Thursday, May 5, 2011

Day 17: Divided we fall

"United we stand, divided we fall"

Well I'm pretty sure that I got my official "lay off" notice today. I had a sorry we missed you note from the post office waiting for me when I arrived home. I was less upset than I thought I would be. I suppose I have come to terms with this whole being laid off thing.  I still feel somewhat unmotivated to make the drive to the post office tomorrow after work and wait in a long line just to pick up a nicely worded letter from LAUSD stating that they really mean it this time I'm fired.  Despite all this, the union and district are still in "talks" to negotiate ways to save jobs. They are taking their sweet time, and as each day passes I am feeling more and more like it is time to start looking for work, but I love my job so I don't want to. I don't want any of my colleagues to lose their jobs and would be willing to make all kinds of concessions to ensure the opportunity to return to work for my colleagues. I hope that other teachers in the district and around the state fell the same way.

I know this is a difficult financial time for many (not the oil companies, GE, or Hedge fund managers, they're doing just fine). For us regular working folks this is the time it is especially important to stand together and support each other as working people who rely on their jobs for their livelihoods.  It is easy to want to say no to furlough days or pay cuts.  I understand that. We all want to make our full salary, but shouldn't people be willing to share the sacrifice? I guess I don't necessarily expect that from all workers, but from teachers I do. I expect commitment to the profession and the needs of the children and that means maintaining class sizes, services, and not dramatically decreasing the size of the teaching force.

Here I am trying to be all polite and erudite, but tonight this is the part I really need to say. I am feeling hurt, disappointed, and angry that some of my colleagues in LAUSD are expressing disinterest in accepting furlough days that would be tantamount to saving the jobs of most of the teachers and support staff that have been laid off. I wish we could all stand together. I wish my colleagues felt like I was important enough to fight and sacrifice for. I am obviously invested in this issue, but I can honestly say in past years when my job has been less threatened I have be willing and eager to take any necessary steps to help save the jobs of my colleagues. Teachers should be willing to help teachers and I find it incredibly frustrating if some teachers with more seniority than I want to stand up to these furlough days because in their minds they are currently unaffected by the layoffs. It is exactly this type of divide that will ultimately weaken the position of the teachers and give more negotiating power to the district. We need to be united. We need to support each other. We need to defend our colleagues.

To the many colleagues of mine who are willing to share the sacrifice I say thank you. Thank you for your support through this difficult time, thank you for putting the future of our educational system before your own personal needs, and thank you for looking out for the best interest of our students.

For the teachers who feel like they are unwilling to share the sacrifice and accept furlough days in order to say jobs I say be careful. There is a large population of young, highly trained, highly effective, energetic, and passionate teachers who are tired of being laid off year after year and a lot of legislators that want to dismantle seniority based  firing. Many of us less senior teachers currently support seniority based layoffs out of respect for our colleagues with more seniority. However, if teachers turn on us less senior teachers and leave us fending for ourselves by not being willing to negotiate than I guarantee my support of seniority based layoffs will be gone. I am not alone. I will fight tooth and nail to have the current system abolished and move strictly to a system based on achievement, education, credentials, training, and classroom success. I am a great teacher as are many of my colleagues who were also laid off. I whole-heartedly support my colleagues and would do anything to support them, but if I feel like some more senior teachers do not feel that same way, if they cannot be there for those of us struggling through this difficult time of uncertainty than I simply say again. Be warned.  I will not go down without a fight. I will teach somehow, somewhere, even if it means changing the system in order to do it.  I ask for your support now because I respect you, I would support you, and I would hate to have to come after your job.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Day 16: Lead by example

So I took a few days off from blogging. I would love to say that the lengthy delay was planned, but let's just say life can sometimes get in the way.  Anyhow, now I'm back.

Last week was my spring vacation. It was wonderful. I was able to spend a lot of time with my little boy which was amazing. However, two of the days I attended a training put on by the group Growing Educators. These two women were trained at the Teacher's College at Columbia University and have since moved out west and created their own company to help spread the balanced literacy curriculum within our schools. The training was outstanding.  I always walk away from this particular group's workshops feeling inspired and motivated. It is such a breath of fresh air from the mundane discussion of Open Court this or Treasures that (for non teachers those are the scripted reading programs the district uses in its schools). The curriculum discussed at this training requires teachers to think, plan, and adapt their instruction to meet the needs of their students. It assumes teachers are inherently intelligent and capable as opposed to lazy and incompetent. It pushes the educator to constantly change and grow as not only a teacher, but a learner as well.

The most interesting thing to me about these two days was the number of attendees and their enthusiasm. It was spring break, they were not being paid, but these teachers were so excited for the opportunity to be trained in an approach to teaching that requires all that is right with education and ignores the accepted, but ineffective norms.  The teacher trainers that were at the training helping Growing Educators were teachers from my school. All amazing women, and all incredible teachers. They lead us less experienced teachers through the writing curriculum with expertise and passion. Three of the four leaders are waiting to hear if their RIF notices will be rescinded. Here they are, some of the best our profession has to offer and they too were let go. Despite this, they were at training on their vacation  helping other teachers. This selflessness amazed me. They don't act in their own interest, but in the interest of the greater good. They were there to help teachers better teach kids. Amazing.

As many employees of LAUSD wait to hear what the district and union are able to negotiate in regards to concessions to save jobs I hope this attitude of selflessness spreads. While it would be difficult to take 12 furlough days (which is what is currently on the table) it would save jobs, it would keep classes smaller, and that would help kids. I hope teachers are able to see beyond their own best interest and do not take this opportunity to stand up to the district. No one wants furloughs, no one wants a pay cut, but no one wants to be fired either. Imagine a world where teachers set the example of sacrifice for the greater good. Maybe our students would learn this important lesson and implement it in their own lives. Clearly the people running the government or corporations today never learned this. Maybe future generations just need a teacher to show them. The question is will there be any teachers left to do just that?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Day 15: Reach out to a teacher

       This is the time of year that for many teachers we really begin to question our impact. Testing is coming, layoffs are pending, "value added" scores are being made public. I know that I have touched many children's lives and improved them for the better, as have many teachers, but it is this time of year that makes me most question why I do what I do.  So today a ask a favor of anyone who takes the time to read this. If you have ever had a teacher that has touched your life, helped you become a better person, made you grow as a human being, or was even just there for you when you needed someone to listen, please call them, write them, email them.  Reach out to these people who touched your life and thank them. Tell them that they mattered in your life.  It will take a mere moment out of your life, but will mean the world in theirs.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Day 14: Defend one's job or prepare the kids?


~A good teacher is like a candle -it consumes itself to light the way for others.

     Teachers in the LAUSD that have been recently laid off will find themselves in an interesting conundrum soon.  Do they attend the official hearing where they will be given the opportunity to defend their layoff, or do they go to work and teach the students and help prepare them for the all important CST (California Standards Test). Not only does this test solely determine a students achievement in our educational system, but it also singularly determines the teacher's "value added" score that he LA Times now so publicly releases each year? Do they defend themselves and their job only to leave their students a few short days before the all important test?

      So let's just say that a teacher attends the hearing (which could take multiple days, no guarantee of timeliness) they could be out of the classroom for valuable hours just days before the test their students have been preparing for all year. This could not only negatively impact their students' scores, but also their own "value added" score which is currently the only quantitative measure of a teacher's effectiveness. Therefore, even if the teacher has a job next year, they could be labeled as an even less effective teacher. These are the moments that you just have to take a breath, count backwards from ten, shake your head, and ask how in the world did our educational system get here? More importantly how do we get back out?

Monday, April 11, 2011

Day 13: "Value added" Strikes Again

Ahh the spring time: warmer weather, birds singing, layoff notices, and "value added" scores of teachers in LAUSD are again released. What a joyful time of year.
Another year with a less than good value added score for me. So according to the LA Times I add no value to my students during the year. The Times has explanations for questions about the "value added" system. According to them it is accurate, so then I must clearly be an ineffective teacher, and perhaps my layoff notice really is a benefit to our educational system. Each teacher gets a chance to write a response to their "value added" score. Below is my response to the LA Times.
I have five years of scores considered in this "value added" system. I concede that is is likely that I was not highly effective my first year or two. I do however know that my third and forth year of teaching over fifty percent of my students test scores increased or remained proficient or advanced. How do I know this you ask? I saw the scores. Maybe this is not enough to be highly effective according to the LA Times but it sure was effective for those children. In addition, I know the Times claims that there is no need to control for race or socioeconomic status, but a 2010 Study conducted by Stanford University and Berkley said differently. It claimed that the races of the children in the "value added" scores could effect the overall effectiveness rating. My career began at a school where 100% of the students were socioeconomically disadvantaged and all minorities, and I'm sorry Times, but no matter what you claim, that does matter. Finally, last year I began with a fourth and fifth grade combination class, by November I was renormed into a substitute position and then in January given a class of the school's 22 lowest scoring FBB students as an intervention. I worked with them until May when I left for maternity leave and the students tested with another teacher. I don't even know which group of children that I taught last year is even included in my "value added" score. Whichever children it was did not receive my instruction for more than three months in total, but I have their test scores to exclusively represent my test scores and effectiveness as an educator. How do you control for that Times? Do you even consider such factors? 
At the end of the day, you can keep printing "value added" scores. You can even contend that they define a teacher, however those of us that actually work in a classroom everyday know that simply cannot accurately represent our effectiveness. I know people want data, and statistics, and numbers to crunch. However, your "value added" system does not define me as a teacher nor as a human being. It does not define my enthusiasm, my knowledge of pedagogy, my intellect, or my love for my students. Finally, I know it does not accurately determine how "effective" I am in the classroom and nothing the the LA Times has to say will change that. Please LA Times come visit sometime, or would that be too much trouble?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Day 12: Nuttin but Stringz

Last night Ryan and I attended the Catalina Ball out on Catalina Island.  We were fortunate to attend a reception on Mt. Ida at the Wrigley Mansion, and then the ball itself held in the famed Catalina Casino. The events were beautiful and we had a wonderful time. The ball is an annual event held by the Catalina Nature Conservancy to raise money to support their preservation work around the island.

The highlight of the evening came about halfway through the program. Music began playing and two young black men entered playing violins.  If you ever watched season three of America's Got Talent you may have recognized the young gentlemen as Tourie and Damien Escobar.  These two violinist were born in Jamaica, found music at the ages of seven and eight and used this art to avoid the trouble in the streets surrounding their childhoods that befell many of their peers. They later studied music at Julliard and then remained in New York trying to catch a break.  Ultimately they did just that and last night I was fortunate enough to see them perform live.  As they played in one of the largest ballrooms in the country, to an audience whose median age was probably around sixty five, there was an amazing amount of enthusiasm.  The audience joined them on the ballroom floor and clapped and danced along with this violin meets hip hop performance. If you have never heard or seen the group it is worth a minute to check them out. Their website is

This performance made me again realize the importance of arts education for our children. What an amazing journey these two young men have had, and their success has come playing instruments that are often not associated with young men of color growing up in rough neighborhoods. In their case, music took them to a place that was unlikely for them without it. As budget talks continue I wish that the people making the hard decisions would take a look at the story of the Escobar brothers.  In their case music was a way out and a way up.  We have many children living in the inner city looking for the same type of escape and as we continue to cut funding for our schools there are less opportunities for many children to learn the skills that may just be their one big chance.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Day 11: food poisoning

So I spent all day today home sick with food poisoning. That being said I did not have much time to blog. My only thoughts for today are excitement that a government shutdown has been prevented. This gives me hope that maybe other legislators will be able to reach compromises to limit the serious impact the current fiscal crisis will have on education and out children. So tonight I go to bed with hope.