Tag Archives: teaching in NY

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.

PRESSURE!!

Well, it’s done………..the lesson plan, the pre-observation conference form and all the materials for my formal observation are finished.

When I heard last week that some of my colleagues had spent upwards of 10 hours on this ONE lesson, I thought that they were going a bit overboard. I couldn’t imagine that anyone would spend that much time on a plan for a 40 minute observation. Well, I didn’t spend 10 hours, but my estimate is that I spent about 6 hours on mine.

Why? Well, it’s not necessarily because I’ve planned something more elaborate than anything I would “normally” plan to do……… in fact, my observation will be during a period when my students are working through some Math Centers – mostly games! I will not be the “sage on the stage” – instead I will be walking around watching them play the games, guiding them, and pretty much keeping some order to the classroom. I figure that this will either kill me or make me some sort of “hero”………it’s a gamble I suppose.

And, let’s get one thing STRAIGHT…… I don’t want to be “hero”! I just WANT TO TEACH!  I want to do what’s FUN and MEANINGFUL……..not what some stupid rubric calls “highly effective”. I want to do what I KNOW is developmentally appropriate for each and every one of my students. I want to guide them to their fullest potential while they’re in my classroom. I want to be in a school where there is actually TIME for free play, exploration, and things that I miss so much – like putting on Fairy Tale plays for parents.

Why did I spend so much time on THIS ONE PLAN? Well, there’s pressure – the pressure (or fear) to get a “good grade”. There’s the pressure to fill out all the paperwork ‘correctly’, and since this is the first time working with these forms, there’s the pressure of not knowing exactly what to expect. In my heart of hearts, I KNOW that I’m a good teacher, but it is nice every now and then to have that validated – and this is my ONE SHOT at getting that validation.

So, I came up with the games that will be the Centers. I made the sheets where my students will record their work. I have everything set to go, and on any other day I would go through these with my students bit by bit, piece by piece and it would all be very relaxed and FUN! We would work out the kinks together – with me getting their input on what games are fun and which ones are “boring”. BUT – this time I want it to all go as perfectly as possible. And while I know that isn’t going to happen, I’m already stressing over what I imagine could go wrong…….the thing that could sink me.

The paperwork was not difficult to complete – heck, I KNOW what my goals are, I KNOW what I want the students to do, I KNOW how it fits into my ‘big picture’, but there is pressure to put it all on paper perfectly. I had to: describe the lesson content, explain where it fits in my curriculum, tell the ‘big idea’ of the lesson, explain how I would differentiate and actively engage the students, list my criteria for success, describe the feedback I will give my students, and tell what examples of student work I will bring to my post-conference. That’s just the Pre-observation form! On the lesson plan, I had to list my objectives, tell which standards I’m aligning with, describe connections with prior and subsequent learning, list all the materials, give all the academic vocabulary, provide class data, give my success criteria, detail my assessments, describe my learning activities, and list possible adjustments to my lesson.

My observation is on Thursday, and already today, the familiar stress-induced ache in my left shoulder reappeared today. I know this feeling well – I’ve had it a lot this year. So, I’ll spend the days up until Thursday losing sleep, obsessing over this ONE lousy period, popping Advil for the shoulder, and in general being on edge.

I still have the “unannounced” observation to look forward to. This is not a time when my Principal comes in and takes a look at what happens in first grade. Unfortunately, this is a time when my Principal comes with a clipboard and a form and checks off any items for which he can find “evidence” of my teaching ‘skill’ and then gives me a score. More PRESSURE!

AND………..before June, I have to collect 18 “artifacts” of my professional conduct – parent communication, evidence that I’m involved in Professional Learning Communities, evidence that I’m involved in the school community – you know, that I actually do something other than work from 8-3 for 180 days, and evidence of my continuing professional development. These items have to be submitted for another score. More PRESSURE!

Of course, all of this doesn’t mean a damn thing if you get rated “Ineffective” based on student test scores – because in NY, 40% (the student test score portion of your evaluation) actually equals 100% of your evaluation- you’re simply “Ineffective”. PRESSURE!

Now, imagine yourself as a 6 or 7-year-old coming to school this week to a teacher who is already feeling anxious about something that’s going to happen on Thursday.Do you think this teacher will be the same carefree, high-fiving teacher you left on Friday? I doubt it. Try as I might to NOT let my anxiety overtake me, I’m sure that I will be short-tempered – fearing that “normal” 6 and 7-year-old behaviors are going to somehow affect me.

Imagine that you are 6 or 7 and every day is like this – teachers on edge, information coming at you at break-neck speed. There is no time to PLAY (which is what you really want to do) and hardly anyone at school smiles any more…………and YOU feel the PRESSURE too – take this test, read this book, solve this math problem, read another book, but please read it faster this time, memorize your math facts, learn your sight words, take another test……..wouldn’t your inner child be screaming “STOP IT!”? Wouldn’t you have stomach aches and headaches? Wouldn’t you cry? Wouldn’t you want to stay home?

And just when you think that maybe, just maybe, you can shield your students from some of this – it’s BUDGET TIME! Get those requisitions done! PRESSURE! We may be cutting teachers – what do YOU think could go? PRESSURE! There may not be electives for your high school aged child next year – what do you do as a parent? PRESSURE! Your friends and neighbors go to the school board meetings and name the names of teachers that they feel should go. PRESSURE!

Maybe that’s the goal – to put so much PRESSURE on veteran teachers that we’ll just go away……at this point, I don’t know any more…….I just know that the PRESSURE will increase until June. Then I’ll have a few weeks to get over it and jump back into the PRESSURE COOKER……..

Welcome to the World of Paced and Scripted Curriculum

http://engagenystg.prod.acquia-sites.com/sites/default/files/resource/attachments/3m1.1.pdf

Well, NY…………here it comes…………..PACED and SCRIPTED Curriculum courtesy of our friends at engageny.org.

The link above is 100 pages long and it is ELA Module 1, Unit 1 for Third Grade.

If you can stomach it, take a look at lesson 1 – it’s only 6 pages long complete with directions to “gather the group back together”.

The BEST (well, ok the WORST) part of all these modules is that NYSED is now saying this is AND ONLY THIS is acceptable curriculum in NYS. They’re going to cut us all a break, though and allow us to use “Textbook Money” to print enough of these lovely guides for every teacher.

Here’s the kicker, though – there are lists and lists of “recommended texts” to match each lesson, each module, each assessment. Where are we going to get the money to buy all these books? For crying out loud – there are schools with NO LIBRARIES or LIBRARIANS! And, how on earth will every third grader in the state be reading the same books on the same days?? I’m pretty sure that those books aren’t going to fall from the sky.

Hey, what about this: How about if BOCES buys enough sets for the schools in their regions? After all, most of NY’s RTTT money went to BOCES for training in CCSS implementation. BOCES trainers tell us all to visit engageny for the latest breaking information. Every district pays into BOCES COSERS – we should probably be able to get our materials from them right? WRONG! Our district has been told that our BOCES will NOT be purchasing enough books for everyone. WHAT??

Adding insult to injury, if you dare to visit engageny, you will see that there are NO modules for ELA below third grade! From what I’ve seen, primary grade teaches will have the joyful “opportunity” to attend training in early August on these yet-to-be-seen modules. Yeah, that’s a great plan – NOT!

Teachers are constantly being told to implement this, do that, test this, collect data on that WITHOUT THE PROPER TOOLS, MATERIALS and TRAINING! And, don’t even get me started on the fact that the CCSS is SOOOOOOOOO developmentally inappropriate that it isn’t even funny.

So, I guess – coming to YOUR CHILD’S school in September – no books, no materials, and teachers with no training or time to examine the curriculum in-depth. Of course, since teaching has become a “paint by numbers” activity, I guess it doesn’t really matter………or does it??

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/

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.

Running on Empty

“I don’t know how to tell you all just how crazy this life feels
I look around for the friends that I used to turn to to pull me through
Looking into their eyes I see them running too”

I have had this blog post bouncing around in my brain for the past two weeks, but honestly, I’ve just been too exhausted to sit down and write it.

February dawned in Western NY with a major “lake effect snow event”, and we were lucky enough to have a Superintendent’s Day. So, on a day when no one should have been driving, my colleagues and I trudged into the school for some “quality” professional development. We had been told that we would have all our questions about our APPR Plan answered. We were told that we discover that there is really nothing to fear.

As we waded through the 26 page Danielson rubric (2007), I looked around the room and saw in the eyes of my colleagues nothing short of a look of utter exhaustion. Glassy-eyed, we were instructed to note the difference between “effective” and “highly effective”. We were told that our lessons will be scripted because our observations have to have “evidence” of our teaching.

Our observation cycle will involve a pre-observation conference, the formal observation, and a post-observation conference. I grew weary just listening to this – already my head spinning about the paperwork that needs to be completed. Additionally, we will have an unannounced observation, and a collection of “artifacts” to submit before the end of the year.

All of this is just for our 60 points. We have another 40 points coming from individual SLOs or District-wide SLOs based on State Exams. The charts, the graphs, the DATA was shared with us about how those scores will be generated.

For the past two weeks, I’ve watched as my colleagues pass in the hallways asking “Is it Friday yet?” on Mondays. I’ve listened to the reports of the lone Principal scheduling back-to-back observations and through no fault of his, arriving late for an observation and missing the entire opening. Of course, not to worry, we can discuss that at our post-observation conference.

In the meantime, I’ve sat at an RTI meeting as well: the meetings that suck the life out of you as you sit and rehash an intervention that hasn’t worked YET for a student. As we sit and look at STAR Assessment scores, there is the ever-present feeling that I am failing this child. I should be doing MORE, MORE, MORE to get those scores up.

Throw in a Board of Education meeting with the news that we are about $300,000 short,and the rumors of who’s being cut start to swirl. Good people become paranoid, fearful, and start to name the names of people they think could be cut instead of them. The questions about the viability of our district resurface and our Board sits and says “We’re going to TRY to look down the road to get in better financial shape.” Would they accept that as my answer at a post-observation conference?

And, if it weren’t bad enough that we’ve had grey skies, snow, cold, and enough bad news to last a year – toss in 100 Days of School celebrations, Valentine’s Day, and one day when half my class was absent.

Everyone – the adults and the children are sicker this year. Maybe it’s because the flu is worse, but I’d be willing to bet it’s because we’re all exhausted. Teach better! Learn faster! Do this! Do that! And, do it to a level of DISTINCTION! (although as we’ve been told – Highly Effective is a place we’ll visit, not live in)

I come home and I’m asleep by 8 PM, waking at midnight and then trying to get some sleep after that. My children, who are in high school, spend time at sports practices and games and then come home to at least 2 hours of homework EVERY NIGHT!

There’s no more gas in my tank – I am running on empty and my friends are too……………

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!