Way back when as a new teacher, when people used to ask me, “What do you teach?” I would answer, somewhat sardonically, “Children, I teach children.”
It amused me that so many of my peers, not in education, did not get it, looked down on me, and considered my job easy. I knew if I said, “Math or science” they would give me some fake admiration, and then, politely remind me how much more money I would make if I had gone into research, or business.
It was the late 1960s’ when I began my teaching career at age 21. And by the early 70s I knew that a) I picked the right career b) my job was one in which I had no conflicts with my basic anti war, free love, kumbaya soul acquired during my years in college.
More to come…..
I was a young idealist like so many of my peers. But I had grown up in a rather poor family. Neither of my parents had been given the opportunity for an education, my mother an immigrant whose parents died when she was young and pulled out of school to work by an authoritarian brother-in-law. My father was first generation from a large family (11 siblings) and left home before graduation to find work during the depression.
The fact that both my sister and I graduated college is a tribute to my parents who valued education. My father, until the day he died, proudly announced wherever and whenever that one daughter was a registered Nurse and one was a teacher.
Books that influenced me early on in my career are “The Water is Wide” by Pat Conroy and “The Geranium on the Window Sill Just Died, but Teacher You Went Right On” by Albert Cullum.
I have always enjoyed, been lucky enough to be the recipient of praise from my students, their parents, administrators. More than a few times I was nominated for “teacher awards” (some big (Milliken), some small and local which I turned down because I feel they are like Merit Pay, ultimately unfair and impossible to judge. I did accept two nods for “Who’s Who in American Eduation” because there is no monitary award and no hoopla. Academically successful college students are given the opportunity to nominate one of their past teachers who they think influenced them in a positive way. Names go in a book which is available to those named to buy. Done. Finished.
The reason I explain all this is to give you a sense of who I am and have been. Now, I am a semi retired (I occasionally substitute) educator. I was in public education for forty years. Thirty of my years were in the classroom. Two years I was a specialist with Title 1 programs; for eight years I was the media specialist running the library and computer network for an elementary school in a large district. My MA is in “Educational Technology.” I also have an MA equivalent in Counseling. Overall I have an MA plus 130 credits above. While I mostly taught grade 6 in elementary I also put in a few years in middle school and for ten years was an adjunct professor for the MA program for teachers at a liberal arts college.
I am discouraged and disappointed in President Obama’s continuation of what I consider the right wing philosophy of testing and training for public schools.
I recently read that President Obama and Sec Duncan want to push the notion of national standards, which I believe is the precursor for national testing.
I also disagree whole heartedly with the public funding of charter schools and am adamantly against the notion of Merit Pay. I saw first hand what happened with “teaching awards” both local and on the national level. Who wins these awards is not necessarily the best teachers, but rather the best at being able to sell themselves to others. More often than not, these awards are won by those with the best pr skills or pr friends.
And there is cheating…..even for the awards that give no monetary prizes. Can you imagine when big money is involved how much “cheating” there is. It happens now. I saw it (and yes, it was reported but to no avail…that’s another diary).
John suggested I write a diary to get a discussion started. I fear my personal history and views will overwhelm and bore but I felt it necessary to let you know my personal biases up front.
And before I pose some questions here are a few anecdotal stories to fuel your thinking.
*As I said, I now substitute occasionally. A school in which I sub is one of the highest scoring schools in our state. It is a public school in a nice neighborhood. It is near the college where I worked in the MA program. Several students at the school have parents who work at or attend the college. Also there are many doctors and lawyers living in this upscale neighborhood. To the east of the school is a more modest area, populated by many teachers. So this school is does well. There is a safe house for abused women near there but the number of students from there is insignificant mathematically when it comes to scores. The staff is mostly good. A few excellent teachers, and frankly two teachers I consider weak links. However the scores for this school every year since NCLB have come in high. The kids from affluent families who do not do well get tutors.
Parents work with them. If the school needs something the district won’t provide, a fund raiser will get it. There are connections. Parents who know this corporation is giving out “grants” and parents who have the expertise in grant writing to “assist” the teachers in writing it.
At this school there is a boy name S….. I worked with him. He has a syndrome called “San Filipe Syndrome or type III mucopolysaccharidosis.
While there are many physical issues as a result, the one for this discussion is severe mental retardation that gets worse. Life span is 13 to 15 years. So this sweet little guy is seven years old, but has no language skills. He can walk and make sounds but wears a diaper, and is more like a seven month old than a seven year old.
I worked with him for three weeks, substituting as the school needed to hire someone. He needs one on one at all times. He needs to be fed, to be changed and there are attempts to teach him skills. He likes to put things in his mouth just a baby does. He laughs and cries but one must figure out why. Because the teachers and aides must eat, must use the restroom themselves, and work with other special needs/learning disables students, it takes a team effort for this child and intense scheduling.
Every minute with S, takes from a student who has to be tested for NCLB. Also in this school is a child with Downs’ Syndrome, a child with Fragile X, and a child with ideopathic seizure disorder who must wear a helmet whenever he plays.
Now because this school is so heavily loaded with high performing academic students, the impact on the school of these special needs children is not so noticeable except to those who work there.
On the other hand, a close friend of mine works at the lowest performing school in the district, a school where the free lunch percentage is the highest with over 80% qualify (while the first school has less than 5%). In that school, one that I worked at before I retired, there were entire families of special needs students. As well, they were recently impacted with two Downs’ Syndrome students, and one student with another physical syndrome that also was accompanied by mental retardation. As well, there was a young CP student from a poor family…she had no language, could not walk (though had she had support at a younger age her muscle and language development would be improved…and through the efforts of that s
taff getting the Shriners involved, the child was given one on one tutoring, physical therapy and doctors who did a surgery to increase her chances of becoming mobile. It was clear to the staff this child was bright if only she could communicate with us…raising money to get her specialized computer equipment became a goal for the staff).
So who should get the Merit Pay….the first staff
that I described that earns an EXCELLENCE BANNER yearly due to test scores. Or the second school which sadly, despite improvement in scores yearly, still is at the bottom of the heap.
Should the teachers who work lovingly with S get merit pay even though he will never take a test? Or the teachers who worked so hard to get the medical help for the CP child and raise money to get her computer equipment? And while much of the special needs team was working with those students, what about the teacher who has five special ed kids in her regular ed classes? As hard as she tries, she cannot meet the needs of all her third graders. FIVE are Unsatisfactory, when it comes to the state tests. One is Advanced. Should she work to move the five U’s to Proficient? But she also has ten who are HIGLY Proficient. A few more points MIGHT get those kids to Advance and the way the scoring works, getting a few U’s moved to P would do little but getting a few HP kids to Advance might really help the school. As one administrator asked, “Which way gets us more bang for our buck when it comes to AYP (average yearly progress)?” In other words, who should we help more based on how we look to the world rather than who needs the help.
Another question: Suppose you are a young, gifted teacher, and no matter how hard and long you work, your school is at the bottom. The kids are poor, the transition rate of families is over 60% (meaning most of the kids you teach in first grade will not even be there for third, fourth of fifth grade for testing). Due to retirement an opening comes up at the high scoring school! You have a great rep, you know you are good, and you are tired of being beat up in the press for failing (you are your school). And the notion of MERIT PAY for bringing in the scores is tempting since you struggle with your salary as you have neither the years or degrees that get you your increases.
What do you do?
This is my attempt to get a dialogue going. I am not a researcher but I will point you to research and places where others have been less emotional or artsy about this topic.