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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The Order of the Phoenix

Any Harry Potter fan knows this story. The ministry denied that He-Who-Should-Not-Be-Named had come back into power. Harry himself had seen otherwise and Dumbledore, the headmaster of the famous Hogwarts, believed him. What ensues is a major conflict between the school and the ministry with many forced decrees and rules imposed by said ministry.

It seems, though Voldemort hasn’t returned to Nova Scotia, there is still a battle raging between the ministry and schools. More specifically, between teachers and Karen Casey the education minister and Steven McNeil the premier.

Teachers and their Order (aka Union) have been trying to settle on a contract for 18 months now. Teachers need things in the classroom to change, yet the government is not willing to negotiate “working conditions” into the contract. The government doesn’t want to negotiate things like class size, data recording, individualized program plans (IPPs), smartphones in the classroom, standardized assessment, lack of preparation time, lack of specialists or supports for the classroom teacher.

The Order has proposed it’s set of beliefs that will change the education system to what it should be. They estimated their proposal to be $508 million. The Ministry said no. How about $41 million instead? The Ministry isn’t even willing to discuss working conditions.

The Ministry is so against this, they locked students out of school yesterday. Teachers reported to work as usual, but not one student stepped foot inside. Teachers voted to work to rule because they didn’t want to disrupt students learning. They still wanted to teach. The Ministry said too bad. If all teachers are doing is teaching, then students will not be supervised during lunch and recess and therefore won’t be safe.

That was a bold-faced lie.

The Order told the Ministry that schools were working to implement supervision to keep students safe. Teachers made it their number one priority to ensure student safety before the strike took effect. Yet the Ministry claims they didn’t know so they closed every school across the province. This forced parents to scramble to find child care and make arrangements for their kids while they were at work.

Voldemort fights dirty and does what is needed to rise to power and stay in power. He doesn’t work for the good of the future, he works for the good of himself. Denying his existence doesn’t make him go away.

Ministry, this is not a game we’re playing here. This is our future, our students, our children, who are affected most. Let the teachers teach and let them do in the best way they know how.

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Teacher’s Kids

What’s it like having two teachers as parents? Kelly over at Bustle knows pretty well it’s like.

Crash and Bang have the advantage (curse?) of having not one teacher parent, but two.  It has its advantages – access to parts of the school other kids don’t get to see, get to be in school when there is no one else there, get to have mom or dad as a teacher (this is both a pro and a con). On the other hand, it also has some disadvantages – you get mom or dad as your teacher, every teacher in the school knows who you are, you have to stay after school when you’d rather go home, and expectations are set a bit higher.

So far Crash is still pretty excited to see me in school. Even as his substitute teacher. I’m hoping it stays this way, but I’m certainly not expecting it to.

Right now I’m only substituting. However, this still gives me access to the school as if I were a full time teacher. I use the teacher’s lounge. I can enter and exit through the staff doors. I am the first one in and last one out of the classroom. This means that Crash can do these things, too. Though, I keep him out of the staff room if there are other teachers in there. It’s not a place for sensitive ears. If I’m subbing for the gym teacher he gets to use the whole gym. To himself. Show me a kid who doesn’t want full run of a gymnasium and I’ll show you a kid who probably doesn’t like gym! This is true of the classroom, too. It’s something different for a kid to be in their teacher’s classroom all by themselves.  The quiet. The empty desks. The cleanliness.

Then there’s being your kid’s teacher. I’m not sure exactly how he feels when hears his classmates tell him “Your dad is our teacher!” He knew this before he even got to school. Now he has to hear it over and over as each classmate realizes this. Over and over. And Over.saint

Then there are the expectations. Stereotypical teacher’s kids are held to slightly higher standards than the general population of the school. Being teachers, we know how students should behave in school and we therefore start teaching this to our own kids at birth. Also, as teachers who love to teach, we begin teaching our own kids while still in the womb. I know I was reading to DW’s baby belly for both of our sons. So teacher’s kids are not only expected to behave, but also be smart.

Every teacher in the school knows who Crash is. Or at least every teacher who knows me and DW (also a teacher). Therefore, there are eyes on him at all times. I know about things he’s done before he knows I know about them. One day he’ll tell me I was always spying on it. S’okay, though, it’s for his own good. And I do spy, by the way. If I’m subbing at his school I will, at least once, peek through his classroom door at him to see what he’s up to.

peeking

It’s not so bad being a teacher’s kid. Except, this evening, Crash was complaining about having to practice math. “I have to do math for like two hours in school. Then, I come home and have to do it for 15 more!” Sorry kiddo. Not everyone gets to have a teacher mom and dad. But you do. So lets get ‘er done and make ya fast at addition and subtraction so we can do some multiplication! HA!

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