Monday, March 28, 2011

"Superman" Super Fails

I took this article from the Redbook magazines website. I believe the movie is sending a biased and incorrect view of how most teaches are and their dedication to their career. If you go to the link, there is an article you can read from the parent's perspective, which shows how effective the movie was in skewing the public's opinion of teachers and their union.

"Every film needs a villain, but this one’s got it wrong."
I recently went to go see Waiting for "Superman" with a friend of mine who’s also a teacher in the New York City public school system. When we walked into the theatre, I was excited to see what all of the buzz and controversy was about. I couldn’t wait for the movie to expose all of the issues that public school teachers have to deal with on a daily basis. Walking out was a different story. I had a hard time pinpointing all the different nerves the film hit, but I knew one thing — by the time the credits rolled, I was scared.

Scared? Well, yeah. For one thing, I was scared that the movie sent the wrong message about people like me who are dedicating our lives to public education. I was also scared that anyone who sees the film will start to look at teachers as the enemies, and stop working with us to help us succeed at improving the system we’ve been dealt. Davis Guggenheim, the film’s creator, made it clear that we have to get rid of bad teachers and I could not agree more. But what about the good ones? How do we help them? This country needs to work hard at attracting and retaining bright, motivated teachers in the classroom — not demonizing them. Trust me on this, in most cases, teachers are not the enemy.

For all of the important muckraking that the documentary provides, Guggenheim left out a glaringly obvious perspective — that of American teacher. He had “experts” talk about reform, he gave parents a voice where they don’t normally have one, and he provided the platform for former teachers like Geoffrey Canada and Michelle Rhee to explain how they can “fix” education. (For the record, suggesting that there’s one resolution to this deep-rooted problem is totally delusional).

Guggenheim blatantly left out the people on the front lines, the teachers, and by doing so, made us out to be the bad guys. I’m normally a big fan of Guggenheim’s work, but come on: How can you make a film about education without talking to the people who are running the classrooms now? The movie only focuses on bad teachers, and leaves out the ones who are doing their best without the support, training, and supplies they need to be successful. It’s time for people to realize that when our country sets teachers up for failure, they also set children up for failure.

The film also failed to show the obstacles public school teachers overcome every day. Many teachers are constantly dealing with uncooperative parents (unlike the dedicated parents in the movie) who do little to nothing to support their child’s academic success at home. Hilary Clinton coined the phrase “it takes a village” in the mid 1990’s, but somehow reformers have forgotten how true that saying is. Teachers are expected to do a village’s job...alone. In addition to working with children who come from difficult circumstances, teachers are often not given the supplies they need, even though local districts and states are somehow spending more money per-pupil than ever before. And finally (I’m running out of breath here), many public school teachers often have to deal with unimaginable working conditions that no child should have to learn in and no adult should have to work in.

So here’s my take: Sure, there are bad teachers. And of course, our country’s education system needs a major overhaul. But let’s not ignore the fact that there are tons (and I mean TONS) of teachers out there trying to provide kids with a solid education — many of whom are doing so with minimal resources in overcrowded classrooms in dilapidated buildings. My favorite line in the movie was “Great schools come from great people.” Let’s work together to keep those great teachers in the classroom instead of ostracizing them.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Don't lambaste teachers -- 'we are on your side' | Local Views | | Southern California News | News for Inland Southern California

Don't lambaste teachers -- 'we are on your side' | Local Views | | Southern California News | News for Inland Southern California

I like this article because it compares the private sector to the public sector and debunks many myths related to the teaching profession.

Don't lambaste teachers -- 'we are on your side'
I really do try to be open-minded to the "other side" of the teachers union argument. However, as a teacher, I believe firmly that we need someone looking out for our best interests, which is what our teachers union provides.

Michelle Malkin's op-ed is a prime example of why we need our union to continue to represent teachers and help protect teachers' rights ("Unions are after your wallet, not your child's interests," March 4).

There is a lot of misunderstood or misquoted information out there about teachers and the teaching profession. For example, teachers don't get three months of paid vacation.

All our time off, including holiday weeks, is unpaid, although our pay is amortized over 10 or 12 months, so it may seem that we receive paid time off.

We actually can be fired just like employees in the private sector -- with proper documentation and a step-by-step procedure moving from verbal warnings through written documentation and eventual termination. Tenure does not protect teachers forever and keep "bad" teachers in the workplace any more than bad employees in the private sector are protected after their probationary period ends.

The process for removal is basically the same. And, in truth, private sector employers knowingly keep "bad" employees on the job for a variety of reasons just as public employers do.

What tenure does is protect teachers from private-interest groups attacking us or removing us from our jobs due to our religious beliefs, sexual orientation or other issues at odds with what they may believe.

And, contrary to what is being passed on as truth to the public, we do not receive exorbitant retirement packages. In fact, we contribute to our retirement just like private-sector employees. Teachers will not retire rich.

We will struggle to make ends meet as the economic climate changes, just like retiring employees in the private sector.

What the public may not know is that, as a teacher, I cannot quit working with one district and move to another without losing all the years of experience (and corresponding level of pay) I've put in.

The most any district will honor when hiring a teacher is about seven years -- more than that is non-negotiable and less than that is likely.

If a teacher is willing to change districts and take the mandatory pay cut, he then begins at the bottom of the seniority list, thereby losing all protections of tenure or years on the job.

Without unions there to protect teachers, a job in a hostile district would become a life sentence or, at the very least, result in a life-changing move followed by a huge cut in pay (if a teacher could even get a job elsewhere).

In the private sector, it is possible to negotiate starting pay and benefits during the hiring process, and years of experience do count towards the level of pay one can negotiate.

benefits lost

So working in a hostile environment in the private sector could be resolved by getting a job elsewhere without starting over at the bottom once more. Additionally, the public is probably not aware that we lose rights to Social Security benefits we may have earned prior to (or after) entering the teaching profession.

What they may know is that we work more than an eight-hour day, grading home work at night and weekends, spending our summers at conferences, taking classes to better our teaching skills and preparing lessons for the upcoming year.

They probably know that we spend our own money, not only on teaching supplies, but on items that help out our students, including food and clothing.

I hope they know that there are far more dedicated teachers out there spending their own time and money to better the education and lives of their students than there are bad teachers stuck in the system taking advantage of their positions.

I attempt to educate people I come in contact with about what it is really like to be a teacher, both the pros and cons.

But when I come across someone as vicious as Malkin and the searing words she chooses to use to describe educators and the teachers union, it truly disturbs me.

Her vitriolic tirade against teachers is meant only to incite further anger and action against us. Her use of words is meant only to harm, not to educate.

Calling New York State United Teachers President Richard Iannuzzi a "fat-cat union official" and referring to the offices he works in as a "200,000 square-foot palace" are carefully chosen words meant to encourage agitation against those in the teaching profession, something she accuses teachers of doing to the public.

words meant to divide

Saying that "if public school teachers spent more time teaching in classrooms and less time community-organizing in political war rooms" the public wouldn't feel as "ripped off" are words meant to further build the us-versus-them wall that makes teachers appear to be the enemy -- of education, the public, and the country's future -- further dividing us from the rest of the populace.

These days teacher-bashing is at a peak. It rips out the hearts of those of us who dedicate our professional lives to teaching the public's children to read tirades such as Malkin's printed in papers across the country.

Teachers realize the current restraints of the economy and accept that it impacts our pay and benefits.

We are victims of the economic crisis right along with the rest of the public. Teachers in Wisconsin are willing to take the needed pay cuts and changes in benefits.

However, they want to continue to have the protection of the teachers union and collective bargaining, which appears to be direly needed based on what I've seen of their governor's actions and words.

give teachers a chance

We, teachers, are simply asking for a fair shake, which we address through our teachers union.

We are not the enemy. We are one of you. Don't believe what you read without carefully analyzing the bias and prejudice of the author.

Please take Malkin's words as those of a journalist who receives her pay and notoriety for writing from an extreme point of view -- not as the truth, as she would have you believe.

Don't allow her words to encourage agitation by you against those in the teaching profession.

Talk with teachers and listen to their replies. You will find that we are on your side.

Christa Biddle teaches English at Jurupa Middle School.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Larger Classes Sizes?!

With the economy bad and districts looking to save money, the first thing they do is suggest larger class sizes. Imagine teaching 40 students in 50 minutes. Do you think you would be an effective teacher?

Large Classes can be a Large Problem
By Anne O'Brien on January 7, 2011

In times of fiscal crisis, which few would dispute most districts are in, we have been hearing a bit about “smart” increases in class size. Some are advocating for states to remove class size mandates all together.

In the past, this blog has supported class size reduction. Certainly, the evidence makes it clear to me that small classes, particularly in the early years and for our most disadvantaged students, can improve academic outcomes.

But the flip side of class size debates is not articulated nearly as frequently as it should be. The debate is not only about the benefits of small classes. It is also about the problems that can come with large classes.

I was reminded of this recently thanks to a Detroit Free Press article on the problems resulting from a teacher shortage in Detroit Public Schools. Among them (and there are a lot) are large class sizes. Teachers at nearly a third of Detroit’s schools – 44 of 140 – report classes over the limits outlined in their contract.

These large classes are overwhelming teachers – having 40 to 50 students in a class makes it hard for them to control students and guide their learning. One 24-year veteran who averages more than 40 students in her five classes said: “I’ve won awards. I am a champion teacher. … This is the first time I’ve felt inadequate.”

These classes also upset students. One high school senior pointed out that class sizes are so large that classrooms do not have enough seats. Some students have to stand or go into the hallway. It makes them feel unimportant.

And the biggest problem is that kids aren’t getting the education they deserve. As classes grow, there is less individualized instruction. Teachers struggle to keep up with basic work. As a teacher who works at one of the most successful high schools in the city points out, grading nearly 200 papers three times a week takes “hours upon hours.” She gets behind. And she doesn’t suggest any alternatives, but one is giving students less rigorous work, (or just less work in general) because it’s easier to grade. But as research is demonstrating the importance of high expectations for students, that really is a non-starter for most educators.

So when we talk about things like getting rid of class size mandates to save money, we have to consider the negative implications. Of course, no one would argue that “smart” class size increases would support 40+ students in a class, particularly at lower grades. But if there are no limits on class sizes, what will stop it from happening? The intentions of changing these policies may be good…but there could be some very bad consequences.

A Discussion Over Teacher Tenure

With all the political focus on education and creating "better" teachers, there is a big push to remove tenure. Tenure does not guarantee a job for life, a principal can remove an ineffective teacher, but it does take time. This time allows for the teacher to attempt to improve their teaching strategies. I thought this article presented some interesting view points.

Continuing with the tenure conversation Cheryl Williams began earlier this week, I wanted to discuss a recent New York Times article that outlines current efforts by governors to eliminate tenure in their states.

Connecting poor student performance to teachers is clearly a general emphasis among many critics of public education, and it seems to be an especially potent issue now in politics, as evidenced in part by President Obama’s last two State of the Union address in which he discussed teacher assessments. Jumping on this bandwagon of blaming teachers, governors in Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Nevada, and New Jersey (and legislatures in other states) want to focus on removing perceived ineffective teachers through eliminating or imposing drastic reductions in tenure protections.

I imagine few would argue that current tenure systems are less than ideal, and there are legitimate reforms to tenure that would benefit all major actors involved. And as the article points out, both the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association are in favor of good reform (and the AFT practiced what they preach by endorsing a Colorado law last year that allows for the removal of tenured teachers found consistently ineffective). AFT also helped broker tenure and labor reforms in New Haven, Connecticut, and in Baltimore, Maryland, and the NEA was similarly instrumental in principal and teacher evaluation reforms in Hillsborough County, Florida.

So while there are no doubt thoughtful ways to reform tenure to allow for teacher dismissal based on effectiveness rather than simply seniority, these governors and state legislatures seem focused on quick-and-dirty bills that serve more to score political points than to benefit education.

The article quotes former George W. Bush education official Michael Petrilli as asserting that “these new Republican governors are all trying to outreform [sic] one another.” (Although the issue is not confined to Republicans. Democratic legislatures and outspoken democrat Michelle Rhee—former D.C. school chancellor—have also lobbied against tenure.) Clearly in New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s case, his aggressive stances against teachers unions—including in tenure issues—have bolstered his reputation both in his state and nationally, and other politicians seem to be hoping for the same effect.

The article also highlights a specious claim by Republican governor Rick Scott, who recently asserted that “good teachers know they don’t need tenure. There is no reason to have it except to protect those that don’t perform as they should.” Besides the unlikely idea that all “good” teachers are not in favor of tenure, Scott’s statement is rash to say the least. Tenure serves a legitimate function in protecting teachers from arbitrary dismissal based on reasons not related to their effectiveness. Though often misconstrued as automatically granting teachers jobs for life, tenure laws are actually aimed at fair dismissal policies. The third party mediation that tenure laws require helps to tease out whether dismissal is appropriate, or based on unfair accusations deriving from personal vendettas, unfair stereotypes, opposing political views, and differing parameters of what teaching should encompass. A current issue that illustrates the last two categories (and in some cases all four) is that of teaching topics that are controversial in certain religious or political communities. The Scopes trial went up the court system for a reason: sometimes administrators, local authorities, and teachers allow personal beliefs to interfere with legitimate teaching efforts and so mediation is necessary. Further, there are logical concerns by more experienced teachers that if tenure laws are reformed they will have a target on their backs—regardless of their actual performance—simply because they are at the top of the pay scale.

But in any case, there is an underlying problem with the whole debate over tenure: there is not a clear definition of what constitutes a good or bad teacher, nor clear ways of ascertaining how teachers measure up to these definitions (I think we can all concede test scores are highly imperfect indicators). Very few teachers exhibit obviously problematic behaviors like sleeping during school, hitting kids, or reading magazines while students run wild. The vast majority do what the system asks. So until there is a way of changing system expectations and then pinpointing which teachers cannot work outside of teacher manual bullet points, I don’t imagine tenure reform will have much of an impact on the education system and its outcomes.

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Value of School Counselors

As of yesterday, our district has decided to remove 12 counseling positions. I agree that counselors are under-appreciated.

As National School Counseling Week draws to a close, it seems fitting to reflect on the state of the profession in our nation.

School counselors are highly trained individuals who help students improve their academic achievement, their personal and social development and their career planning. Their services help students resolve emotional and behavioral issues, often improving the climate of a school. And they help students develop a clearer focus or sense of direction, which can improve student achievement. Research over the past several decades shows the positive impact of school counselors.

But for all the evidence, the work of school counselors can be under-appreciated and is rarely acknowledged in discussions of school improvement. And in times of tough budgets, it is often the school counselor (or other support staff) whose role is cut.

As Valerie Strauss pointed out back in January, school counselors in America are expected to help an extremely large number of students. It is recommended that there be one school counselor for every 250 students. In 2008, nationwide there was one counselor for every 457 students – and that was before school budgets were slashed. In California there were 814 students per counselor. In Arizona, Minnesota and Utah there were more than 700 students per read more