Recently, an article published in The Wichita Eagle told of several middle schools in the area trying out single-sex lunches. Basically, the boys eat lunch while the girls go outside for recess, and then the groups switch. The schools claim they have seen a decrease in behavior problems as well as an increase in the amount of lunch the students are actually eating. There are mixed feelings on the idea. While we can't ignore the positive results we are seeing, we also need to take into consideration the social skills the students aren't having a chance to develop and practice. I am all for less fights and healthier eating, but I know that I really needed as many chances as I could get to practice my social skills in middle school. What are your thoughts?
Professional Development for Recertification
Professional development is one of those things that many of us put off even though we need the hours to recertify every few years. In Arizona, I need to tackle 180 clock hours of professional development every six years to keep my teaching certificate active. The Department of Education allows teachers to mix and match hours between professional development and university coursework. In fact, my last recertification was based solely upon the classes I took to finish my master’s degree—a double whammy!
Many teachers I know put off taking those professional development hours, mostly because they can’t find quality programs to attend. My school district offers hours for some of our required meetings and workshops, but I don’t always feel like I’m getting the most out of my time when I attend these. In fact, I often feel as though my district is simply filling time with meaningless activities and meetings, just for the sake of filling time.
There are many experienced, expert teachers in my district with toolboxes filled with fantastic, fresh ideas. But the presenters at my district-level professional development opportunities are often the same district-level personnel that haven’t seen the inside of a classroom since the 90s. And my district does not offer enough hours to recertify. So I started looking for other opportunities to learn, gather new ideas, and get the most out of my valuable time.
For me, the trick was to do some research. Already holding a master’s degree, it wasn’t cost-effective for me to continue taking pricey graduate-level courses. But after a little research, I found that I didn’t have to spend a lot of money to earn those recertification hours. A local children’s book distributor offers free monthly workshops during the school year, each focusing on a different topic. A locally-owned teacher resource chain holds a low-cost summer teacher expo every year, where I can attend hour-long workshops and browse booths showcasing the latest in educational materials. And the state Department of Education, in conjunction with Arizona State University, offers free online courses via an eLearning platform.
The possibilities are out there for low-cost, quality professional development opportunities. Ask at teacher resource stores, craft outlets, and anywhere you frequent to get teacher supplies. It might take a little extra time to initially find the resources, but once you do you’ll always know where to go!
I’d love to start a conversation about other resources that are available out there. Where do you go to get your recertification hours? Your school district? A local college? An online resource? Please share!
Pay to do Nothing?
The headline reads, “700 NYC Teachers are Paid to do Nothing.” Intriguing. Some days I’m so overwhelmed at school, I’d love to be paid to just sit and do nothing for a day or two. It seems these teachers, however, are being paid to sit out of the classroom while waiting for hearings. All of them have been accused of wrongdoing of some sort and, because of the strong union in New York, they cannot be fired without a disciplinary hearing.
I live and work in a right-to-work state. Being a part of the local or state-level union is optional, which means that membership is typically low. Consequently, unions don’t have a lot of clout. I’ve heard of non-tenured teachers being fired on the spot, given less-than-desirable assignments to flush out what the administration deems a “bad seed,” assigned extra duties and responsibilities as punishment, and moved to another school mid-year because of an infraction. There’s not a lot teachers can do about this. Quit? Sure.
But to put 700 teachers (making salaries of $70,000+) in a room for months, and sometimes years, on end just seems ridiculous. The arbitrators that hear the teachers’ cases work only five days a month, causing a huge back-up.
Administration officials complain that the union makes it too difficult to fire teachers. But if a teacher is in the so-called “rubber room” for sexual misconduct, why should taxpayers have to pay for the teacher to sit and write a book or teach fellow “detainees” yoga? That’s what they’re doing, and not just in New York. Similar rooms exist in unionized states all over the country!
Some of the teachers are being disciplined for what I see as minor infractions, such as using foul language after being abused by a student. (I’d probably have a few involuntary words myself if a student physically abused me!) Another teacher is accused of pushing a student while attempting to stop a fight. (In the heat of the moment, someone likely did get pushed. But the teacher was protecting both students from each other. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do?)
Teachers waiting for their disciplinary hearings are not permitted to do school work, and they must stay in the room during the school day. Though they do still enjoy weekends, holidays, and summers off while waiting. All while earning their regular salary.
I’m sure all teachers yearn for that paid day off now and again. But to hold disciplinary hearings only five times a month while paying teachers their regular salaries to sit and wait is just a waste. Get the teachers with the major infractions out of the way quickly, and deal with the minor infractions at the school or district level. Don't misuse taxpayer dollars.
New Teaching Opportunities at the End of the Year
As each school year tends to go on forever, it always catches me off guard when it ends so quickly. At this point in the school year, students and teachers alike are usually burnt out on the day-to-day routines of school. So this is a great time to take a step back and do something out of the ordinary.
Now that state testing is over, district benchmark assessments are nearly complete, and next year is just a glimmer in our eyes, I suggest you do something fun to bid farewell to the 2008-2009 school year. There are so many ideas to choose from, most of which can incorporate learning standards!
- Take a walking field trip to a nearby store or restaurant. Have students calculate what they will purchase ahead of time, plus tax.
- Assign students to write a letter to next year’s teacher, highlighting what they learned this year and what their hopes are for next year.
- Demonstrate citizenship by having students create cards for residents of a local assisted-living facility.
- Hold a penny drive for a nonprofit organization. Set a goal for how much your class would like to raise. Then, work on marketing and advertising to encourage others to contribute!
- Encourage students to choose a story from their writing portfolio and “publish” their own book. You can purchase blank bound books online from various sites.
- Teach something that interests you but isn’t necessarily a part of your district’s curriculum. Maybe you lived in or visited an interesting part of the world. Teach a short unit on it!
- Let your students do some teaching. Allow them to choose a topic to become an expert in and then teach what they learned to the rest of the class.
- If you are a 6th grade teacher, have your students visit 5th grade classrooms to talk to the younger students about what to expect. Maybe they can even teach a lesson to students on something they learned during the year.
We’re all anxious for those last few days of the school year to pass us by. But don’t let your guard down on your class. Students need to be engaged in learning activities through the last day of school. Relax too much and you will pay for it in poor behavior in your classroom!
Yearly Testing - Is There a Better Way?
With testing season coming to a close (thank goodness!), I have to stop and wonder why we put our students through this. Sure, accountability is the old stand-by reasoning. But how much does it really benefit the kids?
Don’t get me wrong; I see the benefit in standardized tests. They can assist in showing students’ overall growth from year to year, especially in mobile areas where students change schools frequently. Many schools also use the results of these tests to help guide instruction and to place students in classes the following school year.
My issue with standardized tests is the loss of instructional time. We lose time for instruction when we give the tests—for sometimes as long as five days, as with my school’s fourth and eighth graders this year. But we also lose time when teachers teach to the test (and as much as teachers deny it, we all teach to the test to some extent). The kids have to know how to take the test, after all!
Assessment happens in classrooms constantly. Good teachers are up, moving around the classroom, talking to students throughout the day. Assignments and in-class activities are designed to showcase students’ talents and identify weaknesses. What teachers, schools, districts, and state education boards need to do is find a way for these formative assessments to count for something.
Personally, I am not a good multiple-choice test taker. Never have been. When I was a kid, I remember taking the Iowa Basic each year and I never did particularly well on it. But I still made it through a master’s degree as an adult. And, though I may not always show it, I think I’m pretty darn smart. Was the test reliable? Did it really measure where I was academically at the time?
How can we, as educators, help? When will formative assessments count toward a school’s label, instead of one very stressful (for students and teachers alike) series of summative assessments?
Too Early for Next Year
This is often a frustrating time of year for teachers. Not only do we have the stress of state testing to think about, there seems to be a constant worry about what’s going to happen next year.
With the federal stimulus money somehow filtering its way into our school districts, uncertainty still exists. Several years ago a friend of mine moved from Ohio to Arizona because she simply couldn’t get a job in Ohio. There were too many veteran teachers holding onto their jobs that competition was fierce among new teachers.
Arizona may now face the same challenges. With first- and second-year teachers being denied contracts in some districts simply because the money isn’t available, I fear we may see an abundance of teachers without full time jobs in the fall. And for us veterans out there? While we’re sure to have jobs next year (we hope!), many of us are uncertain about what that job will look like.
Will I have 40 students in my classroom? Will I be forced to move to a different school? Will special area classes become a thing of the past for my students? Who knows what will happen?
In the end, until the “powers that be” tell us what will happen, all we can do is just go with the flow. I can still approach my job with the same enthusiasm as I do every day. Ultimately, my goal is to impact students in a positive way. I’m there to teach and ensure the success of every child that crosses my threshold. Sure, I can’t plan for next year yet because I don’t know what next year will bring. But it’s sure to bring a classroom full of children waiting to be filled with knowledge!
How are things going in your state or district? I wonder how others are faring.
Cutting Veteran Teachers to Save Cash
I heard through the grapevine that a school district near mine has opted to solely hire new teachers. In an effort to reduce salary costs, the district will be searching for teachers new to the profession that hold only a bachelor’s degree. Why the search for the green teachers? Experienced, educated teachers cost too much.
Are we sending the wrong message to our students and communities? Don’t we want our students to pursue higher education?
I earned my master’s degree several years ago for a couple of reasons. First, I wanted to be more marketable. While I love what I do, I think I can impact more children’s educations and lives outside the classroom doing curriculum development or serving as a voice for educators like you. I also wanted an increase in salary. The way the pay scale works in my district, I was quickly approaching the ceiling where I wouldn’t see another increase without that advanced degree. My district was also limiting pay increases so a master’s was the only way to get a cost of living increase. And I am a career student, forever wanting to learn something new. Life would be dull if I didn’t learn something new every single day!
Most importantly, though, I wanted to make sure that I had the best practices and research under my belt so I could teach to the best of my ability. After all, that’s why we are all in education, right? Apparently not so.
How can we expect our students to try their best when the best we give them doesn’t include veteran teachers? Sure, districts will always have to hire new teachers. Believe me, I was happy to get my first teaching job. But without plenty of veteran teachers around to guide me I would have been lost. They helped me more than my first principal ever could have. Don’t get me wrong—she was a great principal. But my colleagues were able to help me as peers; something that’s difficult for a principal to do.
Our current budget crisis is the driving force behind this and many other cost-cutting measures. I’m not sure what the answer is to our financial dilemma, but I’m pretty sure this shouldn’t be part of it. Surely there are other options!
In the News - Cuts to Education
In these tough economic times we are seeing cuts in retail, banking, housing, and, shockingly, education. Living in the southwest, I never thought I'd see the day when cutting teachers would seen as a way to reduce education costs. With our continual housing growth, we've always been the place to come to get a teaching job.
Yet, here we are. Unfortunately, no one's job is safe. I have heard talk of increasing class size, cutting out special area teachers, and limiting supplies for classrooms. While some districts may cut teachers through attrition, others may simply not renew some teacher contracts. Until we know the breadth of this economic downturn, we can only speculate what will happen in education.
So what can you do to help ensure yourself a job next school year? Keeping your certification up-to-date, being a "yes" person, and participating in professional development activities are only a few ideas. What are you doing to maintain a stable position within your school or district?
I worry that, for the sake of saving money, our children will suffer. Even when it seems that education is already working with the minimum resources, there is talk of cutting even more. When will our non-educator lawmakers see that our best may not be good enough without the financial support to ensure a quality education for our future leaders?
Please share your thoughts and ideas. Where will the budget cuts begin and end? What is happening in your state and school district? Maybe, working together, we can get our message across!