Making Changes…

Education is a touchy subject. The ones who need it are the ones who can’t pay for it. The ones who need it have the smallest voice in how it happens. Yet, if they don’t get it we’ll all be paying for it later.

The kids are being left out of the equation, yet right now, in America, at least, it’s the kids who are making the most noise. It’s the kids who are getting people to listen. They are getting businesses to listen.

And it’s a good thing.

Here in Nova Scotia, the provincial government is forcing through some serious educational changes. Nevermind that an overwhelming majority of teachers have advised against these changes. Nevermind that other provinces have advised against these changes.

Has anyone on either side of the border thought of what’s best for the kids?

The Nova Scotia government seems to be trying to turn the education system into a business. They are making principals more like managers instead of teachers-in-charge. They are eliminating school boards but one. They are creating a board of professionals to deal with licensing and accountability. All of these strategies have been attempted in other parts of Canada. They all report failure on all three accounts. Yet somehow the Nova Scotia government believes it’ll work here.

But, hey, at least they aren’t trying to give us guns.

On both sides of the border, governments are fighting to protect and better educate its students. Granted, they’re doing it in completely different ways, but at least they’re talking about improving education. Has either one followed the instruction of the ones who educated them? Has either one bothered to ask what would be best?

  • More teachers
  • More special needs teachers
  • Fewer students per class
  • More classroom support
  • More technology
  • Less (or none at all) standardized testing

I know it will cost more money. The right changes always do. No one has gotten to where they are without a teacher. Teachers are responsible for educating the minds of the future. Teachers spend 7 hours a day with our kids. We all know what it’s like to spend all day with our own kids. Imagine spending all day with 25-30 kids. 25-30 kids having different wants and needs. 25-30 kids having different skills and abilities while performing on a myriad of different levels. Yet when our teachers advise those in power on the changes that should be made that advice falls on deaf ears.

Don’t give teachers guns. The NRA doesn’t need that kind of support.

Don’t make principals managers. They’re teachers, too.

Stop ignoring those who know best. When the mechanic tells you you need a new transmission, you don’t put on a new set of tires instead. Lets focus on the problem and make the changes that will best help our students.

Lucy At Home

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Strike 2!

The parents are fighting again.

The provincial government and the teachers are at it again and it’s getting ugly. Last year, teachers worked under a work-to-rule strike until the provincial government passed a law, Bill 75, that forced teachers into a contract (essentially, it was the “because I said so” argument). In this bill it became illegal for teachers to strike while under an imposed 2 year contract. Then the province brings in an expert consultant to review Nova Scotia’s education system. Paid $75,000 to fashion a report in just 6 weeks, this report magically aligns with reforms the province was hoping to implement anyway. Some of these reform measures have already proven to be less than ideal in other provinces, yet ours is going ahead with them anyway.

Like one analogy I heard, it’s like 10,000 iron workers told you that bridge they are about to build is unsound. An expert, who has built bridges elsewhere that have design flaws that were found post production, submits a report that was completed in just six weeks. This report mentions nothing about helping the iron workers build a more structurally sound bridge. This report wants to restructure the departments of the company in charge of said bridge. Would you cross that bridge?

Nova Scotia teachers voted to strike today. In Nova Scotia education history, all 122 years of it, there was never a teacher strike. There was one last year and teachers just voted for another. However, this time the stakes are higher. Should the teachers strike, they will lose pay for sure, but they could possibly be fined $1,000 per day. How dire is the situation that teachers would vote 82.5% in favor of striking?

You would think that Nova Scotia’s education department would think, “hmm, our teachers think this reform won’t work. Perhaps we should listen.” In fact, the department has already said they will carry on implementing these drastic measures, regardless. Then again, this is same government struggling with health care but refuses to listen to nurses and doctors.

How can a government become so disconnected from it’s people?

There have already been numerous posts written by others ranting and raving on this subject. I just wanted to throw my two cents in there, too. I’ll keep you updated on what happens next.

No Excuses

Some of us find a way. Some of us find an excuse. Maybe you’re putting off that check engine light because you just don’t have time. Perhaps you want to start that new diet… tomorrow. Your knee hurts. Your backs hurts. Your shoulder hurts. You’ve got a headache. This month ends in Y.

The list of excuses is only limited by our imaginations. I have witnessed some expending more energy at making excuses than it would take to just do whatever it is they’re making excuses for.

When our oldest brought home some math homework last week, I rejoiced at seeing that it was multiplication. Double digit times a single digit, to be a exact. I knew he could do it. However, we were kind of taken aback when he told us that the rest of the class had to complete two rows (10 problems) while he had to finish just one (5 problems). We knew what the teacher was thinking, and I don’t blame the teacher at all. He has ADD so they were trying to make things manageable for him.

However, we knew better. We are not about to let his diagnosis be a crutch. Naturally, he argued with us. He’d argue with Satan himself, so the arguing wasn’t anything new to us.

My teacher said I only have to one row!

“We know what your teacher said, but you can do this multiplication. You are NOT going to use ADD as an excuse to not do the work we all, yourself included, know you can do.”

He didn’t get it at first. He couldn’t understand how he was using his diagnosis to get out of doing work. His teacher assigned fewer problems for him specifically. Instead of looking at the work and thinking “I can do this” he looked at it and said “HA! I only have to 5 problems instead of 10.” Because he has two teachers for parents, we made him complete two rows. School was out the next day because of a snow storm. We made him do two more rows anyway. School was out the day after that, too, because of a power outage. We made him do the last two rows.

What we fear is that he’ll see his ADD diagnosis as a crutch, an excuse, a limitation. I highly doubt Justin Timberlake, Jim Carey, Will Smith, Michael Phelps, Sir Richard Branson, Howie Mandel, Michelle Rodriguez, and countless others see their ADHD has a limitation. They certainly wouldn’t be where they are today if they did. The world already sets so many limitations that we don’t need to start imposing them on ourselves. I don’t ever expect him to say “Give me more work,” but I will expect him to do the work I know he is capable of doing.

 

See You In September

It’s gone.

It just walked right out.

August is no more. Summer is packing it’s bags and Atumn is moving in. I’m okay with that, though. Fall is my favorite. Warm days. Cool nights. The window open. Me cocooned in blankets. DW freezing because I’ve got all the warmth in my cocoon. Fall is fantastic.

Fall brings baseball post-season, football, and all things pumpkin spice. My Orioles are contesting for a wild card spot. While I’m not all that into pumpkin spice, I could eat my weight in pumpkin pie. Dump a tub of whipped cream on top and I’m in my glory.

September isn’t just for ball games and pumpkins, though. September is also for the return of school days. While challenging, the rewards are phenomenal. Getting the kids to bed when they’re used to to summer schedule bedtimes is like hostage negotiations. If you offer too little they’ll refuse slumber. Offer too much and you won’t be able to keep your end of the bargin. They will remember everything you offer too so don’t even think about sweetening the deal in hopes they’ll forget. It’ll be the first thing they ask for in the morning. If you can’t deliver they’ll never go to bed again. Ever.

Besides bedtime, there is also the joy of back-to-school shopping. I get more than a little giddy when I see aisles and aisles of back-to-school supplies. Brand new pencils with no teeth marks. Markers with all their caps on tight. Paper so crisp and clean waiting for a math problem or an essay or notes on history, science, or passed to friend asking them if they can sit together at lunch. Folders and binders in more colors than a rainbow can offer. There are fresh, clean glue sticks not yet dried out, full of glitter and dirt and half eaten.

I know the back-to-school supply list can seem a bit archaic. It can also get a bit pricey. I’ve seen various parents rant about how expensive it can be. They question the supplies that are asked for. While I can’t speak for all teachers, I can speak for myself and the ones I know. We don’t ask for things we don’t need. But as one mother put it in her rant, “You want a microwave for your classroom, I’ll get you a microwave! Here, I’ll get you a pillow, too!” She was thankful teachers took her kids for the day. Parents seem to be thankful for school to start again because it means their kids aren’t at home driving them to Crazyville, Insanity for what they think is a good time. What they forget is the flip side of the coin. The teacher doesn’t have just their kid. They have 20-30 other kids, too.

If you’re the kind of parent who understands the plight of teachers, slip in a gift card for pumpkin spice latte or a medium large bucket o’coffee with those back-to-school supplies because you’re over the Walmart excited for school be to back. And because it’s not just the kids who are going back to school.

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Dear Teacher

Dear Teacher,

Today is your first day of school, again. Though, I know today really isn’t your first day. You have been at inservices enhancing your teaching methods. Those inservices, which use up your precious classroom time. A time you use to get your classrooms in order. Figure out your desk arrangement and where to sit your new, eager learners even though you nothing about them. A time you use to decorate your walls, bulletin boards and chalk boards. This, I know, is no easy feat. But you’re creative, you’ll have no trouble. Your walls and boards will be adorned with bright colors and all things educational. Regardless of the all meetings and inservices, your classroom will be open, ready, and eager for new learners.

Those inservices that use up your precious planning time. You get very little of it in a normal day. So little, in fact, that you often have to come in early and stay late in order to be fully prepared. Not only do you need to determine the lessons to be taught, but you need to find the best method of delivery. Capturing and keeping a student’s attention should be an Olympic event. There are meetings to be attended. There will be papers to be graded and report cards to be done. There will be phone calls home and notes written. There will be concerts to prepare for. But for now, it’s all you can do to just be ready on this first day.

I have a dream that one day teachers will be the role models elite athletes have become. Kids will want to collect teacher cards, not baseball cards. A teacher’s rookie card will be worth thousands. Especially those who have dedicated your life to teaching. Year after year, you return with the exact same enthusiasm and vigor your new students bring with them on that first day. One day, it will be teachers like you who land million dollar contracts. One day.

So, as you start your first day with new group of children, remember, one of those children is mine. He might be a bit stubborn. He might gravitate toward a behavior slightly less than ideal while following others doing the same. He may loathe writing. But he is our child and we love him dearly. Meanwhile, we will remember the extra, unpaid hours you put in. We will remember he is not your only student. We will remember that chances are good you have your own child you would rather be with instead of working.

Here’s to a great first day and to a great year ahead! And that glass of red this evening to unwind from this hectic, crazy, exciting day.

Sincerely,
A parent who understands

My Inner Teacher

testMy inner teacher needs to vent today.

About Standardized testing.

It’s that time of year when schools across the globe are testing their students and by default, their teachers. The tests are high stakes. These tests are meant to determine where instruction needs to improve. These tests are stressful, expensive, and arguably arbitrary.

Also, because the tests often occur about a month before school officially ends for the ultimate teacher perk, summer break, most students believe that once testing is complete so is school. Tests are over, hence there must be nothing more to learn. Assignments become a chore. One grade 8 student even asked me, “We already took our test. Why do we still have to do work?” There were so many responses I wanted to give him, but I bit my tongue and just told him because the school year’s not over yet and this is what his teacher assigned. Didn’t help, he still refused to it.

I digress.

When I taught 4th grade in Virgina, testing was a big deal. They were S.O.L. tests. Technically, Standards Of Learning tests. But, of course, we all know what s.o.l. really means, right? We unofficially tested students periodically through the year on the standards we had covered. Any students who were in danger of failing were then kept after school for S.O.L. tutoring. Come test time, we did what we could to relieve stress on our students. However, they knew how important the tests were and it showed. Some were reduced to tears. “How can I take the test when I can even read?” came a desperate plea from a student struggling to learn.

According to a quick Google search, testing costs in the U.S. are as high as $1.7 billion. That’s billion! With a B! No wonder schools are having trouble financially.

Then there’s the whole “differential instruction” buzz word. In simple terms it means varying your teaching methods so that all students learn the necessary material. For example, some kids learn kinetically and therefore will need hands on instruction and manipulatives. Some students learn by hearing. Some learn by doing. Some learn musically. And so on and so forth. So teachers are using every trick in their bag (while always learning new tricks) to help their students learn everything from algebra to the moon to the war of 1812. Yet we have standardized tests! Why is it that we need to teach our student through a diverse number of methods, yet test them all the same way.

climbthattree

How is this even remotely fair?

To top this off, there are school boards who use the tests students take to analyze their teachers. To analyze a teacher based on their student’s results does have merit if done correctly. The school board I worked for  would dissect test results to see where students struggled the most. Steps would then be taken to ensure teachers were teaching these outcomes in the most proficient manner. I enjoyed this method as it allowed me to become a better teacher without the stress of being fired. Therein lies a problem some schools have. They equate their teachers with coaches/managers of a major league sports team. If a team does poor enough their coach will be replaced. Some school boards hold this same standard. Replacing teachers vs. educating teachers.

Comparisons are easy to make, but are ultimately meaningless. It’s easy to compare students, classes, schools, districts, and states based on testing results. However, if you compared the oranges grown in Canada vs the oranges grown in Florida you’ll find a major difference. Many factors effect the growth of oranges. Same as students. There are environmental, financial, social, behavioral, physical, mental, and plethora of factors that effect how students and schools test. Even just from classroom to classroom there so many factors determining how well students will test. The dynamics of a classroom, the camaraderie, the needs, the behavior are just a few elements in determining how a specific class will test.

I understand the benefits of this testing. Personally, I believe the results from such testing should be used a guide. They can show us which outcomes require more attention, which outcomes need better strategies, or how to better educate our teachers in order to increase student success. Used as a guide, we find our way to better schools, smarter students and happier teachers. Used to make comparisons and we will continue this cycle of stress and failure rates will continue to escalate as schools strive to raise funds they aren’t receiving in order to establish necessary programs to help their students achieve.

Should tests be used as a measuring stick to determine good, better, best? Used to determine how much money schools receive? Used to determine who gets to keep their job? Not in my opinion. But what do I know? I’m just a teacher.

The Value of a Teacher

Our school year has 10 extra day built into it to accommodate for snow days. Teachers are paid by salary so they make the same amount whether those snow days are used or not. As of this writing, we have used 8 of those 10 allotted days and school boards are scrambling trying to decide if those missed days need to be made up. If they decide yes, then they need to figure out how. Continue reading