I teach and am proud to do so. At the risk of being just a little self-serving – I think I am pretty damn good at it! I try super hard to form relationships with my students. To really get to know them. To understand them and what is going on outside of the school building. To learn where they are struggling in class. To learn what makes them tick. I try to give timely feedback – but this seems to get more difficult as the number of students in my classes increases. I fuss at kids when they are not in my class for any reason, I beg them to always work hard no matter what. I try to get them to see big picture – way big – like when they are adults big. I try and maximize my class time with them because it is important to me to reach them where they are. And I am currently a very lucky teacher – I have the best administrators in the world. I work in a math department where we are all about making sure that we do what is best for all of “our” kids. I also do not currently teach a class that has an end of instruction exam and for that I am truly grateful (but this new evaluation method where I get graded for kids I do not directly impact worries me). I am also not the most well versed in the inner workings of what goes on at the highest levels of our state department of education. I need someone who is smarter than me to help with some of those inner workings – you can read OKEducationTruths or ViewFromTheEdge for much more intelligent and well thought out discussions on some of the pressing educational issues of the day.
I belong to OEA, but do not necessarily agree with everything they say or do. I also belong to the NEA but also do not necessarily agree with everything they say or do. I say that so you, dear reader, know what I do. I do have a Bachelors Degree in History Education, a Masters Degree in Collaborative Education and am in the process of applying to graduate school to earn a PhD in Educational Technology. I am a National Board Certified Teacher in Young Adult Mathematics and have been my building Teacher of the Year. I have taught in the public schools for 17 years and have mostly enjoyed every one of them. I have three young children who attend public schools and have had super great teachers.
Why do I share these things with you? Well…to let you know about me. I don’t consider myself super opinionated – quite the opposite. Make a sound argument and I can listen and give thought – might even change my original position. I don’t consider myself part of the education establishment – I don’t have any say in policy. But I know what I see in my class everyday. I know my colleagues. I know that when we go through testing in the spring I still lose tons of teaching days (see above where I say I don’t teach an EOI course). I know that when we dropped common core (right or wrong, that can be debated forever) and made sure that state law said our representatives can line item the standards, I got nervous…I don’t think that the math standards would be too impacted, but I could be wrong. I know that when I work I want to be able to earn a decent wage, have the opportunity to get a raise, get a yearly review which helps me be a better teacher, I want to be told by my administrator that I am doing a good job, I want my administrator to point out my weaknesses, and I would like the public to recognize that most teachers are hard working normal people who care about kids and truly want to do what is best for them. I guess I don’t have the thickest skin, it bothers me when I read the Daily Oklahoman and they slam teachers. It bothers me when state lawmakers tell me that I don’t know what I am doing and call me a lobbyist (I don’t make lobbyist money). It bothers me when people say that public education is a failure when we are following the mandates established by our elected representatives at all levels of government. It bothers me that my school district is facing a budget shortfall next year and we cannot staff my building in a way that is best for the kids.
Best for the kids – I like to think that I know a couple of things about what is best for the kids. I may not be an expert (especially when the term school funding formula is uttered) and some of my ideas may not work in every situation – some may need to be tweaked. But here are a couple of things that might help:
- Drop the high school EOI’s. Period. How much $$$ can we give away and get anything reliable back to help me reach kids that need it. Data we get back shows up in October and by that time, my kids are long gone. How about we pay to give every junior and senior the ACT. This test is already normed out, the results come back fairly quickly and the data is pretty good. I am not sure, but I think this would also be cheaper.
- Get back to smaller class sizes. My building could use several more teachers in a variety of areas. When class sizes are smaller teachers have the opportunity to really reach and teach kids. When class sizes are smaller it is harder for students to disappear in the crush. When class sizes are smaller I don’t hate grading so much, which means that I can give back a lot more positive feedback. Do non-teacher people realize how much time it takes to grade 125 calculus exams? My day does not end at 3:30, see this post for a typical week of mine.
- Trust us – no REALLY! Most of my co-workers are super amaze-balls! I will agree with people that there are bad teachers – they exist everywhere. Just like all businesses have people that maybe should move on. Education is not exempt from this – but there are wwwwwwwaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyyyyy more classy, super great, amazing, outside the box thinking, encouraging, mountain moving teachers than the other. TRUST US! Visit our classrooms – if you are reading this, please visit mine anytime. Just call me 405-726-6886 and make a date. Better yet, don’t even call – just come by, surprise me – you just might be amazed at what happens in my room when no one is looking. You might even have a couple of ideas about how to make it better. You can share, I will listen!
- Stop pouring more and more and more and more and more and more and more and more and more onto us. Let us teach. We have enough hoops to jump through without being mandated to death (especially unfunded ones). Trust Us (see previous item) to teach our subject area without needing to be scripted down to the water break and when we can use the bathroom. Like I said above, I work with people who pour into the students. Every. Day.
- This one might be unpopular with my colleagues – but move to a year round school calendar. That doesn’t mean that we teach 300 days each year. It means that we have 185-ish instructional days (which is more than we are required) but add some longer breaks in. Move the students up a grade level in late July (or maybe when they are ready). Give us two weeks for spring break, three weeks for the winter holidays (Christmas at my house), a week for Thanksgiving, a couple of weeks in the middle of the summer, a week for fall break. This would eliminate the amount of time that each teacher spends remediating material at the beginning of the school year.
- Money – this one is in two parts. Its important for Joe Public to understand that most teachers have had the same amount of education as an engineer, or an architect. Some of us have had as much schooling as lawyers and doctors. We are a fairly smart crew. Not that we are going to get super rich, but teachers have enough to do during the school year without needing to work a second or third job. And if you are reading this and are surprised, don’t be. It is very common, especially among teachers early in their career. Part two – give us funding to go to or participate in meaningful professional development. I’m not talking about taking a vacation to some cool place to go to a one hour seminar that we could have watched on the internet. I am talking about well thought out, with a purpose, professional development. Not just high paid consultants (some of their ideas might be good) pushing their view of how to teach. MEANINGFUL professional development.
- Give schools and teachers the chance to try new things/technology (see this blog from A View From the Edge) without hammering them about why things are failing. I have tried all kinds of stuff in my room to try and be a better teacher. If it works I keep it. If it doesn’t, I get rid of it. Trust Us (see number three above). We can learn through failure, if we are trying new things, don’t punish us, support us. Teachers want to get better. Teachers want to be better. Everyone can learn through failure – see this post for my ideas on that.
- Help schools that struggle – I mean TRULY HELP! We are not all blessed to come from backgrounds that encourage education. Some of our students don’t know when they will eat next. Help those schools take away some of the issues that surround them. Give those schools a support structure that helps teaching and learning thrive. If they need a little bigger piece of the overall budget – fine. Kids need to eat. Kids need clothes appropriate for the season. Kids need people to support them and some do not get that at home. Again, I am not a school improvement expert, but I don’t really see how eliminating a hard working principle, dumping half of the staff, or closing a school solves any problem. Those students who struggled at the closed school will probably struggle in the new one and we have introduced more change into their lives.
Having said all of that, I also would like to be told, by the people making policy decisions that my input matters. That I am appreciated. That I am publicly thanked for working hard for our future. I am one of those teachers that has taught long enough to have lost a generation of kids – according to our leader. And for the record I strongly disagree. I have had the chance to be around some of the most amazing students. Future world changers and they come from the lost generation. Thank you for reading this. I TEACH!!