Tag Archives: education

Vol.#43: Literacy Data

countsSeveral years ago, an ELA colleague and I were presenting writing strategies to another middle school’s PLTs. The IRT’s office was in the PLT meeting room, and during a break between our sessions she remarked how she always had math teachers coming in to scan the results of their County required standardized test benchmarks immediately. However, she always had to chase down the language arts teachers to “make” them scan the bubble cards for the data. They’d given the test as required, just not scanned the cards for the results. She asked us what to do about it, and we sheepishly admitted we were often the same. Amazed, she asked… “Why?”

“Well, that data doesn’t really tell us anything we don’t already know.

Standardized data from the math benchmark practice tests tells our math teammates if students are struggling with decimals, or fractions, or two-step equations. In short, if students need more help…and if so, with which with specific skills.

The truth is…the data on these reading benchmarks tells us that since our AIG students score higher gifted readers must be better readers and our ESL students who are learning English don’t score as well on a test for…reading English.”

Image Credit: Pixabay User Websi
Image Credit: Pixabay User Websi

None of that is new information to any literacy teacher, and even if it were it doesn’t speak to how to shape his or her instruction. We are Data Rich, Information Poor. (D.R.I.P.) Analysis of that data does not help us see the path forward clearly for our students. Perhaps worse, it doesn’t necessarily even reflect the quality of instruction they’ve been given.

And while greater educational titans like Alfie Kohn have already explained  the many problems of relying on standardized data for, well, anything, it is my contention that using it to measure English Language Arts, both for measuring teachers and students, is an exceptionally erroneous practice.

Standardized testing by definition is supposed to be an “objective” assessment. However, subjective factors such as beliefs and values aren’t shouldn’t be separable from measuring literacy. While math is cut and dry (there is a right answer) interpretation of a literary work it not black and white. The students who can argue support for more than one of the four cookie-cutter answers – and do so in their heads during the test thereby often choosing the “wrong” one – are likely in reality the best readers. Disagreement on what an author meant by effective figurative language use or dissention in supporting different possible intended themes are not to be transcended in analysis and assessment of literature but embraced.

Am I missing some insight in interpreting formative standardized benchmark data? Is there some value here that I am overlooking? Please let me know in the comments!

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Vol.#42: Today’s Opinion on Tomorrow’s Walk-In

PatTomorrow is November 4th. About a month ago, I was handed this flyer by a colleague. What appeared originally to be a small group of teachers had gained momentum on social media sites and was calling for all teachers to participate in a walk out.

My issue with this plan was that this would not affect Governor McCrory nor the NC legislature. This would hurt my principal, my colleagues, and the students I teach. Governor McCrory’s day in the governor’s mansion would probably change very little.

However, I understood the teachers’ goal and frustration. We as a group are powerless, and those in power know this. This very fact shows this plan’s desperation.

“When educators consider actions that could result in reprimands or terminations, the message is clear: teachers are fed up. All educators would agree that we are sickened by what has happened to our schools.”

~Rodney Ellis, NCAE President

The weebly located on address on the flyer explains it’s now a “Walk In”.  NCAE and others are urging this so that teachers are in compliance with the law, and one board member in my county is quoted as very grateful, since finding any portion of subs for the 10,000 teachers in our county would have been an impossible task.

But some are still angry with teachers for proposing to do even this much, because  misinformation aside (it’s not during school hours), some feel teachers should simply shut up, take any treatment offered them, and teach. “If you don’t like it, why don’t you just quit?” they often sneer in the comments section.

We are. In droves.

I’ll be at my school tomorrow. Early. As usual. But parents like Ms. Douglass seem to be missing the fact that if the treatment of teachers in North Carolina isn’t changed very soon, it will be more than one day in November with no one left to teach her child.

TarHeelCrayon
Quote from: http://www.dailytarheel.com/article/2013/10/the-public-should-support-teachers-in-upcoming-walkout

Vol.#41: The White Flag [Guest Post]

Image credit: Pixabay user Goemedien

This week, four more teachers on my school’s staff announced that they are leaving the classroom for greener pastures. These losses are in addition to the language arts department chair’s letter to Governor McCrory, a colleague from another school, and my PLT-mate of almost a decade who has already left.

These opportunities are well-deserved and no one who remains in the classroom could fault anyone for taking them. However, each one is the loss of an educator who daily and directly touched the lives of students. Those of us left in the pragmatic and emotional wake of their departure feel stretched and strained. They each will be missed dearly.

One of these fallen fellow classroom warriors, Trishia Joy Lowe, wrote the following of her classroom departure and has graciously allowed me to share it here with you.

~          ~          ~          ~          ~          ~          ~          ~          ~          ~          ~          ~

Today, I leave what I have loved doing for nearly twenty years – teaching, NOT education, TEACHING. I put in my papers and am moving forward to a career in business as a Director in Growth and Public Relations.

It is bitter-sweet.

I loved the classroom when it was just My students, THEIR love of learning, and ME. That’s REAL, that’s AUTHENTIC, THAT IS ALIVE. I had an obligation to impart a passion for learning, not just grades. I took seriously my responsibility to build skills, ignite curiosity, and grow my students intellectually – to hold my students as accountable to their progress as I held myself – not merely to answer A-B-C-D or None of the Above.

However, too many outside factors have faded that beautiful reality, that “life all its own”, that love of learning in my students and in me. (Yes, I learned so much from those beautiful, honest little people).

Too many influences have robbed us of our ability to share freely, teach openly, assess each other honestly, and grow. Too many factors stand between me and my students as I teach – they have polluted what was once a pure process.

So, I’m waving the “White Flag”.
I surrender.
I leave.

white flag

As I tendered my own resignation, I learned two more outstanding North Carolina teachers are leaving the classroom in my building. How many more teachers need to leave NC schools before parents understand there are highly trained, highly educated, highly intelligent, highly committed professionals who stand before their children each day, pouring everything THEY’VE got into THEIR children?

How many more skilled teachers need to leave before administrators “get it” and allow the truly “best and brightest” the autonomy to teach passionately without fear? To assess honestly for the sake of a child’s REAL growth without questioning from administrators as to our “judgement”?

How many more NC teachers need to leave before legislators just leave the professionals alone to do what they do best—TEACH?

(And by the way: a pay raise commensurate with that professionalism might be nice.)

Teachers have and continue to “fight the good fight” despite legislators, who, in many instances, are less educated, and less committed to people than their own pockets. Teachers’ pockets were emptied long ago, but they continue to teach passionately and courageously while digging deeper into their emptying pockets to buy supplies for their students and their classrooms.

However, the camel’s back is breaking.
What happens when the camel finally wanders off for a better oasis?

I wonder, what our children will be left with?

Vol.#39: Dedication is not Delusion

I’ve taken the last few weeks off from blogging to reflect on teaching, the state of education, and my role in it. I wish I’d reflected more “publicly” in the way of more posts, but I doubt it to have made for good reading. I’ve been feeling all muddled up with the departure of colleagues and things feeling so grim.

My reflection came down to this simple question: Why do I teach?

I’ve decided to stop being so lost in my own thoughts and let this reflection be a public one as the subject of today’s post. It’s time.

That, and the band director at my school has vowed to not read any more of my posts until I have something positive to report…but I digress.

Five years ago, our staff completed Six-Word Memoirs on our experience as teachers. They were complied by the incomparable Paul Cancellieri who pens Scripted Spontaneity.  I couldn’t think of a more succinct yet powerful way to remember and summarize why we teach. Why we stay dedicated in the face of increasing adversity. Therefore, I revisited it recently and share it here in hopes it also resonates with you:

One of them (a colleague’s, not my own) inspired me to write the following, another window into my five-year-ago teacher-self:

Screen Shot 2013-01-10 at 11.14.10 AM

And then I realized something: one of the reasons I am so hurt is that it’s this dedication on which they are counting. Using. These people in power, whether simply clueless as to the damage they are doing or with insidious intentions, who are undermining our profession at every turn. Defunding it. Devaluing it. The ones forever saying “do more with less.” Who are essentially challenging: “What’ya gonna do…leave? Well, then you weren’t a dedicated teacher to start with, were you?”

The dedication is what they counted on to get away with it.

Let me be clear: They are unequivocally wrong. Yes, they will chase some amazingly talented educators out of the classroom. They already have. However, please don’t let them mistake our kindness for weakness, nor our dedication to teaching as acceptance of their poor treatment.

We must be as dedicated to teaching as a profession as we are to teaching as an act.

My Six-Word Memoir nowadays?

Fighting for students…outside classrooms, too.

What is YOUR Six-Word Memoir?

Vol.#37: The NC News Target

The North Carolina legislation’s actions are quite the target for national attention.

In an article titled, “NC Lawmakers Reckon With The Three Rs: Reading, Writing & (Tax) Reform“, Forbes discussed the recently approved NC tax plan:

“The sheer magnitude of the cuts will wipe nearly $700 million in tax revenue from the budget.”

The article goes on to explain how even those who are conservative and favor low taxes have grave concerns about how this tax plan will negatively impact schools. It’s a must-read.

Let’s see. What else? McCrory defended giving a pair of 24-year-old republicans on his campaign staff $45,500 more a year, meaning the pair is compensated to the tune of $172,500 annually. (This would buy 3.75 teachers a year at the $45,947 average salary in our state, which is $10,000 less than the national average.)  He states, “…that’s the pay rate for that job.”  Golly. *shrug*  What’s a governor to do?

WRAL wrote about how the Red for Ed movement is now extending into the classrooms. The website features a letter by Angie Panel Scioli, a Leesville Road High School Teacher, and a WRAL video about the Red for Ed movement, which asks that everyone wear red on Wednesdays in support of public education.

And if you don’t mind the salty language, Bill Maher also weighed in on what’s been going on in NC.

…as did The Daily Show.

And so, as I expect many experienced teachers may soon do, I recently priced my house on Zillow. Unfortunately, I learned it is worth only about $4,000 more than what we bought it for…over a decade ago.

*sigh*

So, I then channeled my frustration, anger, and disgust with the current state of affairs in my home state into yet another easel.ly project.

Enjoy.

TargetsTeachers
easel.ly

Vol.#35: Do NC teachers really deserve more money?

Click to go to video. Apologies that WordPress would not embed.
Click to go to the video. Apologies that WordPress would not embed.

Last week’s post got an insane amount of attention and was even featured in the news:

It surprised me, to say the least. I spent the week mediating, reading, and responding to more comments than “Teaching Speaks Volumes” has received in its entire year.

The 176 comments thus far mostly fall into three categories:

1. Passion and Experience    Passionate, dedicated educators (and some in college studying to be one) shared their experiences and articulated their frustrations. Also, those that understand our plight voiced support. It was clear that this post resonated with educators of all political walks, as I’d noted at the beginning of the post was holding true in the other discussions I was having. It’s worth the read – these comments were quite moving.

2. Political finger-pointing    “Gov McCrory has only been in office for less than 7 months. It’s not his fault”.

Ironically, I’d be willing to bet it was the same people who get angry when President Obama’s camp brings up George W who made sure to point out how short McCrory has been in office thus far.

*sigh*

Both “sides” can make claims about how the other “side” did such-and-so “before they got here”. As I tried to articulate in the post: I don’t care to argue who created what portion of what mess; I care about cleaning it up. Can we all get on the same “side” please? The one with the American citizens’ best interests? Politics right now is so into being on sides with “winners” that it is our society’s future and the children who are the “losers”. The blame game is not helpful. We are where we are. And where we are sucks. Let’s just fix it.

Gov. McCrory and the current legislation are the ones tasked with the care of our state now. We address them not because they are where it all started, but because they are where we need it to begin to end. It is my fervent hope that a better understanding of teachers’ current frustrations, both from the data in the infographic and from the experiences witnessed in comments by educators, could help them make better decisions than we have experienced thus far.

3. Accusations of Greed    “If you’re only doing it for the money, then go find the money. If you’re doing it because you like your job and you want to help kids, what are belly-aching for? They haven’t fired you, have they?” ~Actual commenter quote

Some comments provided excellent examples of the opinion pervasive in the public that makes this such an uphill battle for teachers: “If you really loved the kids, you wouldn’t be griping about money.”

It is this line of thinking that, while I can’t speak for all teachers, I personally find the most insulting and infuriating. It is as condescending as it is out-of-touch with the reality of our situation.

Wanting to serve the best interests of students doesn’t shouldn’t mean we have no right to be able to provide for our own families. We are not expecting to get rich from what we do. We are wanting a living wage. It is increasingly impossible to be a teacher and afford life’s basics. Some can’t afford basic care for their own kids. We are college graduates – this should not be a poverty-stricken job.

Just how rich are we not getting?

I close with my latest easel.ly infographic where I explored that very question:


easel.ly

Vol.#34: “Thank God For North Carolina”

I assume many of you saw the scathing editorial in the NY Times titled “The Decline of North Carolina” about the Moral Monday protests, or at least, the political decision-making fueling them. You may have also read Governor McCrory’s response in which he asserts the wisdom of the decisions. As with the protests, he dismisses the concerns.

However, he should be concerned.

Continue reading Vol.#34: “Thank God For North Carolina”

Vol.#33: A Fresh Year, A Fresh Perspective

bud
Image Credit: Pixabay user JamesDeMers

A new school year is budding: I teach in a multi-track year round school, and our students’ first day of school is tomorrow.  We both have wonderful staff members returning and are welcoming a large number of new staff members to our building. The faculty kick-off last week was truly exciting.

We have a very large staff, and we learned from a clicker session by our media specialist that we are almost exactly divided into thirds between Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Generation Y.

We viewed some funny & informative clips from speakers on generations in the workplace like Jason Dorsey and Cam Marlston like this and this, as well as looked at other information. Teachers were asked to reflect and discuss which parts pertained to them and which did not.  It all led to a really rich discussion of our staff, the strengths of each generation, and led to what it means in terms of technology and instruction.

We then shifted focus from who we are …to who we teach. 

Continue reading Vol.#33: A Fresh Year, A Fresh Perspective

Vol.#32: Help Navigating the Road to ELA Common Core

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Image Credit: Pixabay User “PublicDomainPictures”

It was about a year ago this very week when I started my journey with four other Kenan Fellows at DPI. My Kenan Fellowship last year was an amazing opportunity; one of tremendous growth in my teaching practice.

The culmination of our work together and our intensive study of the English Language Arts Common Core State Standards [ELA CCSS] is a library of resources which has been created and compiled in order to help other ELA educators to transition their own instruction to the demands of the newly adopted ELA CCSS. Continue reading Vol.#32: Help Navigating the Road to ELA Common Core

Vol.#31: Change, Change, Change (Change of Fools)

The NC legislature, which has sparked the weekly peaceful protests known as “Moral Monday“, named budget conferees last week. The first 17 people arrested back in April (out of the almost 500 arrests thus far) have had their hearings set for late September By the time the court is hearing their cases, traditional calendar school will be getting underway and year round school will be in its third month.

As they hash out the final budget negotiations, we await to hear which budget proposal the compromises will favor. Although in the past five years teachers’ salaries have been frozen and state funding for public schools has fallen by $170 million, right now the best we can hope in most cases for is to maintain this fairly miserable status quo. 

Screen Shot 2013-06-24 at 7.45.19 PMThe chart to the right was created by NCAE and can be viewed here with more details. The bold green text indicates which budget on an  issue NCAE prefers.

“No change”.

It’s not what one would expect to be hoping for, considering things are so dismal. Rodney Ellis (president of the N.C. Association of Educators) has been quoted as saying: Continue reading Vol.#31: Change, Change, Change (Change of Fools)