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Education Nation: Teachers Want a Voice as Decision Makers

February 27, 2012 Leave a comment

There is a school in Washington State where the teachers decided what they wanted education to be like for their 650 kindergarten through 6th grade students. The staff collaborated as a group on what they believed constituted good teaching. Many of their group decisions continue to guide learning in every classroom at their school.

They began by redefining their teaching relationships with their students by deciding they would stay with the same class for two years instead of one. AND, they included students with special needs in their classrooms instead of segregating them out. They decided to be guides for their students allowing the students to direct their own learning. They did this through “inquiry based projects”. Several times a year these teachers helped their students develop questions in subjects that the students were interested in and wanted to investigate. The teachers then integrated reading, writing and communication skills into long-term projects.

Instead of giving all the answers to their students these teachers guide them in searching for responses to their own questions by assisting to help in research and identify and sort through information resources. These teachers have created a climate of collaboration not only between their students, but also the with the school staff, who supports their changed role in the classroom.

In their daily conferences with team partners, teachers encourage each other to make changes and try new things. One states, “Because we stay with our students for two years, we can’t use the same ideas with the class the next year, so we are always coming up with new projects.”

When teachers have a voice in their curriculum and a chance to be decision makers in formulating learning in their classrooms, learning is improved for each student. When teachers encourage a heterogeneous population in their classrooms, students become more involved in helping others to achieve and succeed. Everyone has a need to give and help those who are disadvantaged. When we segregate our population of students from each other they lose their sense of compassion for those who are unlike them.

Sir Ken Robinson, PhD, and an internationally recognized leader in the development of education, creativity, and innovation, presented at the November 2011 TEDx London conference. He states that education must be Personalized for the student, which improves motivation for teachers; that education must be Customized to students to their place within their community; and that education must include Diversity instead of requiring teachers to subscribe to conformity. Sir Robinson strongly recommends that learning involves local community partnerships where students are exposed to the world in which they live and become community participants.

When teachers have a voice in their classrooms and the curriculum they teach; when they have a chance to be decision makers in their profession, they become motivated and inspired. Their classrooms become learning centers where students accept responsibility for themselves and others. They are invested in producing and collaborating for the success of all. None are left behind because all are involved.

For the above to happen educational leadership must be supportive of creative teacher innovation within the classroom. They must trust their teachers and advise rather than dictate. Of course it takes secure leaders to pass on creative responsibility to their teachers. Secure administrators are a rare breed. Their penchant is to control rather than relinquish.

What an amazing torrent of creative energy would be unleashed if teachers had a voice in decision-making within their classrooms and supportive educational administrators!

“Civilization is a race between education and catastrophe.”

Post Script: Yes Rob, the teaching example I give at the top of this post is simple in its approach. I know that many teachers live and work in small communities throughout this great nation. Their school budgets limit funding to basic concepts. This is written for them. Innovation in small districts across our country depends on the educator’s imagination and ability to engage their students in meaningful and passionate intellectual exploration. It does not take money to develop creative minds; it takes commitment. Sir Ken Robinson writes about getting back to basics. To me, getting back to basics means organizing learning experiences for children which develop inquisitive minds with tenacious curiosity. Once those minds are set into motion it is essential to then teach children how to use their knowledge and curiosity in their own life applications. What good is knowledge if we are unable to solve the mysteries in our own lives? What good is knowledge if we are unable to apply it to expanding our own horizons. Yes, simple approaches develop amazing innovation.

Education Nation: What Teachers Want – Part 1, Salaries

September 29, 2011 Leave a comment

I watched the September 25th, Sunday NBC program called “Education Nation” hosted by Brian Williams. It was a Teacher Town Hall Meeting filled with teachers talking about teaching and the state of education. They came from all over the country. They taught in a large variety of public school systems, charter schools, teacher controlled schools, parent owned schools, and at all grade levels. Their backgrounds were from tenured to first year teachers, rural to big city schools, and from every walk of life imaginable. The teachers were well represented and candid.

A survey was taken. The national teacher survey and the town hall teachers agreed to the following points of professional concern in American public education. This is what they say they want in their discussions:

·    Raise teacher salaries
·    Give teachers a voice, a chance to be the decision makers
·    More supportive leadership
·    More family involvement
·    Help with student behavior

This post will discuss teacher salaries. The next additional posts on this subject will discuss each point listed above.

Part One – Teacher Salaries – Some Reported Statistics:

·    According to teacherportal.com first year salaries range from $24,872 to $39,259.
·    An average salary for teaching across the nation is $33,950.
·    With 10 – 19 years the average salary is $48,088.
·    With 20+ years experience the average salary is $56,055.
·    U.S. teachers work about 1,913 hours over a 180 day school year that is 36 weeks long.

The average teacher’s hourly wage is competitive with many professions as indicated in the chart below. Teachers get the summer off and are able to supplement their wages through summer school, summer work, tutoring, coaching or other means. Teachers receive state benefits, pensions, and have a secure career with a retirement that is independent of social security.


According to a survey conducted by the NEA (National Teachers Association) Teachers spend an average of 50 hours per week on instructional duties, including an average of 12 hours each week on non-compensated school-related activities such as grading papers, bus duty, and club advising. This averages to 62 hours per 5 day week. Very little of this time is spent working directly with students in activities such as tutoring or coaching; far more time is reported on preparation, grading papers, parent conferences, and attending meetings. Teachers have a long week of which some is compensated and some is not. They have the summers off when other professionals do not.

The question was asked on Education Nation if teachers thought they should receive higher salaries – 74% in the room said yes, the national survey reported 75% of the teachers said yes. BUT, interestingly there were 10 other items that ranked higher in the survey. Melanie Allen, a Boston teacher said, “This (teacher salary issue) really strikes home for me because when I know passionate, excellent teachers who’ve left the classroom, it’s not because of lack of dollars, it’s lack of voice. We want a chance to be the decision makers. We’re on the ground, we know what needs to be done and we want the chance to do it.” I say BRAVO Melanie!

Teachers are not well represented by their unions or their spokesmen when it comes to their image, devotion, hard work, and determination to help their students succeed. Most have a passion for what they do and they need a voice, not only over what goes on in their schools, but on the national level where many of us are ready to hear them speak. We want to hear from the teachers who are on the front lines, not the union bosses who sit in their offices sipping coffee with their large salaries taken from the union dues teachers supply.

Do they want more money? Yes.
Are there 10 other things that are more important to them? Yes.
They don’t teach for money; they teach because they love what they do.

More to come in my next posts about what teachers want.

Education: A teacher’s response…

September 20, 2011 1 comment

I sent my pal Rob, who is an X-Teacher, an article from the New York Times on character development. His response is poignant for all of its ideas, hard work and sincere effort on the part of the many teachers and staff who participated in their search for solutions to student motivation and behavior problems. I am posting the letter here as I feel it makes an important statement from an educator who was fighting the good fight. I have another post but thought it could wait. Read this and see how you feel. It is posted as it is written except for a few minor corrections made for clarity of thought.

Hi Sandra….. Hope this finds you well….

The “gritty” NYTimes article about character development brought these things to mind for me:

·    STARS
·    TAP
·    Random Acts of Kindness
·    Bulldog Bucks
·    Traffic Tickets
and others which lacked witty acronyms or slogans.

These were some of the “character-based” initiatives that were required for each teacher to implement at the middle school in which I taught.

STARS: Each letter stood for some character trait; those that I do remember are S= Success, T=Teamwork, A=Achievement, R=Responsibility (or was it Respect?  probably was Responsibility, as this was in the time before bullying became such a focus, thereby not a real emphasis on Respect back then)…  and the final “S”, I just don’t remember what it stood for. Each IDT (Inter-Disciplinary Team) had to meet and brainstorm and agree to and submit to the faculty its clever acronym for the “new” “character building” program that year; STARS, (submitted by my IDT by the way) won the honor by majority of votes.

TAP: This one, the Teacher Advisory Program, was in effect the year I started teaching and lasted for only a few years longer. It was a “special” extended homeroom period once a week during which time the teacher was to “get to know” those students and become their mentor, their adviser, that one teacher each student could count on and come to with any problem they might have. This program was to be centered on teaching values, with several resources available in the faculty section of the library (Media Center didn’t exist then) in case one needed help with planning a lesson or two.  This program was resurrected a year or two after STARS fizzled out.

“Random Acts of Kindness” was a big focus for a marking period or two. Teachers were given a quantity of mini certificates which were to be discreetly given to students who were observed performing a kind act to another. Students could feel better about themselves having been recognized for doing something kind.

“Bulldog Bucks” was the name of the recognition/reward initiative of my IDT in which students were given “Bucks” for not only being kind to others but for completing homework, having materials, raising hands, and other expected student behaviors.  Unlike just receiving a certificate of kindness, Bulldog Bucks had an added incentive in that students could “cash in” their bucks for homework passes or save them up to attend the big ice cream party at the end of a marking period. Of course some students found ways to trade bucks for favors, bully others into parting with theirs, or even steal them on the sly. So each student then had to sign each buck, making it personal with a deterrent for fraudulent use. I recall that Bulldog Bucks went bankrupt before the end of that school year.

“Traffic Tickets” were an effort to improve conduct and behavior in the hallways.    Students were to monitor themselves and each other. This program didn’t last very long, as there were too many police and no consequences for the offenders.

Another program that began in earnest was some sort of small group sessions of selected disruptive or behaviorally challenged students meeting weekly with the school psychologist and the school counselor. What they actually did there, or what they talked about, or any results, or really just anything about this program was pretty much kept under wraps. These students missed a class a week, and were responsible for making up the work. Don’t know how long it lasted. God knows they could still be having these sessions even to this day!

After reading the article again today, these things came to mind and perhaps I’m anxious enough to talk with you about it that I just couldn’t wait until Friday’s class (in the gym) to share. Each of those programs came and went, some lasting longer than others, but mostly they were short-lived. I think TAP lasted several consecutive years; the others hardly a year at most.

And what, Sandra, do you think these programs accomplished? All of the thought and planning, and meetings and planning, and time and effort, and more meetings that went along with each of these ideas??

And why, Sandra, do you think these well-intentioned programs “failed”?  What was the biggest deterrent to their extended successes?  The program itself?  The kids?  Think the most obvious answer is………..

Thanks for sending the article. It was very interesting to say the least.
Hope to see you at the gym on Friday!

Education & British Riots in the Welfare Society

August 11, 2011 Leave a comment

I am passionate about Parenting. I know for certain this is the thing, if done right and seriously, would elevate society and solve many of the serious problems we face today in our schools, work force, and political structure. I have been frustrated at my inability to express this idea in a way that would communicate the problem, its origin, and the results we face on a daily basis in our classrooms, social structure, and political ideology.

Fortunately, I read an article this morning by Max Hastings, who writes for Mail Online, a British newspaper. He expresses the underlying social problems so well that I thought I would provide excerpts in this post. All emphasis in the article is mine.

MR. MAX HASTINGS:

“A few weeks after the U.S. city of Detroit was ravaged by 1967 race riots, in which 43 people died, I was shown around the wrecked areas by a black reporter named Joe Strickland.

He said: ‘Don’t you believe all that stuff people here are giving media folk about how sorry they are about what happened. When they talk to each other, they say: “It was a great fire, man!” ’

I am sure that is what many of the young rioters, black and white, who have burned and looted in England through the past few shocking nights think today.

If you live a normal life of absolute futility, which we can assume most of this week’s rioters do, excitement of any kind is welcome. The people who wrecked swathes of property, burned vehicles and terrorised communities have no moral compass to make them susceptible to guilt or shame.

Most have no jobs to go to or exams they might pass. They know no family role models, for most live in homes in which the father is unemployed, or from which he has decamped.
They are illiterate and innumerate, beyond maybe some dexterity with computer games and BlackBerries.

The depressing truth is that at the bottom of our society is a layer of young people with no skills, education, values or aspirations. They do not have what most of us would call ‘lives’: they simply exist. They have their being only in video games and street-fights, casual drug use and crime, sometimes petty, sometimes serious.

Today, those at the bottom of society behave no better than their forebears, but the welfare state has relieved them from hunger and real want. When social surveys speak of ‘deprivation’ and ‘poverty’, this is entirely relative. Meanwhile, sanctions for wrongdoing have largely vanished.

When Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith recently urged employers to take on more British workers and fewer migrants, he was greeted with a hoarse laugh. Every firm in the land knows that an East European — for instance — will, first, bother to turn up; second, work harder; and third, be better-educated than his or her British counterpart. Who do we blame for this state of affairs?

Of course it is true that few have jobs, learn anything useful at school, live in decent homes, eat meals at regular hours or feel loyalty to anything beyond their local gang. This is not, however, because they are victims of mistreatment or neglect. It is because it is fantastically hard to help such people, young or old, without imposing a measure of compulsion, which modern society finds unacceptable. These kids are what they are because nobody makes them be anything different or better.

A key factor in delinquency is lack of effective sanctions to deter it. From an early stage, feral children discover that they can bully fellow pupils at school, shout abuse at people in the streets, urinate outside pubs, hurl litter from car windows, play car radios at deafening volumes, and, indeed, commit casual assaults with only a negligible prospect of facing rebuke, far less retribution.

So who is to blame? The breakdown of families, the pernicious promotion of single motherhood as a desirable state, the decline of domestic life so that even shared meals are a rarity, have all contributed importantly to the condition of the young underclass. The social engineering industry unites to claim that the conventional template of family life is no longer valid.

And what of the schools? I do not think they can be blamed for the creation of a grotesquely self-indulgent, non-judgmental culture.

This has ultimately been sanctioned by Parliament, which refuses to accept, for instance, that children are more likely to prosper with two parents than with one, and that the dependency culture is a tragedy for those who receive something for nothing.

The judiciary colludes with social services and infinitely ingenious lawyers to assert the primacy of the rights of the criminal and aggressor over those of law-abiding citizens, especially if a young offender is involved.

How do you inculcate values in a child whose only role model is footballer Wayne Rooney — a man who is bereft of the most meagre human graces? How do you persuade children to renounce bad language when they hear little else from stars on the BBC?

A teacher, Francis Gilbert, wrote five years ago in his book Yob Nation: ‘The public feels it no longer has the right to interfere.’ Discussing the difficulties of imposing sanctions for misbehaviour or idleness at school, he described the case of a girl pupil he scolded for missing all her homework deadlines.

The youngster’s mother, a social worker, telephoned him and said: ‘Threatening to throw my daughter off the A-level course because she hasn’t done some work is tantamount to psychological abuse, and there is legislation which prevents these sorts of threats. ‘I believe you are trying to harm my child’s mental well-being, and may well take steps . . . if you are not careful.’

That story rings horribly true. It reflects a society in which teachers have been deprived of their traditional right to arbitrate pupils’ behaviour. Denied power, most find it hard to sustain respect, never mind control.

I never enjoyed school, but, like most children until very recent times, did the work because I knew I would be punished if I did not. It would never have occurred to my parents not to uphold my teachers’ authority. This might have been unfair to some pupils, but it was the way schools functioned for centuries, until the advent of crazy ‘pupil rights’.

I recently received a letter from a teacher who worked in a county’s pupil referral unit, describing appalling difficulties in enforcing discipline. Her only weapon, she said, was the right to mark a disciplinary cross against a child’s name for misbehaviour. Having repeatedly and vainly asked a 15-year-old to stop using obscene language, she said: ‘Fred, if you use language like that again, I’ll give you a cross.’

He replied: ‘Give me an effing cross, then!’ Eventually, she said: ‘Fred, you have three crosses now. You must miss your next break.’

He answered: ‘I’m not missing my break, I’m going for an effing fag!’ When she appealed to her manager, he said: ‘Well, the boy’s got a lot going on at home at the moment. Don’t be too hard on him.’

This is a story repeated daily in schools up and down the land. If a child lacks sufficient respect to address authority figures politely, and faces no penalty for failing to do so, then other forms of abuse — of property and person — come naturally.

So there we have it: a large, amoral, brutalised sub-culture of young British people who lack education because they have no will to learn, and skills which might make them employable. They are too idle to accept work waitressing or doing domestic labour, which is why almost all such jobs are filled by immigrants. They have no code of values to dissuade them from behaving anti-socially or, indeed, criminally, and small chance of being punished if they do so. They have no sense of responsibility for themselves, far less towards others, and look to no future beyond the next meal, sexual encounter or TV football game.

 They are an absolute deadweight upon society, because they contribute nothing yet cost the taxpayer billions. Liberal opinion holds they are victims, because society has failed to provide them with opportunities to develop their potential.

Most of us would say this is nonsense. Rather, they are victims of a perverted social ethos, which elevates personal freedom to an absolute, and denies the underclass the discipline — tough love — which alone might enable some of its members to escape from the swamp of dependency in which they live.

Only education — together with politicians, judges, policemen and teachers with the courage to force feral humans to obey rules the rest of us have accepted all our lives — can provide a way forward and a way out for these people. They are products of a culture which gives them so much unconditionally that they are let off learning how to become human beings.

My dogs are better behaved and subscribe to a higher code of values than the young rioters of Tottenham, Hackney, Clapham and Birmingham. Unless or until those who run Britain introduce incentives for decency and impose penalties for bestiality which are today entirely lacking, there will never be a shortage of young rioters and looters such as those of the past four nights, for whom their monstrous excesses were ‘a great fire, man’.

“The truth cannot be told and be misunderstood.”

Education; Teacher Cheaters in Pennsylvania!

August 7, 2011 1 comment

I have a friend who is a teacher. She told me after reading my prior post on the Atlanta Teacher Cheaters, “Teachers shouldn’t be judged so harshly. Too much is expected of them. They have too much on their plate.” Stunning!

Why are we making excuses for teachers who are unable to educate their students without cheating them and stealing their futures? Who do the teacher unions speak for in this appalling 11 year intellectual theft?

The New York Times reported on July 31 that Pennsylvania joined the many states whose teachers are involved in a massive teacher cheating scandal involving 89 schools, 28 of which are located in Philadelphia, whose inner city children are mostly black. If, like Atlanta, this has been going on since 2000, think of the drastic, mind numbing consequences for these students who have been allowed to cheat and actually were assisted by the teachers in their cheating!

This is 2011. This cheating began in 2000 and eleven years later these students, who were robbed of their future by these teachers, have been out of school for 6 years. Where are they now? What are they doing? Where do they live? What glorious dreams do they have? Who stands for them?

Let’s look at Teacher Cheaters from the perspective of the student. Let’s call him Nate. He is a minority student in the Atlanta or Philadelphia school system and in the eighth grade. When he entered the eighth grade he was not performing at his grade level. It is the end of the year and he is being tested by his teachers to see if they brought him to grade level or above. He is too young to understand the terrible consequences for his future if he is passed on without certain scholastic proficiencies. At this time in his life he does not think of his future. He does what his teacher directs him to do and if the teacher teaches him how to cheat that is what he learns how to do well. He cannot read nor do mathematical skills at his grade level, but he does become proficient in cheating as taught to him by his Teacher Cheaters.

Nate is passed from one grade level to another with the assistance of the Teacher Cheaters and he graduates with a diploma, which he can barely read. Or worse, he may have dropped out of school. Nate needs a job because he is now 18 years old. His parents have given him the boot and told him to support himself. He can’t read well; he can barely do the most basic math skills; and his spoken language is unintelligible or filled with the most deplorable grammatical speech patterns, which condemn him to a life of poverty, crime or flipping hamburgers at McDonald’s for minimum wage. It was told to me once, “The spoken language is what determines your class, prosperity and success in life.” This subtle influence that plays upon the ear is as true as the sun rising in the morning.

Nate is doomed. He never had a chance. His Teacher Cheaters got their bonuses, promotions, and Federal Funding for 11 years as Nate struggled to make sense of his time in their prison.

Never before have teachers had so many reasons to cheat. Student scores are now used to determine whether teachers and principals are good or bad, whether teachers should get a bonus or be fired, whether a school is a success or failure. If the Teacher Cheaters were doing what they were hired to do there would be no reasons to cheat. Is this broad based scandal foreshadowing the wholesale incompetency of teachers, administrators, and unions? Are they covering up this horrible crime against the youth of our nation? If they are doing what they are paid to do there would be no reasons to cheat.

Instead of accepting responsibility for their crime against Nate, teachers are finger pointing towards a host of others, which I find irresponsible, time consuming, and unproductive! When they cheat a student they cheat the entire country. I am so happy I home schooled our sons. They are now very successful young men who can read, speak articulately, and add, subtract, divide and multiply.

“If a seed of a lettuce will not grow, we do not blame the lettuce. Instead, the fault lies with us for not having nourished the seed properly.”

 Buddhist proverb

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