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9 posts from December 2012

Kristin | | December 31, 2012

Secrets of Teacher Satisfaction


Pie-chartBy Kristin    

Goodbye, 2012.  I don't have much luck keeping challenging resolutions, particularly if they involve physical activity. Instead, I've settled into the routine of simply attempting to master the art of seeing the positive.

Last March, my fellow bloggers wrote a series of posts in response to a MetLife Survey that found teacher job satisfaction is down 15% since 2009.  The survey hit me at a funny time, because in my new school - the biggest middle school in Washington State, a place where buckets are in the hallway to catch leaks and my overhead projector was held together with duct tape - I was surrounded by teachers who were positive, who made choices that put kids first, and who were willing to quickly adapt their schedule and their approaches to try new things instead of saying, "What's the point?  We've been here before."  

What was their secret?  How were they so resilient?

Kristin | | December 21, 2012

The Worst Idea There Ever Was


158425155_jpg_CROP_rectangle3-largeBy Kristin

We're all trying to come to terms with the fact a young man shot his way through locked doors and used tiny bodies for target practice.  My mind goes so far, and then stops.

And I try, like any person, to think of possible ways to prevent this from happening.  I think of ways we can improve mental health care, ways we can entertain young people without letting them think killing is thrilling, and ways we can keep weapons whose only purpose is killing large numbers of human beings out of the hands of the untrained, the unfeeling, and the disconnected.  I try to think of ways to protect my own 6-year old first grader, whose body, when I look at it, doesn't seem to have enough real estate to sustain eleven bullets from an assault rifle.

But the solution proposed by the NRA, to put armed guards at schools, is the absolute worst solution I've heard of.

Mark Gardner | Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy, Social Issues |

Failing at Education Funding


The McCleary ruling, which established that the Washington legislature was not adequately funding public education, is popping up in the news again. When the ruling was first issued at the Washington State Supreme Court ordered the legislature to remedy the ed funding debacle, I worried that it was just lip service with no teeth

Recent news makes me optimistic that people are paying attention, though my worries still persist. The 2018 deadline is now a year closer than it was when first established, and it is hard to really point at "progress." The court has now said that it wants "yearly reports that 'demonstrate steady progress.'" (Sound familiar?) See the latter part of this article for a "clarification" about what this expectation from the courts might mean, and here's the link to the actual Supreme Court Order dated 20 December 2012. I particularly like this paragraph from page three of the court order:

In education, student progress is measured by yearly benchmarks according to essential academic goals and requirements. The State should expect no less of itself than of its students. Requiring the legislature to meet periodic benchmarks does not interfere with its prerogative to enact the reforms it believes best serve Washington's education system. To the contrary, legislative benchmarks help guide judicial review. We cannot wait until "graduation" in 2018 to determine if the State has met minimum constitutional standards. 

I've learned to not read the comments under any online news report about teachers, education or policy--there's no dialogue there, and too often the perpetuation of incorrect information. I used to whack-a-mole the trolls, but it was futile. Perhaps StoriesfromSchool can be a place for reasoned and thoughtful discourse about this issue.

Tom | | December 16, 2012

The Flagpole


Flag-at-half-staff-smallBy Tom White

There’s a family at our school from the Ukraine. Each morning, the mom walks her five kids to our school, drops off the two oldest children at the flagpole and then walks back home with the three youngest. But before she leaves, she swings past my classroom to check on Alex. She looks through the window, catches his eye, and smiles. Then she waves to me and repeats the same procedure outside her other son’s room. She wants to make sure they made it safely into their classrooms. Later, when school’s over, she waits for her two oldest kids at the flagpole, and she smiles at me when she sees Alex. And I smile back.

The Ukrainian mom does not sign permission slips for her sons to go on field trips. She’s not comfortable with the idea of letting them leave the school, so she usually keeps them home on those days.

Last week, while I was collecting permission slips for an upcoming field trip, Alex asked to spend the day in his older brother’s classroom so that he wouldn’t have to stay home. I spoke with the other teacher to make the arrangements and we talked briefly about the family. We agreed that the Ukrainian mom was “over-protective.”

That’s right. We derisively called this wonderful mom “over-protective.”

This one got to me more than the others. Maybe it was the proximity to Christmas. Or maybe it was the age of the victims.

Or maybe this time we have to face the fact that we’re entirely unable to protect our most innocent and our most vulnerable from our most evil. And their weapons.

Like you, I’m supposed to go back to school tomorrow and talk to my students. I’m supposed to make them feel safe. I’m sure I’ll think of something. And we’ll get through the day, and then the week and then the year.

But I’ll tell you this: I have no idea what to say to the over-protective Ukrainian mom when I see her at the flagpole.

I’m not even sure I’ll be able to look her in the eye.


Maren Johnson | Education, Life in the Classroom, Science | December 13, 2012

Should I sharpen up my Teaching Points?


by Maren Johnson Sharp pencil

In my district, we adopted a new framework for teacher evaluation, UW CEL, and I learned a new phrase: Teaching point.  What's that, you ask?  Learning target, learning goal, performance expectation, lesson objective, power standard: while they each have an important nuance of meaning, they all refer to what students should understand or be able to do by the end of a certain period of time.

Posting those learning targets every day so they are visible to all?  Yeah, I've never done that, for a variety of reasons.  However, I have repeatedly heard that all three frameworks in our state are based on research, and hey, I want my students to learn, so when I read in our district’s framework rubric about daily posting as one possible way of communicating learning targets, I figured--I'm game, I'll give it a try—and I have been posting these in class for the last two weeks.

I shared what I was doing with a fellow teacher—and we had a very animated discussion (raised voices in the copy room!) about the pros and cons of posting learning targets and how this might or might not fit into teacher evaluation.  I will say I put some thought into how and when during my lessons I was going to post these targets and discuss them with the students.  I knew that for many lessons, about the last thing that would be helpful would be to have a posted learning target at the beginning of a lesson. 

Tom | | December 11, 2012

A Redundant, Illogical Waste of Money


Photo (3)By Tom White

The American Federation of Teachers (the other teachers’ union) recently came out with a proposal to have the National Board develop a pre-service evaluation for teachers. They believe that by testing prospective teachers before they enter the classroom, we can elevate the level of our nation’s teachers and thus improve student learning. For obvious reasons, the National Board (and by proxy, Pearson, Inc.) would be more than happy to develop – and sell – another pre-service evaluation. And they would probably do a pretty good job of it. For their part, the AFT wants this new test to “raise the bar,” giving induction into education the same status and complexity as induction into law. I disagree.

Mark Gardner | Assessment, Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy, Life in the Classroom, National Board Certification, Professional Development, Teacher Leadership | December 9, 2012

The Time to Do the Right Work


Ship in a bottleAs a writing teacher, one of my greatest struggles involves getting kids to understand the writing process. Writing can be frustrating, arduous work. Understandably, then, when a kid puts the last period on the last sentence in the last paragraph, the impulse then is to put down the pen or click "print" and pass that piece on to the teacher.

As adults, we know that the last period is not the finish line, and that often the toughest work begins when the writing is "finished." The act of meaningful revision--the analysis of effectiveness, the cutting and splicing of sentences, the refining of vivid vocabulary--that formidable work often makes the first stages of writing seem simple. We know, though, that the difference between mediocre and exceptional comes with the time invested in revising, polishing, and refining. It is hard work. It is the right work to do, and it takes time. If that work is skimped upon or shirked, the end product will not have achieved its full potential.

When I had the opportunity to present to the Gates Foundation last week, the other presenters and I never met ahead of time to coordinate our message--yet the same point resonated loud and clear: the new evaluation system is the right work to do to improve teaching, schools, and student learning. 

And the corollary to that point: doing this work will take time.

Mark Gardner | Assessment, Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy, Life in the Classroom, National Board Certification, Professional Development, Teacher Leadership | December 8, 2012

The Right Work


As some of you might have seen on Facebook, this past Thursday, December 6th, I had the privilege and opportunity to offer a short presentation and serve on a discussion panel for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Education Pathways meeting.

IMG_1558In the audience were names attached to some of most important and influential groups in public education in the state of Washington--and beyond, since also present were Ron Thorpe, President and CEO of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, and Washington's own Andy Coons, who serves as the Chief Operating Officer of NBTPS. Walking into a room with leadership from OSPI, the Gates Foundation, the Association of Washington School Principals, CSTP, and numerous other organizations, I was quick to feel intimidated. After all, my main thought during my drive to Seattle was about whether my ninth graders were behaving for the sub--nothing quite so heady as the future of statewide policy.

My comfort zone is much more intimate with much clearer roles: When I walk into my own classroom, I am the expert, I am the authority. It's not that I wield power like a tyrant over my domain, but to those fourteen- and fifteen-year olds, I am the voice they are to listen to, heed, seek for advice, and learn from. I am the teacher: what I have to say matters.

In my eleven years of teaching, as I've ventured little by little into the world of education policy, there are many times when I find myself in a room filled with nicely pressed suits (and me wearing my one pair of decent slacks) feeling just the opposite way as I do in front of my classroom. I think to myself: I am just a teacher. Will what I say matter?

Travis Wittwer | Professional Development, Teacher Leadership | December 6, 2012

Rigorous Teachers


By Travis Wittwer

I typically do not post on other posts. However, a post from Education Week caught my attention and shares a great deal of what I hope for Washington when I think of its future as an education state. 

The AFT (American Federation of Teachers) has an ambitious plan and I can get behind much of it.

I found myself nodding my head to was the call for rigorous, and consistent standards in teacher training programs. It is good for students and Washington because everyone gets a stronger teacher. It is also good for the teaching profession because it raises the quality of teachers which will raise the respect the profession gets.

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