Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Why Are Teachers Stagnated, And Why Do We Allow It?

My husband is a teacher, and we have some interesting conversations.  We moved to our school district because it was a high achieving district, and we want the best for our children.  Ironically, when Mister Man went to kindergarten, we sent him to a private school.  Though our district achieves high scores, when we talked to them about what they could do to accommodate Mister Man's needs, they simply looked at me.

It wasn't until we found a school that truly differentiated the education that we found a home for him.  We're in the process of moving Mister Man back to the public school - though not at our home school.  There is a different school that has an amazing principal who focuses on what the students need and can accomplish.  When she saw that many of the students were not just achieving the grade level state goals but exceeding them, she started a program where half the sections of a grade were taught at grade level (those were scored below the 95th percentile on the standardized tests) and half were taught a grade level above (those who scored at or above the 95th percentile).  She's a rarity though.

My husband is getting frustrated, however.  He isn't the only teacher in the district or that we know who doesn't see how the system is going to work.  He fears that he'll simply be laid off for a lower cost teacher due to a teacher rating system that simply measures test scores - something he cannot fully control - now that the old form of tenure is gone in Illinois.

It's very much an us against them mentality that teachers and the public have, and I wonder how much of that plays into the stagnation that many teachers feel - and the low morale that even more teachers have.  The public feels so entitled to getting more for less cost, as they have in so many arenas, but a child's education in the 21st century with so many expectations and requirements that no child fail isn't exactly a 60 inch plasma television that can be made faster and cheaper and better.  Or at the very least, none of us have figured out how to do so, much as we still expect it.  And teachers feel constantly persecuted and responsible for results though so many factors are outside their control.  A once stable job that promised constant raises, job security, and a great pension is no longer that.  The teachers in our district still disagree with the public that their step increases (a pay increase for each year you teach) is a raise.  In the eyes of the public, an increase in salary is a raise, while teachers view it as their due.

I see little trust amongst the parties involved, and no one is willing to blink and take that first step that they fear might be a very long and slippery slope.  The public refuses to pay additional money in the form of taxes for a "free" service without ensuring that there are results for that money.  Yet, how do you truly measure the impact of the education?  Is it reasonable that every student receive an identical education and be expected to attend college to be a "success?"  Is there a way to cost effectively monitor the impact of teachers?  That's the sticking point we're reaching.  And the teachers who went into their careers with one set of expectations now face another.  Tenure is no longer a guarantee of a job.  Standards are increasing, but the public isn't in the classroom, seeing students move in and out of a district and watching as all the efforts they put into teaching are for naught when the parents place little to no value on the education of their children - or expect that they should be given carte blanche because they pay so much in taxes.

In the end, no one wins.  Even in the school both the wee ones now attend, I asked Little Miss's teacher if it was possible that she'd be teaching second grade next year.  "No," she looked back at me, immediately shaking her head.  "I'd never teach in this school again.  The principal makes us do too much training.  She takes us out of the classroom too much, and she requires too much of our time outside the school day.  No other school in the district does that."

Demanding excellence gets us so far.  Instead, we're stagnated.  At the moment, whether my husband takes a class of children who have never achieved state standards and brings them all to a level where they exceed them or whether he simply shows up each day to collect his paycheck, he will get the same salary increase next year.  Is it any wonder that there's an impasse in teacher contract talks?  There's no discussion of a strike - yet - but there is no agreement on a new contract, not just the salary, but all the expectations and non -monetary portions of the contract that matter just as much to everyone involved.

We all have a vested interest, yet no one has the knowledge necessary to truly judge it, and so we remain constantly at odds, no one trusting the other to do what's right for everyone.  And that's where Mission Possible: How the Secrets of the Success Academies Can Work in Any School by Eva Moskowitz and Arin Lavinia comes in.  Eva Moskowitz (who is very active on Twitter - I can't wait to continue the conversation there, and I encourage you to share your thoughts with her on this topic) tried to reform the public schools of New York City from the inside but couldn't gain any traction, so she went the route of establishing charter schools.

Cover of Mission Possible: How the Secrets of the Success Academies Can Work in Any School

As much as she was told no, she never listened.  The book shares many of her strategies to improve both teaching and learning.  I loved seeing how the literacy lessons were presented - a short explanation of why they are relevant and a small lecture before the students put them into practice.  Why was I so excited to see that this was the suggested method?  That's the literacy approach my district implemented beginning this year.  While it's too early to see results in our district, it's encouraging to me to see that it has worked elsewhere.

I'm intrigued that the book comes with a DVD that shows examples of what the learning looks like.  It helps to illustrate exactly how things can be done.  Any idea is great when it's still pie in the sky.  Seeing it in action is how you can replicate it.  It isn't just aimed at teachers, although obviously they are more likely to be able to effect change than parents.  The call for the principal of the school to have the "time, freedom, and skills to be the school's instructional leader."  While Eva Moskowitz and Arin Lavinia agree that there has to be accountability and standards, I appreciate that the focus is on the efficacy of the education and not strictly the test scores.  And that they show how to improve that efficacy.

Every chapter from the second chapter that talks through the "how" of making a school a magical place to the seventh that focuses on writing (just before the conclusion) includes takeaways not just for teachers and principals but for the parents and school reformers, too.  For parents, the authors encourage in one chapter that we get involved with what our students are learning - figure out what they're reading and how fast the teachers wants them to learn what.  And if it isn't fast enough or difficult enough, challenge the schools and teachers and demand better.

Intrigued?  I know I am.  Mission Possible is a book that I plan to share with the principal at the wee ones' school.  She is one who already gets it, and she's helping our district move more in the direction of the success academies.  We aren't there yet, but we're getting there.  In addition to the book I was sent, I have one copy to give away to a reader.  So what do you have to do to win? First of all, let me stress that you must follow all the rules. If you do not follow the rules, your entry will not count!

This contest is open until Tuesday August 14 at 7pm CST. I must have a valid way to reach you, so leave me your email address in your comment or be sure your profile has your email address visible. No duplicate comments will count. This giveaway is open to US residents age 18 and older. Winners will be selected via random.org and must respond within 48 hours of being notified by me or I will select a new winner.

Mandatory Entry: Tell me - What would you change about the US school system?

Bonus Entries (leave a comment for each entry - if you put it all in one comment, I'll count it as one entry):
1) Earn one additional entry for following me on Twitter, then tweeting this contest with the following tweet: "Frustrated with schools? Win "Mission Possible" by @MoskowitzEva w/ ideas on how to improve yours from @honestandtruly http://bit.ly/PkH3iw" (leave a link to your tweet as your comment and make sure you do all the steps!)
2) Earn one additional entry by following this review blog publicly via Google Friend Connect.
3) Earn one additional entry by following my “regular” blog Honest & Truly! publicly via Google Friend Connect.
4) Earn one additional entry by liking Honest & Truly! on Facebook. (Yay, it's legal again, so long as you know you have to leave a comment here to enter and that simply liking me isn't the entry, along with acknowledging the fact that Facebook has nothing to do with this giveaway whatsoever.
5) Earn an additional entry by putting me in your Google Plus circle. Am I already in your G+ circle? No problem - just leave a comment letting me know that you've added me or already have me there.
6) Like Eva Moskowitz's Facebook fan page, and let me know you did.
7) Follow Eva Moskowitz on Twitter, and let me know you did.

Good luck!

In the interest of full disclosure, I was compensated for this campaign, in addition to receiving a copy of "Mission Possible" for review. That said, as always, all opinions expressed remain my own.

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