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10 posts from March 2012

Tamara | | March 31, 2012

Mission Impossible


By Tamara

Here is your three part challenge should you choose to accept it: 1.) Demonstrate your proficiency as a teacher measured in part by MSP/HSPE scores, 2.) Mentor a student teacher so they may start their career at a point of proficiency, 3.) Remember those tests? MSP and HSPE? Make sure your students pass them.

In light of a new position I recently started and conversations about whose class to place my own child in next year, I have been ruminating about the three way raw deal this “mission impossible” presents. How should we shepherd new entrants into the profession given the current climate of high stakes testing and teacher evaluation tied to said tests? No matter how knowledgeable of content and pedagogy, no matter how energetic and committed, a student teacher by definition presents inconsistency in instruction. In spite of the fact we have all been there, in spite of the fact no one can step into teaching with any hope of success without at least minimal “in front of the class” experience, how many of us are going to continue to be willing to take on student teachers? Especially in the spring, when our names, our evaluations, our jobs are tied to a test someone else is preparing our students for? And what about those fresh faces who bring talent, energy, and optimism? How are they to get the experience they need to become successful teachers? Then there are the students. Kids need consistency and firm boundaries on multiple levels to feel secure enough to take the intellectual risks required for growth. The first grade classroom I am considering for my son will transition between the master teacher (fabulous known commodity) and at least two student teachers (who will likely be great). Dynamic? Yes. Consistent? In fits and starts. Is that set up really in students’ best interests?

Rob | |

Benefit and Loss or The Opportunity Cost of Shifting Priorities


By Rob

Sometime ago the teachers in my district decided to extend our school day four days a week so it could be shortened on Wednesday. 

This was a benefit to teachers. Wednesday was a day for collaboration and planning.  My team of second grade teachers had a standing meeting on Wednesdays.  We planned curriculum, and designated responsibilities.  We consulted our ESL teacher and literacy facilitator. We graded collaboratively.  We learned from sharing successes and failings.

Travis Wittwer | | March 25, 2012

What Are We Teaching Our Teachers?


Picture 3By Travis

Education is a fascinating field in which to work. In addition to the joy and interest that students bring with them each period, I find our educational system fascinating. This system can be observed, and analyzed, as if it were an animal, a personality, and in many cases, a machine.

Suzy is a teacher. This is not her real name. In fact, it may not be the correct gender. However, for this tale, I will use Suzy. It is the name I use with all of my writing that I do with my students. Suzy is not the name, but the person is real.

Suzy is a teacher who works in a large school within a large school district. Recently Suzy learned something about how the education system works, or more to the point … Suzy was taught something that I find appalling.

Mark Gardner | Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy, Games, Life in the Classroom, Social Issues, Teacher Leadership | March 19, 2012

When I'm Happiest


File5971332208838By Mark

Everyone has probably heard about, or actually read, the New York Times website article that discussed the supposed downward spiral of teacher morale. It highlighted how teachers working in struggling schools had the lowest morale, and the teachers with greater satisfaction tended to have "more opportunities for professional development, more time to prepare their lessons and greater parental involvement in their schools."

Travis recently shared his one cent about how morale can easily crumble in our present atmosphere. Tamara shared some thought provoking questions, too. And Tom found himself indigo and then entered stage five.  

In my meetings and phone calls and emails and faxes (yep, faxes) with legislators the last few weeks, I've found myself repeating the phrase that I feel like I have "a target on my back and the blame for all society's ills on my shoulders." In quiet moments in the car or after my kids are in bed, I too have thought about what other jobs I could apply for.

But the next day, I walk into my classroom, close the door on it all, turn to face them and breathe a sigh of relief.

Tom | | March 18, 2012

Stage Five: Acceptance


Elisabeth-Kübler-RossBy Tom

There has been a fundamental shift in the teaching profession over the last ten years or so. Previously, the focus was mostly on what the adults did. Now the focus is primarily on what the students are doing. Ten years ago, teachers went to college, entered schools of education, took the classes, passed the tests, got jobs, went to workshops, and generally did what they were supposed to do. Nowadays, it doesn’t much matter whether or not you went to a school of education. Nor does it matter whether you go to any workshops. What matters now are results: measurable indications of student learning. Everything else is just…everything else.

Like most teachers, I had trouble adjusting to this change. I was in denial. When No Child Left Behind passed I chalked it up to something ridiculous coming out of a Republican administration. It would soon blow over, letting us go back to doing what we did before. I denied the fact that it was actually a bipartisan bill, supported by many lawmakers who had traditionally been strong backers of teachers and their unions. “This is Bush’s law,” I thought, “and as soon as he’s gone, it’ll go away.”

But Bush is gone and NCLB isn’t. Not only that, but the new administration, the one the teachers’ union helped elect, came in with a vision of public education that is just as focused on student learning as the previous administration. If not more so.

CSTP--Staff | | March 16, 2012

Math & the Common Core - glimmers of hope?


By Ginger, Guest Blogger


In the current state of the world, it can be far too easy to focus on the troubles and dangers that beset K-12 education and be drained of energy by that bleak viewing. It was therefore a particular pleasure to me when at a recent conference of WaToToM (Washington Teachers of Teachers of Mathematics) a presentation on the Common Core State Standards (CCSS)[1] permitted me not one but two patches of optimism. In a general effort to spread the sunshine, I decided to present them here.


Tamara | | March 13, 2012

Hit Pause and Reset


By Tamara

I read somewhere (probably the NYT) recently that the "Great Recession" we are experiencing and the attending income equity gap are leading us to toward both a cultural and economic "Reset". Essentially we will hit bottom both culturally and economically and then collectively decide how we are going to redefine our values and norms as a culture and society.

I think what we see happening in the two-pronged debate regarding education reform and education funding is the canary in the coal mine. We want the the best we can get for the least possible cost. Maybe that can work for consumable goods or even in some cases cars and homes. But when you apply that principle to people, you only get diminishing returns. The product from the education system is people. Ideally, smart people, skilled people. People with both the ability and mores to go out and contribute to pulling our society out of our collective mess.

I was raised to understand that my education is the one and only investment no one can ever take away from me. What do you think legislature? Are you ready to hit pause and reset in the special session and make a lasting investment to benefit us all?

Tom | | March 11, 2012

Mood Indigo


ImagesCATDUPK1By Tom

According to a recent survey, teachers are unhappy. They’re more dissatisfied now than they’ve been at any time in the last twenty years.

Speaking for myself, I think it has to do with a certain coincidence. On the one hand, we’re feeling pressure from lawmakers and the business community to perform at a higher level; to increase student achievement across the board, regardless of student demographics. State legislatures - and the economists who inform them - have locked onto the fact that teacher quality is the most important factor in a child’s education: any child can learn, in any classroom, in any school, in any neighborhood, as long as they have a great teacher. With this mindset, school reform becomes a matter of passing rigorous teacher evaluation bills and simplifying the process of firing ineffective teachers.

On the other hand, the weak economy has meant budget cuts to education. Teacher salaries and in-class support have been reduced, while class sizes have gone up. The weak economy has also had an effect on the student populations that many of us serve. Over the last five years, my school’s free-and-reduced lunch rate has climbed from 30% to 50%.

In other words, we’re expected to do more with less; the perfect recipe for frustration, discouragement and dissatisfaction.

But so what? Who said we’re supposed to have it easy? Why shouldn’t we be expected to deliver a high-quality product for as low a cost as possible? I mean, from what I hear, things are tough all over. Why should education be the exception?

It shouldn’t. But at some point something has to give. You can't demand better and better results with less and less support.

And when the system begins to break down (if it hasn't already) guess where the first cracks will show up? To find out, you need to drill down about halfway into the report: “Teachers with low job satisfaction are more likely to teach in urban schools and in schools with larger proportions of minority students. Teachers likely to leave the profession are more likely than others to teach in schools with more than two-thirds minority students.”

In other words, our legislative squeeze play – demanding more for less – will ultimately hurt our most fragile students. It will hit them first and it will hit them hardest.

Me? I’ll be fine. I might gripe from time to time, but when the bell rings and the students walk in the door, I can put it aside and focus on my job. Don’t worry about me.

Worry instead about the students down the street. The poor students. The students who get a new faculty every five years because their frustrated and discouraged teachers give up and leave.

Travis Wittwer | Current Affairs, Education Policy, Teacher Leadership | March 8, 2012

My One Cent's Worth


By Travis

As I turned on my classroom lights this morning, I saw an envelope, sitting, in the middle of the floor. It was out of place. I paused as I picked it up, wondering. Someone had slipped the envelope under my door late last night (I left school at 6 pm) or the did so early this morning (I arrived at 7 am). 

Doc - Mar 7, 2012 1-18 PM

The note was from a former student. As I read, I was torn between the emotional beauty of being a teacher, and the sad reality of how Washington State views its teachers. I believe this is a feeling many teachers have had recently.

Mark Gardner | | March 6, 2012

They Need to Hear Us.



As teacher of literature, I'm always excited when kids realize it's not what it says it is about.

The current budget for the State of Washington, as presently in the Senate, is a good example.

It isn't about teachers losing pay they've earned. It isn't about "everyone has to take a hit" (mine, by the way, will be a 12% pay cut, at least, if budget tides don't turn).

It isn't about streamlining government with a new health care package.

Like most of literature, it is about power. And responsibility. 

And what happens when somebody cares more about one of those than the other. 

If you don't know what I'm talking about, check out WEA's homepage.

Make your voice heard. Re-write this story.

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