Autonomy

Image result for teacher cartoon
INSPE-E-E-E-E-ECTION!

The Atlantic published a piece about teacher autonomy and how Finnish teachers working in American schools find the job stifling, demeaning, and exhausting. The gist of the article is that the constant need to prove oneself through administrative observations and yearly testing is contrary to what they experienced when they worked in Finland.

Teachers experience various levels of autonomy based upon their district and principal. GOT has always been lucky to work for principals who recognize the expertise of teachers and allow them to get on with their teaching without too much interference.

I have never had to submit a week’s worth of lesson plans in advance. GOT has been told to write a week’s worth of lesson plans, but eventually that foolishness wore out as people realized the truth he expressed: every succeeding lesson is based upon the degree of success of the previous lesson. To plan beyond tomorrow is a waste of time because today will change the imperatives of what must be done.

GOT’s district and union agreed upon a lesson template that all would use. GOT is always amused by teachers who complain about the template because all they have to do is fill in the boxes as they want to frame the lesson that they are going to do.

Experienced teachers can knock them out in five to ten minutes. If you are going, “Hey, wait a minute. Doesn’t that mean the plan isn’t worth the paper it’s written on?”

No, it means that plans are as individual as teachers. Some write extensive, detailed plans as the process of writing leads them through organizing the learning activities in a meaningful way, others jot a few notes to capture the thinking that went into the organizing, and a few can carry it in their head with no need to put it on paper. As for those who don’t plan at all, there is no need to look for a written paper on their desk. One step into the classroom is all it takes to realize that a teacher wasn’t ready for children that day.

In GOT’s current teaching assignment, after one year he realized that the district-provided curriculum was not getting the job done. He spent the spring developing his own scope and sequence for learning Geometry. He researched how others did it and realized there was a better way to organize the content. The following year, GOT followed his plan. Again, he was lucky to have a principal who did not get in the way but allowed him to do what he thought was best. Student comprehension dramatically improved.

The district wasn’t happy. Oh, GOT, who did you think you were?

The next year, the district rolled a new scope and sequence that matched what GOT had done.

Selecting textbooks is problematical. It isn’t even ideal to let every teacher pick the book they want to use. It takes a lot of time to evaluate textbooks; time that most teachers do not have.

No textbook is perfect. If GOT wrote his own textbook, he might think it perfect, but is also quite confident that many others would disagree.

What is important is the autonomy GOT has to use the textbook in ways that maximize his teaching style and the learning styles of the students. GOT is able to supplement the materials of the textbook where it is lacking or even deficient in having learning exercises for content that students must learn.

Good principals allow teachers to do this. That is why GOT has a level of satisfaction in teaching and the accountability that goes with it. There’s lots of frustration (always), but GOT has the authority to go with the responsibility of deciding how to deliver the content and create the learning environment.

It’s funny (not comical) when teachers do not have the autonomy to use their professional expertise. Almost always, it is due to an inexperienced and/or inconfident administrator more worried about test scores than student learning.

It is not only in education where leaders lacking confidence in their abilities fall into micromanagement of their subordinates.

True autonomy means collaboration and respect among educators regardless of their job title or role in the school. The Finnish teachers in the Atlantic article were not used to ongoing observation, but it has never bothered GOT. In fact, he rarely sees anyone visit his room even though he welcomes it.

Feedback is desirable. GOT is not so arrogant to think he cannot do better or that he knows everything taking place at any one time. He always welcomes the chance to sit down with another educator and talk about a lesson–because GOT always keeps the focus on how to help the students. It’s not about him and he will not allow an observer to make it about him. It’s about the students–always.

GOT knows many teachers have trouble with this. Meeting with the principal seems to send them back to their childhood when being sent to the principal’s office was seen as being bad as (OMG) having something placed on one’s permanent record. Cue the music from Jaws.

We need to take charge. It doesn’t take words, it doesn’t take attitude, and it doesn’t take hysterics. It takes a quiet confidence in oneself, a desire to keep learning the craft of teaching, and a focus on being better as well as a refusal to let anyone make us feel inferior or incompetent. Our knowledge and experience are as good as everyone else’s.

That means having the fortitude to dismiss the inauthentic ways teachers are evaluated. Stop obsessing about a VAM score, test scores, Marzano, and Danielson. Maybe the research was good, but it has been abused. No checklist will ever define good teaching.

Teachers do lack adequate planning time. That doesn’t mean they want someone to hand them a script to read. It means we need to provide adequate resources and competitive salaries to match the time commitment required.

In closing, your public school teacher is a professional, one whose time and work are not defined by orders, mandates, and required procedures. Teachers are professionals. They agree to work toward defined objectives for a defined compensation. To achieve those objectives, they use their knowledge, experience, and time as they deem best.

Anyone wanting the best for students will know what to do: Get out of their way.

Wake Up, Florida!

Your public schools have been cut to the bone. Let the cloak of life cling to them. Wake up!

A beautiful song will not be enough. Florida’s public schools need proper funding.

So many voices have been sounding the alarm. Why does Florida sleep? Why does the public who unequivocally say they support public schools continue to allow the politicians to pursue their privatization agenda?

At this moment, the Florida legislature meets in Tallahassee to advance these proposals:

  • (1) Expansion of vouchers to private schools, any private school including religious schools, for any family making less than $100,000 a year. These vouchers will not be funded by the work-around group, Step Up for Students, which depends upon corporate donations to fund the existing voucher program. The voucher expansion will be funded directly from tax dollars, particularly, the property tax dollars of each county via the FEFP allocation to school districts.
  • “The money should follow the child.” What about the children who will not leave with a new voucher, but never were in the public school system? The significant population who already are enrolled in parochial or other private Christian schools?
  • They will qualify to pull a voucher from public education funds. The legislature is not increasing overall funding to match this drain.
  • Without losing a single student, Florida’s public schools will experience a significant drain of funding.
  • Several counties passed local referendums to raise local taxes to increase funding to their public schools. Predictably, charter schools objected. They demand a disproportionate amount of all public school funding.
  • (2) All local tax referendums to fund schools shall be shared with charter schools, even if the referendum specifically directed that the funds be given only to the traditional schools. Unsurprisingly, the legislature is considering overriding the will of the citizens to impose their policy.
  • The citizens and taxpayers of local school districts will not be allowed to replace the funding without kicking a share of the money to the profiteering operators of charter schools and they will not have a say in what that share will be.

There are many others that affect public schools and you can read about the most important ones here in an article written by Kathleen Oropeza in The Progressive.

The song is from a Doctor Who episode (Series 7, Second Part, Episode 2) in which the Doctor and his companion, Clara, visit a planetary system and encounter a parasitic monster that feeds on the lives and memories of the people who are there.

They keep the monster quiet by singing it songs and giving periodic sacrifices.

The monster is waking up. It will no longer sleep and it intends to consume all that the people have even if that ends their existence. As the Doctor confronts the monster, the little girl changes the song to wake up. If the monster wakes up, the Doctor can destroy it.

Our public education monster is awake and stalking the halls of Tallahassee. It intends to consume the resources of the public education system even if that means that public schools will no longer exist.

In the process, democracy itself is ending. The will of the people means nothing to the legislators, the elected legislators, who populate the chambers of the capitol building.

They care nothing for your phone calls, your postcards, your letters to the editor published in newspapers around the state. They care nothing for your demonstrations, your testimony in their committees (if you are allowed to speak), your visits to their offices.

Because you keep them in office.

Wake up, Florida! Wake up! YOU are the Doctor. YOU can save public education. Vote them out every chance you get.

Wake up!

The Shoe

As most bloggers do, I’ve been tracking the readership stats for my latest post, “Gunfire.” It’s gratifying when many people think a post is worthy of attention and share it.

With this in mind, this morning I saw this photo of a Duke basketball player’s shoe accompanying a column in the Washington Post.

This is where the blog writer makes a snarky comment, but I cannot–not for this one.

Wow.

Wow. And again, wow.

It’s not only the word “KILL” on the shoe. It’s the school-color Duke Blue Devil blue dripping down the Nike swoosh like blood running out of a human body to pool on the floor.

Wow.

We live in a world of Code Yellows when something is going on in the neighborhood around a school and we keep children in the classroom–no movement–as a precaution.

We live in a world of Code Reds when we simulate a threat present on campus. Sometimes it’s real.

We live in a world of Active Shooter Drills whereby we terrify children with blank shots and everything else as a school practice. We fire pellets at teachers. And we say that’s okay. They need to be ready.

I am ready. I put my Swift Shield on the door and despite the efforts of people in the hall to gain access to my room to do whatever nonsense they have in mind for the purpose of being sure that we will fight back, they can’t get in.

Teacher scores one for his team, but my shoes carry no message.

I live in Florida. Politicians would rather give me a gun than buy me a cost-effective means of barricading my classroom.

The Parkland student movement shows up in Tallahassee and the legislature postpones the gun bill hearings they had scheduled.

We decry violence, but in our sports, we turn around and celebrate it.

Why?

Hard play and competition do not demand that we engage in hyperbole of warfare and death.

How do we begin to change our culture of violence?

We can start by doing away with shoes like that pictured. We can stop with the inappropriate metaphors. We can make sportsmanship a higher value. Everyone wants to win, but no one should want to win with a ‘whatever-it-takes’ attitude.

There are lines that should not be crossed.

Nike, you did that with this shoe.

Shame on you.

Gunfire

A little boy, a third-grader, stood up and told the Superintendent, “It’s okay. It happens all the time.”

Diana L. Greene was meeting with the third-grade class at a local elementary to tell them how sorry she was that their window was pierced by a stray bullet from guns being fired across the street.

Her reaction? They are immune to it.

They are. It’s been a part of the lives of too many children in Jacksonville, Florida since they entered the world.

It’s routine: hearing the shots, hiding under the bed, hoping to stay alive.

The trauma of living in such difficult circumstances rewrites their biology. These children come to school less able to learn.

The challenge of the school system is to create a safe place where the trauma eases, biology recovers, and learning takes place.

But children grow up. When children grow up with gunfire around them, fearing for their lives, eventually as older children and adolescents, they begin to think they need to be able to fire back.

Even if they don’t, the thought that guns are a way people settle their disagreements is a part of the culture, which brings about tragedies like this.

A Mom speaks out about her son’s murder.

How do we change a culture of violence?

How do we make a difference?

Maybe it starts with recognizing that we are one community and what affects one, affects all.

There’s no silver bullet (an ironic phrase if there ever was one.) There’s not one right answer. It will take many, many small and large steps.

It will take rational thinking–the kind of thinking that says more guns is not the answer.

Because stray bullets are pieces of metal. They don’t have minds and they don’t think about whether the person they are about to strike deserves it. They follow the physics of their launch.

If you’ve ever wondered why teachers don’t shut up and just do their jobs, this is it.

Every societal woe, every crisis, and every inequity walks through the classroom door every day.

Children are hungry. Children are dirty. Children are neglected. Children are hiding from bullets.

That keeps them from learning.

That keeps them from living the lives that everyone deserves and, in too many cases, cuts their lives short.

Don’t Treat Schools Like Competitive Businesses by David Negaard

Once more for the people in the back: Schools aren’t businesses, kids aren’t product, employers aren’t schools’ customers or clients, and standardized tests aren’t quality control. It is not schools’ primary function to produce (compliant, obedient) employees for the titans of industry, but rather self-actualized citizens who think critically and effectively and can create a better future for themselves and for all of us.

NOTE: pick the correct link

The purpose of public schools is to elevate all students. All public schools have the same basic goal and do not and should not compete with one another for resources, for students, for anything. Neither should public school students compete with one another for opportunities or status.

Read more on the BAT blog.

PS: GOT likes the second sentence in the first paragraph. Something else to paint on the classroom wall.

Go Home

Friday a colleague and I had a conversation about working over the weekend. The gist is that she stresses over the job and the workload and often works many hours at home to keep up with grading, planning, and finding instructional materials. (While our district does a good job of providing a text, online programs, and supplemental resources, often we have to fill the gaps between the resources, student need, and the standards of mathematics as tested.)

Friday afternoon she stopped in my room to show me, “See? I am taking nothing with me. I might wish I had Saturday morning, but I’ll know I cannot come back to get anything.”

I congratulated her, wrapped up my work, and left not soon thereafter.

Go home, teachers. The work will wait.

From England, we get the report that their teachers work 9,000,000 unpaid, extra hours every week for an average of 12.1 hours per teacher.

GOT teacher is not surprised as he puts in a 50 hour plus workweek every week, not counting the unpaid hours spent in professional development, summer orientation, and other off-campus professional activities. (These hours do not include writing posts for this blog in case you’re asking.)

The complaints that teachers get the summer off are laughable. Your average teacher is working 2,200 to 2,400 hours a year in contrast to the ordinary worker who puts in 2,080 hours a year (including vacations.)

If that teacher work time is compressed into 42 weeks out of the year, the teacher still has put in more than a full year of work. Why are they begrudged the other ten weeks?

Notice we are not talking contract hours. GOT’s contract calls for him to be on campus between the hours of 7:50 AM and 3:10 PM; seven and one third hours a day for thirty-seven and two-thirds hours each week.

Every teacher knows the job takes more time. We are professionals. We are hired to accomplish specified objectives, in general the education of our students, for a specified salary and benefits. The contract only establishes how much time we must be at the school.

As professionals, we must determine how much more time is needed to accomplish those objectives and where we will spend that time. Young mothers often want to leave immediately taking work with them because they need to get their children from child care. They put the extra hours in at home as they also attend to their family responsibilities.

GOT is older as is his colleague. We don’t have young families to take care of. We put in the extra time at campus. When it comes time to end the workday, we need to go home without taking work with us.

As professionals, we must set boundaries. We must practice self-care. We need downtime, too. The Teacher Voice blog has a good post about post-traumatic stress disorder and how it is affecting teachers from the stress of difficult students, toxic colleagues, and abusive administration.

GOT has found that he does not need to worry about undone grading or lesson planning when he leaves Friday afternoon. At 6 AM Monday morning, he is back at his desk and able to catch up before the school day begins.

You can, too, teachers. Go home.

Planned Ignorance

Every teacher will realize the pun.

Planned ignoring is a classroom management technique to extinguish undesirable student behaviors. No matter the misbehavior, the teacher ignores the child. Do not acknowledge what they are doing because the child really wants the teacher’s attention. Once the child replaces the misbehavior with a desirable behavior, the teacher then lavishes attention upon them to reinforce how the child should behave in the classroom.

“The most unqualified nominee for Secretary of Education in the history of the Department.”

Planned ignorance is the only way GOT can interpret the astonishing performance of Secretary Devos in Congressional hearings regarding her attempt (for a third year) to eliminate a grant to the Special Olympics.

The ignorance of the woman and her I-can’t-be-bothered attitude is not accidental. Since the disastrous confirmation hearing, in which she had to admit she knew nothing about federal education requirements for the disabled, she has made no progress in educating herself.

More than the Special Olympics is on the chopping block. If the Trump recommendations go into effect, the impact on local schools will be devastating, for example, the elimination of Full Service Schools. Fortunately, regardless of which party holds the White House or Congress, Congress almost always ignores White House budget recommendations.

Planned ignorance. Check this out when Madame Secretary actually said that larger class sizes were a good thing:

Um, uh, ed freedom, uh, sure there’s research, um, can I google it?

President Trump threw the Secretary under the bus when he repudiated the deletion of the Special Olympics grant. While not a focus of this post, it is interesting that Trump is not beyond the pressure of public opinion, which was resoundingly negative.

Planned ignorance. Devos has an agenda to pursue (with the blessing of Trump) and that is to direct federal money to charter schools and private school vouchers. To find that money, she must eliminate everything else.

She uses her ignorance as her defense. When backed into a corner, she responds that, given a written request, she’ll look into and respond.

Planned ignorance. After two years in Washington, why has she not studied how Congress works so she can look competent in hearings?

After Trump threw her under the bus, she had this to say: She actually supported the grant before Trump made her be against it.

(Okay, I’m reaching here, but the parody of John Kerry was irresistible.)

She suggested that the cut was intended to spark increased support for Special Olympics funding.

It has to be planned. This kind of attack on the well-being of all citizens of a society doesn’t happen by accident. To feign no knowledge … planned ignorance.

Devos has tried for three years to eliminate Special Olympics funding and many other things so the money can be diverted to charter schools.

Once again, she has failed.

In a famous quote (which apparently she stole from Ted Turner), she said, “Money is how we keep score.”

Get out your record book, Betsy. You have 18 million losses to enter into your record.

Her god of Mammon is not pleased.