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 Teacher assistants are disappearing, class sizes are growing, textbooks and objectives are inappropriate and out of date, and technology is lagging.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.

Links to Stuff We Mentioned

About the Podcast

Hot Four Teachers was recorded in conjunction with Red 4 Ed NC – an education demonstration in progress.  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 or follow them on Twitter @PS1NC.

That Time We Made a Podcast


One of the most difficult things about being a teacher is losing your sense of self.   You do your best to maintain neutrality whilst encouraging students to think for themselves.  You keep quiet in public debates, lest you be deemed too outrageous for the classroom – or too biased to weigh in with any validity.  You don’t talk about who you’re voting for with students or parents.  And if your views are not accepted by the wider community, you don’t talk about religion, sexuality, or extracurricular activities.  You don’t share the funniest videos on Facebook.  You don’t retweet someone who used foul language on Twitter.  And, slowly, you begin to lose your sense of self.

Except for with other teachers.

Because other teachers can share your pain.

There are currently not too many outlets for teachers to share, publicly, with one another, feelings about anything other than the latest and hottest in educational trends.  There are the occasional op-eds, though these are decried by voices that are much louder and often much angrier than our own.  There are open letters, though many of those open letters are sent by teachers who are fed up and on their way out – now no longer concerned that there may be a price to pay for their bold speech.  Sometimes, down in the comments on the New & Observer, there are teachers who dare to pipe up. Often, these comments are met with derision by the very people who have legislative power over the institution where we spend so much of our time and energy.

Everybody thinks they know school because they’ve been to school.

They don’t know school.

Red4EdNC seeks to magnify the voices of North Carolina’s educators providing a platform from which teachers can speak to each other and to public stakeholders regarding an educator’s perspective on issues that affect education the most.  Joining together to actively demonstrate, participating in civic events, and writing think pieces that represent one teacher’s well thought out, edited, and streamlined perspective are some ways that the group has set about meeting this objective.

The podcast aims to record dynamic conversations about these issues, providing opportunities for engagement with the educational community and the community we serve.  There are podcasts about teaching fads and instructional technology.  There are podcasts about inspirational teachers of the past and present.  There are a few podcasts about educational challenges – usually these result in stellar TED talks of some sort.  Thus far, I’ve yet to see a podcast that captures and shares educators having meaningful conversations about challenges within the field of education with the purpose of supporting, affirming, engaging the community.

This is that podcast.

You can listen inby visiting the “Hot Four Teachers” page or by downloading the podcast via iTunes.  If you’re interested in contributing to the podcast, or if you have an idea for an episode topic, let us know!  We’d love to hear your voice.

School Vouchers and the Enemies of Public Education

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By Lee Quinn, Wake County Teacher

In his defense of the state’s ill-conceived voucher law, Darrell Allison states that “NC simply doesn’t educate poor children well” and that such children are “victims of an inferior educational model”. I fundamentally disagree. His self-serving reasoning follows that the way to improve our public education system is to abandon it and participate actively in its destruction.

While stating that children in our poorest schools tend not to perform well on state tests, he fails to ask the seemingly obvious question of why students at poor schools tend to struggle most on these tests. In declaring that vouchers are a benefit to poor communities, their advocates reveal their underlying assumption: they believe that poor communities are failing their own children, but that poverty itself must have nothing to do with why.

This highly insulting notion reeks of the malfeasance motivating the actions of political voucher advocates. Communities in poverty have poorly performing schools because their students must overcome greater obstacles and challenges to perform at their educational best. It is not due to some intrinsic fault in those students or their teachers that they don’t score as well on bubble tests as wealthier schools, and poverty certainly isn’t a problem that began inside a school.

Does Allison think it’s a coincidence that all of the so-called “failing” schools in our state have unacceptably high degrees of poverty? Or does he believe that poor communities are unable to educate their children, and that the teachers, students, and parents in those communities are to blame for their difficulties?

We know how the anti-public education narrative in the legislature works: declare that public schools are failing, and then make it increasingly difficult for them to succeed by taking away human and financial resources and by treating teachers like piñatas, so that experienced educators leave and our brightest young people shun the profession. Add to that the privatization of schools with vouchers and the expansion of charters, neither of which have an obligation to serve the entire community as public schools do, and you begin to see how the narrative created by the legislature starts to become reality as the result of their own destructive actions,  thus expanding their rationale for further starving our schools of all manner of resources.

There are no educational standards, teacher training, or staff background checks required for the private schools receiving millions in taxpayer subsidized vouchers. Quite literally anybody can teach anything on the taxpayers’ dime with nary an iota of oversight at voucher schools. This lack of accountability means that students can be exposed to a buffet of outlandish ideas in science and history without any academic oversight whatsoever.  Vouchers have nothing to do with “educational freedom” or choice; parents already have the right to send their children to whatever school, teaching whatever curriculum, that they like.

Unlike our public schools, private schools who receive these millions of taxpayer money are not required to submit to the legislature’s asinine A-F “grading” system for schools. That is because the A-F system wasn’t designed to actually measure school performance; it was designed to give legislators another maliciously-conceived and arbitrary way to condemn public schools in order to pave the way for voucher schemes like this one.

It’s not a coincidence that as $17 million was allocated to unaccountable private schools via vouchers, the elimination of  8700 teacher assistant positions –  the largest layoff in North Carolina history – was set into motion. Both actions by the legislature are in concert; they represent the progress of their plan to eviscerate public education and the teaching profession.

We who do the work of educating our children in public schools realize well that our duty is to all of the people of this state. We know well the legislature’s plans for public education, and we seek to shed light on it. At least so far, they can’t gerrymander teachers. Either Mr. Allison is oblivious to the fact that his organization is a pawn in the legislature’s attempts to dismantle public education as a public good, or he is knowingly complicit in that dismantling. Rather than participate in the improvement of this vital pillar of our democracy for all of our children, he and his organization gleefully celebrate and facilitate its enemies.

The way to improve the schools in our poorest communities is not to tear down public education, but to honestly identify and address the causes and conditions of poverty that created these educational challenges in the first place.



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