I Apologize…

by lclarcq on April 7th, 2015

filed under Archived Posts 2015, Classroom Management, Not So Good Days, Relationships

No one is perfect. This afternoon I had the chance to reflect on some of the many things I would change if I could go back to my first 10, or maybe even 20, years of teaching.

To my former students…

If I posted the agenda for the class and made darn sure we did everything on it, even if it wasn’t understood or didn’t make sense, I apologize.

If you voiced a concern and I not only didn’t address it, but also asked you to stop thinking and talking about it, I apologize.

If I offered extra credit, but only gave the points to the students who needed a higher average, I apologize.

If I suggested ideas that would help you to become a better student, never told you that they counted for a grade, and then took off points if you didn’t do them, I apologize.

If I followed every compliment with….But….and proceeded to berate you, I apologize.

If for every positive statement I made about you, I made five negative ones, I apologize.

If I assigned you a project that I had no experience with and then criticized how you did it, I apologize.

If I required you to use technology that I did not understand, and then criticized how you used it, I apologize.

If one or two people in your class didn’t do something correctly and I scolded all of you, I apologize.

If I asked you, in front of the entire class, to raise your hand and tell me that you didn’t do an assignment (even though I already knew that you were the only one who didn’t do it) I apologize.

If you ever arrived late to class and I made fun of you and let the class laugh at you, I apologize.

If it was clear by my words and my actions that I favored some of you and disliked others, I apologize.

If I made you feel that by being my students you were a burden to me, I apologize.

If I attempted to motivate you with sarcasm or by poking fun at you, I apologize.

I truly hope that I didn’t do these things, or at least do them very often. I’m sure that there are other things that I should apologize for as well…and I am sorry. I’m sure, at the time, I really did think that I was doing the right thing, the best thing, by behaving that way, but I was wrong…and I am sorry.

Why I am thinking about these things today?

I saw them happen…..and it really, really made me angry. Not to students, but to adults, and it still made me really, really angry.

And it made me remember, or at least worry about, times when I may have inadvertently treated my students poorly. I’m sure that I have, at some point, made my students as angry as I was today…and for that, I am sincerely sorry. Please accept my apologies.

with love,
Laurie

Someone

by lclarcq on April 5th, 2015

filed under Archived Posts 2015, Encouragment, Good Days, Musings, Not So Good Days

(This post, like many others, is one that I am writing to myself…and posting in case someone else needs to hear it.)

Tomorrow, when you get back to school…

Someone will be grateful that you came to work and you won’t even know who that is.

Someone will make you laugh when you least expect it and you will smile about it the rest of the day.

Someone has been looking forward to being in your room and can’t wait to get there.

Someone will give you strength and someone else will ask for it.

Someone did something amazing this weekend and cannot wait to talk about it.

Someone did something regretful and needs to feel forgivable.

Someone needs an adult who acts like an adult…and that will be you.

Someone will remind you that children still dream and remind you to do the same.

Someone needs to be reminded that they matter and yes, that might be you.

Someone will step up in a way you have never seen before and you will be impressed.

Someone will see you make a mistake and learn that adults can be fallible.

Someone will hear you apologize and learn that adults can be humble.

Someone will forgive you and remind you that it is okay to be human.

Someone will be there to remind you that this is really what teaching is and you will be grateful.

Someone is there every day to be there for you, with you, because of you.

That is why you are there.

with love,
Laurie

If I Were Not A Teacher…

by lclarcq on April 4th, 2015

filed under Archived Posts 2015

…would I look at this problem differently? Let’s just say that I am a nurse. I have a certain number of patients to see each day. Although they are all human and have the same basic goal…to stay alive and healthy….they all have different needs. The health program that I work for has dictated how I am allowed to treat my patients and basically, they must all receive the same care. The care I give them will keep them alive, but only a few of them will actually prosper under this care. I give the care with all of the love, caring, patience and passion for healing that I can….but, in truth, I can only do so much.

My patients’ progress is checked using a variety of tests on a regular basis. I am evaluated on how much progress my patients are making. Has their blood pressure gone down? Has their weight gone down? Has the number of flights of stairs they can climb gone up? The tests are the same for every patient, because, under this system, there is one basic definition of healthy.

They all receive the same meals, the same vitamins, the same exercise routine. Although, for some of them there are real challenges: Food allergies, previously existing vitamin deficiencies, prior injuries that make the prescribed exercises difficult, if not impossible. I’d like to help them, but the administration will not give me time, money nor resources to do that. I do what I can, but I just don’t have the time and money to really make a difference.

Other patients have a great deal of support from outside of the facility. They have family and friends who bring them fresh fruits and vegetables. They have always been encouraged to be fit. When they were injured in the past, their injuries were treated immediately and healed well.

There are emotional differences as well. Some patients are determined to do well. Some are encouraged by cards, calls, emails and visits. Some remember what it was like to be healthy and work hard to get back to that. Others work hard to do well and get out where they can take charge of their own health; buy their own food, design their own treatment.

Then there are those who seem happy to just stay here. They are eating better here and exercising more here than they ever had in the past. Getting too healthy too fast would mean having to leave. Without all of the help and support here, without the access to a decent diet and good exercise routines, how will they cope? These things do not exist in their communities. And their communities are where their families and friends are. Their communities are what they know.

Some figure why bother? Why eat well here? Why do all of this exercise? When I leave I won’t have any of it anyway. They just want to get it over with and get out. At least outside no one is telling them that they are lazy and stupid because they haven’t been able to eat and exercise in a world that can’t afford them those luxuries.

Even worse are the patients that cannot improve on the diet and exercise regimen that I am forced to make them follow. If you cannot physically digest the food and you cannot stay upright to do the exercise routine, it is frustrating and defeating to have to do eat and move every day. The message to them is clear: If you aren’t ‘normal” you don’t matter to us.

But they all matter to me. Every one. That is why I became a nurse. So it is painful to attend repeated trainings on how I could do what I am required to do, better. Actually, I already do most of what they are telling me is the latest and greatest way to heal patients, but if I mention that I am considered a “know it all” or worse, insubordinate. I’m told that if I really were doing these things, my patients would have better numbers. I ask for the research that proves that what we are supposed to be doing works. I’m asked not to be so negative. I’m told again that I am in danger of being seen as insubordinate.

I love my patients. I like my colleagues. Most of them are trying as hard as I am to do the right thing. I like having a job. I have to have a job. I thought I would like this one. I chose it because I thought I had the talent and the passion to make a difference as a nurse. I didn’t know that it would become a job where I could not nurse anyone.

I don’t know. Does it sound as awful to you as it does to me when I write from the perspective of a nurse? My students are as vital, as fragile, as important and just as human as a nurse’s patients would be. This is what it is like to be a teacher that can no longer teach. It is exhausting and heartbreaking to see the very people you wanted to support be used as part of someone else’s achievement plan.

with love,
Laurie
(My mother recently retired after working 55 years as a nurse so I am aware of what is also going on in the healthcare world….my love and admiration to those of you working there.)

Balancing Optimism With Realism…Not So Easy

by lclarcq on April 3rd, 2015

filed under Archived Posts 2015

While I am optimistic about the possibility of change, I am incredibly realistic about how much work it will take to accomplish. It will be difficult to overcome not only the system which created this issue, it will be difficult to battle the emotional toll that it has already taken. I thought about not posting the following. Some may see it as a rant, or as whining. That is not my intent. It is a perspective. Mine, to be sure, but the perspective of many others I know as well. Why am I certain that this fight will be difficult?

It will be difficult to be positive about schools, education and the future of teaching because we are already feeling enormous, painful pressure to behave in a way that no teacher planned to behave. Some folks are teaching from SCRIPTS written by folks who have never taught a student. These lessons come with a disclaimer that the amount of time needed to accomplish the listed goals IS ALREADY hours more than the contact time teachers will have with their students, but hey, we don’t really care. All of this material will be tested.

We are almost 30 weeks into the school year. At 30 weeks in, we will be expected, again, to evaluate students based on an upcoming test that we have not seen. We will do that so that we can collect data and write an 8+ page document about how we think students will do three months from now on a test we did not write and will not see until the students do.

We will be expected to document how we will change each day of our instruction based upon that 30 week test, even though, because we are professional and intelligent, we have already been quite aware of what each student needs.

It will take at least 8 hours of our time that we would prefer to devote to working with students and creating materials that will truly help them. But there are only so many hours in a day and we are already required to attend 3 times the number of meetings than we were two years ago.

We will also be requested to compare those scores with these students scores at the pre test, 10 week and 20 week mark, in addition to their scores in other teachers’ courses over the last two years. In addition, a suggestion will be made that we might teach better if we also compared, and documented, these scores with the scores earned by the last two cohorts of students who took these tests.

Yet, NOT ONE PERSON has been able to show US the data that says that giving tests and charting data six ways to Sunday has improved the comprehension of material or the skill development of students.

It will be difficult to attend those meetings, which can occur weekly, where at least one portion (but often more) address our lack of ability to teach well, collect data correctly or meet timelines. A second portion will contain a rebuke about how we are not communicating often enough with parents ( phone call plus email plus note home plus warning/ineligible list plus 5 week grade report are not enough???), nor carving enough time out of our planning time to work individually with students.

And completed with the reminder to meet with and communicate our department on a more regular and thorough basis so that we are all on the same page (preferably in the literal sense on the same day.) Oh…and would be be so professional as to forward the agenda and explicitly detailed notes from these meetings to the administration?

In the next 6 weeks we will also be collecting materials to hand in to “showcase” our ability to be “effective” according to a state-mandated rubric. This will be documentation about lesson-planning, community-building, differentiation, working with colleagues, providing PR for the program and district, belonging to professional organizations, contributing the the professional development of others and more. If we hand in too little, we will be graded poorly. If we hand in too much, we have been told it won’t be looked at. However, we haven’t been told how much would be just right. Should we attempt to do the same with our students we would be handed our heads on a platter.

Oh…and the new system doesn’t want to know any of that anyway, but that is not in effect until the next school year, so please comply with the request, and the time it takes, this year. Although it really does not matter. Only if it isn’t done.

Would we also please attend a minimum of two student functions that we are not already organizing, coaching, supervising or chaperoning? The kids like to see that we care. We are not actually taking attendance, but we have noticed that not enough of you are taking time away from your life outside of work to do this.

Please also come with a willingness to work on required curriculum data which most of you will not receive additional pay for (although a select few will…who knows why?) because that work is due by such and such a date. If you are not being paid to do it over the summer or outside of school hours, we have conveniently rescheduled your final exams earlier this year for you so that you can have time during exam week to write curriculum. No, we have no answers as to how you are supposed to prepare your students to achieve those wonderful scores in less time. Yes, we do expect that the students will have work to do and turn in after their final exam but you figure out how to motivate them to do it.

It will be difficult to give up what planning time we do have to help cover classes for which there are no subs.

It will be difficult to give up lunch time to supervise students in the Senior Courtyard.

It will be difficult to pay our own bills late because we are giving financial awards out of our own pockets to recognize outstanding students.

It will be difficult to look at doing this for another year. Another five. Another ten. Or more.

Because it eats away at us emotionally and teaching is a job that requires an enormous amount of emotional and physical stamina. And we are only human.

Don’t Stop Believin’….

by lclarcq on April 3rd, 2015

filed under Archived Posts 2015

…that things can and will get better. Just be realistic about what is going on right now.

Things In Favor Of A Change For The Better…

1. “No hay mal que por bien no venga.” A Spanish proverb that says basically that out of all bad things, good can come. Yes I am a person of faith, religious and secular, and I have seen nearly impossible things happen. Never, ever give up.

2. THIS IS ABOUT KIDS!!!!! Americans can be complacent about many things, be we do tend to get riled up about children. It’s time to get riled up and stay that way!! Children are our hearts, souls, present and future.

3. No one trusts a politician. This is good. We want the general folk to see that their “representatives” are serving themselves not their constituents and when the climate allows folks to believe that, they may be more willing to pay attention.

4. These students will soon be voters. They KNOW how hard this system is on students. They will pay attention to what politicians say and do about education. We should too.

5. This is a movement against organized labor. When more people see this, they will be able to see how this action against teachers really does affect them, even if they don’t have children/are no longer in school.

6. Once teachers’ fears of being let go for having an opinion no longer matter (ie you could lose your job ANYWAY!!!), more of us should speak up and speak out. AS SHOULD people who leave the profession via a retirement or a new profession. Please do not abandon your colleagues by now pretending that this issue no longer affects you. WE NEED YOUR VOICE and your support more than ever!!

7. Teachers are educated and connected. We write well and we speak well. Once we truly get going, it will be difficult to ignore us. Don’t stop calling your reps and senators. Don’t stop sending emails and letters. Don’t stop attending board meetings. Take turns so that you don’t burn out but don’t stop!

8. Teachers are strong. We can face over a hundred students and still be standing to meet families at Open House. We can go to a student’s funeral and be there to comfort others. We have longevity in our blood. We can hold on long enough, keep fighting long enough to enact change.

9. Teachers become the administrators. Keep your colleagues well-informed. Make it impossible for them to teach with their heads in the sand and become administrators who do not understand teaching. If you are an administrator, look for others who are willing to stand with you!!!!!! There is enormous power in numbers!

10. Keep the focus on how OUTSIDE forces have forced changes upon us, and do whatever you can to not initiate negativity about students and teaching from within. Complain all that you need to about unnecessary testing and inappropriate observations, however, stay focused and positive about the beauty of working with children and their ability to make a difference in this world. Schools, with the love and support of the people working in them, change lives every day…..regardless of whatever inane mandates we are forced to pay attention to. Honor the people who support and work towards that in every way that you can….from parents to politicians who voted no, from custodial staff to cafeteria worker, every crossing guard, teacher, paraprofessional, coach, substitute, school board member and anyone else along the way to who works FOR STUDENTS. Thank them, appreciate them and keep them in your prayers.

We can survive, we can even thrive, but it isn’t going to be easy and we can’t do it alone.

It Will Be Difficult…

by lclarcq on April 3rd, 2015

filed under Archived Posts 2015

What will be difficult on Monday is looking at my colleagues. I have only one more year in my teaching career. With 32 years under my belt, and nearing 55, I can, and will, retire next year. Not because I don’t love teaching….but because I don’t love, or many days even like, my job.

What about my colleagues who have 5, 10, 15, 20 or even 30 years before retirement is a possibility?

I know for sure that many of them will stop teaching. Many of them could be forced out by this system, and the quality of their work will have had nothing to do with it. Their passion for their students and their deep understanding of their subject matter will have had nothing to do with it. The hours they have invested in education and professional development will not save them. Their numbers won’t add up. The Governor and the Commissioner will make sure of that.

The colleagues that are cynical and exhausted will be even more drained on Monday….and every day after that.

The colleagues that have been hoping that all of this would pass will be disillusioned.

The colleagues that still see teaching as a calling will learn, in a few short years, that no one in power cares if a teacher feels called to the profession; if you cost money, you won’t matter.

God bless my colleague that runs our Future Educators of America….how do we encourage these kids to follow their hearts…into a disaster?

But the real pain felt by my colleagues will be for their students, particularly future students who will suffer the most under this new system.

Larger class sizes, computerized lessons, large amounts of standardized testing, guaranteed failure for a certain percentage of students each year as determined by the state, loss of devoted and experienced teachers, loss of other staff in order to afford testing and evaluation procedures, loss of recess, physical education, art, music and more in order to achieve mandates.

All students will suffer. All of them. At least in districts that require state-funding to run. Some will suffer much more than others, but it will benefit no one.

That is what really hurts teachers, knowing that this agenda and all of its political background and ramifications, will harm the students that mean so much to us.

It’s an enormous loss and we are mourning it. We are mourning what we have already lost and what surely will no longer be. I look at my freshmen and know that their high school years will be vastly different, and far more unpleasant, than those of their older siblings.

I look at the sixth grades who actually skip through my hallway and know that very soon the things that have made school a place to look forward to will no longer exist.

I look at my work family and know that we will soon be separated, not as much by my retirement as by the enormous rift that the state has made between what education should be and how they would prefer to see others profit by it.

On Monday….

by lclarcq on April 3rd, 2015

filed under Archived Posts 2015

(note….this post is continued in the next…)

This Monday will NOT be the most difficult Monday that I have ever taught. Truthfully, there are things that have weighed more heavily on my heart as I faced my students. Cancer, divorce, my own children’s physical and emotional well-being, colleagues in crisis, friends who are suffering unimaginable losses, etc. There are enough issues in my own students’ lives to cause me heartache; this issue of teacher degradation is just an add-on. As seriously as I take this political, social and economic blunder, on a smaller scale, in my own world, larger issues have prevailed.

My goal, as it is most school days, is to put those heavier issues aside in my own heart, in favor of interacting on a meaningful level with my students in Spanish. We’ll use sentence frames, tweets and music to find the language to talk about what is on their minds. My hope, as unrealistic as it may sound, is that learning to interact on a human level with other human beings will help all of us to rise above the challenges life brings.

Possible topics for discussion on Monday:
How was vacation and where did everyone go? Is it more stressful or less stressful to be back at school?

How is the world reacting to the news about the Germanwings pilot deliberately downing the plane and its passengers? How are we reacting?

How important are the upcoming junior prom and senior ball? How important is it to have a date? How important is it to spend a great deal of money on the event?

How can we help a local family struggling to deal with the loss of two parents in four months?

Who has a job right now? Who would like one? Who has started to apply for a summer job? Where and why?

Who has a birthday in April? What gifts are they hoping for? How will it be celebrated? What new responsibilities and expectations come with this birthday?

And yes….someone will bring up the new legislation about teaching. And it won’t be me. But we are a small community and many, many students are the children, cousins, neighbors of teachers. The district is one of the largest employers in the area. A very large percentage of our students go on to become teachers and we have a staggering number of graduates employed as teachers in the district. I can think of 15 of my former students who are now my colleagues and I know that there are more. In a district that is only graduating 100 students per year.

We won’t talk about it in class. That is not what I was hired to do. I will tell them that it is heartbreaking for me and for my colleagues and that many of us are involved socially and politically to change it.

And then we will get back to joy of exploring life using an incredibly beautiful and powerful language. I’ll do my best not to think about the changes happening in education that would make Monday’s lesson not only improbable in a year or two, but impossible.

with love,
Laurie

What It Really Means to Have a Sad and Heavy Heart

by lclarcq on April 3rd, 2015

filed under Archived Posts 2015

This week our lawmakers, led by our governor, created a system which will change the face of the teaching population in New York State. If you are unsure of what happened, I’ll ask you to read here, as Carol Bullis, a NYC principal states it quite clearly.

I work very hard to stay positive and to inspire others to do the same. However, I am not an idiot. I see, very clearly, some things that will happen to the profession in NYS in the next five years:

We will become a divided state educationally: High-achieving and low-achieving districts.
(We already are in many ways, but this will be striking.)


In high-achieving (ie wealthy) districts:

1. School districts with strong financial and community support will continue to grow, develop and flourish. They will probably do so at an even faster rate. Why? Our chancellor, Merryl Tisch, is hoping to exclude these districts from the requirements created by this legislature.

2. In addition, these districts will receive additional “bonuses” from the state for their outstanding performances.

3. Families who can will move to these districts and teachers who can will seek to move there to teach.

4. Families with special needs students, who have enough money, will move there even faster.

In low-achieving (ie urban and rural districts w/o a strong tax base that rely on state aid)

1. Because they will be subjected to ALL of the new regulations, while teachers in other districts will not, there will be a large movement to leave. Some will look to be hired in a high-achieving district, others will simply leave the profession.

2. Those who remain will be subjected to onerous micromanagement, continual pressure to get students to “perform” and demeaning evaluations that are not designed to improve instruction.

3. Some who cannot function well under such a high-pressure environment will leave, despite how much they care for children and, in the past, have helped countless students to achieve and to believe in themselves.

4. Others will find it nearly immoral to “teach” students under these conditions, which include scripted lessons, state-created and mandated evaluations, and the guarantee that a certain percentage of students will be rated as failing, DESPITE THEIR ACHIEVEMENTS (research “cut scores” for more information)

5. Others will leave because those in power deciding what is “effective” teaching and what is not have NO background in a real classroom, and have never worked with children.

6. NO teachers will ever be rated as “highly effective” in these districts because they cannot afford to pay these teachers the “promised” $20,000 annual bonus. NO administrator who wants to keep his/her job would rate them “highly effective” in an observation, regardless of what happened in the classroom. These administrators often do not make $20,000 more annually than their teaching counterparts.

7. Without a ‘highly effective” rating in observations, it is much more difficult to acquire even an “effective” rating. Without an “effective” rating, a teacher will no longer have CERTIFICATION, much less a job.

8. Another requirement of the new recertification process will be a required (not yet determined) number of professional training hours approved by the state (but also not yet identified). These districts do not have the funding to pay for this training. So:

a. Teachers who are already working for much lower salaries (the difference between rural upstate NY salaries and wealthier districts can vary as much as $40,000 for the same amount of training, education and experience.) will be required to pay out of pocket for the coursework/training necessary for recertification.

or

b. These districts will only be hiring teachers with 0-3 years of experience who will work no more than 5 years in that district and move on. (If those teachers can be found.)

This kind of turnover is already one of many reasons why students in low-achieving
schools are not able to do as well as their counterparts in wealthier districts. This
legislation will only exacerbate the situation.

9. “Games” will be played and “moves” will be made so that districts can show, on paper, that “growth” is occurring. There are two groups of students who do not show “growth”: Students who need educational support and students who are highly gifted. Neither of these groups development and growth is the sort that shows up well on the standardized testing required by the state. Districts, in order to stay alive, will do whatever is necessary in terms of course offerings and student placement. None of these decisions will be in the best interest of students, EVEN THOUGH THIS IS WHAT TEACHERS AND ADMINISTRATORS DESPERATELY WANT!!

10. Class sizes will be larger. Much larger. There will be fewer teachers available and “growth” looks greater when there is a greater diversity of achievement in the cohort.

These are only a few things that will change the face of education for New York State students. What will happen when low-achieving districts do not meet state-mandated achievement levels? What will happen with these districts do not meet state-mandated certification requirements?

THEY WILL STOP RECEIVING STATE AID.

I’m not kidding.

How will that problem be solved?

No one is saying, but I’m betting that it will line the pockets of the folks that created the information and the pressure needed to get this legislation in the first place. It certainly will not benefit the people who live, love and work in these communities.

with love and sadness,
Laurie