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Monday, December 21, 2015

Why should local teachers talk to the media? (rough draft)

I talk to teachers all the time, I would say at least a dozen a week. We talk about the curriculum, discipline, working conditions and a whole host of other issues. Most are frustrated with the direction that the district is heading but even more are afraid.

They are afraid if they to speak negative consequences will accompany their actions. They wont be reappointed, they will be put on a growth plan or they will just be messed with and I get it too.

Let me tell you about my last year at Ed White. I had two sections of VE science, a regular education research class and co-taught one earth space science class and two biology classes. My first period class was in Mod 3, a cluster of classes on one side of the school and my second period class was in Houston Hall an auditorium on the other side, though I also taught this class in the music room, a small classroom that sat 20 that my 30 kids would squeeze into and the library. One of my kids asked me why the admin hated me so much to move us around so much and I told him it was actually him they hated and he was the reason we were moving.   

After my trek across campus I would return to the room I was in first period for my third period class. 

The second half of the day were my co-teach classes but since I had my own preps and didn't have common planning with any of the teachers I would often learn what was being taught at the same time the kids did when I arrived. It was miserable.

Furthermore after five years at Ed White I had accumulated stuff, you know like teachers do, the four previous years I had my own room but now I had no place to put it. So I stored it in an abandoned office where I would also do my planning until I showed up one day and it was all gone, either thrown out or given away. I managed to get some of it back but it was very disappointing that my personal property had been so disrespected.

Though the most disappointing thing was when one day I returned home and my roommate called me to tell me about my dog, It was surreal I didn't understand what he was saying, something had happened to him, what, I said, whats going on. 

It turned out he had found my guy who was old and he had collapsed. He said he called me over and over at school and left several messages none of which I got and after a couple hours my dog died, without me. Just a dog right but he had been part of my family for 14 years he deserved to have me with him at the end.

That was my last year at Ed White as I was surplussed the day before teachers were supposed to report the next and the reason I was given was, "some data on Pearson" data they at the time couldn't show me.     

Later, months later, I learned that the data came from the 23 ESE kids in the three classes I "co-taught", something like six had improved, 7 either didn't or regressed and the other ten didn't have any data. I pointed out that I had done very little of the actual teaching but at this point I had moved on. 

So I get it when teachers tell me they are afraid and don't want to talk, the district can be bastarded coated bastards with bastard filling. 

Why tell you all this? It's because my last year at Ed White was the first year I started this blog. Us doing things the right way however, disciplined classrooms and respected and engaged teaches was more important than anything I personally had to endure, though I still get mad and sad when I think about not being able to be with my dog as he slipped away.

People have to know and I really believe that if they did they would want and demand better.

If only we had a media that was interested in informing them. I always encourage people to go to the media with their concerns and have passed along notes and information and even set up meetings too but I am beginning to think whats the point of doing that.

The Times Union did a piece today on the early grade curriculum that completely missed the point. Instead of talking about how developmentally inappropriate it is and how teachers aren't given what they need to succeed the reporter wrote mostly about the religion components in the curriculum. I was so incensed I wrote the reporter this note.

This is why I have a hard time getting people to talk to you.

I just read your piece and there were just a couple throw away paragraphs at the end about how teachers felt the curriculum was inappropriate but that was the story you should have told.

Nobody I am talking to thinks the district is trying to indoctrinate first graders towards a particular religion or that the teaching of religion in school is wrong. 

Teachers think whats the point of talking to the media when they just give the district a pass and their voices are ignored and how can I tell them they are wrong?

How can I?  

I really believe that if people knew more they would want and demand better, the thing is we can no longer sit around and wait for the media to do their job because they aren't interested in doing it and I for one am past sick and tired of them covering for the district. Rome is burning and like Nero the media is just playing the fiddle.


  1. I am also enduring a hostile environment because I speak up. Let me guess...DTU was no help. I work in a den of liars and cheaters and I'm the problem?

  2. I just read the article and I found this quote from the superintendent to be unfortunate:

    "My role is to pick a curriculum that can meet the standards for what needs to be taught,” Vitti said. “I could have picked a lower level curriculum and the average teacher does not have the skill, the time or the resources to fill in the gaps. Then we’re rolling the dice to see [if] the child gets it or not.

    How is someone who spent two years in the classroom in any position to judge what the average teacher can, or can't do, with curriculum? At best, it sells the hard-working teachers of DCPS short. At worst it shows the utter contempt and disdain he has for the people teaching the curriculum HE picked (oh wait, he claimed it was a committee of stakeholders...)

  3. Okay, this makes me LIVID. For a variety of reasons.

    First off no Dr Vitti it is NOT appropriate for first graders to be learning about things in the ancient past. They do NOT get it. They barely understand that there is a whole world outside of their own. Appropriate topics for first graders are things like community members, holidays, animals and plants. Hence why you DON'T see ancient civilizations in first grade social studies standards. Chip Wood, who is a guru on developmentally appropriate education, states the same thing in his book Yardsticks. Maybe Vitti needs a copy?

    Of course he thinks we are incompetent. But my question is, what did he think we were doing his first two years here? You know, the first two years where primary had NO curriculum. Teachers were taking the standards and finding materials that were appropriate and engaging. Doing so, pushes us to the highly effective column on CAST. How can we get there now?

    Oh and this will prepare them for the higher grades? How? They don't have ACTUAL books in their hands! How will third and above teachers be able to teach them anything?

    Finally, I find it interesting that he's singing the praises of a curriculum that a NY State task force for the department of education found inappropriate. A curriculum that MANY schools in NY no longer use. Guess he thinks they must be wrong right?

  4. I've been teaching for the past couple of years at a Title I, low performing school, and have seen my students grow from my own SKILL, my own TIME, and my own RESOURCES. No thanks to Vitti, his regional superintendents, or this horrible, developmentally inappropriate curriculum.
    I am incredibly disappointed by how this article was written. The reporter has given another pass to the district, and completely invalidated teachers' professional judgment about the curriculum. I am not just upset over having to teach religion to my first graders--that shouldn't have been the main point of the article. I am upset that they are being asked to compare and contrast characters when the content is way over their heads. I am upset that their levels of engagement has decreased significantly because the content is irrelevant to them, and they don't have books in their hands. I am upset that when I bring up these complaints, I am told to "bring the stories to life," or "just stick to the script." I have done everything I can by using props, videos, and realia. At the end of the day, my students will leave first grade not knowing how to compare fiction from nonfiction, having poor phonics skills (DUVAL considers Making Words enough to teach phonics), and not having a knowledge of what a true and engaging read aloud means.
    Shame on the district content specialists for not acknowledging that they have made a grave error in allowing this curriculum into our schools. Even New York is abolishing their curriculum because they realized it doesn't work. Shame on the district for their continuous disrespect for the teachers who pour their hearts and souls into this job every day, only to have it thrown back to our face. I know I am not the only person seeking employment with another district after this year. This is not how you keep high-performing educators in low-performing schools.

  5. I completely agree with the above!! I teach 4th grade, and my kids' test scores skyrocketed once I was no longer forced to follow a district curriculum guide a couple of years ago. Last year it was a free-for-all curriculum wise for elementary, and all of my school's teachers were creating their own lessons to match the benchmarks. We are projected to get an "A" for our 2015 FSA results. It may be the best we have ever performed.

    This year the district has been been conducting regular walk-throughs and shutting down ANY form of instructional autonomy they come across ("it's not in the module"). Guess what? Our data is already dropping, and the children are starting to dislike subjects they previously loved because a binder full of worksheets is just not exciting. It really is so sad.

  6. Until the teachers are ready to stand up to the district specialists and principals being forced to condone this mess it will continue to get worse. Vitti not only likes the climate of fear he has created, he thrives on it. He wants us scared to talk to the press, parents, or each other because it helps him keep control of the district. When thousands of teachers stand up and say we will no longer commit educational malpractice he will have no choice but to start listening to the REAL experts, the ones in the classrooms. I have never seen such disrespect shown to teachers, especially by the district specialists and administrators, who have been disdainful, nasty, and completely unwilling to listen to fellow educators. In fact, I don't even view these people as fellow professionals anymore. They have made it more difficult for us to do our jobs when the reason they exist is to supposedly support and help us. Retirement can't come soon enough!

  7. Our data is dropping especially in math. All these number bonds don't help when students get on i-Ready and are faced with part-part-whole mats and other tools and concepts that the curriculum definitely hasn't prepared them for. Of course, i-Ready math is a joke in its entirety, but that's for another post....

  8. This was the email we received from Vitti yesterday.
    District Employees,

    As you begin to enjoy and hopefully rest during your Winter Break, I sincerely wish you a wonderful holiday to enjoy time well spent with family and friends. As educators who directly support our students or to the employees who indirectly support them, please take a moment to reflect on the greatest gift each of you give to over 120,000 children each day—an education that inspires to improve the next generation academically and civically. The New Year offers great opportunity for success for Duval County Public Schools, and I look forward to a great start in 2016.

    Happy Holidays and New Year.

    Your proud Superintendent,

    Nikolai P. Vitti

    After reading the article in the TU and his comments:
    "My role is to pick a curriculum that can meet the standards for what needs to be taught,” Vitti said. “I could have picked a lower level curriculum and the average teacher does not have the skill, the time or the resources to fill in the gaps. Then we’re rolling the dice to see [if] the child gets it or not.

    I am "struck" by his use of the word "proud." At best, I am speechless.

  9. I have talked to a few parents and one stated that PTA can't say anything against the curriculum. PTA as a whole, not its individual members. I as a member of PTA don't like the curriculum Duval chose. This new Duval Reads is terrible. Come the new year I am going rogue. I am going to do what I know is best for MY kids.

  10. Thinking of what "rogue parents" could possibly do and a solution that might be helpful....what about requesting panel discussions with the School Board? Panels might consist of two teachers ( math and reading), a math and reading coach (school-based), and principal from each region, as well as a SAC member, PTA member, and community member from each region. I am sure others would have better suggestions on who would be involved, this is just initial thinking. The panel would be determined by someone OTHER than Vitti's higher-ups. And, I honestly don't think ANYONE from Vitt's "team" needs to be on the committee. They spend so much time criticizing teachers and trying to CONVINCE everyone that this curriculum is the right one, that I doubt much would be accomplished. The School Board NEEDS to hear from the hearts of the educators and communities they serve! CAN ANYONE MAKE THIS HAPPEN?

  11. I am part of a group that is organizing a meeting January 9th at 10:00 am in the Avenues mall right outside of Starbucks. We are hoping to attract teachers, parents, and concerned citizens to speak out on behalf of our educators. We need a strong voice. Please pass this information around and get some buzz going. My name is Stacie Dern and I have posted about this meeting on my Facebook page and currently working on emailing teachers in Duval asking them to attend. Maybe we can come up with some real solutions to high-stakes testing and lack of autonomy that plague teachers today.