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.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Day 10: Let's just turn it over to the kids already

So today I had students settle an argument without name calling, all look at the speaker and listen while they were talking, start a sentence with that was an interesting idea but I disagree with you, and finally discover the importance of not judging someone based on blanket unfounded generalizations.

If my seven, eight, and nine year old students can handle this than why can't the people running this country? I am so tired of grownups behaving like children and throwing tantrums to get their way. Life is about compromise. We can't always get our way. How did these guys miss that lesson in kindergarten and every year since?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Day 9: Quick fix now, but we'll pay later

Today an LA Times article discusses the dropping number of students enrolling in college coursework to become teachers. Can you blame them? In the article titled Today's Teacher Layoffs Threaten Tomorrow's College Classroom, Larry Gordon explores the ever decreasing enrollment in the education departments in the state's universities.  The number of teaching credentials given out in the state has dropped 29% during the last 5 years. In addition to the increasing requirements to become a teacher, (mentioned in yesterday's blog) the continual job uncertainty and perceived stress surrounding teaching is causing people who would otherwise like to join the profession to reconsider.

You may be thinking what's the big deal? If less people become teachers then there won't be layoffs in the future. Problem solved right? Actually, not quite. One problem is that many teachers that are baby boomers are on the brink of retirement. They will soon need replacements. A second problem is that according to a study by the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning, a Santa Cruz based nonprofit, the number of elementary students in the state will increase 7% by 2018 and high school enrollment will begin to increase again in 2016. So there will be a need for teachers, but after all the layoffs leading to people leaving the profession and the decrease in enrollment in the education departments at many universities, this need will potentially lead to an era of emergency credentials given to anyone willing to teach who has a college degree. So much for highly trained and prepared teachers we have been demanding for the last decade.

It was twenty years ago when there was the last shortage of teachers just like this in California. Many people were recruited from the private sector and out of state to fill the need.  However, as we continue to demoralize the educators already working within this profession how can we expect other professionals in their right minds to willing choose to enter the fray?  Without them who's going to teach the state's children?

Without trained teachers in classrooms it would not be far fetched to imagine that student performance is likely to further decline. Then, as these students progress through the grades we can count on producing less and less students prepared to move on to a university. So as we create a state with far too few teachers to adequately serve the state's students we are simultaneously disabling the future success of the state's students and therefore the state.  By creating a large class of citizenry without college educations we are continuing the growth of the state's population that is increasingly seen as unemployable. In the April 3 NPR story Measuring Joblessness Through an Educational Lens, Zoe Chance describes an economic recovery in which people with college degrees are beginning to find work, but those without one cannot. College educations are becoming more and more of a necessity for our children's future employment success. Unfortunately, at the same time that a college education is proving increasingly important, money is being cut from these institutions and teacher's are being laid off as a quick budgetary fix with no real concern for the long lasting impact this will have on the state's future workforce or productivity. 

The implications of the current situation are fairly clear. The number of students in this state is increasing. The number of people to teach them is decreasing. People without college educations are having a difficult time getting jobs. What is it about this equation that is difficult for our legislators to understand? How can this state create an effective, productive workforce of people in the future if it cannot see the benefit in investing in the people necessary to teach them now?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Day 8: New textbooks will teach students without teachers

LAUSD is about to adopt a new reading language arts program. Macmillan/McGraw Hill's Treasures was selected. Congratulations!  So long Open Court.  It has been an adventure. While this new program is not a scripted basal reading program, as far as I understand it, it is still a complete reading and writing curriculum leaving little room for teacher discretion or adaptation of instruction.  In short, this means little need for a teacher to think.  In addition to this new text book adoption, LAUSD is also working hard to implement DIBELS.  This is considered a fast easy assessment teachers are expected to use to gain information about their students' reading needs.

What I am interested in knowing is if the district feels like teachers need "fast and easy" curriculum and assessments to effectively teach out students, why do teachers have to receive so much training before they join the profession?

For you non-teachers (in case anyone reads this blog) becoming a teacher is not as easy as the main stream media reports and public perception of teachers would make you think.  Anyone who has been in the profession for less than ten years has had a particularly large amount of requirements to meet prior to ever being offered a credential. Let's just say for fun that someone wanted to become a teacher (by the way this would not be a good time to try to go into this particular profession).  First you would need a bachelors degree. That's pretty standard for employment these days. Then after the BA you enter your credential classes.  To finish this credential process you must finish what are called Teaching Performance Assessments.  There are four of them. They are time consuming and elaborate projects that demonstrate "proficiency in teaching".  While completing your coursework you simultaneously must pass the California Subjects Examination for Teachers (CSET). If you will be an elementary teacher this covers all subjects.  There is also the Reading Instruction Competence Assessment (RICA). This test is given to all teachers whose credential will cover reading.  If all tests are passed, the assessments are completed, and your degree is finished then you complete a stint as a student teacher (unpaid).  Then, finally you can join the profession.

I do not argue with these requirements. I think they are valid and necessary. If one is going to be responsible for the instruction of our children they should have to demonstrate a certain breadth of knowledge and general intellect. However, if I am going to complete all these tasks clearly I have demonstrated my competence in the classroom and with the curriculum I am expected to teach. So let me teach. Don't throw quick fixes and easy curriculum my way.  If the district that employees teachers doesn't respect their competence by allowing them to teach the curriculum that meets their student's needs the way the think is best then it is a clear sign that the district does not respect nor value the intellect of its teachers. If the district that employees these teachers cannot give this respect how can society be expected to do so?

If we want education to be more effective than it is time to stop counting on a textbook, or an assessment, or a program to teach our children. It is time we trust the professionals who have been specifically trained with the skills to teach. It is time we trust the teachers. We're not as incapable as you might think. 

Monday, April 4, 2011

Day 7: Let there be paint

Today my students and I were lucky enough to receive a program called Art to Grow On.  We are lucky and have parent volunteers that put on this program for our students four times a year. This is not your traditional cut and paste art program. Previously this year we made sculptures out of recycled garbage and the children were taught about the pacific trash gyre (otherwise known as a trash heap the size of Texas in the Pacific Ocean.  At the second program the students learned how to mix primary colors to make secondary colors and to mix secondary colors to make tertiary colors. In addition, they learned how to make tints or shades of colors using black or white paint.  The programs were fantastic, but watching my students complete today's project was amazing.

Today the students were shown the art of painter George Rodrigue.  His is well known for his blue dog paintings. The students then learned how to grid a canvas in order to replicate a print by first sketching and then covering the sketch with acrylic paint. The created amazing acrylic painting on canvas. My seven, eight, and nine year olds created art that was simply extraordinary.  For the entire program the children were smiling. They were engaged in their work and so engrossed in what they were creating. It was one of those moments that one really appreciates being a teacher. Maybe we weren't preparing for "the test".  Maybe we weren't working through one of your "traditional school subjects" but we were learning and sometimes that in itself is simply enough.

Days like today I remember why I became a teacher in the first place. First and foremost, I believe in the education of the whole person.  I know that each child, or person for that matter, has unique skills and talents and sometimes those talents are not reading, writing, or math. There is a place in the world for artists. What would the world be without them? What would we read, what would we watch, what would we listen to, what would we enjoy? Today some of my students learned that art was a passion of theirs. As educators it is our job to not only support the talents we find meaningful, but also those that our children seek to explore.  I understand that this program is not in every school, but there are parents and organizations that are willing to support these types of programs if we seek them out. I know that the schools are in trouble financially. I understand this fact. However, I also understand that an education without some exposure to the arts in as injustice to our students. Many of our most creative thinkers are never given the opportunity to explore their potential. Art is good for the brain, it is good for the soul, it is good for our students.

Somewhere along the way our system of education has lost focus. We are so centered on test scores that we have forgotten how important it is to nurture the creativity that is inherit within us all.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Day 6: Some thoughts my dad would want you to know

Today is my dad's 61st birthday. So today I write in his honor. I am confident he shares my thoughts on this topic so I will be short and sweet just like him.

This morning On CBS Sunday Morning they shared a few statistics from a USA Today study that alarmed but sadly did not shock me. In 2010 the median salary of the CEOs of the top 150 companies was 8.6 million dollars. That does include benefits, bonuses, and stock options. This was a 22% increase from the previous year.  Major league baseball's median salary for the same year was 3.3 million dollars. This is only a mere 1% increase form the previous year. Alex Rodriguez's salary alone was 32 million dollars. That is almost 3 million dollars a month.

I am not asking to make the compensation of these CEO's or professional athletes. There jobs are clearly valuable, way more valuable than that of the people teaching our children.  In all honesty, I would never expect or ask for that much money. I don't feel that I deserve it.  So I guess that leaves me with the question does any one person really deserve to be paid that much money for any profession? My dad and I don't think so.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Day 5: Bubblefest: Hands on Learning a Thing of the Past

Today we took Reef to The Discovery Science Center in Santa Ana, CA. We attended an event called Bubblefest.  This is the fifteenth year that the center has had the event. We watched Fan Yang, an internationally renowned bubble artist, (who knew that existed) perform an amazing show full of bubbles, lasers, and smoke. It was amazing! We ended the trip with a family picture taken in a bubble. Not some fake mock up of a bubble, but a man literally blew a giant bubble around us. The trip was amazing. I was engaged, excited, and amazed throughout the entire experience. On the drive home today's trip got me thinking.

The Discovery Science Center is amazing, but fairly expensive. An adult ticket is around $13 and that does not include special programs such as Bubblefest. A children's ticket costs around $9. So for a family of four you're looking at $44 dollars just for entry. The trip is well worth the money, but that amount of money is not really reasonable for many families, especially during this time of financial uncertainty. In the past, many families counted on trips to places like The Discovery Science Center to be part of a child's school experience as the center and many other facilities offer free admission for schools. However, in the current era of school budget shortfalls field trips are becoming a thing of the past. Even if a facility offers free admission, the bus is often too expensive for the school to send classes on trips.  This is a shame because I know many of us remember field trips taken in school as some of our fondest memories and greatest learning experiences.  For children who come from families that can do these type of trips independently maybe the loss is not so great, but for our most at risk students the loss of these trips is stealing an experience from them that they are unlikely to receive any other way. They will not know these places exist and it will never offer to them the engaging learning experience that a field trip can offer.

I know that our educational system if facing bigger problems than field trips. Right now they can't even afford teachers.  Still I feel like these hands on learning experiences are an important component of education and I am sad to see them disappearing. This morning I saw parents and children alike with looks of awe and glee on their faces as Fan Yang created a mystical bubble world before our eyes. I was one of them. The sense of wonder and imagination is fragile in our children and any opportunity that we educators have to foster these ideas in them is valuable. However, it is just one more thing that is being cut from schools, and it is likely that it is our children that will pay the ultimate price. 

Friday, April 1, 2011

Day 4: Hedging the future on the backs of public employees

As Reef and I drove around today, I had a day off thanks to what I can only assume was one of my furlough days, we listened to NPR and from that we heard a topic we just couldn't ignore...

Today on Air Talk Larry Mantle was discussing Governor Brown's plan to negotiate pension reforms with the state's public employees. These pensions must be negotiated because the state cannot afford to make the payouts to employees that would be required down the road. Many Republicans would argue that this due to the fact that unions have been greedy and negotiated unreasonable pensions over the last decade, but it is really mostly due to the fact that the pension money of the employees was poorly invested in what was seen as an unsinkable stock market that then sank. I'm sure someone will eventually find a way to link the collapse of the stock market to public employees as well but they just haven't been able to connect the dots as of yet. Most problems with the economy these days are our fault it seems. No one would want to blame bankers or executives working in the private sector. They never cost the government any money.

The financial situation of the states, and the federal government for that matter, can't have anything to do with the fact that companies like GE make billions of dollars in profits each year and pay nothing, I repeat nothing, in taxes. It certainly couldn't have anything to do with the hedge fund managers that find themselves listed on the "rich list". This a list of the top 25 hedge fund managers in 2010 who personally pocketed over 22 billion dollars collectively over the last year. This is not their company profits, but their personal earnings. The gentleman who was number one on the list made over 4 billion dollars for himself last year.

I am not trying to begrudge these people the money they apparently earn each year. Good career choice I suppose. My point is simply that perhaps starting our search for a place to begin cuts to help the financial solvency issues facing our country is not with the public employees. Maybe it isn't the teachers, police officers, firemen, or government office employees that are taking home so much money and benefits that the county is unable to support their lavish lifestyles.

Who am I though? I'm just one of those greedy public employees whose salary and benefits are so expensive that they have to be let go. Does anyone know a good hedge fund that is hiring?

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Day 3: Today I choose happy

This morning I decided to choose happy...

I could read the newspaper any day lately and see something depressing about education. I could be unhappy about the fact that there will probably not be ballot initiative on a June ballot to extend tax increases that would help ease the impact of the fiscal crisis on our schools. Or perhaps I could be upset by the fact that Florida's assembly just passed a law that makes value added (see yesterday's entry) account for fifty percent of teacher evaluations. I am not going to worry about these problems today because today I choose happy.

Sometimes I need to remind myself that happy is a choice.  I read from the book Sideways Stories From Wayside School to my students today.  In the chapter we read the character D.J. is asked why he is always smiling and he says, "'You need a reason to be sad. You don't need a reason to be happy'''(pg. 66). While some may argue losing a job is a reason to be sad, in the grand scheme of things it just really isn't that important. 

I have been so blessed this year. I had the opportunity to teach at a fantastic school with incredibly intelligent, hard working, and dedicated colleagues.  I learned more this year at Park Western than any other time in my career. I have been forever changed as an educator and a person, and if my time here is really over than I will always value the short time I had.  Few teachers have been so lucky.

More importantly than that, I have an amazing family and friends. They never cease to amaze me with their love, compassion, and fortitude.  I am in awe of them. I have an incredible husband.  He is the light of my life and the thought of him alone makes me smile.  Then, there is my amazing little boy. His grand entrance into our lives last June was the greatest blessing I could ever receive.  If I achieve nothing else in my life, I will still feel complete because my incredible little boy has changed my life forever.  He is the center our universe and rules our hearts.

So today I choose happy.  That doesn't mean that I give up on trying to draw attention to the injustices and problems that face our educational system and will ultimately hinder our children. However, today I just wanted to remind myself to keep some perspective and be thankful every moment for the bountiful blessings in my life.  Today a pink slip just doesn't seem that important. Today I choose happy.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Day 2: Adding "value" at a price

I was inspired this morning by an article in the L.A. Times given to me by a colleague...

Imagine for a moment that you wake up at five-thirty every morning and drive to work. You work with about thirty clients for six to seven hours on a variety of projects.  After work you take projects home to guide your plans for the clients the following day.  You repeat this process for nine to ten months of the year. Then, your clients are given four to five days to complete a project independently. If they do well on the project then you keep your job or get a raise, if they do poorly than you lose your job or are penalized.  None of the work you did the rest of the year matters. All that your boss looks at is the project completed by your clients on those four or five days. Maybe they didn't sleep the night before, maybe they had a fight with their family, or maybe they just didn't care about the project.  None of those facts matter.  If they didn't complete the task they way your boss wanted then you fail.

One last thing, the clients are between the ages of seven and eighteen. Would you want their work from four or five days of their life to be singularly weighed as the "value" you offer as an employee?  This is the fate that soon awaits teachers.  Gone are days where the focus of education is on the education of the whole person or teaching life, communication, or social skills.  Students' success on one test will determine a teacher's success or failure.

This is value added in a nutshell: a teacher's ability to increase a child's performance on one test in one year compared against the student's peers is the "value" added to the child.  If the child's performance on the test falls compared to that of their peers than the teacher decreased the child's "value". Districts want this "value added" data to drive decisions about teacher retention and pay.

Teachers should be held accountable for the success and failures of their students, but this type of measurement is wrong-minded.  Any type of system that doesn't assume inherent "value" in our children for more than just a test sore should cause parents to cry foul.  I know that I don't want my son's "value" to be determined by how he did on one test for just a few days of the year. Academic performance should be measured, but it should not be the only measure, and it should certainly not be the criteria for determining the value of our children. Yet, this is the way education is heading.  A child's sole value to society is their performance on one test, and the solitary measure of an educator is their ability to make a child achieve on that one test. Wow!

Despite this trend, teachers still show up to work. They don't only show up, but they dedicate their lives to the students they serve working nights and weekends, and spending their own money to make up for continually declining budgets.  However, with all they have to face today who knows how long we will continue to show up. Fifty percent of teachers leave the profession the first five years. Society often discusses teachers as the low end of a college graduating class who couldn't find anything else to do ( I can vouch for myself and many other teachers who graduated in the top percent of their graduating classes). With all they have to face who do you expect to attract to this profession upon which the success of our future generations depends?

So lets say a teacher sticks it out and they don't give in to the stress and make it past five years. They hone their craft. They continue to develop as a professional educator. They collaborate with their colleagues. They obtain advanced degrees. They touch children's lives and teach them to think and laugh and to appreciate their education.  They add "value" to society, not the kind measured by a test but the kind measured by their impact on the lives of the children they inspire and empower.  After all that they get a pink slip.

Maybe its time we all start to rethink out definition of "value".

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Day 1: Laying off teachers hurts kids

As a teacher fresh off her third pink slip in as many years, I decided for my own sanity it was time to blog. There are so many feeling and ideas that I want to share that it is hard to stick to just one at a time, but I will try to stay focused. 

Today I was in a training at my current school site, Park Western. As I sat there with my colleagues watching another teacher lead the students through a shared experience it hit me again what a special place I was blessed to teach at this year. Last year at this time I was devestated to be pink slipped and later displaced from my first school in LAUSD, South Park. The teachers, students, and staff are amazing there and their school is being ravaged by the latest group of pink slips as well.  It is a scary thought when we offer our children uncertain educations with increasingly large classes and fewer services. 

This year I received my pink slip as a teacher at Park Western Place. Here at Park Western over fifty percent of the teachers were let go. Losing teachers at any school in any district will affect the effectiveness of education the children receive, but here at Park Western it is even more dramatic because the teachers at this school have received specialized training and professional development over the last fourteen years and teach an individualized curriculum. Cleary it has worked.  The school has gone from the list of 100 worst schools in California 14 years ago to one of the top ten preforming schools in the district.  With an API of 949 the school has made dramatic gains that are now at risk because of teacher layoffs, my layoff, my colleagues' layoffs. 

The scores at this school did not increase so dramatically because the school was lucky. It was hard work, dedication, educated, and experienced teachers doing their jobs. However, if you read about teachers in the news these days we are pegged as lazy employees who work short hours, have summers off, and are bankrupting the government with our "fancy"pensions. (Interesting how we are bankrupting the system not GE who made 5 billion dollars in profits last year but didn't pay a cent in taxes). 

So much for staying focused...Anyhow I guess my point for today is there are places that education is working. However, without help from the public to gain support for our schools even the bright spots in what can often be a bleak educational system will be extinguished. In addition, every year we tell our teachers over and over that you are no longer valued by giving them a pink slip thier fire dims a little too. I know my fire is dimming and despite how much I love my job I just don't know if I can continue to take the blows year after year no mutter how much I believe in my profession, value it, and see it as a true vocation. 

How do we teach our children to value education when all signs point to the fact that society does not?