One Teacher’s Response to the Call to Action

custom_billboard_low_angle_14067 (1)Here is one response to Anthony Cody’s call to action to which I referred earlier today in another post. Peter Greene is a high school teacher who maintains a blog entitled “Curmudgeon–A grumpy old teacher trying to keep up with the good classroom fight in the new age of reformy stuff.”

He has responded (as I have) with thoughts on Anthony’s call to reluctant warriors. You can see his response here.

He recognizes that he has been a reluctant warrior…but he agrees with Anthony that the time has come to speak up.

I agree. It’s not only time, it is past time, but it is always better late than never.

 

Another Teacher Resigns Over Low Pay and Lack of Respect

Another teacher–this time a National Board Certified Teacher with 13 years of experience–resigns because she can’t pay her bills on the low salary she was earning in North Carolina. She is tired of trying to make ends meet, and she is really tired of the disrespect being offered to teachers in NC, not to mention the fact that teaching is no longer fun, given the over-emphasis on testing and reliance on data. See the interview and read her letter of resignation which she addressed to the Governor of North Carolina along with others here.

Another Teacher Quits in Frustration

custom_stack_of_books_11960On March 23, Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post offered another article that caught my attention and then ignited my interest and finally touched my heart on a deep level. She offered the perspective of a Massachusetts kindergarten teacher who is, in my opinion, both a “teacher in distress” and a “teacher in transition.” After 25 years of teaching kindergarten, Susan Sluyter has decided she has had enough. She knows in her heart and soul that the obsession with data that is driving our school systems of today, thanks to wrong headed initiatives and generally bad education policy, is not serving children, and she just can’t participate in the farce any longer. Below you can see her letter of resignation. We have clearly lost another dedicated teacher because of these poorly thought through initiatives. When will the administrators and policy makers hear us? When more teachers like Suzi Sluyter make their voices heard. At least, that is what I believe. I don’t want to believe that it is too late…but I do fear that time is running out. More teachers need to find their voices and speak up…not just for themselves and the damage that has been done to our profession but for the children who are not being served by this current data obsessed system.

My favorite line from Ms. Sluyter’s letter is here:

“The overall effect of these federal and state sponsored programs is the corrosion of teacher moral, the demeaning of teacher authority, a move away from collaborating with teachers, and the creation of an overwhelming and developmentally inappropriate burden imposed on our children.”

The entire letter is worth reading, however as is the entire article.

Please feel free to share widely. I know that this letter will resonate with every teacher (especially the ones who remember what it was like to teach before No Child Left Behind).

Here is Ms. Sluyter’s letter in its entirety.

February 12, 2014

I am writing today to let you know that I am resigning my position as PreK and Kindergarten teacher in the Cambridge Public Schools.  It is with deep sadness that I have reached this decision, as I have loved my job, my school community, and the families and amazing and dedicated faculty I have been connected with throughout the district for the past eighteen years.  I have always seen myself as a public school teacher, and fully intended to work until retirement in the public school system.  Further, I am the product of public schools, and my son attended Cambridge Public Schools from PreK through Grade 12.  I am and always have been a firm believer in quality public education.

In this disturbing era of testing and data collection in the public schools, I have seen my career transformed into a job that no longer fits my understanding of how children learn and what a teacher ought to do in the classroom to build a healthy, safe, developmentally appropriate environment for learning for each of our children.  I have experienced, over the past few years, the same mandates that all teachers in the district have experienced.   I have watched as my job requirements swung away from a focus on the children, their individual learning styles, emotional needs, and their individual families, interests and strengths to a focus on testing, assessing, and scoring young children, thereby ramping up the academic demands and pressures on them.  Each year, I have been required to spend more time attending classes and workshops to learn about new academic demands that smack of 1st and 2nd grade, instead of Kindergarten and PreK.  I have needed to schedule and attend more and more meetings about increasingly extreme behaviors and emotional needs of children in my classroom; I recognize many of these behaviors as children shouting out to the adults in their world, “I can’t do this!  Look at me!  Know me!  Help me!  See me!”  I have changed my practice over the years to allow the necessary time and focus for all the demands coming down from above.  Each year there are more.  Each year I have had less and less time to teach the children I love in the way I know best—and in the way child development experts recommend.  I reached the place last year where I began to feel I was part of a broken system that was causing damage to those very children I was there to serve.

I was trying to survive in a community of colleagues who were struggling to do the same:  to adapt and survive, to continue to hold onto what we could, and to affirm what we believe to be quality teaching for an early childhood classroom.  I began to feel a deep sense of loss of integrity.  I felt my spirit, my passion as a teacher, slip away.  I felt anger rise inside me.  I felt I needed to survive by looking elsewhere and leaving the community I love so dearly.  I did not feel I was leaving my job.  I felt then and feel now that my job left me.

It is with deep love and a broken heart that I write this letter.

Sincerely,

Suzi Sluyter

Sharing from Mercedes Schneider’s EduBlog

Mercedes Schneider is a teacher who has also been a school counselor, college professor, statistician and researcher. She is currently living in and blogging from Louisiana. She is frequently featured in Diane Ravitch’s blog, and I read her posts with admiration and attention because I know she has done her homework

Dr. Scheider recently (March 6) wrote a post entitled, “Equipping Florida Parents to Expose Jeb Bush’s Florida Eduction ‘Miracle.'” I would like to share it here because while it is specific to Florida in some respects, it can be used, I believe, by teachers and parents in many states across the country. It covers the “A-F School Letter Grades” scheme, for example, and it discusses charters and vouchers as well. I thought it might be useful to parents and teacher leaders around the country to have access to the information, so I am sharing it here. Enjoy and feel free to share wherever you see fit.

Sharing from “Cloaking Inequity” a Blog by Julian Vasquez Heilig

I have been railing about the deep pockets of the corporate reformers for a long time and fearful that their money goes beyond common sense or even what we know is right for children. Look at the debate that Mayor De Blasio has generated with his insistence that his first obligation is to the students who attend the public system in New York City as opposed to making sure that charter school operators get public school space free of rent so that they can operate outside the regulations and rules of the rest of the city’s school system. I am clearly not alone in my concern as here is an article that goes to the root of the matter. Thank you for writing this piece, Julian Vasquez Heilig. For readers, feel free to share widely with your colleagues. Maybe it is not too late to shed light on what has been happening the last few years. For the article, click here.

 

Possible Remedies for Teacher Burn Out

For the last couple of days, I have been following a thread of discussion on LinkedIn. The topic is teacher burn out and what might be done about it. Some solutions that were offered in one article were pretty superficial, I thought. The suggestions included offering a social time for teachers, for example, so they could get together and relax every once in a while. The other suggestions  were okay as far as they went, but they didn’t go nearly far enough in my opinion.

Teacher burnout is a serious issue and it is one that needs to be treated seriously although I don’t think enough people are truly paying attention to it. The fact is, however, that a growing number of teachers are feeling disillusioned about their chosen profession. What I hear on a regular basis from the teachers I work with is that they still love their kids, but they don’t feel like they are teaching anymore. They are, instead, delivering a canned curriculum and then administering test after test after blasted test. The fun has been sucked out of teaching and it is a sure bet the children they are teaching aren’t having much fun either.

I felt compelled to offer some thoughts on the thread and this is what I said:

“While it is certainly important that teachers be offered times to socialize and de-stress, feeding teachers’ souls is a lot more complicated. The teachers I know who are stressed and might be in danger of ‘eating their children’ are overburdened by paperwork, impossible demands at every level, lack of support from administrators and parents, debt because of low and stagnant salaries, feeling berated by people in power like the Secretary of Education who misses no opportunity to criticize teachers, and strangled by policies that have sucked absolutely all the fun out of teaching. I am also a life coach and a stress management coach whose niche are teacher leaders, teachers in distress and teachers in transition. When I conduct my workshops I always run into the same overall theme. Teachers feel overwhelmed, under appreciated and generally maligned. A social hour with colleagues will help to bond the colleagues together, but they need a lot more than TLC to help them feel better about themselves and their profession. They need to feel respected, and they need to be paid a professional salary while they are treated like professionals instead of widgets in the larger system that is doing no one any good…least of all the students they teach.”

I really believe that we are in the middle of a serious crisis with regard to public education in our country, and I fear for its future. Just today, I heard a snippet of an interview with Arne Duncan that pertained to what the President might say tonight in his State of the Union speech. One of the things I heard Secretary Duncan say was that we have been making progress…graduation rates are up and drop out rates are down…but he went on to say that the progress we have made isn’t enough and we “need to be changing faster.”

The trouble with Mr. Duncan’s premise is that he assumes that the changes we are currently making will get us where we need to go…that his policies and those coming out of his Department are actually doing anything other than creating more and more demoralization among teachers and students alike. Mr. Duncan loves to talk about our “failing schools” and how we are lying to our students when we tell them they are doing well. He also loves competition, so all of his major initiatives are based on the false notion that in order to promote public education and equity for all we need to make it about racing to the top and innovating around more and better tests instead of focusing on authentic teaching and learning.

If anyone were really serious about addressing teacher burn out…and I don’t think anyone really is serious about it or they would be doing something about it…they would stop telling teachers to “do more with less.” They would lighten up on the testing regimen because there are only so many tests that a child can take that they even have any meaning. They would forget the crazy notion that a child’s test score is a measure for whether or not to keep an otherwise effective teacher on the payroll. And they would stop fighting about Common Core and let a few states pilot it without drastic negative consequences for everyone involved in the meantime.

Public education is a value that I grew up believing in. I grew up poor, but because of educational opportunities and my belief that an education would provide me with an opportunity to thrive economically, I have thrived. As public school funding shrinks in favor of ideological arguments for choice, vouchers, and charters, I fear that the poorest children will get left behind and dropped through the cracks. We are at a real crossroads in this country, it seems to me. While the haves continue to thrive, the have nots are struggling. In the past, getting a solid education was the ticket to a better life. That seems to be growing less and less the case these days.

I know that teacher burn out is a real thing. I just don’t think that offering a social hour is the answer to it.

Anne Holton–A Brilliant Choice for Virginia’s Secretary of Education

Like a lot of public school educators in VIrginia, I have been eagerly awaiting the announcement of Governor-Elect Terry McAuliffe’s choice for Secretary of Education. There were many good people from which to choose, I know, but of all the folks I had considered possible candidates for the post, I admit, I hadn’t even considered Anne Holton in the mix. She is, after all, an attorney and a former judge rather than a K-12 teacher or professor from higher education. But the minute I heard the news of her appointment this morning, I was struck by the brilliance in making her the new Secretary of Education for the Commonwealth. In addition to being an attorney in her previous life, she was also a Judge for the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court in Richmond, and I am certain that she saw first hand the result of offering insufficient educational opportunities to students who are currently under served by the system that is in place. She also had a bird’s eye view of the impact that poverty has on young people and their families, and sadly, she had a front row seat to the current school to prison pipeline that is all too real all across the country.

There will be many challenges ahead for the new Secretary of Education, but she is certainly well connected (her husband is Virginia Senator Tim Kaine) and she has the knowledge and background that she needs to do an awesome job in this new post. I can’t say that I know Anne  Holton all that well, but I know her well enough to know that she is passionate and dedicated to the issues that are near and dear to my own heart which include making a high quality public education accessible to all of the children of Virginia. I trust that she will lead her new team in the direction that we need to go and that we will curb the General Assembly’s enthusiasm for charters, choice, and vouchers. Until and unless we can properly fund the public school system so that schools and teachers have a fair chance to succeed, we need not be offering funding to dicey charters and private schools that are not held to the same standards as public schools. I hope that Ms. Holton will hear that message and heed it as she moves ahead and carries Virginia’s teachers and schools with her.

Congratulations to Anne Holton on being nominated for this important post, and congratulations to Governor-Elect Terry McAuliffe and his team for making this fabulous appointment. I remain optimistic that teachers in Virginia have reason to be glad that they helped Mr. McAuliffe win the 2013 election for Governor of Virginia.

Robert Freeman on the Formula for Wrecking Public Education

Today’s post is a sharing of Robert Freeman‘s article posted on Common Dreams. The title of the post is “How to Destroy Education While Making a Trillion Dollars.” The post can be found here.

I really don’t have anything to add. Freeman, a history teacher in Los Altos, California and one of the founders of One Dollar for Life, a non-profit organization that helps American students contribute toward the building of schools in developing countries through student donations of one dollar, has,  I believe, summed up the situation clearly and quite expertly.

Please read and share widely if you believe in the value of a public education and are concerned that the privatizers are about to destroy something that needs to be saved, repaired, and promoted as a key foundation of our democracy.

 

Steve Nelson Has it Right

Today, instead of writing anything new myself, I have decided to share with readers the newest blog post and Huff Post contribution of  Steve Nelson, the Head of the Calhoun School in Manhattan, a private school, led by an obviously progressive thinker. Thanks to Diane Ravitch for sharing part of his message this morning. Otherwise, I might not have seen it. I am glad I did. The title of his post from December 16th is “Education Isn’t Broken, Our Country Is.” I couldn’t agree with him more. At at time when food stamps for poor people, including thousands of children are being cut; when the safety net for thousands of unemployed folks is being eliminated because we are ruled by a privileged class of mostly white men who apparently have little empathy for anyone not directly related to them; at a time when, in education circles, test scores have become more important than the teachers who teach or the learning itself…something is terribly wrong. Mr. Nelson asserts what I have believed to be true for a long time. We are not coming up with the right answers to the education dilemma because we are making the wrong assumptions. We are asking the wrong questions. No wonder we are in such a fix.

Please read this and share widely. I hope it goes viral. It deserves to.

Might New PISA Results Point to Need for New Policies?

Kudos to AFT (American Federation of Teachers) for creating this video explaining the results of the PISA report  that came out a few days ago creating quite the stir among some educators and many policy makers. U . S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s take-away from the report was in part:  “So, the big picture from PISA is one of educational stagnation, at a time of fast-rising demand for highly-educated workers. The mediocre performance of America’s students is a problem we cannot afford to accept and cannot afford to ignore.” (ED.gov)

“Educational stagnation” may be one way to characterize what has been happening under Secretary Duncan’s leadership, but I would offer that it may be far more intertwined with a stagnant economy that has held millions of children in this country in poverty with little real hope of escaping. The current policies including Race to the Top (which was just a double down of No Child Left Behind) and others have done nothing but to throw the public education system in the United States into turmoil and to provide the kind of churn and chaos that lends itself to people wanting to throw their hands up and walk away using the current problems as the excuse they need to further the cause of for-profit charter schools and virtual schools. If students aren’t performing up to snuff, Mr. Duncan, it may be because many of them are hungry, angry, and dejected. Their teachers have been subjected to all sorts of psychological abuse, and they hear about “failing schools” from every reporter who offers a story on the topic of public education in America. The wonder isn’t that our students aren’t performing up to par in competition with countries where education is valued and teachers are respected…the wonder is that they are doing as well as they are given the current sorry state of affairs.

If I were Mr. Duncan, and I were as sure as he seems to be that the current policies are not working, I believe I would start to question whether the current policies are the right policies. Alas, however, I fear that that may be too much to hope for. I don’t get that Mr. Duncan is all that self-reflective. If he were, he wouldn’t so frequently stick his foot in his mouth as he is so prone to doing. As far as evaluating current PISA scores, however, I think Mr. Duncan and his department folks would do well to step back a moment and do some serious self-evaluation.