Category Archives: Teaching

Where do you eat your lunch?

Dr. Mark Naison posted this yesterday on the Facebook Opt Out page:

“Just received confirmation from a former student that during training, TFA tells is Corps members not to interact with veteran teachers at the schools they are placed in and not to eat in the Faculty Cafeteria because those teachers are “jaded.” ”

If there were really any more proof needed that TFA and its privatizing buddies were out of touch with real education, real teachers, and real schools – we have it here!

I have not had lunch in the Faculty Room in over 2 years. This is not because I don’t enjoy the company of my colleagues, it’s because the policies of  Race to the Top have destroyed  collegiality  among teachers.

It used to be, once upon a time, that the Faculty Room lunch was a place to get to know the newly hired teachers in your building, to share a laugh, to talk about how to address students’ needs, how to motivate students, to share successes, to get advice, to be PEOPLE that cared about one another.

The Faculty Room was the place where sympathy cards, birthday cards, get well cards and retirement cards were left for signing because everyone went there. It was the place where you could find a lively debate about politics, the Oscars, the Grammys, the Tonys, the Emmys, educational practices, sports teams, or even simply which is better – coffee or tea! It was a place full of loud voices, shared laughs, and sometimes quiet tears. We walked in knowing that there would be “friend” there.

Now, the Faculty Room is a ghost town. The newspapers still litter the long tables, but most days they are still perfectly folded at 3 PM. If not for a copy machine, a soda machine, and our mailboxes, I would hazard to guess that someone would be considering making it an office!

Why has this changed? Do we suddenly care less about one another as people? NO! We have been bombarded with policy changes that have made us competitors and not collaborators. School administrators may say that they have encouraged and even developed Professional Learning Communities in the name of collaboration for the benefit of our students, but the reality is that each of us stands alone at evaluation time with the scores of our students looming overhead. In fact,  think about this – our lunch times have even been scheduled (in many cases) to PREVENT us from talking to someone who is not in our PLC! We are encouraged to use our lunch time to meet with our PLC – under the guise of a “relaxing atmosphere in which to discuss student outcomes and analyze data.” Talk about an appetite suppressant!

If we’re not meeting with our PLC, then most of us are sitting at our desk with a cup of yogurt, or a piece of fruit reading the emails that have been piling up in our inboxes or working on our SLOs or grading interim tests, or collecting “evidence” of our professionalism or communicating with parents. Conversations about our “real lives” happen in quick snippets between classes or after school in classrooms with the doors closed – lest it be discovered that we are NOT analyzing data. Cutting us off from one another is a means to an end – the END of a school community, the END of public education.

We have lost our way as a collective group of people who will “see us through”. We don’t have the “group history” that once had.  We have been forced into a world much like The Hunger Games – kill or be killed………all for the enjoyment of those in the Capital.

I’m So Tired………..

I’m not just tired……….I AM EXHAUSTED!

  • It’s observation time for me and that means aligning a lesson to the Common BORE Standards, completing all the required paperwork, preparing the lesson, and using a prep period for my Pre-Observation Conference. Let me make this very clear: I am NOT opposed to observations at all! In fact, I wish that my Principal had the TIME to stop in my classroom on a regular basis and get to know my students, me, and see us all in action – even on my worst days. I am opposed to a contrived “dog and pony show” simply for the purpose of getting a “good” score.
  • I’m TIRED of hearing that teachers will NOT live in “Highly Effective” – only visit there once in a while, and on the other hand being told that EVERY SINGLE ONE of my students should be a pre-determined level if there is any hope of them doing “well” in school and on state tests.
  • I’m TIRED of watching GREAT teachers retire at their first chance because they just can’t take the beatings any more. Teachers with 20, 30 years of experience who still have plenty of “good years” in them and who WANT to teach are kissing it good-bye because of constant demoralization.
  • I’m TIRED of watching NYSUT play catch-up with their “Listening Tours” and “Member Action Center” begging members to inform them of the problems with CCSS, APPR and excessive testing. You know, if they had LISTENED to begin with – they would have heard us screaming to NOT give in to King Andy’s ridiculous demands.
  • I’m TIRED of the stories of parents being intimidated by NYSED and School Administrators when they decide to OPT their children OUT of unnecessary high stakes tests!
  • I’m TIRED of the outright THREATS coming from Albany, Commissioner King, and Governor Cuomo to hold back funding increases for schools that don’t just jump on their bandwagon.
  • I’m TIRED of engageny.org being touted as the “go to” place for CCSS aligned lessons, learning modules, and information, only to find that ONE UNIT of MATH for second grade is a scripted 300 page mess. There are NO ELA modules for PRE-K – 2 yet, and those trainings are set for AUGUST! Way to go NYSED – leave us hanging and then use your incompetence to somehow prove that teachers of young children aren’t “up to the challenge” of implementing CCSS.
  • I’m TIRED of school budget battles where programs for students and teachers are the ONLY things cut.
  • I’m TIRED of being encouraged to present material to my students that is developmentally inappropriate – for crying out loud – LET THEM BE KIDS!!
  • I’m TIRED of Response to Intervention – a process that has, in effect, withheld services from a student that I KNEW in October needed services – because we had to have DATA to prove what I KNEW about 6 weeks into the school year.
  • I’m TIRED of my years of experience and my Master’s Degree counting for NOTHING!
  • I’m TIRED of watching another district – this time Buffalo, NY – inviting TFA in while qualified and properly trained teachers sit waiting for the chance to TEACH!

UPDATED MAY 18

  • I sat at the Commencement Ceremonies of American University last Saturday and watched a young graduate with 2 degrees (in Political Science and Environmental Studies) win “The President’s Award” – the most prestigious award given at Commencement be applauded for “continuing a committment to public service” by signing up with TFA. I am tired of watching qualified EDUCATION MAJORS march across the stage wondering if they will get a chance to teach.
  • I am sick and tired of school district leaders who say “if one more teacher retires, we’ll be in really great shape financially.” WHAT THE HELL? Since there is no plan to replace the teacher, apparently financial concerns trump educational concerns.
  • Our district has a plan to move teachers into different classrooms. This wouldn’t be the end of the world, and I’m quite certain that it happens to lots of teachers every year, but in our little school – this is rare. This proposal – which was sort of dumped on us – is now up for debate and modification, but that means one more after school meeting where we will be asked to “leave our emotions at the door”. Sorry, but we aren’t robots – we have valid, developmentally appropriate concerns that have, so far, been brushed aside because they don’t fit with the “PLAN”.
  • As it always goes in our PreK – 12 school, I’m tired of the students in grades 7-12 being released from school on June 10, while the elementary kids come for full days until June 20. That, in itself, isn’t a horrible idea. However, we elementary teachers have the same amount of “work” to do – which could now include packing up our entire classroom to be moved while having students in those rooms all day. I’m tired of giving my time away for free – like somehow because I teach first grade, I don’t need time to complete grades and reports and folders and portfolios and pack without students in my room.
  • I’m tired of hearing that “PreK – 2” modules MIGHT be done by September, and being told that is what we’ll be using next year – and having no training (except training that I could volunteer to attend in August).

 

Why I MUST Occupy

I am going to Washington DC to join other activists at Occupy the DOE 2.0 because:

  • Try as I might, I cannot gain a lot of traction here in my little town. I talk and talk and talk, but for the most part, I feel like I’m talking to myself. Oh, my colleagues “get it”, but with declining enrollment, looming observations, and all the meetings and paperwork – they just don’t seem as fired up as I am about the current state of public education. I need to go to re-charge my activist batteries and return home energized to keep talking.
  • My students DESERVE better than the paced curriculum that NYSED is pushing on them. THEY do NOT need a teacher reading from a script, but a teacher who takes into account their individual differences and does her damnedest to make her classroom where each of them can progress at their own pace.
  • Our NATION deserves better. We cannot allow the likes of Michelle Rhee, Wendy Kopp, Mike Bloomberg, Bill Gates and Andrew Cuomo to control the narrative about what “good teaching” and “good learning” are. We have to STOP the Race to the Top!
  • I will have the opportunity to be surrounded by like-minded people who are informed, passionate and looking to organize in a way that my Union doesn’t seem willing to do.
  • I have to show my own children the importance of standing up for those who need help – whether they are children in rural communities or urban areas, I have to be the voice of the voiceless. My own kids need to know that being a citizen means you look out for others, and you speak up when you see injustice.
  • It’s just the right thing to do…………I hope you join me.

http://unitedoptout.com/event/occupy-doe-2-0-the-battle-for-public-schools-read-all-details-here/

Evil Ways

This was originally recorded by Willie Bobo in 1965, and the song was written by Bobo’s guitarist Sonny Henry. Bobo was Latin Jazz percussionist who was a big influence on Santana and played on some of their tracks in the late ’70s.

My apologies to the songwriter,but this tune has been bouncing around in my head screaming to be updated to reflect Education Reform.

You’ve got to change your evil ways, Andy
Before your nose grows too long
You’ve got to change, Andy
And every word that I say is true
You got me runnin’ and racin’ all over school
You got me writing, and typing and running myself down
This can’t go on, Lord knows you got to change, Andy

When I get to school, Andy
My room is dark and my computers are down
You’re hangin’ round, Andy
With Bill and John and-a who knows who
I’m gettin’ tried of waitin’ and foolin’ around
I’ll find somebody who won’t make me feel like a clown
This can’t go on, Lord knows you got to change, Andy

News from Commissioner King

And……….as if things couldn’t get any worse………….this was in my school email inbox on Friday! These are the kinds of “encouraging and thankful words” you too can receive if if you sign up for the Commissioner’s updates. I haven’t replied, but if I took the time to reply, my responses are in RED for PUBLIC ED! 
Message from Commissioner King
Dear Colleagues, That would imply that you ever were, in fact, a public school teacher – sorry you are NOT one of my colleagues! 

I hope your New Year has gotten off to a great start. Thanks for noticing, but it’s mid-February. I’m guessing you mean you hope that we got off to a great start with mid-year high stakes tests, test prep and January Regents exams. 

Deputy Commissioner Slentz and I have spent a lot of time on the road this school year, visiting classrooms across the state. It’s so impressive how so many teachers have thoughtfully integrated the Common Core into their lesson plans. From Webster to Goshen to the Bronx, teachers and principals have responded to this challenge in remarkably inventive ways, engaging their students and teaching them the valuable skills they’ll need to graduate ready for college and careers. Not sure how engaging mindless test-prep and Pearon worksheets are, but for many of NY’s school children, that’s what they’re engaged in EVERY SINGLE DAY! College and careers – well, who can afford college and where in NY are the careers? 

As you probably know, the deadline for having an approved principal and teacher evaluation plan was January 17. The Governor and Legislature included language in the state budget that required districts without approved plans in place by that date to forfeit their 2012-13 state aid increase.

Remarkably, more than 99 percent (685) of the state’s 691 school districts met the deadline.My deepest respect is for the 1% that DID NOT submit to the Governor’s threats!  It wasn’t easy; every district and local union had to negotiate the specifics of the plan and submit it to the State Education Department (SED) in time for review and approval. SED staff worked literally around the clock, right up to midnight on the 17th, to make sure every plan we received was thoroughly reviewed.Word has it that most of NY’s RTTT money was spent hiring non-qualified “temporary workers” to review such plans. In fact, a neighboring school had their sent back because the person reviewing it didn’t understand the words “highly effective”. How did that money spent on things other than PROGRAMS for children work out for you? 

Unfortunately, the state’s largest district, New York City, didn’t submit a plan and missed the deadline. Steps are underway to bring the City Department of Education, the UFT, and CSA back to the table in time to avoid jeopardizing further funding, including federal Race to the Top dollars.

But the failure of New York City and its bargaining units to reach agreement does not diminish the success of school districts and unions across the state that got the job done. Their success means teachers and principals will have the information and professional development they need to improve their practice. In turn, our students will have a better opportunity to develop the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in college and careers.  It’s a great step forward for our schools, our students and our state. Let’s all be honest here……….APPR is a way to get rid of what you and your pal Andy would consider “dead wood” – veteran teachers. By the way, the BEST information I get about my students comes in my every day interactions with them – not from a computerized test! Professional development?? Well, I suppose if you consider the fact that all I’ve been “developed” in is how to complete MORE PAPERWORK for a flawed evaluation system, then that’s what Iv’e been getting! 

In January, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation released the last of three reports about its Measures of Effective Teaching Project (MET). The MET Project, unprecedented in its scale and scope, was designed to determine the best ways to assess teacher effectiveness so that teachers can receive the feedback and support they need to improve. Pardon my language…….but honestly this is BULLSHIT! It was undertaken to further promote the corporate takeover of public education! Andy , Billy, and Mindy are most likely licking their chops counting the dough they’re making, while NY’s school children lose the ARTS and RECESS!  The findings strongly validate New York’s Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) approach and the hundreds of school district evaluation plans we’ve approved. In my best “Church Lady” voice: “Isn’t THAT convenient?”The study endorses the use of multiple measures, including a mix of classroom observations, student growth on State tests The parents in NY who are opting their children OUT of these insane tests are my heroes!!  and other measures. Many of the MET findings about what works best are either required by New York’s new APPR system (multiple observations, careful training of observers around use of a rigorous rubric) or permitted (student surveys, multiple observers including peer observers, and observations conducted using video). This latest MET report presents strong evidence that teachers with the best results on multiple measures of teacher effectiveness in one year will produce better-than-expected student outcomes in future years. You can read the results for yourself atwww.metproject.orgSorry, but I have better things to do with my time.

I hope the New Year finds you and your students healthy and learning. Don’t forget to visit EngageNY.org for new information and instructional tools. Meaning……….don’t forget to visit the site to find 300 page “modules” of paced instruction on just ONE UNIT of study, which are clearly an insult to my education and my intelligence. I do NOT need a script to teach – only your TFA pals need that because after all, they aren’t really certified teachers are they?
Thanks for all you do to help our students learn. Yes, despite YOUR efforts to make sure that I give up and give in……….I am helping my students learn WITHOUT Pearson workbooks. I am helping them learn not only skills, but how to be members of a caring community of learners where each of us is supported and respected for our UNIQUENESS! I will NOT allow you to standardized my students!! 

John B. King, Jr.

You Paid For It!

Thanks to WGRZ TV in Buffalo for this piece about the cost to taxpayers of NY’s APPR.

If the use of NY’s RTTT money doesn’t make you furious, just think about the budget shortfalls in your district. Think about what’s already been cut and what’s on the chopping block for this year Remember, it’s this same mandate (RTTT) that has been the driving force behind the APPR mess. It’s the same mandate that has your child tested and tested and tested – losing precious instructional and play time!

Is it really a good use of OUR MONEY? Wouldn’t it be better to use the money to restore programs that have been cut? Wouldn’t it be better for KIDS if teachers were hired to relieve overcrowded classrooms? Wouldn’t it be better if our kids NEVER had to take a high stakes test?

OPT OUT! SPEAK OUT! Time is running out………it’s time to ACT!

Try this link for video………. getting reports the link I included isn’t working!
http://www.wgrz.com/news/investigative/youpaidforit/article/198549/220/State-Ed-Department-Staffs-Up-for-Teacher-Evaluation

Opting Out in NY

There has been wonderful information shared on the Opt Out of the Standardized Tests – New York Facebook page regarding a memo from NYSED that explains the 95% participation “rule”. Folks have also been discussing their RIGHTS as parents to opt their children OUT of high stakes testing.

As a teacher, I wonder when what happened in New York City last year will happen to me. My picture and my “teacher rating score” published in a local newspaper declaring I am the worst teacher in Western NY.

At this very moment, information about NY’s PUBLIC school children – demographics, test scores, BMI, parents, academic record, and disciplinary records are being sent to Albany without parental consent.

It seems in NY, there are NO provisions to OPT OUT of anything relating to education. Privacy of students, teachers, principals and parents isn’t honored. Big government has their hands all over information that, honestly, I cannot discuss with colleagues because of its confidential nature. The exams that are given to students in NY are not transparent. Teachers who give state exams sign a “pledge” stating that they won’t discuss the test contents with anyone.

There is, apparently, one area in which NY State allows opting-out. That area is pistol permit information. This is the pistol permit opt-out form for Erie County. This form allows citizens who hold pistol permits to have their personal information kept confidential and NOT shared should a media source request such information.

I am not here to start a gun ownership debate. I do find it interesting that this is the area that NYS has, in all its wisdom, decided should NOT be FOILable. My teacher evaluation score, along with my name and address are NOT protected like this. My students’ privacy is NOT protected in this manner. Information is sent electronically to Albany and who knows where else WITHOUT parental consent.Does anyone besides me find it a little disconcerting to know that someone in Albany could be looking at my children’s test scores or body mass index without my knowledge or consent?  If the privacy of adults is to be honored in regard to gun ownership, then why isn’t the public screaming that the privacy of CHILDREN be honored as well?

Won’t Back Down

The story of teachers in two schools in Seattle, WA who are refusing to give standardized tests, as well as the story of teachers in Hamburg, NY who refused a flawed and unfair APPR plan are stories that inspire me. I KNOW that it is mass resistance like this, and the Chicago Teachers’ Union strike that will have lasting impact on changing the course of the ridiculous high stakes testing mania in public schools.

I read and watch very public resignations by veteran teachers who are fed up and refuse to be part  of the testing machine. I share their stories, I talk about them to colleagues, and I secretly wish I could be one of them. Maybe you’re a teacher reading this and wishing you could be one of them too. Maybe you’re a parent or grandparent reading this and wondering why more teachers won’t do the same.

The reality is that for many of us, our incomes are the primary incomes for our families. That doesn’t mean, though, that we can sit back and say “Well, how nice for them, but I could never do anything like that.” Maybe we can’t quit – maybe our families need us to keep working in a system that is broken. Maybe we think that because we can’t do those things, we can’t do anything. NOT TRUE!

We CAN resist from within. We CAN start talking to our colleagues about the testing madness. We CAN refuse to spend our days subjecting our student to endless, mindless test-prep. We CAN refuse to send home packet upon packet of test prep material over a ‘break’. We CAN plan projects and lessons that aren’t scripted. We CAN have honest discussions with our administrators expressing our concerns about what our students are losing out on because of test obsession. We CAN find one other person who agrees and attend a rally, a meeting or stand together at a union or faculty meeting and speak the truth! We CAN refuse to let any data that the school collects define our students for us or for their parents. We CAN write letters to the editors of our local papers. We CAN meet with parents and discuss NOT test data, but what we know about their child and development. We CAN tell parents that it’s a great thing to opt their children out of high stakes testing. We CAN close our doors and let the little children PLAY! And, let’s face it, we CAN make any lesson or any activity ‘fit’ the CCSS if we have to. We’ve all done those “dog and pony show” for our observations, haven’t we? We CAN accept that if we are deemed “developing” instead of “effective” based on a ridiculous rubric, it’s not the end of the world. We CAN start talking about curriculum and textbook decisions with the power of what we know – what is developmentally appropriate for our students. We CAN say that we will NOT standardize our students or our teaching to meet anyone’s demands – especially the writers of the CCSS. We CAN demand that our state and national unions start supporting what’s good for our students and not what’s good for the corporate agenda.

Remember, every drop in the bucket fills it a bit more. You may be one drop compared to the CTU or the teachers in Seattle or Hamburg or those who have publicly quit, but you CAN be one drop that keeps filling the bucket of resistance!

NY’s Education Reform Commission Report

Well, after months of “hard work” Governor Cuomo’s Education Reform Commission has issued a 92 page report that details how NY will suddenly be “Putting Students First.” Does that title have anyone besides me noticing the similarities to Michelle Rhee’s “Students First” group?

What are the “grand plans” of our Governor to improve education in NY? Well, you can read the  full report, but I recommend skipping right to page 86, where the summary is show with a handy dandy Venn Diagram!

Allow me, if you will, to interpret just a few phrases in the report:

1. Raise the bar for entry into the profession. and Hold programs accountable to prepare teachers and leaders for the classroom and school.  – Randi’s idea that there be a “bar exam” to become a teacher is taking hold. Besides all the other costly testing and renewable certification that teachers now have to endure, there will be a ‘bar exam’. Get ready professors – they’re coming after YOU now! If your program doesn’t sufficiently prepare the next teachers, my guess is that you will have a negative VAM rating or perhaps could even be shut down. Of course, why worry – we have TFA and the Broad Foundation with their “boot camps” to train those teachers and leaders, right?

2. Recognize and reward teachers and principals – You got it – MERIT PAY! And I’m guessing that it will be based on student test scores. So, if you teach a grade or subject without a test, there are two possibilities: You will NEVER get merit pay OR the more likely – there will soon be a state test for you too!

3. Begin to restructure the school day and year by extending student learning time. –  Hey, I almost ‘get’ this one. We all know that there is some regression over the summer months, and that typically our students from low SES families regress the most. I honestly don’t have a problem with restructuring the school year to minimize this, BUT, I do wonder – where will all the air conditioning come from? Will this mean that our schools will no longer be saunas beginning in May? Will we have infrastructure changes so that students and teachers can be in a comfortable environment? Unless you’ve tried to teach in a room where the temperature is pushing 90 or 100, you probably don’t see the need for this.

4. Promote increased access to educational opportunities by encouraging school district restructuring through consolidation and regional high schools. – If you have ever visited any small K-12 rural school in NY, you know that there is indeed, something different about them. It is a tight-knit community of teachers, students, parents, administrators, and community. These schools are the jewels of many a small town in NY. No, they may not offer 15 AP classes, but for the most part, there are plenty of opportunities for students to explore a wide variety of classes and extra-curricular activities. Additionally, it is almost always the small, rural schools that pass their budgets with tax increases that some suburban schools find shocking. Why? Well, the school IS the town – without the school, the  identity of an entire community is gone.

I will leave the rest for you, dear reader, to interpret on your own. Perhaps you’ll find something “good” in this report. Perhaps you’ll be outraged. Whatever the case, if you have kids in schools in NY or teach in NY, you really SHOULD read this report.

Here is the official NYSUT response. Of course, I would be remiss to not include the AFT responsehttp://www.aft.org/newspubs/press/2013/010213a.cfm   as well.

Occupy the Department of Education – April 4-7

I have just learned that my family plans for Spring Break have changed from a trip to a jam-packed Disney World to a visit with family in Washington, DC! I understand if some of you reading this don’t understand why on earth I would be excited about this – opting out of sun and warmth for a DC spring? I am SO EXCITED! Not only will I have the chance to spend time with extended family, but I will now be able to attend quite a bit of the Occupy the Department of Education!!

I was there last year. I was forever changed. I found that there were people like me who felt it necessary to say out loud that Race to the Top, emphasis on high stakes testing to evaluate kids and teachers, and narrowed curriculum are WRONG! I cannot wait to be in that group of like minded folks again!

Wondering what all the fuss is about? Check out all the details here!