Who Will Protect Our Protectors?

By David Robinson, NC Career and Technical Education Teacher

I was watching TV the other night and came across a program on The History Channel about the great warriors of the past. Every culture seemed to have its own ideal warrior: the Maasai, Azande, and Zulu of Africa; the Huns; the Shaolin Monks of China; the Roman Gladiators, the Spartans, the Medieval Knights of Europe; the Eagle and Jaguar warriors of Aztec South America; the Samurai and Ninja of Japan; the Rajputs of India; the Scottish Highlanders; and the Byzantine Cataphract were all the great fighters of their civilizations. Most had to complete some sort of rigorous training process and graduate in a ceremony that inducted them into their status. This confirmed them as experts with one or more weapons (e.g. the shield and throwing stick of the Zulu, the archery of the Huns, or the axe and dagger of the Highlanders). They served their communities through various tasks, such as finding lost cattle or moving the herds to the grassy areas for grazing, which possibly required them to be away from their families for several weeks at a time. Their leaders, also great warriors, had exhibited countless acts of bravery. If any one of them did something to bring shame to their clans or villages, they all would be punished or fined. The warrior was held in high esteem and had great responsibility to the community.

One group known for their fierce warriors were the Lakota people, Native Americans led by Sitting Bull. When asked what made his warriors great, he said:

“Warriors are not what you think of as warriors. The warrior is not someone who fights, because no one has the right to take another life. The warrior, for us, is one who sacrifices himself for the good of others. His task is to take care of the elderly, the defenseless, those who cannot provide for themselves, and above all the children, the future of humanity.”

You may be asking yourself, “What does all this have to do with today’s issues?”

This research prompted me to search for the true warriors of today. Who fights to the death for the defenseless? Who sacrifices himself or herself for the good of others? Who cares for those who cannot care for themselves, and, above all, who cares for the children? I ask you: Who are the warriors of today?

After some reflecting on our current society, I could only find a few groups that could compare with famed warriors. The first group is our men and women in the military and law enforcement. Without question these people are indeed warriors, putting their lives on the line by working each day to defend the defenseless. The other group of warriors, like Sitting Bull so famously said, “may not be what you think of as warriors.”

They are the teachers.

When we think of those who sacrifice themselves to defend and protect the future of humanity today, it is the teacher. As we remember the anniversary of the events at Sandy Hook Elementary school, we are reminded of the lengths that teachers will go for their students. Eight school employees were killed in the Sandy Hook tragedy. One was Victoria Leigh Soto, who sacrificed herself to save her students – throwing her body in front of the young children. In less extreme cases, I see teachers every day throwing it all on the line for students. They sacrifice time with their own children and families, sacrifice high-paying careers with lucrative benefits, sacrifice money out of their pockets for school supplies and materials for their students, and some even make the ultimate sacrifice like Soto and the other fallen warriors of Sandy Hook. These people are our modern-day warriors. These are the people we should hold in high esteem, the people we should revere.

So why, then, are attacked teachers met with silence from society? We as a collective must stand up and loudly proclaim that these are our warriors. Whether these attacks come from a gun-toting fanatic or a senseless budget-cutting legislature or school board, the cry should be loud.  While events like Sandy Hook take place in an instant, cuts in education are a slow and silent acts of destruction. One is a pressure washer of tremendous force, and the other is the slow, dripping faucet that escapes national attention. The precious potential of our children is wasted all the same.

I’m sure that somewhere along the way you have encountered a teacher who used his or her shield to protect you, or to fight off the forces of ignorance for you. This teacher and teachers like him or her make a way out of no way. For this reason, we must rally around and celebrate our teacher warriors with great ceremony. How can you help defend our “warrior teachers”?

 

Is There a Real Solution to the Problem with Teaching in NC?

by Nancy Snipes Mosley

My parents used to “joke” that if I decided to major in education they wouldn’t pay for my college tuition. I took them seriously because my mother was a teacher and I saw up close the stressful nature of the job. I finally realized teaching was my calling, but only after I graduated and had to go back to school to change careers.

I almost decided not to be a teacher because it didn’t seem like a rational choice. Even though my mother was an inspired educator who loved her students, she sacrificed too much to meet both their needs and ours. After eleven years, my love for teaching students is stronger than ever. At the same time, I’m getting increasingly worried about the toll the job is taking on my family and myself.

My husband is also a teacher, so the chances that one of my children will feel called to the classroom is pretty high. Given how much I value and enjoy public education, this is something I should hope for…not fear. Will North Carolina start addressing teaching conditions more seriously, or will we perpetuate the family “joke” about not majoring in education?

Part I of this series focused on how North Carolina teachers are exploited by having to work too many extra hours without pay. Part II focused on how our evaluation process demoralizes teachers by sending the message that they are never doing enough. This last installment will identify top priorities for change and propose ways to increase teacher time, morale, compensation, and resources.

Time

  • Hire more teachers, specialists, and assistants to decrease class sizes and provide more planning time for new teachers and teacher leaders. Students would benefit from more personal attention and increased time in special electives and enrichment/remediation programs.
  • Add more optional workdays, especially at times when administrative tasks can eclipse lesson planning. When rolling out comprehensive changes to standards and curriculum, build in extra workdays for a few years to help with the transition.
  • Start earlier so first semester ends before winter break. This would ease exam administration and transition to new classes on the block schedule. It would also help when there is inclement weather, helping protect workdays and professional development in the latter part of the year.

Morale

  • Differentiate the evaluation instrument by grade level, discipline, and years of experience. The software could be set up to pull items for me that match: High School, Social Studies, 10-15 years experience. 2 Offer the chance to apply for a “teacher leader” status to provide a bonus and/or more planning time for taking on extra leadership roles.
  • Stop moving assessment targets so that teachers never feel they’ve met the mark. Data should be used to identify goals, not to pressure teachers to conform to a magical formula for good test scores. Clarify the role of test data in evaluations so teachers feel free to take creative risks and capitalize on their strengths.
  • Engage in more dialogue with administrators about ways teachers can hold students accountable for regulating their own behavior and success. Traditional consequences and incentives that no longer work need to be replaced with ones that do.

Compensation

  • Restore or protect salary incentives for earning an advanced degree, National Board Certification, and longevity status. Traditional merit pay doesn’t work in an environment where collaboration is more valuable than competition and value is too difficult to quantify and compare. Teachers who put in an extra and long-term investment in our schools should be rewarded.
  • Improve stipends for coaching, mentoring, and advising roles. For extra activities without stipends, allow teachers to accrue hours that could be converted into leave for optional workdays, medical/family emergencies, and retirement.
  • Allow teachers to apply for summer or after-school employment for developing new instruction and initiatives for their school. This would address some of the unpaid overtime issue, incentivize more teachers to take on leadership roles, and help schools make faster progress on improvement plans.

Resources

  • Expand and integrate social, health, and academic services. Students cannot succeed academically if their needs are not being met, or if they are not in school. Teachers can expend a lot of energy with issues they are not best equipped to handle. For the early grades, bringing back teacher assistants is key.
  • Invest in more administrators to help manage and lead the schools. They are even more overworked than teachers during the school year. This will benefit everyone who relies on their support.
  • Make a meaningful commitment to technology in infrastructure, devices, and applications. This will mean less paperwork, more efficient communication between student and teacher, and more helpful data. Trying to teach for the 21st century with scarce or unreliable technology is a burden.

We deserve better pay, but we desperately need more time and resources to serve our students to the best of our ability without burning ourselves out. Our state needs to attract more inspired young educators who are willing and able to go the distance.

Public educators have little time for politics. But the nature of public education means that we have to convince the public that change is both necessary and possible.

There ARE real solutions to the problem with teaching in North Carolina. Progress will require the active involvement of invested educators and concerned citizens throughout the state. If you have made it all the way to the end of this article, I’m calling on you. Share your experiences with others, ask questions about proposed reforms, brainstorm ideas with teachers at your school, and help get out the vote in state/local elections.

Episode 6 – “Just” An Informality?

In this episode – the last of the season – podcast regulars Alicia Whitley and Emmanuel Lipscomb invite JQ Abbey and Allie Mullin to talk about the ins and outs and importance of informal education in encouraging the young and the young at heart alike to have fun and keep learning.

Read the rest of this page »

Episode 5 – Pop Culture 101

In this episode Alicia, Rob Phillips (documentarian, English and Cultural and Media Literacies teacher), Nancy Mosley (Red 4 Ed Contributor, teacher of Sociology and American History) and Morgan Fullbright (writer, teacher of English literature, and mother to be) talk about teachers in Pop Culture and the way these popular depictions of teachers and schooling reflect and often persist in our collective imaginations.  During the course of which, we mount a rousing defense of Professor Snape, talk about what really grinds our gears (That class only has like, 12 students!  12!) in on-screen classrooms, and discuss everyone from Joe Clark to Rupert Giles.

“What is it about Snape that I love so much?.. He let the kids think he was a bad guy when that was in their best interest…  I just think that that is one of the most difficult things to do as a teacher or a parent.” – Nancy Mosley

We also discuss the ways in which these depictions may inform our understanding of what teaching is supposed to be as well as the best ways to use pop culture within the classroom as a powerful tool to catch student interest, pull them in, and remind them that what we do in the classroom is mildly relevant to the “real world”.

Read the rest of this page »

Episode 4 – Advocacy 101

Part of being a good teacher is being an advocate for yourself, your students, and your school.  But sometimes, it’s hard to know just where to start.

Angela Scioli (Red4Ed Founder, NCTVN Fellow), Jessica Benton (NCAE, Organize 2020), and Trey Ferguson (WCPSS Beginning Teacher Network Co-Founder, NCTVN Fellow) talk about their organizations and some of the best ways teachers can advocate for themselves, their students, their schools, and their communities.

Read the rest of this page »

NC Teachers are Scared to Speak Out: How to get past your fear and be an effective advocate

By Angela Scioli, John deVille, and Teacher X

If you’ve read Nashonda Cooke’s “Back to School / Back to the Fight” article, you might be fired up and ready to fight to defend North Carolina’s public schools – I know I was!  I was also inspired by Governor Hunt’s recent comment at a Public Schools First NC Event, “Teachers need to understand if this [situation] is going to change, teachers are going to have speak up, stand up, take some risks! “

But, if you are a North Carolina teacher, you might also be scared to speak up.  I’ve spoken to a lot of teachers around the state who are intimidated by the thought of public advocacy.  Let’s review the facts, get past the spin, and bury that bogeyman so we can better advocate for our profession and our students.

Read the rest of this page »

Episode 1 – Part 2

This is Episode 1.2 – “Audi 3000”

In the second part of this two part episode, public school teachers Alicia and Emmanuel continue talking with former educators Meredith and Paul about their decision to leave the classroom.  Besides feeling micro-managed and overworked, they hit on perhaps one of the biggest issues facing teachers today – the issue of teacher pay.

Read the rest of this page »

Episode 1 – Part 1

This is Episode 1.1 – “Audi 3000”

Education Week, March 2015

On the first episode, a hot three teachers talked about what got them into education.  Bringing teachers in is good.  Getting them to stick around is better.  The more experience a teacher has, the more likely it is that they will be effective in the classroom.   What’s more, it’s estimated that teacher turnover costs the state billions.

But why do teachers leave?

Autonomy. This week on the Hot Four Teachers Podcast, public school teachers Alicia and Emmanuel talk with former educators (and apparent cat lovers) Meredith and Paul about their reasons for getting out of the teaching biz.  And the importance of keeping cats trimmed.  And looking good for race cameras.

About the Podcast

Hot Four Teachers was recorded in conjunction with Red 4 Ed NC – an education demonstration in progress – and is dedicated to the goal of amplifying teacher voice.  Red 4 Ed is a special project of Public Schools First NC, supporting North Carolina’s public schools through information, education, and engagement.  Our in and out music, “Believe in Me”, was provided by Ryan Little. Believe in Me (Ryan Little) / CC BY 4.0

You can find Red 4 Ed NC on Facebook or Twitter (@Red4EdNC).  Red 4 Ed is a special project of Public Schools First, NC.  You can visit them online at publicschoolsfirstnc.com or follow them on Twitter @PS1NC.

Back to School, Back to the Fight

By Nashonda Cooke

As an elementary school teacher and a mother of two amazing little girls of my own, I hear the name, “Mom” at least 50 times a day. It is one of the sweetest sounds.

What is the definition of a mother? Merriam-Webster’s latest version offers two interesting entries: (1) a female parent or a woman of authority, and (2) something that is an extreme or ultimate example of its kind especially in terms of scale. For example, the mother of all science fair projects.

In the comfort of my own home, I embody both of those definitions. My daughters depend on me for everything. Their meals, bath time rituals, payment for field trips, and a safe and comforting house to come home to are just a few examples. I am their provider and their guide to navigate through this world. I am a female, a parent, and the influence I have over their lives is humbly profound.

That’s really not different from my responsibilities to my students in my classroom. For the past 16 years, over 7 hours a day, it has been my calling to steer students and provide them with the most appropriate and meaningful daily experience possible. I am not the parent in this scenario, but I do have quite an affect on these young minds. I am preparing them with the necessary skills to be self sufficient and positively navigate and even improve society. It’s a huge and sometimes overwhelming responsibility to help them maximize their true potential. My calling as a mother and teacher is to simply do one thing: lead. The same characteristics that have created a caring, giving mother have created a caring and  giving educator. I’m not saying you need to be one to be the other, but the similarities are so obvious. Both are a phenomenal honor.

In order for me to do my job, in order for anyone to do their job effectively, the right tools are necessary. Unfortunately, it is an understatement to say I am not being provided with adequate tools. The North Carolina General Assembly believes I am a miracle worker. While I do believe in miracles and do think I am a pretty good teacher, no one can do their job empty-handed.

In recent years, I, my coworkers, and my daughters’ teachers have been asked to do so much more with so much less. Teacher assistants are disappearing, class sizes are growing, textbooks and objectives are inappropriate and out of date, and technology is lagging.

Testing has taken over true instruction. How can I prepare my students to be accountable for information if I am not given the dignity to deliver the message at a pace that allows them to make connections and gain mastery?

Who came up with the idea of time-bound absolute proficiency anyway? Sometimes a student comes to me not speaking English or maybe he or she is reading well below grade level. Proficiency and mastery in my eyes is the growth they make that year. I celebrate all accomplishments! Big, small, every day, in every way. I do the same with my daughters. My oldest has worked diligently all year growing in her math skills. She stayed consistent and showed improvement. Her end of the year score was a two. We celebrated that two like it was a five. Her effort and resilience means more to me than a number. All our schools and students can benefit from a “growth mindset”.

Who is behind this destruction of one the world’s most vital professions? Who is refusing to fund the schools? Who is firing and pushing the country’s best educators out of a calling? I guess the more important reason is . . . why?

Next question, what can we do about it? I’ll tell you what. Speak out! Keep speaking out. Who better to improve public education than public educators? From the first day of preschool to the very last day of a student’s 12th grade year, who knows their academic needs better? Who knows how he/she would learn best? Who knows what that student needs? The teacher. So why are we allowing legislators make these decisions that have proven to be catastrophic?

We can no longer stand by hoping and wishing. Parents do not give up on their kids’ best interests, and teachers should not complacently stand by and watch our students’ potential sold off to the highest bidder. It’s time to march, make phone calls, write letters and keep doing all of those things and more. Our students’ lives are at stake. Who’s with me?

NaShonda Cooke

North Carolina Public School Teacher and Momma Bear

Hot Four Teachers Episode 0

Red4Ed Mug

This is Episode 0 – “The Test Pancake”.

It is a well known fact that the first pancake, the test pancake, almost never turns out perfectly.  This is our first pancake.  In the inaugural episode of the Hot Four Teachers Podcast, Emmanuel and Angie join me in discussing reasons for getting into teaching and how we rationalize staying in teaching.  We also talk about a few challenges facing classroom teachers that may make teacher retention difficult – one of the main factors being the issue of voice.  And finally, we finish up by talking about what’s making us happy.

Read the rest of this page »