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.

 

A Call to Action for Teachers

custom_billboard_low_angle_14067 (1)Anthony Cody has been an advocate and activist for public education and for public school teachers and the students in public schools for many years. I first ran into Anthony’s work when I was a new member of the then Teacher Leader Network (now the Center for Teaching Quality) back in the 2000’s. Anthony is now often quoted in Diane Ravitch’s blog as he is a regular blogger himself, and he writes a blog entitled “Living in Dialogue” which is featured in Education Week Teacher.  His latest post is entitled, “Teachers:  A Call to Battle for Reluctant Warriors.”

It has been true for a long time now that public education has been under both overt and covert attack. Education advocates and activists like Anthony Cody, Diane Ravitch, Nancy Flanagan and others have been sounding the alarm for a long time. When I was President of the Virginia Education Association (2008-2012), I spent a good portion of my annual address to the Delegate Assembly trying to share my own sense of urgency about what was happening that too many of them were unaware of because, instead of following education policy news, they were busy trying to teach their kids and keep up with the never ending demands of their districts.

Teachers have been far too reluctant to fight back even though they feel attacked, however. Like “good soldiers” they have gone about the business of meeting the increasingly impossible demands being placed upon them by policy makers and politicians. Too many have shied away from fully believing that there has been a conspiracy afoot with the ultimate goal being to eliminate their positions and to eradicate public education forever in favor of privatized, corporate-run charter schools.

What Anthony Cody is arguing is that it is time to get over the reluctance to fight back if there is any hope of preserving public education as a democratic value in our country. As the gulf between the have’s and have not’s grows greater by the day, and while teachers work harder and harder everyday to try to meet the impossible demands,  time is running out. If you don’t believe me, read Anthony’s article from Education Week here.

I join Anthony in asking that teachers pay attention. It is time to fight back if you believe that public education is an important value. I do. I hope you do, too.

Note:  Anthony Cody spent 24 years working in Oakland schools, 18 of them as a science teacher at a high-needs middle school. A National Board- certified teacher, he now leads workshops with teachers on Project Based Learning. He is the co-founder of the Network for Public Education. With education at a crossroads, he invites you to join him in a dialogue on education reform and teaching for change and deep learning.Follow Anthony Cody on Twitter.

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.

 

For All My Teacher Friends and Colleagues : There May Be Hope

Every morning, I peruse my email, clicking through the dozens (literally, dozens) of emails that have landed in my inbox overnight. I am always on the look out for things that I can share with me friends and colleagues. This morning, I hit upon a gold mine. If you have already seen this circulating on Anthony Cody’s blog, or through GFBrandenburg’s blog like I did, you will have already read this. For those who may not have seen it yet, I had to share. The words in this paragraph resonate so deeply with me that they bring tears to my eyes:

Our schools are being destroyed by politics, profit, greed and lies. Instead of evidence-based practices, money has become the engine of education policy, and our schools are being hijacked by politicians, non-educators and for-profit operators. Parents, teachers, citizens and community elders must arm ourselves with the best evidence and take back control of our children’s public education before it is too late. We all must work together to improve our public schools, not on the basis of profit or politics, but on the basis of evidence, and on the basis of love for America’s children.

The author of these words is James Meredith, the first black student to graduate from the University of Mississippi and a leader in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s. To learn more about the American Child’s Education Bill of Rights, click here. I don’t know about you, but I want to read the book that James Meredith has co-written with William Doyle. The book is titled, A Mission from God:  A Memoir and a Challenge for America. I just ordered my copy.

Those who know me know that I love the notion of teachers “taking back their profession.” It is only too true that our schools have been “hijacked by politicians, non-educators and for-profit operators,” and they have been aided and abetted by our President who seems on one hand to truly care about children and teachers but then goes about showing his care and support in all the wrong ways. The policies that are currently in place are crushing our teachers and they are not doing our children any good either.

I sometimes despair that it is too late. but posts like this one and messages like Mr. Meredith’s give me hope. I hope it does the same for you. Additionally, Mr. Meredith has invited folks to comment on his bill of rights for children. To comment, you may follow Mr. Meredith on Facebook here.

There may be hope. Maybe it isn’t too late. That is my own hope. That is my prayer.

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.

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.