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?