaching instead of moving them into administrative positions.

Teaching is as challenging a field as ever.  Effective teachers need to be resourceful, flexible, and creative; a well-designed, well-managed teacher preparation program is a critical component to their initial and continued success.” THE END

Lots of concerns were expressed from various sources about this bill and whether or not my support proves that I am naive, crazy, heartless, co-opted, wrongly-motivated, or otherwise ill-suited for leadership. Perhaps this is evidence that I no longer care about teachers, and have gone over to the dark side.

I am quite possibly even corrupt. Oh, no–that’s that other bill.

I even hesitate to stick my neck out here ON MY VERY OWN BLOG, knowing that this will once again stir up the local posse of dissent who railed first against the TellDelaware survey. Interestingly, so few of them are educators or union members. Ah, well,…

So, where does this leave us?

For one thing–we had better be looking for a way into deep discussions about teacher salaries. Holy Cow! Before 2006, I would have argued heatedly about the need to maintain the decades-old teacher salary scale to which we had all become so accustomed. I would not have been alone.

It had, what we were led to believe and convinced ourselves, its “advantages.” Eye-roll, please. It is easy to understand–one page per year pretty much says it all; it is fairly straight-forward; it’s reliable–you know what you’re gonna get and when you’re gonna get it; and it appears to maintain some levels of stability, fairness, and democracy. Hah! Heck, we sat there at the table every three years and blithely negotiated our way through the tulips, ever so glad to end up with increases of 2-4% on just the local portion of salaries where the state paid about two-thirds. By the time one reached one’s 16th year in teaching, one had reached the top of the scale. No where else to go. Sorry, Charlie.

Upon further reflection, and having actually looked into what are known as alternative compensation models, one finally figures out that for years and years this salary scale has been more advantageous for management than for the workers. Oh, dear.

I had the chance to be appointed to a DSEA task force on alternative compensation way back in 2006 by, then president, Barb Grogg. I am no math genius, but it didn’t take me long to figure out that: (a) my career-long earnings were far below levels achieved by workers in comparable fields with comparable education and degrees, training, experience, and recognized expertise; (b) while my current salary was OK by some standards (at about $75,000 in 2006), it took me all of 33 years of unbroken and dedicated service to get there; and (c) the financial wizards on the other side of the curtain got to mete out my increases in pay in a very gradual, slow, and drawn-out manner. Good for their bottom line; not so good for mine.

I know, I know. Why did all of this insight take so long for me–for us–to discover? Who the heck knows. I’ll tell you one thing–it’s on me. I can hardly blame management for my failure to see the light. But, I surely saw it back then in 2006-2007 and I surely see it now. Progress, so the speak, was diverted by a couple of things: by a genuine need for improvement of the salaries of Delaware para-educators, which took a long time and some expertly-designed epilogue language, but is well on its way to getting accomplished, and, by the economic downturn that pretty much set everyone and everything back. More personally, the brief but significant bankruptcy of my local school district in the 2007-2008 school year took a great deal of my attention just as I stepped in as RCEA president.

Anyway, it is high time to pursue significant changes in the ways that teachers are paid, for what they may choose to be paid, the starting salaries of new teachers, and creating what has existed in almost any field–other than public school teaching–career advancement opportunities. As I stated in another post here, even the kid at McDonald’s gets a chance to advance. In my entire 39-year teaching career, I never had the chance to become anything more than a teacher.

Just like I upgraded my home-work technology apparatus and skill sets–see my previous post–there are a number of aspects of teacher/educator life that deserve an upgrade.

So, if they’re gonna require Delaware’s IHE to boost requirements for admission into their teacher education programs, require some kind of TBD exit assessment–heck I had to take the four-hour National Teacher Exam prior to graduation from Goucher College back in 1972 to receive a license to teach in Maryland (Goucher is in Baltimore)–and come up with some kind of accountability process that links novice teachers to the programs in which they were trained, then somebody better be looking at ways to attract these very same folks to teach and STAY in Delaware schools.

Increased pay, improved conditions for teaching, outstanding support for novice teachers–a topic for an upcoming post–and a career ladder for interested teachers–genuine opportunities to advance in teaching, to stay in teaching, and to benefit financially and professionally IN TEACHING are the next few hurdles. And, here we are in the perfect position to LEAD THE PROFESSION.

Posted in Accountability, Education Professionals, New Teachers, Quality Teachers/Quality Teaching, Teacher Education Programs, Teachers and Teaching | 3 Comments

Coming Into the 21st Century

My closer friends and associates know that while I am not a Luddite, I am slow and reluctant to come around to technological advances of almost any kind.  I was one of the last people I know to get a microwave, for God’s sake.  “The stove and oven were good enough for me.  Who needs another appliance cluttering the kitchen counter?  Boiled water, popcorn, reheated leftovers? Been there–done that.”  Finally made the big plunge and got that microwave–a big and powerful one, and, of course, I have never looked back. Couldn’t live without it.

Additionally, I am technologically challenged, and they all know that as well. I’m a fairly creative thinker, but a somewhat linear learner. I think that I lack a fair amount of computer intuition and this makes new stuff or new ways of using old stuff a bit intimidating. My two kids will say, “Look, Mom. This is easy. You just do this and then this and then that and, voila!” Meanwhile, I am still back on the “Look, Mom” and the first step,… All I ever wanted was a book that explained just what I needed to know. Or, better yet, a “one-pager” that told me step-by-step how to proceed–one little bit at a time. We could drive each other crazy.

Last week, I did what I had been talking about doing for months and got an IPad. I travel a lot, and lugging even a lighter-weight laptop was too much of a hassle. I had been handling most of my daily business while away on my IPhone–doing some pretty amazing things–things that one would normally do on a desktop or laptop computer–on just a tiny screen. But, the time had come to upgrade and come into the 21st century. So, here I am doing my first post on my new IPad. Got a cover with a keyboard. I can type on the screen, but not nearly as efficiently as with the little keyboard.

Well, I love this thing! Combined with my phone and a borrowed hotspot, I feel newly connected. LOL

Posted in My Opinions, Quality of Life, Technology | 1 Comment

Reading is essential to success in classroom

Who could quibble with this statement? “Reading is absolutely essential for success in school and in life, setting the foundation for access to and mastery of most other subject areas.”

This quotation is the opening sentence in an op-ed piece that ran in our local paper on May 16.  The piece was written by a member of the State Board of Education.  I am bound to upset someone with my take on the op-ed, but, this has been bugging me for the past week and a half.  I am also aware that I am going out onto thin ice—taking offense, but hoping to not give undue offense.  Maybe I am just overly-sensitive,…

Nah.

The primary observations: Apparently local colleges of education have not been keeping up with the times; not been following the most up-to-date research; not modernized and adapted their “how to teach reading” programs; have not been discriminating enough about who is admitted to their teacher prep programs; have no idea how their former undergraduates have been doing once they enter the field of teaching.

The op-ed writer states: “Not all of the institutions preparing our teachers have kept pace with the changes in expectations that have been occurring in our K-12 public schools.  Every new teacher graduating from college and getting a license to teach in Delaware needs to be adequately prepared for that first day in the classroom.”

I have worked with a number of student teachers and clinical program advisers.  I can think of only one student teacher out of dozens (for whom I was the host teacher or who spent time in my classroom while hosted by a colleague) who should have been counseled out of pursuing a teaching degree.  Additionally, I have taken plenty of education courses—mostly at UD, but some at DSU.  I never felt that I was getting less than the best and most up-to-date information.  (Well, maybe once.  But he was weird.)

I have voiced my concerns to some of the powers that be about this concept of “First Day Ready,” a catchy little phrase that has gotten attention in the past few months.  Teachers and principals tend to agree—most teachers do not reach their stride until between five and seven years of service.  So, first-day readiness is apt to be much different for a brand new teacher, a third-year teacher, and a ten-year teacher, etc., and one’s expectations need to be adjusted.  One’s expectations should be high but also reasonable and differentiated accordingly.

The secondary implication appears to be that, once again, working teachers—in this case, those immediately responsible for basic reading instruction—do not have the aptitude, skills, and know-how to teach reading effectively enough to advance all students.

I started teaching in 1972.  Nominally, I taught third grade; however, in reality, I taught basic 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and/or 6th grade reading for the next 17 years.  My point?  I have some experience in this domain.

Obviously success in mastering reading is vital for all students.  However, the op-ed piece is not really about the importance of learning to read.  One could put together an entire separate piece all about the necessity of strong reading ability and literacy.

The intended purpose of the op-ed is to support legislation intended to strengthen teacher preparation.  At the time the piece was published, SB51 had passed in the Senate, but had not yet passed in the House.  It has since passed.  The bill:

  • Sets standards for entry into teacher prep programs: 3.0 minimum GPA*; or, top 50% of class*; or, proficiency on tests like SAT, ACT, or Praxis I.  The bill continues the current allowance of a waiver of these requirements for up to 10% of applicants per year.  (*Required for the applicant’s most recent two years of high school or college.)
  • Establishes completion requirements in which candidates must meet standards for content knowledge and demonstrate instructional competence—the actual assessments will be determined in the next year.  [In order to be licensed to teach in Delaware, new educators will need to pass both an approved content-readiness exam and some performance assessment of their teaching abilities.  Additionally, special education teachers will need to demonstrate content knowledge if they plan to teach middle school or high school subjects.]
  • Requires high-quality clinical experiences (a.k.a. student teaching) supervised by high-quality educators, with on-going evaluation of participants.  Full-time student teaching of not less than ten weeks (= 50 days—one week more than a single marking period in “school time”), plus additional clinical experiences integrated throughout the program.  Translation: teacher prep students need to be out in schools ASAP and have plenty of opportunities to observe and participate in classrooms.
  • Mandates that future elementary school teachers be prepared in “research-based strategies for childhood literacy and age-appropriate mathematics content.”  [I would add that effective instructional pedagogy for mathematics requires as much attention as does the methodology for reading.]
  • Calls for the creation of a system to track and report data for a five-year period after graduation from a teacher prep program in order to provide information on the effectiveness of each institute’s program.

So, why does the op-ed seem to take potshots at novice teachers and/or Delaware teacher prep programs?  Why make it feel sort of “personal?”  Surely there are plenty of ready arguments for strengthening teacher prep.  I cited a number that I thought were important and justified in testimony that I gave earlier before the House Education Committee.

Teaching Reading IS Rocket Science, the AFT report authored by Louisa Moats, and mentioned in the op-ed, is an interesting and informative read.  Moats’ analysis and commentary go well beyond recommendations to simply strengthen teacher prep.  The report can be found at www.aft.org/pdfs/teachers/rocketscience0304.pdf

[And, if teaching someone how to read is rocket science, then I am willing to suggest that thinking about and discussing reading instruction in an informed and meaningful way may be equally complex and challenging.]

This report was issued in June 1999.  Has it really taken us 14 years to wake up and pay attention?

The AFT report—which I read in its entirety—carefully lays out a comprehensive assessment of what is needed in order for teachers to provide the very best in reading instruction—which is what teachers would want to do, and willingly and enthusiastically do every day.

I agree whole-heartedly with the assertions Moats makes in a section of the report subtitled, “The difficulty of teaching reading has been underestimated.”  She elaborates:  “Teaching reading is a job for an expert.  Contrary to the popular theory that learning to read is natural and easy, learning to read is a complex linguistic achievement.  For many children, it requires effort and incremental skill development.  Moreover, teaching reading requires considerable knowledge and skill, acquired over several years through focused study and supervised practice.”

[I know that there is an obvious and burning question out there somewhere, just waiting to be asked.]

Over my 39 year teaching career, I have helped teach hundreds of children to learn to read, to better comprehend what they read, to enhance their reading proficiency, to better tailor their reading to nonfiction science texts, and to acquire ever more sophisticated skills and strategies.  I taught third grade for seventeen years; I taught 6th grade science for the remaining 22 years.

While reading the op-ed piece, I felt immediate embarrassment–and defensiveness.  The writer indicates that somehow our newest teachers (this would be primarily elementary teachers—the professionals who manage basic reading instruction) have neither been properly prepared to teach reading by Delaware institutes of higher learning, nor have they, as a whole, been doing a creditable job instructing reading.

I don’t know which party should feel more maligned–teacher prep programs or new teachers.  I don’t know on what bases the allegation was founded.  The citation that only about 1/3 of Delaware students have reached reading proficiency is hardly an indictment limited to novice teachers or in-state teacher education programs.  It would be my assertion that this kind of failure is systemic and that all of us share a piece of it.

In Delaware, we have five IHE with teacher prep programs: University of Delaware, Delaware State University, Wilmington University, Wesley College, and Delaware Technical & Community College (2-year associate degree).  Recent data indicates that for public school teachers with five or fewer years experience, almost 60% of new teachers hired by Delaware public schools come from in-state teacher prep programs, while about 40% come from institutions outside of the state.

I am not opposed to setting standards for teacher prep programs.  I am not opposed to creating uniformity among the requirements for four-year teacher education programs.  I do not find that the requirements set in SB51 are overly rigorous or exclusive.  Other than issues of confidentiality, I am not opposed to the transmission of data back to the IHE about the success of their former students—I look at this in pretty much the same way that I looked at most of the assessments, quizzes, and tests that I gave in class.  Yes, these tools told me about students–what they learned or did not learn, at the same time, revealing student misunderstandings, gaps in learning, or failures to connect the critical Big Ideas of multiple lessons.  However, the results told me as much about my teaching of content, of scientific concepts, and skills related to the 6th grade science curriculum.  These items were as much formative assessments for me as they were documentation of my students “threads of understanding.”

Moats’ own summation strikes me as noteworthy:  “The fact that teachers need better training to carry out deliberate instruction in reading, spelling, and writing should prompt action rather than criticism.  It should highlight the chronic gap between what teachers need and what they have been given.  It should underscore the obligation of licensing programs to combine coursework with practice on a range of predefined skills and knowledge.  The deficiencies in teacher preparation represent both a misunderstanding of what reading instruction demands and a mistaken notion that any literate person should be able to teach children to read.  We do not expect that anyone who appreciates music can teach music appreciation, or that anyone who can balance a check book can teach math.  Just about all children can be taught to read and deserve no less from their teachers.  Teachers, in turn, deserve no less than the knowledge, skills, and supported practice that will enable their teaching to succeed.  There is no more important challenge for education to undertake.”

Thank you, Dr. Moats.

Posted in A Good Education, Accountability, New Teachers, Professional Development, Teacher Education Programs, Teachers and Teaching | 9 Comments

Ending Hunger

I have never been hungry a day in my life.  Never really, deeply, truly HUNGRY. Never hungry for hours on end or days on end.  My family has never suffered food insecurity–a term I had never heard of until a few years ago.

Food insecurity refers to the availability of food and one’s access to it.  A household is considered food-secure when its occupants do not live in hunger or fear of starvation.  Some families’ food insecurity may be steady and consistent; other families may experience varying levels of food insecurity across the year, especially at the end of each month.

I have, however, been quite aware that some students in my classes have been hungry–especially boys in middle school.  I can only imagine how hungry they may have been, or how long the hunger at that time–or at another particular time–may have lasted.  Or how many times a month they and their brothers/sisters and other family members may have suffered from hunger.  Because it is suffering.  Such hunger is unimaginable to the rest of us.

And, I am not even talking about food choice(s) and the kinds of foods that are needed for good and proper nutrition.

This past Monday, I participated on a panel during the Food Bank of Delaware’s Ending Hunger Conference.  Other panelists included a representative from FRAC (Food Resource Action Council), a representative from the Nemours Foundation, a spokesperson from the Delaware Department of Instruction, and the head of Student Nutrition from Colonial School District.  I was asked to speak about how hunger plays out in the classroom, at our schools, and what has been and can be done to help alleviate our children’s hunger.

The event was very well attended and was considered a big success by the organizers.  It was a very worthwhile cause.

The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) was started in recognition of the levels and extent of hunger, as well as the nutritional needs of American children.  Identification of children eligible for free or reduced price lunch (FRPL) is the manner in which childhood poverty figures are calculated and tracked. FRPL figures are used to designate schools with high, medium, or low student poverty levels–to identify the haves and the have-nots.

Free lunch is provided for children from families whose income is 130% or less of federal poverty levels, which are established once each year.  For example, as of April 2012, the federal poverty level for a single parent and child was $15,130; for a family of four, it was $23,050.  So, 130% of each of those family income maximums is $19,669 and $29, 965, respectively.  Reduce priced lunch income maximums are 185% of the same base income levels.  With an income of $27,991 for an adult and one child, school lunch each day would cost my child no more than $.40.

[There are probably people out there who say that the federal school lunch program is yet another one of those unnecessary intrusions of the federal government into our daily lives. Another one of those objectionable government support systems and so-called safety nets that actually do more harm than good to American society. One more of those entitlement programs of which the poor are so enamored. I can guarantee that people who see the world that way have not themselves ever been hungry. Nor do they have much imagination or empathy.]

Support for school lunch has been extended to include free or reduced price breakfast eligibility, after school snacks, summer feeding programs, and provisions for children in daycare programs. Some schools and local food banks are also coming up with ways to provide evening meals and weekend meals for children by providing backpacks filled with non-perishable, nutritious food and drink.

Many have long known that the lunch in the school cafeteria or at the daycare facility may have been the only real meal of the day for kids of all ages.  Now we offer breakfast to all who need it.  However, some children may actually skip the free or reduced price breakfast because of the stigma they feel may be attached to heading for the cafeteria when other, more affluent students head for homeroom.

More about all this later.   I have the following quote, from one of my local heroes, on a plaque on my desk in Dover.  Patricia is the head of the Food Bank of Delaware organization.

“It isn’t enough to talk about a hunger-free world, one must believe in it.  And it isn’t enough to merely believe in it, one must do whatever is possible to achieve it.”    ~Patricia D. Beebe

Posted in Accountability, Children, Political Action, Quality of Life, Student Success | Leave a comment

So little time; so much to read

I am so behind.  So behind in my reading.  So behind in posting on my own blog.

My current job as president of Delaware State Education Association (a.k.a. the education union–NEA’s state affiliate here in Delaware) keeps me BUSY, but it is not a hard job. It is not nearly as challenging a job as my lifelong job–teaching. [39 years. Not my age, but the number of years I taught! This amazes even me.]

In truth, in this job, during most weeks, I have more discretionary time outside of the standard work day than I ever had as a teacher. Plus, for the last six years of teaching, I also served as VP and then president of my local teacher union. I ended up working that like a second full-time job. So, here I am with what should be time on my hands. Ha!

Anyhow,…   I do keep up with the local and national news.  I subscribe to and read our local newspaper every day, and indulge in the Sunday New York Times. Admittedly, I have yet to get last Sunday’s NYT out of its blue plastic protective wrapper, but I intend to peruse it this evening.  I did will myself this afternoon to glance through a growing stack of Education Week papers.  I am never disappointed; Ed Week’s articles never fail to grab my attention or engage my thinking and reflection.  If I had the energy and time, I would consider creating a “reading group” for this publication.  The topics are timely—well-integrated into current public education / edreform / school improvement debates, movements, and revelations (both good and bad).

Here in Delaware, as in most states, conversations related to public education include, but are not limited to: early childhood education, school safety & security, teacher preparation, teacher induction practices, teacher quality, teacher evaluation, school leadership, instructional practices, struggling schools, under-achieving students, English language learners, student engagement, parent engagement, community engagement, school funding, instructional technology, standardized testing, Common Core State Standards, etc., etc., etc.

In one month’s time—maybe even within a single edition—you can count on reading something relevant, revealing, illuminating, or inspirational in the pages of Ed Week.  And, I know that I am not alone in keeping up with it.  LOL

So, what stood out for me?  (BTW: This is a very productive question to ask kids or adults after reading or viewing or some other learning experience.  I learned this as part of Penn Literacy Network studies.]  I generally read what catches my attention—what seems to resonate with me or is based in my own experiences.

In the March 27, 2013 issue, I surveyed every article, but read “Resident Teachers Are Getting More Practice” because we have been talking about the induction of new teachers and residency has been one plan that we have debated.  I read Doug Lemov’s book (Teach Like a Champion) on which the residents’ practices seemed to be based, implemented some of his practices that were new to me and sounded worthwhile, recognized much of what he described as part of my own repertoire, but, I found that it ended up looking, feeling, and being “too much of a good thing.”  One quarter of the way through the Lemov book, I tired of the repetitious narratives about the fabulousness of the charter school teachers he referenced.  Just tell the story—enough with the hype already.

I read about how middle school Algebra instruction is not delivering increased NAEP test scores.  My younger son, an identified gifted student,  was pushed in middle school to do Pre-Algebra in 7th grade and Algebra I in 8th and always felt that he had been rushed and was going through the motions with inadequate understanding or time to grasp all of the content and connections.  So, he chose to take Algebra I again in high school.  Wise move, if you ask me.

I read about the return to ability grouping.  Really?  Tracking students all over again?  I was so strongly tracked in high school in the 1960’s—college prep level, which was the top tier at that time—that I was not permitted to take typing because “only business and general education students were permitted to take that class,” even though I had an open period that aligned with typing.  So, I went off to college with absolutely no typing skills.  I still type with 2-3 fingers and must constantly watch the keyboard.

I am an experienced science teacher.  It does take organization, a definite level of skill, a toolbox of accommodation and differentiation strategies, and a commitment to a certain world view to manage heterogeneously grouped classes successfully.  In my middle school, in 6th grade, we were committed to mixed-ability groups in science and social studies, and with the right teachers in place, we made it work.  At the same time, I can understand the value of ability grouping in some circumstances.

I read a fascinating piece about the new superintendent of San Diego schools—an elementary principal, mind you—who seems to have unique and winning ways with parent engagement.  Moving an elementary school principal into a superintendency is rare.  Plus, San Diego is California’s second largest school district with 133,000 kids.  “By this selection, it seems to me that [the school board’s] theory of action for change is that it will be school-based, decentralized, collaborative—the opposite of the ‘top-down’ corporate reform model that so many other places are articulating,” said Carl Cohn, former San Diego super from 2005-2007.  The choice, he says, “grows out of their listening to the stakeholders in the community.”  Interesting—to say the least.

The feature “Partnership Combines Science Instruction and English Learning” on the use of elementary science instruction as a way to boost learning for English language learners is right up my alley and right on track.  K-5 students at El Verano Elementary in Sonoma, CA are captivated by the hands-on science program, materials, and experiences –> increased vocabulary development, improved reading, writing, and spelling skills –> increased scores on standard assessments.

Holy Cow!  Why can’t we do this here in Delaware schools?  Oh, that’s right.  We can.

We have a fabulous statewide K-5 science program, complete with the best science curriculum, materials, pedagogy, and teacher training imaginable.  Why is it lying fallow as we spend all day focused almost solely on reading and math in too many classrooms, in too many schools?  See many of my earlier posts for more details on this squandered resource and my ongoing frustrations about this issue.

Kudos to the teachers in our schools who recognize the outstanding value of elementary science instruction, who finds ways to work around school or district directives that limit the time and attention allowed for science and social studies, and who get similar results as those detailed and explained in the article.

Two other articles that got me to read on: “The Many Keys to Radical Classroom Changeand “Want Effective Teachers? Think About Your Value Proposition.”

In the first piece, Amanda Gardner, principal of UP Academy Charter School in Boston had me when she interjected that her school success story “is not a charter school story—it’s a turnaround story made possible through a handful of concrete and replicable best practices.  We’ve dramatically changed the learning environment here through structural change involving both students and teachers—changes I believe are worth sharing.”

Gardner shares three key practices from her school:

(1) Make the classroom a sacred learning environment.  Seems they standardized routines and classroom procedures and policies throughout the school so that no time is wasted.  Expectations are uniform and clear from class to class.  This makes sense to me, and I know that some Delaware teachers have talked about this over the years.  I would bet that there are few distractions and interruptions in their school day.

(2) Teaching is a joint enterprise.  At UP, teachers have two 50-minute planning periods with grade-level content teams guaranteed every day in order to plan lessons, share ideas and best practices; in addition, they have a 3-hour planning block once a week for grade-level teams to co-plan and mine data; finally, early dismissal every Friday afternoon allows 2 ½ hours for departmental or school wide professional development.  Additionally, every 4-5 classrooms has an identified, dedicated, and compensated teacher leader.  Gardner cites this form of distributed leadership as one of the most effective turnaround measures in her experience.

Please realize that UP has an eight-hour student day, with an optional 9th hour for homework support or detention.  Sounds very interesting to me.  Not sure how they manage to schedule all of this, but this is very interesting.

(3) Accountability is not found in a test.  Gardner states: “Standardized tests, like the MCAS, are measures, but if we consistently evaluate our performance, these scores should largely serve to reaffirm what we already know.”  UP has a structure of managers and coaching, and frequent, on-going co-development of corrective action.  Students are frequently assessed and parents are kept in the loop with biweekly progress reports.

That’s all she wrote—three big ideas—three keys to changing school culture and turning around a school.  This is different—in lots of ways—but it sounds interesting to me.

Want Effective Teachers?” is well worth
the read, and focuses on recommendations from two education consultants for attracting teachers by changing up districts’ and schools’ hiring messaging—a revised, upgraded, better-focused PR campaign of sorts.  They encourage districts to “formulate and communicate a clear and compelling “value proposition,” which they describe as “a complete set of offerings and experiences provided by the employer to the employee.”  They go on: “An effective value proposition reflects the needs of both employer and employee: the employer’s need to attract and retain employees with the right skills and knowledge, and the employee’s need for rewards and working conditions that motivate and engage them to do their best work.”

In other words, it seems to me that they recommend that the entity doing the hiring is completely responsible for creating employment opportunities and teaching environments that would be highly attractive to smart, capable, confident, highly qualified candidates.

Five suggestions: flip the value to clearly identify what the district needs and wants; expand and assess perspectives beyond salary & benefits—think supportive principals, collaborative working conditions, and professional empowerment as factors that appeal to top-performers; customize the offerings; prioritize unique district needs and funding requirements; and communicate in ways that are understandable, accessible, and updated.

One aside:  They included a quote from current performance guru Daniel Pink that really hit home with me: “ ‘Effective organizations compensate people in amounts and in ways that allow individuals to mostly forget about compensation and instead focus on the work itself.’ Not getting it right, he says, keeps compensation front and center and inhibits creativity, ultimately unraveling performance.”

Wow.  Sounds like a dream job.

Posted in Education News, Interesting Bits, Quality Teachers/Quality Teaching, School Improvement, Science Education, Teacher Reading | Leave a comment

Holy Survey, Batman!

I never imagined, and I could never have predicted, the kerfuffle that has arisen over a survey of working conditions for educators in public schools across Delaware that DSEA sponsored and helped arrange. I come from a district where annual surveys have been the norm for years–first by pencil and paper, and finally by computer. I remember annual surveys where the faculty was “invited” to a faculty meeting, and the surveys were handed out by a district administrator, and an attendee was not allowed to leave the room until the survey had been completed, placed in the accompanying envelope and then turned in to the same district admin. This led to massive complaints and concerns about confidentiality and anonymity, and that practice of holding people hostage was eventually changed.

With the advent of electronic surveys, there was still the concern that somehow “they would know who you were.” Which led to a lack of truth-telling.

At the same time, I am well aware of those few bully principals who were notorious for confronting their staffs after survey results were returned to each school, demanding to be informed as to “Who said this about me???” I know entire staffs who sat mutely, looking at the floor, unwilling to speak. Luckily, I never worked for any of those guys.

OK. Maybe I am different than most. I have rarely feared speaking my mind or being accountable for my opinions and observations. If I responded in a survey that “support for consistent, effective discipline was missing from my school,” then I was willing to stand by that, to provide examples and evidence, and to debate the concept with any comers. It was important, and it was important to me. I tried not to exaggerate. I tried to be truthful and to respond in a dispassionate and level manner. I did not use the survey to try to get back at someone.

In the year 2013, I do not understand why some folks are still worried by the fear of confidentiality or anonymity.

I suspect that some are the same folks who may share brazenly and carelessly on Facebook and Twitter. I suspect that some may regularly participate in auctions on e-bay.  I suspect that some may frequently make on-line purchases from Amazon or any number of other retail outlets. If any or all of these on-line connections can be “trusted”, then why can one not respond to twenty-some survey questions without overwhelming anxiety?

If the truth is that dangerous, then this may require an immediate intervention of some sort on behalf of the school.

As current president of DSEA, I have been intimately involved in the planning and undertaking of this survey since last August. The survey was recommended by DSEA in 2009 in part as a response to polling data from DSEA members who indicated that teacher working conditions were significantly important to teacher satisfaction, teacher retention and attraction (more than pay-for-performance bonuses), teaching success, and ultimately to student progress.

The same kind of survey had already been used in various states by their NEA affiliates: in Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maryland, to name a few. State presidents told me that the data was genuinely valuable to conversations and decision-making at the school, district, and state levels about planning and policy.

From the start, I have been impressed by the various efforts to ensure anonymity included in the administration of this survey: (1) letters containing access codes were mailed to and to be handed out by the Association Rep in each school; (2) the letters had no staff members’ names; (3) letters were to be handed out randomly and directly to each educator, not placed in mailboxes; (4) educators were instructed to trade the copy of the  letter they received with any other educator—at least once, but as many times as they desired; (5) the survey could be completed at any time of day and from any computer—at school, at home, at the public library; (6) survey results are to be aggregated and reported back by The New Teacher Center, not by the state or by the DEDOE; (7) a 50% participation goal rate at each school was also intended to provide anonymity—even in the smallest schools; and (8) the limited demographic questions at the beginning of the survey ask for district, school, position (with only four choices: teacher, AP, principal, or “other education professional”), # of years employed as an educator, and # of years in current school.

Additionally, if you lost your letter, or if there were not enough letters (we had trouble getting totally accurate numbers for totals of all licensed, certificated staff members in every one of the 200-some schools), or if the envelope with the letters never arrived—the Rep could contact the help line and get replacements that will be sent electronically to be printed and distributed. #672945 is not associated with any individual—it’s just different from #672944 and #672946.

I have also been informed that the access code is disassociated from the survey responses when the completed survey is submitted. In other words, a respondent with access code 672945 is no longer connected to a particular set of responses.

Demographic data is important as a way to both sort and disaggregate information. Teacher responses are aggregated with all other teacher responses from School A, and also with teacher responses from District A, and with all other teacher responses from Delaware. It would be interesting to know whether responses were from novice educators or long-time veterans; and whether opinions come from an educator new to a school or one who had been there for a decade.

But, but, but,… the value of these survey results is all about what we do with them. I have stated all along that “this survey will be a bust if participants do not see a direct connection between their reported responses and change that happens in their schools, their districts, or even at the state level.” I have stated a personal and organizational commitment to working together with members and locals to make this happen. I never had that expectation before in any survey that I took as a working teacher.

So, here is my answer to the latest question on a recent blog post from a guy who could have had some of these questions answered and concerns resolved by just talking to me at any time; a guy who has been stirring the proverbial pot; a guy who has felt compelled to condemn this survey and carp and nitpick about anything and everything related to the damned survey; a guy who seems to take delight in finding fault and shining the light on all things great and small:

TELL Delaware security question: If a teacher who wants to take it asked for and got numbers from other teachers who didn’t want to take it, how would anyone know?

No one will know, and more importantly—NO ONE WILL CARE!!!

Posted in Accountability, Attacks on Unions, Blogs and Blogging, Interesting Bits, My Opinions | 9 Comments