Balancing Optimism With Realism…Not So Easy

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’….

…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…

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….

(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,

What It Really Means to Have a Sad and Heavy Heart

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.


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?


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,

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