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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Do I have to be a great teacher to get paid?

Inspired by Mr. Teachbad's Blog of Teacher Disgruntlement

Are only great teachers to be appreciated... and paid?

Do I have to be a great teacher to be appreciated? More important than that, what about to get a raise? What if I am just okay or pretty good, does that put me out of the running for extra money? What if I am great at instruction and forming relationships with my students but my paper work isn’t as detailed as the powers-that-be would like and often late? Are there bonus points for certain things or are some things more important than others? Teacher’s aren’t salaried by the way, they are hourly, what if I am great from 7:05 to 3:10 but I refuse to work nights or on weekends, leaving my kids deposited in extended day or in front of the television? Because I am a good parent or want to have a semblance of a social life does than make me less of a teacher?

What if my kids usually make modest gains but I sponsor a club and coach two sports. What if I tutor and I am that teacher kids come to when they are in trouble. What if I spend thousands of my own dollars on both my room and students, do any of those things takes me from all right to great?

How about if I teach a non F-CAT subject or what if I am teaching a subject I am not familiar with because they couldn’t find anybody else, are my services and effort not worth as much? What if I teach special education kids or in a neighborhood overwhelmed by poverty can I be a little closer to average and still get away with it? How about if some of my kids don’t care, have overwhelming family issues or frequently move, how much do those things count against me?

In case you are wondering I teach an F-CAT subject, to special education kids, in a lower middle class neighborhood school. I feel my instruction is above average but recognize my paper work is so-so and I have spent about five hundred bucks on my kids? I am not eligible for merit pay this year (though I have received it in the past) but I don't I think I should feel lucky just to keep my job either.

One of the biggest lies perpetrated by those in the legislature is they want to base teachers evaluations on gains their students make on standardized tests. I signed my evaluation yesterday and my kids aren’t due to take their standardized test for three more weeks. You know what my evaluation was based on? How much my assistant principal (because my principal never observed me) liked me, that’s what. Teacher’s evaluations have never been based on how their kids do on standardized tests; they have always been based on the real or imagined gut feeling, biases and opinions of an administrator.

Question too much, your evaluation suffers. Have rigor in your class and fail too many kids, your evaluation suffers? Believe sixteen year olds should get consequences for their actions and write referrals, your evaluation suffers. Don’t kiss up or are not a self promoter and guess what, your evaluation suffers. Get pregnant or tell a principal no and guess what, your evaluation might not just suffer or you might be gone. That’s the can of worms Florida has just opened with their new way of doing things anyways. It used to be teachers after several years received due process but now under the guise of merit pay that has been done away with. The new merit pay bill has absolutely no protections in place for good teachers administrators don’t like.

In the future when test scores are half of a teacher’s evaluation are administrators going to be able to fire teachers they don’t like before tests scores come back? The answer is yes because now all new teachers will be on one year contracts. There are no longer any protections for good teachers or average teachers or all right teachers or any teachers. They can say sure the teachers kids test scores were great but they completely bombed the other undefined fifty percent of their evaluation, or vice versa.

Then what about this scenario? Are they going to force teachers to live in limbo all summer until test scores come back? Oh sorry, Sally I know its August but we’re going to have to let you go, your kids didn’t make enough gains and believe me when I say it’s just a coincidence that my neighbors nephew wants to be a teacher. In the future it will matter even less how kids do on their tests.

We hear all the time about the need to replace bad teachers and where I don’t think there is the epidemic, that some would have the public believe, I can’t disagree with that thought, we should always strive to have good teachers in our classrooms. The thing is there are procedures in place to do so. Is it my fault I didn’t have the observation to determine my evaluation until after the evaluation deadline had passed? It’s a good thing I am just all right, can you imagine if I was terrible.

I may have been better if the administration hadn’t confiscated my books earlier in the year. I was using an older book that I felt was on my kid’s level, differentiated instruction I thought. So for the rest of the year, bookless I had to create my own materials. Sir, I should have asked, can I please get a pass on the two page lesson plans I make for your (the administrators) benefit not for me or my children’s’. I am very busy making materials for more students. And no sir I can’t tell you how each individual student is doing on each individual benchmark but I can tell you how all my students are doing in my classes and they are based on the benchmarks. Also sir, can any teacher tell you that? None of the teachers I polled in the teachers’ lounge can. It’s not like administrators check the data for validity either. They just want to make sure teachers have pretty pie graphs in ten inch thick binders.

Sir as you were doing my evaluation did you take into consideration the fact that I am a traveling teacher, that didn’t have a consistent place to do my work and one of my classes met in five different rooms through the end of the third weeks or was it really just the depth of my lesson plans that led to my gentlemen’s C like, straight satisfactory evaluation. Did those things make me just an okay teacher? If I didn’t have them would it have elevated me to the level of good?

I know great teachers when I see them. My school has maybe three or four great teachers like most schools do but do you know what my school also has? It has a lot of good teachers, a lot of dedicated teachers and a lot of hard working teachers. Do they not deserve to be acknowledged or paid too? Or are they just lucky to keep their jobs?

In the end I know I am not a great teacher, I like to think I am pretty good though. I am not at all interested in all the data collection that as far as I can tell lets me know the same things I get from working with the kids for a few weeks. Then when I started teaching it was okay that I had a weeks’ worth of lesson plans on two pages not just one lesson plan. And don’t get me started about the board configurations they force us to do. I have seen no evidence that any of this additional work helps anybody, well anybody but the person who checks it justify their job that is. However I wanted that “high performing” in promotes student growth even if I got a “needs improvement” in data collection and/or lesson plans.

Then there is what this whole thing is about, merit pay. If we are handing out merit pay I at least wanted to be eligible for it because I think my kids are going to make some impressive gains on their tests, despite the fact I am just an all right teacher, just a satisfactory one. Now my kids could have the best gains in history and I won’t receive it and a lousy teacher that the admin likes can. Next year, once the new bill goes into effect, all new teachers will be the exact same position, from this point forward. Well that’s not completely true; I will still have some due process protections because I am a veteran, where they will have none.

There is an old saying that the devils greatest trick was convincing the world he did not exist. Well the Florida Legislature has perpetrated a similar trick. They have convinced the public they care about teachers and are doing them a favor where nothing could be farther from the truth. Soon it won’t just be all right or average teachers that suffer; soon it will be the good ones, make that more of the good ones too.

Chris Guerrieri
School Teacher

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