The Real Problem with Teaching in North Carolina, Part II

by Nancy Snipes Mosley

The North Carolina Professional Teaching Standards manual begins, “For every student in North Carolina, a knowledgeable, skilled compassionate teacher…a star in every classroom.”

A star in every classroom.

What do stars need to shine? Science is my weakest subject, so I looked it up. The simple answer is energy. When all the elements that provide energy to the star are exhausted, it collapses.

Unfortunately, North Carolina is not providing the elements teachers need to fulfil the “New Vision of Teaching” laid out in our curriculum and standards. Because schools haven’t been given enough resources to meet changing demands, teachers are increasingly pressured to coordinate and train each other. To achieve the highest evaluation ratings, teachers must agree to be exploited and work countless hours outside the classroom. It is exhausting to make so many changes in so little time and demoralizing to be held to such high standards without proper support and compensation.

To be very clear: I applaud the new vision of teaching and learning laid out by the state of North Carolina. I believe in the greater focus on diversity, critical thinking, collaboration, literacy, and other 21st century skills. If you want a teacher to advocate for this with great enthusiasm, just ask me to explain how much better this is for my students.

Here’s an example of how my classroom has been revolutionized using my Civil Rights unit in American History II.

In the past, my students would read the textbook to chart different groups, events, and accomplishments. They would watch a documentary on the 1960s that included civil rights information, and then they would compare a few major leaders.

Now my students are given direct instruction through a Powerpoint with corresponding video footage of protests, riots, interviews, speeches, and debates. They are assigned a person from a diverse pool – famous/grassroots, young/old, black/white, male/female, Republican/ Democrat, rural/urban, Christian/Muslim, gay/straight, nonviolent/militant. They partner up and compare perspectives. They analyze primary and secondary sources, participate in a seminar by debating from their person’s point of view about strategies and government powers, create a museum display that includes written and artistic expression, and then go on a scavenger hunt to find others in the exhibit that compare to their person and themselves.

This took a lot of time and energy, but it was worth it.

While changing how I teach, I also increased involvement with colleagues to help implement changes in my department and school. I have led my Professional Learning Team, joined School Improvement Team, revitalized our Model UN team, given technology workshops, and mentored two student teachers. Though important and rewarding, it has also been a drain on my family time and a distraction from things I could be doing for my own students.

So, how is this reflected in my teacher evaluation? Let’s consider just two of the six Standards. Despite the extra contributions I just listed, my Leadership rating has not increased much because the highest scores in that area are reserved for teachers who make a bigger impact on the whole school or district. For Facilitating Learning, my rating has gone up significantly over the past few years, but it has taken a toll and I still fall short in some areas. I have had long conversations with my administrator and believe my ratings are accurate and fair based on how the instrument is written. My issue is with the rubric (click picture below to enlarge the relevant excerpt) and the message it sends.

For example, there are 50 check boxes for the Facilitating Learning standard. For mastering all of the things that take place with students in your classroom – like critical thinking and problem-solving, instructional methods, technology, and collaboration – you would receive mostly Accomplished ratings. Based on the formatting of the instrument, “accomplished” practice lands you right in the middle column of the form. Suddenly, accomplished feels very…average.

evalu rubric pic

This communicates that the “best” teachers do more and more outside of the classroom on donated time. An instrument that is supposed to be aspirational is actually demoralizing and draining. Going above and beyond feels expected, not appreciated.

Making North Carolina’s new vision of education a reality would be well worth the investment, and our students deserve it. But it will take greater investment in schools. Exploited teachers will eventually burn out. Give teachers the “fuel” to shine – more time and resources. And use an evaluation process that makes teachers feel recognized for their efforts. These changes will make their devotion of extra time and energy sustainable, and we will come closer to the goal of having a “star” in every classroom.

The Secret Time and Energy Drain in Our Schools

Students’ inability to regulate their own behavior is sapping our schools of valuable time and resources. By focusing on self-control, and tracking it by the time students are in high school, we could alleviate a significant administrative burden in our schools.

I will share a few vignettes related to my claim: My mother-in-law works at Target. She reports that young employees have a range of problems related to an inability to regulate their own behavior. They hide drinks at their cashier stations even though it is against policy. They don’t meet dress code; they can’t seem to stay off their phones. They go to the bathroom often and stay gone for too long.

Fast forward to a few days ago; I’m in the main office during first period. One of our front office administrative assistants is frustrated. It’s her job to enter the names and information of all the students who are late each period so they can be assigned a 20-minute lunch detention. Every day, she reports, she has a stack of about thirty to enter, for first period alone.

Segue to my classroom. Despite having assigned a student multiple detentions (and in the process contacting his parents and documenting the incident) he cannot compel himself to put away his phone, and I am not allowed to take possession of it. When I see it, I sigh, and tell him I will be doing another detention assignment and referral. It will take twenty minutes to do all the necessary paperwork and emails. An exchange like this happens multiple times a day and the administrative burden adds up quickly.

Last week, I discovered that two students plagiarized an essay. They were assigned two days of in school suspension, and both were provided an opportunity to resubmit the essay so their grades would not be significantly impacted. The email exchanges with both sets of parents, documentation for administration, and writing of individualized lesson plans for in school suspension took at least two hours of my time.

What do these vignettes have in common? They are all a sign that our young people are lacking a key attribute that will affect their future success and the health of our nation. That attribute? Self-regulation.

Self-regulation is also known as self-control, and includes the ability to act in your long-term best interest. Increasingly, it seems that our students are relying on external controls to manage their behavior. These external controls involve an increasing share of the time and energies of our school personnel, and they sap our morale. In fact, many teachers have been so overwhelmed by the increasing amount of time and energy it takes to regulate student behavior that they have decided it is just easier to look the other way.

I participated in just such a “selective attention moment” just the other day, and a parent who witnessed it was indignant. At lunch duty, I stopped a group of students from going off campus. I followed them at a distance to make sure they went in the front of the school instead of bolting to the parking lot. As I firmly reminded them to turn right, a student in the group yelled over her shoulder, “Kiss my a**, b**tch!” In the midst of dealing with the fallout from the cheating incident I mentioned before, I did a mental calculation. It went like this, “Huh. It is the end of my lunch duty and I have 45 minutes before 4th period. I need to eat lunch, respond to those parent emails, and work on the behavior referrals I already have for today. I do not know those girls and I don’t know which one yelled that. I could follow them, try and stop them, figure out who said what (maybe) and then complete a referral and do detective work to figure out how to contact her parents – and miss lunch and have more to do tonight- or I can just shrug and keep walking.” I chose the latter, and a parent who saw the exchange approached me in disbelief. I fully understood her point of view. She is a wonderful advocate for teachers and she was mad that the girl was going to get away with talking to me like that. But, we are bumping up against the limitations of relying on external controls to manage student behavior. We need students to manage their own behavior.

There was a time when students were able to self-regulate. It is evident in class pictures from the 1930s and 40s. I stare at them in disbelief when I realize there were 40 or more kids in each class. Today, our academic classes in high school strain under the weight of 24 students. How can we re-create the conditions of the past that equipped students with such significant powers of self-control?

First, we must inform parents about how it is fostered in young children. It is cultivated through free play; it is not developed by exposing kids to stimulating technology. Parents should be restricting screen time, limiting how many hours of the day their children are in adult-led, structured activities, and ensuring their children get adequate sleep.

Self-regulation can and should be explicitly taught in preschool and kindergarten. One program, called Tools of the Mind, has developed a range of activities that encourage students to regulate their own behavior. They plan their play, can sustain their play for much longer periods of time, and research is showing significant improvements in students’ self control and behavior. Throughout elementary school, teachers can build on those early foundations and explicitly teach skills and dispositions that extend students’ self regulation abilities.

In high school, we should elevate self-regulation to the same plane as academic performance. Self-control might actually be more important to students’ long-term success and health. Students and parents are focused like a laser on GPAs and SATs. What if we created a similar score, called a self-regulation score (SRS) that would be reported on a student’s transcript? Each  time a student comes to school late, uses profanity, skips class, inappropriately accesses a digital device, speeds in the parking lot . . . their self regulation score would reflect the incident. I imagine the number of such incidents would drop, and teachers and administrators could spend significantly more time being proactive in their jobs (creating new lessons, closing the achievement gap) and not documenting, and reacting to, misbehavior.

An SRS score could be extremely useful to colleges and employers seeking to admit and hire the best candidates. How would you consider a candidate with a 4.0 GPA and a 2.3 SRS, as compared with a 2.3 GPA and a 4.0 SRS? Interesting to imagine.

Once colleges and employers begin placing an emphasis on the SRS score, it won’t be long before parents and students will make self-control more of a priority. And maybe our schools can focus more on teaching and learning, and less on trying to manage unruly behavior.

Angie Scioli

Wake County Social Studies Teacher

Founder, Red4EdNC

Public Schools First Advisory Board

Teachers Are Not the Root of the Problem

Last August, Business Insider published a report from the Brookings Institute highlighting the 15 cities where poverty is growing fastest in the nation. Greensboro-High Point tied for 10th, Winston-Salem tied for 8th, and Raleigh tied for 3rd…with Charlotte.Earlier this year the Washington Post published a study by the Southern Education Foundation that found an incredibly high number of students in public schools live in poverty. And in April, the journal Nature Neuroscience published a study that linked poverty to brain structure. All three publications confirm what educators have known for years: poverty is the biggest obstacle in public education.

Yet many “reformers” and NC legislators want you to believe that bad teachers are at the root of what hurts our public schools. Just this past November, Haley Edwards in Time Magazine published an article entitled “Rotten Apples” which suggests that corporate America and its business approaches (Bill Gates, etc.) can remedy our failing public schools by targeting and removing the “rotten apples” (bad teachers) and implementing  impersonal corporate practices.

I understand the analogy: bad teachers, rotten apples. However, it is flawed. Removing rotten apples does not restore the orchard. Rather, improving the orchard makes for better apples. Teachers are more like farmers, not apples. Students are what are nurtured. What we need to do is improve the conditions in which schools operate and the environments in which our students are raised; we must address elements that contribute to poverty.

North Carolinians know agriculture. We understand that any crop requires an optimum environment to produce the best harvest. Farmers must consider weather, resources, and time to work with the land. Since many factors which affect the harvest are beyond their control, farmers make the best of what they have; they must marry discipline with a craft. Teachers do the same.

But if the environment suffers and resources are limited, then agriculture suffers. Is that the fault of farmers? If variables surrounding the environment of public education are constantly being changed by governing bodies, then are teachers at fault?

Another fallacy with the rotten apple analogy is that the end product (singular test scores) is a total reflection of the teacher. Just like with farming, much is out of the hands of the education system. One in five children in North Carolina lives in poverty and many more have other pressing needs that affect the ability to learn. Some students come to school just to be safe and have a meal. But imagine if students came to school physically, emotionally, and mentally prepared to learn.

In some instances, resources vital to public education are siphoned off to other “factory farms” and for-profit entities. Just this past December the Winston-Salem Journal reported that Rockingham County schools did not have enough money and were having to rob “Peter to pay Paul” just to keep public schools open and equipped with the basic supplies, even toilet paper. But at the same time, Sen. Phil Berger’s own son was slated to open up Providence Charter High School with taxpayer money in Rockingham County. Luckily, that endeavor never materialized, but the state’s Charter School Advisory Board just recommended that 16-18 new charter schools be financed by taxpayers.

The soil in which the public school system is rooted has been altered so much in the past decade that the orchard where teachers “grow” their crops has been stripped of much of its vitality. Look at the number of standardized tests, curriculum models, and teacher evaluation protocols thrown at public schools. And those will change again with Race to the Top money running out.

We are treating the symptoms, not the malady. We are trying to put a shine on the apples by “raising” graduation rates with new grading scales. It is analogous to constructing a new white picket fence around an orchard and thinking that the crop will automatically improve.

But our elected officials can help or at least remove the obstacles for those who can.

The General Assembly can invest more in pre-K programs. They can stop funding for-profit charter and corporate-run virtual schools. They can expand Medicaid so more kids come to school healthy. They can reinstitute the Teaching Fellows program to keep our bright future teachers here in North Carolina. Then they can give decent raises to veteran teachers so they finish their careers here.

Our public school teachers and administrators are not looking for a profit to gain; they already see the value in each and every student.

Imagine those apples.

Stuart Egan

English Teacher

West Forsyth High School

Walking in the Footsteps of a Teacher

I shadowed a 2nd grade teacher last month and it was an eye-opening experience.   I witnessed the degree to which teachers struggle to meet the ever-growing needs of their students, are not treated as professionals, and are being exploited.

To protect myself and the people involved (including students and parents), I will use pseudonyms for everyone involved.  I am a parent and have security clearance; I simply wanted to know more about what teaching is like in North Carolina today.

The school is a magnet school within an affluent part of a major metropolitan area in North Carolina.  Many faculty members said they felt lucky to be at a school with a great principal within a supportive community.  Several confided they were afraid to think what teaching must be like in less affluent rural areas.

7:15 a.m. – Ms. Ray was in her classroom, after making some copies in a workroom that morning.  She was eating oatmeal while she readied her classroom.

7:45 a.m. – Ms. Ray and nine other female educators met in a professional learning team.  Four were 2nd grade teachers, one was a special educator, one a literacy specialist, one an assistant principal, and the rest were student teachers.  They went over a few announcements, including that:

-          Report cards were to go out tomorrow and paper just came in.

-          According to their Positive Behavior Intervention and Support system, it was their turn to plan an event to help relieve faculty stress.  All expenses would come from the teachers’ own pockets.

-          Teachers are no longer referring kids to administration for bad behavior, as the new system for doing so (ironically named “EASI”) is hard to navigate.  A tutorial has been posted on the internet.

-          For future “M class” reading assessments, teachers will not be allowed to test their own students.

-          They then began discussing specific kids who are performing below grade level.  They call this part “Kid Talk”.  The stated goal was to share knowledge about the kids to see if they could gain greater insight on how to meet their needs.  They talked about 18 kids total, always referencing recent test scores (mainly Mclass reading scores) as a part of the discussion.  A few kids stood out:

Tabitha:  She rarely talks.  They have referred her for testing but can’t get the necessary forms back from mom.  The family only speaks Spanish.  It was recommended that a staff member do a home visit.

Greg:  He is autistic, and all involved agreed he probably needs a one-on-one aid.  He cannot stay on task and has a very hard time knowing what to do when left alone.  A county representative came and observed and said the teachers need to write out every instruction for every part of the day so he could refer to those directions when lost.  The teachers realize this will take at least an hour of writing a day, as there can be as many as sixteen transitions in a typical day.  They don’t know how they will do this, but if they don’t, Greg will not get the one-on-one aid he needs

Anthony:  He is a new student.  This is his third school this year.  He came to school with scabies, and he has places on his body that are irritated and bleed.  He reports he doesn’t sleep at night.  He tries to sleep all day, and the teacher does not know what else to do but let him.  It’s agreed someone should do a home visit.

I later find out that teachers must provide and document that they provided interventions for all 18 kids for at least ten minutes three times a week.

8:54 a.m. – Back to Ms. Ray’s room where kids are doing morning work, which is to “solve two math problems using any strategy and then write a word problem to match the equation”.  A teacher assistant is there named Ms. Grace.  She starts pulling kids out who are below reading grade level to read to her for 5 minutes.  She does this every day.

8:57-9:07 a.m. – Maddy’s mom is here to talk about Maddy’s seating assignment.  Kids are lining up to have their morning work checked and get a sticker.  Ms. Ray says that this mother comes in, unannounced, to meet with her about something most every morning.  This is the sixth time she has requested a seating change.

9:07 – 9:14 a.m. – Ms. Ray circulates, checking morning work and praising the kids.

9:14 a.m. – The bell rings.  Ms. Ray leads the pledge of allegiance and the singing of this month’s song about America.    She then leads them in reading a “fluency poem”, out loud, three times.

9:20- 9:31 a.m. – Ms. Ray facilitates a Letterland lesson, a new requirement this year. She’s teaching words that have “ea” in them and make the “eh” sound.  Cards are distributed, kids get up and spell a word she calls out, and the other students give a “thumbs up” or down to evaluate correctness.

9:31 – 9:35 a.m. – She helps them glue their spelling words into their notebooks.

9:35 a.m. – Daniel is crying.  Ms. Ray asks Ms. Grace to handle a transition while she meets with him.  She ends their brief discussion with “Let’s talk more about this at recess, ok?”

9:37 a.m. – Carpet time.  They learn about the three purposes authors have when they write:  to inform, entertain and persuade.  They discuss examples.  Ms. Ray gives instructions for the next activity.

9:45 a.m. – Ms. Ray has prepared four stations for kids to work in to improve their reading and writing skills.  Lots of materials have been prepared ahead of time:  directions placed in a tray, labels printed, an evidence worksheet copied, clipboards, a computer station is prepped, and she has pulled and prepared to meet with a reading group.

9:45 – 10:05 a.m.  – Ms. Ray simultaneously runs a reading group and supervises the other stations.   She praises and redirects kids throughout the room.  Ms. Grace assists.

10:06 – 10:30 a.m. – They rotate roles and repeat the stations.  Ms. Grace has to leave to go to another room.  Things get a little dicey; Greg, the autistic student, needs redirection.  A student tells on another student for sneezing on a desk and not covering their mouth.  Ms. Ray wipes down the desk.  Many students suddenly need Ms. Ray attention – lost library books, they want a sip of water, they are unsure where to put their finished work.

10:30 a.m. – Snack time!  Ms. Ray provides goldfish crackers to kids who don’t have snack.  The extras are provided by parents.  Kids take turn sharing stories in front of the class.  Others raise their hands and ask questions.

I take a peek at the calendar on Ms. Ray’s desk.  On Tuesday she had an after school meeting.  Today she had a meeting before school and has a meeting during planning. Thursday she has two parent conferences, one during planning and one after school.  Friday she has an after school meeting.

10:35-10:40 a.m. – Ms. Ray does hall duty while students go to electives.

10:40-11:20 a.m. – Ms. Ray teaches a reading elective in her classroom.  She has read and selected award winning books that she will read aloud.

11:25 a.m. – Kids change classes again.  Ms. Ray gets a love note from a student .  “You are my favorite teacher and only teacher and I appreciate how you teach me everything.  Thank you.”

11:30 – 12: 00 – Ms. Ray teaches a social studies elective in another room.  She has prepared a lesson on relative and absolute location and reading a map grid.

12:00 p.m. – Recess!  Ms. Ray circulates on the playground, supervising and chatting with colleagues.  My interactions with staff are interesting.  One teacher tells me this is her 17th year teaching, her 11th in NC, and she still doesn’t make the pay she received her first year teaching in New York and California.  Another tells me she has 27 students, and anything over 20 means she “is not able to meet anyone’s needs”.  Another teacher tells me there are three kids suspected of having diabetes in her class, and they must draw blood 5 times a day, but there isn’t a nurse so she has to do it.

Greg skins his knee and Ms. Ray applies a band-aid.  Another student reports his arm is hurt and he “heard something pop”, but he claims to be sick or hurt in some way most days.  Teachers gather to assess the situation.  They decide they better call home.  He comes back the next day with his arm in a cast.

12:30 p.m.  – Recess is over.  Ms. Ray takes the class to bathroom.  A parent volunteer speaks to her while they go.  The parent reports that two students need to be disciplined for misbehavior during a pull-out reading program.  While Ms. Ray handles it, the kids go to lunch.

12:40 p.m. – Ms. Ray appears at the faculty table in the cafeteria with her lunch.  She has 14 minutes to eat.  I ask Ms. Ray if she works on the weekends.  She says Sunday is a “workday” when she does about 3-4 hours of work.

I ask if there is a teacher’s lounge.  They report it was converted into a teaching space, so now they eat with the kids.  Teacher assistants supervise the kids while they eat.  They tell me there is not a vending machine for their use in the school.

12:54 p.m.  – Ms. Ray went to the bathroom for the first time.  All the bathrooms in her building are dedicated to special needs students or general student use. There is only one staff bathroom at the front of the building.

12:55-1:00 p.m. – Ms. Ray takes the students to the bathroom as they return to class.

1:05-1:20 p.m. – Ms. Ray reads from a novel as the kids listen attentively on the carpet.  Ms. Ray is very expressive and draws them in with predictions and questions.

1:20 p.m. – Time for a Common Core math lesson.  Ms. Ray reveals that her laptop has been broken for two weeks, and she has no idea when she will get it back.  She has a loaner laptop that has no battery power.  Until she gets her laptop back, she cannot use her SMART board or document camera.

Kids are given two-digit addition and subtraction word problems and told to solve them using at least two strategies. Ms. Ray circulates; Greg is lost.  Students begin presenting their solutions on the board.  They demonstrate number lines that relate math to space, “math mountains” and math ladders.

A  special educator comes in to assist Greg in math.  Ms. Grace comes and takes two students out for math remediation.

The kids are getting squirmy.  They keep analyzing the problems with lots of firm redirection from Ms. Ray.

1:45 p.m. – Ms. Ray assigns two new problems.  She circulates.  She has prepared a math challenge activity for students that finish early.

1:56 p.m. – Ms. Ray gathers the students on the carpet to process the math they just learned.

2:03 p.m. – Ms. Ray takes them for another bathroom break.

2:10 p.m. – Ms. Ray projects a “brain break” video where they watch a video and do rhythmic movement.

2:15 p.m. – Ms. Ray calls them to the carpet, reads two sample book reviews to them, and they analyze the elements of each.

2:25 p.m. – Ms. Ray circulates while students begin working on writing their own reviews.  She works one-on-one with students.  Derek claims he can’t think of a single book, and says he has no books in his home.  Ms. Ray reminds him of ten titles they have read together.  Pulling teeth comes to mind.

2:40 p.m. – Students leave for electives.  It’s Ms. Ray’s planning.   She and Ms. Grace brainstorm why forms and homework are no longer coming back in folders sent home.  Ms. Ray decides to send home an internet-based reminder.

2:45 p.m. – Meeting.  Ms. Ray is the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports chair and she needs advice on how to get ready for a county inspector / auditor.  Two other staff members are in the meeting.  One of the women, a counselor, announces she is leaving her position to begin a private practice.  No explanation seems necessary; everyone seems to understand the wisdom of her choice.

3:15 p.m. – Meeting is over.  Ms. Ray returns to her room and begins cleaning out the desk of a student.  I have observed that that student has an acute motion disorder, and he just can’t keep things orderly, but the mess drives her crazy.  So she takes on the task.

3:20 p.m. – The kids return and it’s time to “Read to Self”.  Ms. Grace comes to watch the children while Ms. Ray takes Greg to another room to do a “running record” assessment to gauge his progress in reading.

3:22 – 3:42 p.m. – Ms. Ray attentively works with Greg.  He does really well, and she is exuberant.  She worries that when another teacher tests him, though, he won’t do as well.  He might become shy and nervous.

3:45 p.m. – Dismissal!  Greg comes to get Ms. Ray for the “hugging ritual” they do at the end of the day.  At his insistence, she tells him three things each day: “You followed all the directions, you acted like a second grader, you are going to third grade.”  Then they hug.

3:45-4:16 p.m. – Ms. Ray straightens desks and puts away materials.  Ms. Grace is cutting and pasting to create journals for the students.

4:17 p.m. – Ms. Ray fills out a daily behavioral report for Maddy.   She then moves several desks around to move her to a new group, as her mother requested.

4:35 p.m. – Ms. Ray begins entering elective grades and comments into report cards.  If another teacher is accessing the file, she has to wait and do it later.  She makes notes as she goes.

4:43 p.m. – She open her email for the first time today.  There are 18 that need a response.  She decides to do that at home.  Ms. Grace says goodbye for the day.

4:50 p.m. – She begins preparing for the parent conferences the next day.

5:20 p.m. – Ms. Ray puts the morning work question on the board.

5:30 p.m. – Ms. Ray leaves, with plans to grade papers, answer emails, and send parent reminders after dinner. 

It had been a ten hour day.  I was merely an observer, but I was exhausted.  I later calculated that based on Ms. Ray’s take home pay and hours she works, she earns $11.86 an hour.  According to recent reports, the national rate for babysitting nationwide is $13.44.  Ms. Ray teaches 24 children.

A Concerned Parent


The Real Problem With Teaching in NC

by Nancy Snipes Mosley

The real problem with teaching in North Carolina isn’t the pay, it’s the hours.

My husband and I are both teachers. Recently, I suggested to him that we should only work the hours we are paid to make a point. His response was, “But, you can’t.” You would not get the job done. So I asked him why we couldn’t at least do it for a short time as a demonstration. He said the public would have no sympathy for teachers complaining about having to work too much. They would only have sympathy for something they saw as affecting the well being of students.Okay…

It is not in the best interest of students for good teachers to leave the profession. For talented young teachers, like one who was nominated for Teacher of the Year at Leesville Road High School this year, to leave for the private sector. When she was explaining her decision to not come back next year, the first words out of her mouth were, “I am just so tired, all the time.”

Students are also affected when experienced teachers like me get stretched so thin with non-instructional responsibilities that they become both physically and mentally exhausted. I love teaching and want to invest time in doing what is best for my students and my school, but I am going to get burned out if something doesn’t change. We are losing more and more teachers every year who are switching to other professions, retiring early, going to other states or countries to teach, or choosing not to return once they start a family.

I am now going to tell you two stories that illustrate the nature of teacher hours in North Carolina.

Teachers have to make up every hour lost to inclement weather. Unless you drove to school and worked in the building, you have to account for “lost” time. We have a total of 72.5 hours to account for this semester in Wake County. To see if we need to use any leave days, we make a chart of all the extra hours we have worked to see if we are in the negative. To date, I have worked 125 hours that would qualify because they occurred at school and I do not get salary or stipend for those activities. When I include everything I have scheduled through the end of the year, it totals 16.5 full days of extra time I have spent at school.

But the most basic parts of my job – grading papers for almost 90 students, creating instructional materials for two curriculums, writing quizzes and tests, emailing parents and counselors, and planning field trips – most often are done on my own time at home. My non-instructional school hours are taken up with covering duties, offering tutoring and re-tests, attending meetings, getting copies made, checking messages, entering grades, and setting up my classroom. I have to work through lunch, stay late, and take work home on a regular basis. When I look at the actual time I have spent working per week over the course of this year – it is approximately 56 hours or 2 days of unpaid overtime every week.

The fact that the school system is worried about some teachers “cheating” them out of money for those snow days is not only ridiculous but also insulting.

When I was preparing to go on maternity leave for my youngest, I worked for free for almost a month during the summer to convert my classes to the new curriculum and write out plans for my substitute. Legally, you are not required to do this. But in the schools, you are reminded that if you don’t do your job it will fall to other overworked teachers to do it for you, so…I continued to work nights and weekends and I still needed help from other teachers when the baby arrived. They did not get any extra pay or comp time, and I actually lost pay because I ran out of leave days. Even so, I still continued to consult with my substitute on a regular basis and occasionally came to school to get papers to grade, for free.

How did I run out of leave? I had used my allotted sick days during my first few years of teaching, during which I spent much of the time on the couch doing schoolwork. Some teachers, not naming names, even occasionally stay home just to be able to grade and plan all day. Other teachers come to school even when they are sick because they can’t fall behind. Many dedicated teachers sacrifice both their time and their health for their students.

I now have a two-year-old daughter and a five-year-old son. This extra time that I devote to teaching is coming at a real cost to my family. About once every few weeks, I crash right after dinner – and once I actually nodded off sitting upright at the table. Quite literally a “wake-up” call for me. Why, when I regularly work overtime without any form of compensation, do I buy into this message that I am still not doing enough?

I don’t just feel tired anymore, I feel exploited.

Testing: First, Do No Harm

Last spring, I started a journey to remove my kids from standardized testing.

The journey was frustrating.

My motivation is simple. We live in Wake County, and my children attend Sycamore Creek Elementary. When I looked at the county and school’s mission statements, I saw words like “growth mindset,” “life-long learners,” “compassionate, productive citizens” and “personal excellence” (Sycamore Creek Elementary), “full potential,” “lead productive lives,” “collaborative, creative, effective communicators and critical thinkers” (Wake County).

Pearson, the company that makes hundreds of millions of dollars a year in testing and test prep, concluded that students need soft skills–creativity, communication, and problem solving–to be successful. Google’s Human Resources Department looks for new hires who are “emergent” leaders and who have the ability to learn; he said that “test scores are worthless.” .

My fifth grader will take a state-mandated End of Grade (EOG) test and 11 separate local benchmark assessments this year. These assessments take up 28 hours of class time (each local benchmark takes 2 hours). If one includes test-prep activities (that aren’t activities FOR learning but measurements of content) such as Study Island, as well as actual testing time, it is easy to reach more than 40 hours of instructional time wasted on EOGs and benchmarks. Note that that is almost an entire week of instructional time when my child is not learning, but merely sitting, silently, filling in bubbles on paper.

Benchmarks and standardized tests don’t measure soft skills that make students successful when they leave school. Why are students required to spend time away from learning in order to take tests that only measure content knowledge, not critical thinking or leadership skills? What is the school district doing to ensure teachers are effective in creating assignments and activities to teach my kids these critical soft skills?

State End of Grade tests do not provide ongoing feedback to inform instruction. They measure students’ content knowledge, teacher effectiveness and they are used to grade schools. Through my investigation, I discovered I actually could not opt out of end-of-grade tests, due to state law and Race to the Top funding. End of grade testing is just part of the public school “package”–case closed. So, I turned my attention to the 11 (22+ hours of) local benchmark assessments.

At a teacher-parent conference this past fall, I asked my daughter’s teacher which was more valuable in assessing my child’s needs: benchmarks or classroom observations/assessments. Her answer was revealing. She knows more about my daughter’s strengths and weaknesses than any standardized test could give her. I asked the same question to my son’s third, fourth and fifth grade teachers. Their reply was similar — because they spend hundreds of hours with students, they understand what enrichment and remediation individual students deserve more than any multiplechoice test.

These conversations reinforced the idea that benchmarks are a waste of time, energy and money if the data is not any better than the data teachers already have. I learned that no school system is required by the state or federal department of education to give benchmarks. I then decided to have my children opt out of local benchmarks.

I emailed Sycamore Creek’s principal. She forwarded my request to the area superintendent. During two different conversations totaling three hours, we discussed formative and summative assessments, effective teaching, soft skills, standardized teaching, research and accountability. The end result, though, was that benchmarks are “policy.” My interpretation: “Your children must take benchmarks because we say so.” There was no rationale for this policy other than to hold teachers accountable for teaching curriculum and measuring if students were learning content. I traveled to WCPSS’s board policies website. There, I noted that benchmarks are listed as one of several formative assessment options, not a requirement.

Next, I talked to the Senior Director of Elementary School Programs. He responded that benchmarks help determine which teachers and schools need extra support. However, we already have data points that can guide those decisions. Report cards, observations, and EOG scores can deliver the same information without wasting 22+ hours of instructional time.

My frustration mounted, and it continues to do so. All students in all schools deserve effective instruction that gives them the time and opportunity to develop into lifelong learners…to learn how to be successful. Benchmarks do not measure which schools or students are developing the necessary communication or problem solving skills kids need. Therefore, we need to reallocate those hours so teachers have the class time to help develop those skills and attitudes that will best serve students’ interests in the future.

I ask that parents with any student who takes benchmarks to request that their child be removed from these redundant tests. I ask all teachers, who have insider information about the time-wasting nature of benchmarks, to educate the general public and stand up for a more rational educational policy.

If you have school-aged children, write a letter to your principal telling him/her that you are opting out of benchmarks.

Eric Broer

Parent and Educator

The Real Life of a Teacher

Allison Webb of Woodstock is a 15 year veteran teacher at Sequoyah High School in Canton.


If those of you in power really cared about teacher retention, quality of instruction, and increasing student achievement, you might want to consider the following points. I have prepared for you a detailed description of why and how my suggestions could have real impact and also let you in on why many beginning teachers don’t last, why many excellent teachers quit, and why nothing else that you do to improve education will make any difference in terms of the quality of teaching. I am going to show why despite the fact that I live my job more hours than my husband and 3 daughters would like, I will never get ahead, and find myself with 15 years invested in the dead end job that I love—teaching.


I teach 5 classes a day and prepare three different lesson plans (Spanish 1, Spanish 3 Honors and AP Spanish Language and Culture). My planning period (55 minutes long) is supposed to be sufficient for me to prepare engaging and creative, differentiated lessons for 3 different groups of kids. Let’s see—does that mean I am saying that 19 minutes per class is sufficient? And I need to subdivide those 19 minutes to account for the different needs of students in each of those classes (those who need assignments to accelerate their learning as well as those who need support to remediate their lack of learning or mastery)? And I’ll have time for grading, responding to parent emails and attending meetings, making copies and doing various duties? Actually, I think it’s pretty clear that it is nowhere near sufficient. The grading goes into a big black bag, to be ever present at the side of my recliner, gone through as the kids are asking me questions about their homework, lying across my chest as I fall asleep with it in the recliner. The grading is rolled up and stuck in my purse so that during half-time at my kids’ basketball games, I might be able to grade a few tests, quizzes, or compositions. The grading is quickly stacked up and put away as my husband sighs, “Can’t you ever quit working?” What happens is that my average school day is extended many hours past the 8 to 4 day that non-teachers seem to covet. Perhaps when you are finished reading this essay, you can tell me if you still envy my hours, vacations, and carefree living.


I have a lunch period between two bells. Leaving campus for lunch is frowned upon, and I must have express permission from my administrator to do so. So my lunch is “Michelle Obama’s” fare or a frozen meal or leftovers, eaten hurriedly over a student desk with a few other colleagues who wish to feel like normal adults for a few minutes each day. Once we’ve scarfed down our food, we hope to run copies, but often find ourselves running from one end of the school to another, trying to find a copier that is not jamming or out of toner. On the weeks that we have duty, we walk around our designated area, telling kids to please pick up and throw away trays that are never theirs, pick up carrots that nobody threw and catch dress code violators that never had anything said to them before. We watch out for fights that nobody starts and count down the days of that unfortunate week. We receive no compensation for this lunch duty—it is included under the various sundry duties we may be arbitrarily assigned, which are not limited to lunch duty. As a Spanish teacher, I have to serve translation duty, which means that for 1 month each semester, I have to make myself available to call and/or email Spanish-speaking parents, interpret at IEP meetings or translate documents. Others have hall duty, morning duty, or afternoon duty monitoring parts of the building, trying to keep teenagers from meeting up in corners and dark spaces and from skipping class. We all have to share school events, like Prom duty, begging our spouses to dress up and make us feel even a little bit elegant as we monitor the girls coming out of the bathroom for signs of alcohol consumption and hit the dance floor trying to keep the dancing PG. We are asked to volunteer for the county events and to chaperone weekend field trips. Coaches spend the season of their sports living on campus. Our band and choral directors live on the field and in the concert halls.


And I’d like to talk grading, which varies in volume by area, but I think it will be hard for anyone truly to get this reality without some illustration. Right now I teach 33 students in AP Spanish Language, 28 students in Pre-AP Spanish 3 and 39 students in Spanish 1—100 in all. I have a light load in terms of class numbers. Most teachers deal with 30-35 students per class, with 150-175 students total. My faculty handbook requires me to put in grades weekly, which usually involves 1-3 small assignments like homework or compositions and 1-2 larger assignments like quizzes, tests or essays per week, per class. So let’s say that I start with 2 homework assignments and 1 quiz for Pre-AP Spanish 3. Each homework takes between 30 seconds and a minute (I’ll estimate 45 seconds to be fair) to grade and then at the end of the week, it takes about 5 minutes per class to put those grades into the online gradebook. So that would mean 45 seconds times 2 assignments times 28 students equals 2520 seconds, or 42 minutes. Not bad! But they also had a quiz, which does take a little longer to grade (about 2 and half minutes each). Now we’re at 1 hour and 10 minutes for the quiz, plus the 5 minutes to put grades in. I’m now at approximately 2 hours for Pre-AP Spanish. I’ll spare you the detailed calculations from here on, but AP Spanish Language is more intense, because I regularly have to grade their essays, recordings and projects, which are definitely more complex. So after a paragraph and an essay I’d calculate about 4 hours to complete all their grading and enter it. But there’s still Spanish 1, which does take a lot of small assignments to make sure they are studying. These freshmen are not convinced that they should take anything seriously unless it’s for a grade, so 3 homework assignments and a quiz should be good. Two and a half hours later, I’m done with them. Grand total for a typical weeks grading—from 8 to 10 additional hours.


Teaching feels like a 24 hour a day job. After 15 years and many incredible mentors, including both my mom and dad, I have quite a few tools when it comes to coming up with an effective activity quickly; however, most beginning teachers’ preparation focuses more of their attention on the hows and whys of learning instead of the whats, as in what do I do to get them to learn this concept and not be totally bored, off task or worse, causing classroom disruption? What do I do when the activity I planned in such detail bombs?  I did not build these strategies overnight and I did not acquire these skills by working an 8 to 4 job. In my first years as a teacher, I remember staying up to 1 and 2 am on a routine basis, sitting at our desktop computer coming up with handouts, tests and quizzes. It took me back to the days when I was in elementary school and my mom was working on the Apple IIC, and our noisy printer woke me up at 2 am while choking out a biology test. There were years of my husband asking me why I couldn’t get all this work done during my planning period, convinced that there had to be something I was doing wrong. Those same years, I swore I would divorce him unless he took a day off work to be my shadow and see what it was like, which normally quieted him down until the next time his frustration with my job boiled over. There were years of my asking the family to please hold off on the family Christmas party until after finals because I had to write mine up from scratch. The time spent out of school on this job has a real impact on a teacher’s ability to enjoy life and to spend time with her family. My kids learned to answer when other moms wondered where I was at their school day events “My mom’s a teacher and she can’t leave her class.” My husband was often the caretaker on days when they were sick because he didn’t have to find a sub and put together a lesson plan in order to stay home. This is what teaching is like because there is no way to get it all done, ever.


Some of the most competitive school systems in the world understand this truth about time and teaching. These countries have built a system that recognizes that effective teaching requires significant time devoted to planning and preparing feedback for students. According to a report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development on teaching hours, “at the upper secondary general level, teachers in Denmark, Finland, Greece, Israel, Japan, Korea, Norway, Poland and the Russian Federation teach for three hours or less per day, on average, compared to more than five hours in Argentina, Chile and the United States” (OEDC 2011). When teachers have more hours to prepare, they are able to tailor their lessons, get grading done in order to provide timely feedback to students. They are able to live a life outside the school and they are able to feel like 30 years in this profession is not a life sentence. They are able to deliver quality instruction. Is it any wonder that those systems where teachers have more time to plan are leading the world in quality of education? There are so many research-based strategies that we would like to use better, but we simply do not have enough hours in the day to do so, so the system in essence ties our hands.


The school day gives us few opportunities to work together. We have department meetings once a month after school, so the already long day is extended by another hour. In addition, working together before or after school is often limited by additional commitments we have as teachers. For example, my department head and Spanish colleague has morning duty from 7:45 to 8:30 every day and I tutor Spanish 1 students most Mondays after school, teach an APEX recovery class on Tuesday, have Model UN club meetings on Wednesday afternoons (until 5 pm), and try to make myself available for a student who needs help applying for college and another one who wants to brush up on her Spanish for her job at Zaxby’s. On Fridays, I stay for the games, and let the kids know that I am proud of what they do on the field and on the court too. So it’s hard to choose a day and time for collaborative planning outside of the school day.


We do have one week of pre-planning and one week of post-planning, of which the pre-planning is probably the most fruitful. I should clarify—it is fruitful when we are allowed to use it for planning and collaboration, not when we are forced to attend workshops for our professional development that every year roll the latest set of acronyms that an education bureaucrat has invented. During the year on several days each semester we huddle in someone’s classroom after school and work until 6-7 pm planning common assessments and unit activities. Those long days contribute to the fatigue and often (not to be too dramatic) hopelessness we feel about our careers. We work so hard and never seem to get ahead. Yet, it is in those late afternoon meetings that we get our frustrations off our chest, have moments of creative energy, get excited about the latest project and rubric we have designed, and find the strength to keep going. We rely on each other so much and sometimes we are the only ones who can talk each other down from the cliff when things go poorly.


We are assumed by the system to be incompetent and must constantly prove that we are not. Testing is a prime example. In fact, the current system seems to say that only a test can prove that a teacher is competent. Testing takes time, does not contribute to learning, costs who knows how much money and is often redundant. I sometimes wonder why the state doesn’t just cut the testing budget instead of our insurance, raises, professional learning–if they really care about quality of instruction. Let me give you an example. I have been teaching AP Spanish Language and Culture since 2005. I have attended 3 different week-long trainings and 1 refresher training. Every summer I spend 7 days, 8 am to 5 pm, grading the AP Spanish Language exam with colleagues from colleges and high schools from all over the United States. You can look up the scores that my students have received on the exam from every one of those years. But now, I have to administer an “SLO” exam twice a year as a pretest and posttest. It is a poor substitute for the full AP exam, including only reading questions (50 total) and takes one class period. The College Board assessment evaluates a student’s ability to speak, write and understand written language, spoken language and culture and lasts for 4 hours. My students take their actual AP exam in May and we receive those scores in June. Now it is true that not all students can afford to pay for the exam or choose to take it. But the students’ growth from pre to post test on the SLO is what is used in my evaluation, and not their AP scores. We are over-testing our students because the system places no trust in the teachers’ ability to instruct.


I know that I am a great teacher. I am not a perfect one, but I am a highly effective, master teacher who is sought out for advice, has mentored new teachers, has hosted a student teacher, has been recognized as the STAR teacher, multiple Salutatorians’ and Valedictorians’ influential teacher, has watched former students go on to minor in Spanish and even major in it, following a love for language that was first fostered in my classroom. I have been involved in my professional organizations, competed for and won scholarships, written grants, written curriculum, selected textbooks, given presentations and speeches and even received the Outstanding Graduate Student Award as I completed my masters last year (while I was teaching). So is mine the type of teaching you wish to replicate? Do you really think that most teachers are as passionate, crazy, type-A, driven as I am to do all those hours of work outside of the 8 to 4 school day? You guessed it – probably not. But you might have a better chance of making this happen, and thus improve the state of teaching, if you designed the school day to make the following items a priority: time for planning quality instruction, time for collaboration, cutting back on testing and giving teachers a voice and a means to impact their schools and professions.


These are my recommendations:


  1. Establish more planning days during each semester or grading period and don’t fill it up with workshops; let us work together, share best practices and use our resources to enrich our own curriculum.
  2. Reduce the number of hours teaching and increase the number of hours used for planning and collaboration. Yes this would mean hiring more teachers to cover the classes, but you could pay for it with my #3.
  3. Stop the redundant testing. When you know how to read test data, you realize how wasteful it is to administer an ITBS every year, a COGAT every year, an SLO. You realize that the indicators of great teaching are easily observable in the classroom and in the quality of activities a teacher plans. There is no need to take instructional time for testing. Assessment is part of effective teaching already.
  4. Hire administrators that foment an esprit de corps, who give us opportunities to socialize, to get to know members of other departments and to make us feel a sense of community instead of isolation. Hire administrators who see us as a team to be coached up.
  5. Stop bombarding new teachers with extracurricular commitments. Give them the time they deserve to learn and be mentored by others so that they don’t run away from their teaching career before 3 years have passed.
  6. Listen to us. Ask for our opinion. Engage us in this fight for a better education for all students.
  7. Stop vilifying teachers and balancing your budgets at our expense. Stop begrudging us a yearly step raise, which in my case amounts to about two grand every two years. Stop saying that a teacher with her master’s in her subject area has not earned a raise that will not even cover the cost of her student loan. Stop plotting ways to shortchange us in health insurance and to raid our retirement.
  8. Stop appointing to educational reform commissions those who have never taught but who seek to profit monetarily from the reforms they support.


Who is Failing Whom?

This post is a slightly expanded version of an op-ed article that appeared in the News and Observer on February 21, 2015.  Here’s the link:

I am the product of the time in NC when we invested in our young people through public education.  My grandparents were minimum wage textile workers; none enjoyed the benefit of a high school education.  My parents graduated from secondary school but had to get right to work upon graduation.

By the time I was in high school, the state of NC was investing in the future.  I had the most inspiring, innovative and experienced teachers in public school.  They challenged me and made me hungry to be like them – their command of their subject, love of language, excitement about learning and the creativity they brought into the four walls of our classroom was infectious!

When I graduated high school, I had great grades but no college fund.  Again, NC invested in me.  They offered me a full scholarship to UNC-Chapel Hill if I would agree to teach for four years.  There was a shift in my mind’s eye – I began watching my teachers from a new perspective.  As I began to think about being a teacher, it energized me like nothing else.

When I began teaching, the state of NC was still there, ever prodding me to further personal growth and improvement.  There were financial incentives to get a master’s degree, and I did.  There were financial incentives to get nationally board certified, and I did.   Through those experiences, I honed my craft and deepened my subject knowledge; I learned that great teaching was not about what I was doing in the classroom every day.  It was about what MY STUDENTS were doing.

For 22 years I have been ever evolving to better meet the needs of my students and to prepare them to be the most productive and capable generation possible.

But, NC is no longer investing in our students and our state.  It is evident everywhere my students turn.  They hear the dripping from the leaking windows in my trailer when it rains.  They feel it in the lightness of their book bags in the first days of school as they have no textbooks to take home.   In many schools, there are not even teachers in their classrooms.   So many have left, and so few are preparing to enter the profession, that vacancies cannot be filled.  There are no scholarships to encourage promising students to become teachers.   And veteran teachers are retiring at a fast clip.

The new grading system is being used to convince the public that the public schools are “failing”.    The interesting thing about the grades is that they reflect the same inequalities that I see in my classroom.  Is it surprising when the student who comes from wealth and privilege achieves and the chronically poor student struggles?  No.  But do we slap an F on the poor student and publicly embarrass them in the media?  Will that inspire that student to improve?  No.  You offer that child extra help and support, you encourage them, and celebrate every little success along the way to higher achievement.

That is what the state of NC should be doing for our most vulnerable students in our poorest counties.  Instead, they took away 6,000 teaching positions, more than 3,000 teacher assistants, cut per pupil spending, gave us a new curriculum but no textbooks or technology, administered one standardized test and declared many of our poorest schools to be “failing”.  If I graded my own students this way, providing less and less support and administering one test counting 80% of their grade, I would be, and should be, fired.

They are preparing the way for the day when they convince the public to lose faith in our public schools, and start moving their kids to charter and private schools where teachers do not have to be certified, where financial accountability is lacking, and there are profits to be made off of our children.

Public school teachers have been accused of many things in this political climate, but a desire for profit is not one of them.  In fact, our teachers are the ONLY state employees in the state that no longer receive longevity pay.  And based on the recent uneven pay raises for teachers, I seem to be in the one profession I know of where experience is a liability.  Instead of lying about my age, I’ve started lying about my years of teaching experience.

I wonder if you can even get a young teacher to speak publicly.  I at least, for now, have due process rights.  I can be fired, but there has to be a reason.  My colleagues with less than five years of experience now have no such assurances.  They are basically seasonal employees, with no guarantee of having a job in any given year.  I wonder if I started teaching today how that single fact would have affected the whole trajectory of my career.  Would I have invested my blood, sweat and tears in my school the way I have?  Would I have bought the shirt, jackets, shoes, socks and watch in my school’s colors?  Would I have invested in my students personally, knowing I would be there for years to see them develop?  Would I be planning the 20th reunion for the Class of 1995?  I don’t think so.

And in that, I hope you see how drastically and fundamentally this state legislature is shifting the very foundations the future of our state is built on.  It is subtle, and it is complicated to the outside observer, but I want you to hear loud and clear that we are no longer investing in our children the way we should be.  And our state will be the worse for it.  And that is why it has to stop. Our children are not failing, we are failing our children.  Let’s stop the unfair grading and start investing in our kids, and our future, again.

Angela Scioli, Wake County Teacher for 22 years

Founder: Red 4EdNC

Good Teacher / Bad Teacher: Why NC’s Value Added Measurement (VAM) Teacher Effectiveness Data Has This Teacher Confused

The state of North Carolina has contracted with SAS Corporation to devise a way to measure teacher effectiveness.  Teachers now get EVAAS (Education Value Added Assessment System) score reports that are factored into their yearly evaluations.  We are in the second year of implementation, and so far, my results have been, in one way, confusing, and in another sense, exactly right.

I teach American History II to 11th graders.  By the time my students get to me, many of them have been in NC public schools for a period of time and their “data” (past standardized test scores) are used to project their future performance.  The statisticians at SAS have devised predictive models that project how students should score on the state assessment based on past test scores.   I teach the class and another teacher comes and administers the state-made final exam at the conclusion of the course.  My students’ performance on that single multiple choice assessment on that single day is the only data point that is used to generate my effectiveness score (never mind that some of my best performing students have calculated that they need just a 50 to “keep their B” and don’t study).  Each year, I get an email that informs me that I can view my “dashboard” and see how well I am doing.  I see a graphic that tells me I am “in the red” (uh-oh, my students are not meeting expected growth on average), in the expected growth range (whew), or “in the green” (exceeding expected growth – yay!).

We are two years into the system.  My first year of checking my “dashboard” was like a punch in the stomach.  In an interesting turn of events, a documentary filming crew caught my reaction and it can be viewed at this link:–5.  You can see there that EVAAS plotted my score in the red zone – below expected growth.  This was disconcerting.  I am a passionate veteran educator.  I was doing everything I knew to do to help my students succeed.  I had “flipped” my classroom – putting my own instructional videos online – to help my students with learning disabilities, limited English proficiency, and high rates of absenteeism.  I was teaching bell to bell, I’m rarely sick, I know my subject, I provide remediation and retesting, I created a 1300+ slide review Powerpoint as a scaffolded review of the whole course that students could access anytime online to help them succeed . . . I was dumbfounded.

I did not alter the way I taught after seeing those scores.  Not the least bit.  Why not?  I honestly could not think of anything more I could do.  It’s not like I have some cool ideas or approaches that I am holding off on in case I need to bring out the big guns.   I was putting it all on the table every day.  So, I just tried to put the scores out of mind.  But they still bugged me.

I recently received my latest “dashboard” notification, and with a good deal of trepidation, I opened the file.  The good news?  I somehow in one year magically transformed into a fantastic teacher!  I’m now in the solid green – way on up there in “Yay!” territory.

I’m suspicious.   If I’m a “bad” teacher, aren’t I “bad” all the time?  And isn’t a “good” teacher good all the time?  That’s how it is in the movies, and that’s how it seems in casual conversation.  Teachers are good or bad.  Or “meh”.  But they aren’t all three at the same time.

Until they are.  Teaching performance, like any performance, is a chemical interaction.  Have you and a friend ever sat in a movie, and upon leaving the theatre had different opinions about it?  My husband and I do this all the time.  We like different kinds of movies.  In the first five minutes, we each know if we are “hooked” or not, and while I might sit politely through an entire feature, I might be mentally making my grocery list half the time.  It doesn’t mean the actors didn’t care, or the screenwriters stunk it up.  My husband, remember, is riveted.  If I take a test on the movie later, I might reflect badly on the director.

In the classroom, it works the same way.  I have what I call the “carriers of the fire”.  These kids love history and we connect immediately.  Then I have my visual spatial learners –  I’m visual spatial, too.  I try to reach out to the other learning styles in the room, but visual spatial is my default setting.  And then I have some female students out there looking for a role model of a strong, positive, confident woman.  I can get them on board through sheer force of personality.  But, there are students that will always be politely sitting through my class, but they aren’t buying. They might need a nurturer who calls them sweetie and keeps snacks in her desk drawer, or a teacher that connects with them on a personal level.  My perky professionalism might seem inauthentic; maybe I remind them of their annoying aunt.  It’s personal, but it’s not.  Unlike business or the movies, we can’t cut our losses and move to a different target market or audience.  For the next 89 days, I will try my best to win over those recalcitrant members of my audience.  It’s kind of exhausting, actually.  But, those first few moments and impressions are extremely powerful and often predictive.

If we reward the teachers who consistently connect with the largest segment of students, we might get what I call “blockbuster” instruction.  It’s tempting, but might have unintended consequences.  Like directors who manufacture the hit summer movie and can reap huge profits, would instruction take on the same “formulaic” tone?  And would this benefit kids who need to learn to interact with a diversity of people in positions of authority?  Just as we treasure independent and documentary films- and would be outraged by an artistic space that made their existence impossible- so should we be skeptical of any attempt to blot out individuality in our classrooms.  That unique teacher in room 205 might not appeal to the majority, but her presence might be a lifeline to a minority of students that don’t respond to the most popular teachers in the school.   Her appeal may not be broad, but she may be doing more to stem the dropout rate than we can ascertain using “data metrics”.

I’ve made my peace with the fact that SAS is right.  I’m a good teacher, and a bad teacher, and a “meh” one.  But here’s the catch:  It’s at the same time, in the same space, with the same “audience”.  Just like the movies.  And just as we will not tolerate a narrowing of the type of performance we allow in the entertainment industry, we should not allow that trend to overtake our classrooms.  Perhaps we should quit paying SAS millions of dollars to show us what is obvious, and we should apply those funds to approaches that will attract highly qualified teachers of all types to our state’s classrooms, and keep them there.

Teacher of the Year

Here is the new trailer for the documentary, Teacher of the Year. 

Looks great, right? However, in order for this movie to become a reality, we need your help. For this movie to reach its full potential, it requires professional post production work and insurance.

We ask you to support this movie and public education by this sharing this link and donating. No amount is too small, and every little bit counts. There is not much time to reach our goal (we have until February 19th, 2015), and we really want this movie to succeed so that we can spread our message about public education. Change can’t occur until we have widespread awareness, and this documentary is a crucial step of the process.

We are so grateful for all of the hard work and time that amazing people have put into this movie, and for the support of everyone in helping this movie cross the finish line. Without you, it would not be possible.

Please click on/share this link to support–5