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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The deck is stacked against teachers at turn around schools

Not only do I work at one of these schools but I am also a stake holder in the community and am very concerned about the direction education is taking, as we all should be. The article was very revealing, reading between the line it talked about the plight of teachers and the absurdity of how things currently are in education.

Teachers as a group are nurturing, they have a need to give of themselves and a desire to be helpful. Unfortunately the powers-that-be know this and shamefully take advantage of those traits. The Times Union article, I think quite accidentally emphasized this point.

Trina Anderson the teacher profiled in the article mentioned how she works from seven in the morning to five in the afternoon every day, something that is more typical than you might think. But friends o you realize that is a ten hour day and Ms. Anderson is only getting paid for seven and a third hours of them. However it’s worse because she mentions even when home, she is constantly working on lesson plans, digging into data and working on her craft.

Vicki Reynolds the district’s director of human resources said, when talking about all the educators who have resigned, “I think the theme is, I didn’t know how much work this was going to be.” She might as well have said, the theme for teachers who stay should be to expect to be given more work than they can possibly do and not expect to get paid for a lot of it. They should also expect to give up time with their families, expect to do meaningless task after meaningless task, and expect to be taken advantage of by their employer.

I have a friend at an A school who has been teaching for nineteen years and she told me, it’s gotten so bad that if it was just her (she has two daughters) she would quit and get a job at the mall. I have another friend who has to take a break from writing lesson plans most nights so she can read and tuck in her sons, and then she is right back to it. These stories aren’t unusual they are in fact fairly typical of how things are. How is this right? Well the answer is it’s not, it’s embarrassing and wrong and the school district, the teachers union and the community as a whole should be ashamed of itself for letting it happen.

It’s also not vacancies that are preventing these turn around and intervening schools from improving, it’s the system. The teacher in the article has 31 children in her class, these are children at low performing schools with few economic resources and social safety nets, yet we cram them into classrooms like we do sardines into cans and then wonder why a few get left behind or underachieve.

Overwhelming teachers with task after task is no way to improve student performance either. The powers-that-be scream data, data, data, that they want data driven classrooms. If the state is so interested in collecting data why don’t they get statisticians to come in and do it? The answer is they don’t because they can force teachers to do it. Furthermore and sadly, all this data probably gives the teacher the same information they would have by merely working with their students for a few days.

And finally, where is the data that says posting standards, creating word walls, spending hours creating complicated lesson plans and inputting data help facilitate learning; the answer is there is none. If you want proof of this look at Ribault; the state has been there for years yet they are still failing. I do hear however that their bulletin boards are amazing. That is no dig at the fine staff of Ribault, I have no doubt that if the state would get out of their way they would improve.

Next, lesson plans; if the goal of the county is to turn teachers into drones or trained monkeys devoid of initiative, creativity and flexibility as they give teachers learning calendars, schedules and curriculums, instead of forcing teachers to spend hour after hour creating complicated lesson plans why don’t they just give lesson plans to teachers. Many teachers especially those that have been doing it for a while, use lesson plans just as a template, a list of thing s that they need to cover and rarely refer to them when they are actually teaching. Teachers differentiate their instruction to students not because it’s on a piece of paper but because they know that’s what their kids need.

Learning schedules are also a big part of the problem. Teachers are told continuously not to fall too far behind and after a while teachers are forced to move along regardless if the students have mastered the material or not. That is the reality of learning schedules. I teach a special education science class at a turnaround school and I recently had a student transfer into my class from a regular ed. science class that she had been failing. Before long she had an A and I asked her why she struggled in regular ed. and then was doing so well in my class especially since I follow the same standards. She told me that I went slow and drilled and made sure we knew the material before moving on to the next subject and in her other class they covered something and then moved on regardless of whether she got it or not. Kids learn at different rates and of Ms. Andersons thirty-one students; I wonder how many have been forced to move to the next subject even though they hadn’t mastered the last one, and this is through no fault of the teachers but because of leaning schedules?

You want education to improve, bring discipline back to the classroom, if a teacher spends ten percent of their time disciplining unruly or unmanageable students all of the other students lose out on 18 days of instructions. Teachers in big classrooms at turn around schools often spend far more than ten percent of their day instilling discipline. Then let teachers teach. The state should give teachers a (manageable) list of what they want covered and the materials to do so and then get out of their way.

Teachers don’t mind being held accountable, teachers don’t mind working hard and teachers don’t mind doing a little extra after all it is in their nature. They would however like to get paid a fair wage to so, be able to spend a decent amount of time with their families and not be taken advantage of. Right now that’s not how things are. The deck is stacked against teachers, and what the state doesn’t realize, is that if the deck is stacked against teachers it’s stacked against the children too, make that, they don’t realize or they don’t care.

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