Monday, August 08, 2011

Today was my first day back to school this summer. Sure, I’ve stopped by to visit, check the mail, just pop in, but today was the day I started putting my classroom back together.

The rearranging of the furniture, the digging out the textbooks, the hanging of the posters, is all really symbolic of something bigger.

I spent a lot a time today just sitting at my desk, pondering, looking at the tables, the chairs, thinking about how I wanted them arranged, what the final overall plan was to be. Having been in this same classroom for 10 of the past 16 years, I have some idea of what works and what doesn't. But every year is different. Each group of students is different. I am different each year.

Symbolically, it is a starting over. A clean slate. A new chance to make a difference. Where I put the tables matters. But more importantly, the attitude I start the year with matters. My attitude sets the stage for the learning (or lack thereof) that will occur within those 4 walls during the 2011/2012 school year.

Someone on a listserve once commented: We are but part of their journey. I hope that can be my mantra for the year, with students, parents, and other staff members. As I move tables, write names in textbooks, print parent letters, and plan those first few days of class, I will strive to remember the impact I have on their individual journeys, and even more, strive to make that impact a positive one.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Secretary Duncan thinks teachers should be paid more. Great! $60,000 to start with a potential for $150,000 is way ahead of the pay scale in my district, so I’d be all for it!

Wait, there’s a catch? Big surprise….

In the first place, Duncan is just shooting off at the mouth, with no real green stuff to back his proposed generosity. With districts, states, schools everywhere, cutting way beyond bare bones, down into the nitty gritty necessities, laying off teachers, eliminating critical programs, making desperate attempts to keep the doors open and the electricity and heat on, the likelihood of tens of thousands of dollars in pay raises are almost a joke.

But the real catch? Duncan wants the money tied to test scores. As if most teachers would/could do anything differently to raise test scores even if they were paid a million dollars for each proficient score. (Oh.. wait, they can and have done something – CHEAT. But that’s an entirely different issue.) The reality is, there are too many great teachers, doing exactly the BEST they can do for their students. Circumstances beyond the classroom teacher’s control impact scores almost as much as their teaching. These teachers ARE giving 100%, or even more, to make sure their students get a quality education.

The few bad apples tend to taint the pool for everyone. The public focuses on that one bad teacher they had in school, that one difficult teacher their child had, the rumors they’ve heard about what goes in this classroom. I acknowledge changes, drastic changes, need to occur in some classrooms. Some teachers are not meant to be teachers. They don’t know their content. They are incompetent at getting information across to students. They refuse to follow the curriculum. They are mean spirited and hateful. But, these are not the norm, but rather the exception to the majority of teachers in the teacher pool.

I’d love to make more money teaching. With 16 years experience and a master’s degree, I just barely break the $55,000 mark. With all the extras being docked to my pay, the 3% mandated to pay for retirements, the extra 10% towards my insurance, union dues, etc… the reality is much less than a $55,000 starting point. I don’t see cost of living raises. I don’t get extra if I work extra. I do fork out a lot of money for classroom incidentals, materials for students who can’t afford them, or whose parents refuse to provide them. I buy food for students who are hungry, fund field trips for those who don’t have the funds. Ask any teacher and they will give you the same story about out of pocket ‘expenses’.

But paying me more won’t change anything about the way I teach, the quality of education I provide for my students. I still won’t be able to get them to school on time every day ready to learn. I still will struggle to compete with video games, online chats with friends, music videos, and other distractions that appeal much more to the average adolescent than the Pythagorean Theorem or inverse functions. I will still struggle with parents who think because I expect their child to come to school, do their work and be respectful, I am picking on their child. I will still struggle to overcome the child who is being abused and/or neglected at home, who carries that weight heavily on their shoulders.

Worse yet, offering to paying the ‘bad’ teachers more won’t change their classroom practices either. If they had the skills to teach well, they would already be doing it. If they had the true desire to change the lives of their students, they would already be doing it.

Some of the marginal teachers might be inspired to try a little harder to reach their students with a pay increase, but this small percentage of teachers would make such a small impact on overall student learning, it seems not worth the price. The bottom line is, good teachers are good teachers, regardless of their pay. Bad teachers are bad teachers, regardless of their pay.

Pay teachers more because they deserve to make a professional wage. Pay teachers more because they have one of the most important jobs in the world. Don’t base their pay on an arbitrary test score that has been proven repeatedly to be inaccurate and invalid. Don’t base their pay on a test score that is partly beyond their control.

So thanks Duncan for your little dangling carrot,

but no… I don’t think so.

Thanks anyway.