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By Stu Egan, Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Public School Teacher
July 11, 2016
Public school teachers,
You can’t really be measured.
In fact, those who are measuring you do not have instruments complex enough to really gauge your effectiveness.
If you are a public school teacher in North Carolina, you are always under a bit of a microscope when it comes to accountability. Everybody in the community has a stake in the public education system: students attend schools, parents support efforts, employees hire graduates, and taxpayers help fund buildings and resources.
But there are those who really question the path that public education has taken in North Carolina and lack confidence in our teachers and their ability to mold young people. The countless attacks waged by our General Assembly on public schools is not a secret and part of that is framing teachers as the main culprit in our weakening schools.
Why? Because it is easy to manage data in such a way that what many see is not actually reflective of what happens in schools. For example:
• We have a Jeb Bush school grading system that “failed” schools where wonderful learning is occurring.
• We have lawmakers allowing charter schools to be created with tax payer money without much regulation.
• We have a voucher system that is allowing people to send children to schools that do not even have to teach the same standards as public schools.
• We have virtual charter schools that have loose regulations.
• We have an Achievement School District established even though no real evidence exists in its effectiveness.
Since you are a government employee, your salary is established by a governing body that probably does not have a background in an educational career. The standards of the very curriculum that you must teach may not even be written by educators. And the tests that measure how well your students have achieved are usually constructed by for-profit companies under contract from the state government. Those same tests are probably graded by those very same companies – for a nominal fee of course. And now that we have less money spent per-pupil in this state than we had before the start of the Great Recession, we are demanded to teach more kids in bigger classes with less resources.
There simply is a lot working against us.
However, if anything could be said of the current situation concerning public education in North Carolina it is that teachers have not failed our students. That’s because you cannot simply measure students and teachers by numbers and random variables. You measure them by their personal success and growth, and much of that cannot be ascertained by impersonal assessments.
Nor can a teacher’s effectiveness truly be measured by “student achievement”. There is more, so much more, working within the student/teacher dynamic. Take a look at the definitions of three words often used in our lexicon: “art”, “science”, and “craft”. These definitions come from Merriam-Webster.
1. Art: skill acquired by experience, study, or observation
2. Science: the state of knowing : knowledge as distinguished from ignorance or misunderstanding
3. Craft: skill in planning, making, or executing
Every teacher must display a firm foundation in his or her subject area. However, teaching at its source is an art and a craft. A teacher must marry that knowledge with skill in presenting opportunities for students to not only gain that knowledge but understand how they themselves can apply that knowledge to their own skill set.
There are not many people who are masterfully skillful without having to develop their craft. They do exist, but the term “Master Teacher” is usually given to someone who has a “skill acquired by experience, study, or observation.” That “Master Teacher” has perfected an art form and married it to a science. And most of all, that “Master Teacher” understands the human element.
A good medical doctor just does not deliver medicines and write prescriptions. There must be willingness to listen in order to make a diagnosis and then there is the “bedside manner”. A good lawyer does not just understand and know the law. A good lawyer knows how to apply it for his or her client in unique situations. A master chef doesn’t just follow recipes. A master chef takes what ingredients are available and makes something delectable and nourishing. A great teacher does not just deliver curriculum and apply lesson plans; a great teacher understands different learning styles exist in the same classroom and facilitates learning for each student despite the emotional, psychological, social, mental, and/or physical obstacles that may stand in each student’s path.
How schools and students are measured rarely takes into account that so much more defines the academic and social terrain of a school culture than a standardized test can measure. Why? Because there really is not anything like a standardized student. Experienced teachers understand that because they look at students as individuals who are the sum of their experiences, backgrounds, work ethic, and self-worth. Yet, our General Assembly measures them with the very same criteria across the board with an impersonal test.
Ironically, when a teacher gets a graduate degree in education, it is often defined by the college or university as a Master of Arts like a MAEd or an MAT, not a Master of Science. That’s because teaching deals with people, not numbers. When colleges look at an application of a student, they are more concerned with GPA rather than performance on an EOG or EOCT or NC Final.
And when good teachers look at their own effectiveness in their art and craft, they usually do not let the state dictate their perceptions. They take an honest look at the each student’s growth throughout the year – growth that may never be seen in a school report card or published report.
Like many veteran teachers, I have taught the gambit of academic levels and grades from “low-performing” freshmen to high achieving AP students who have been admitted into the most competitive of colleges and universities. And while I may take pride in their passing state tests or AP exams, I try and measure my performance by what happens to those students later in life.
• When a student ends a “thank you” card because she felt like she learned something, then I did a good job.
• When a student stops me in the grocery store years after graduating to introduce me to his child, then I made an impression.
• When I read an email from a student in college who sends me a copy of her first English paper that received one of the three “A’s” given out of a hundred students, then I feel good about what I did in the classroom.
• When a student comes to visit me on his break and flat out tells my current students that what I did in class prepared him for college, then I was successful.
• When a former student emails me from half-way around the world to tell me what life is like for her since graduating, then I am validated.
• When a parent comes to you to ask how his/her child could be helped in a matter totally unrelated to academics, then you have made an impression.
• When you speak at a former student’s funeral because that student loved your class, then, well that’s just hard to put into words.
None of those aforementioned items could ever be measured by a test. Students do not remember questions on an EOCT or an EOG or an NC Final or a quarter test. They remember your name and how they felt in your class.
However, the greatest irony when it comes measuring a teacher’s effectiveness in the manner that NC measures us is that is it a truer barometer of how much NC is being hurt by this current administration and General Assembly.
• Think about Medicaid not being expanded.
• Think that nearly a fourth of our children live in poverty.
• Think about the Voter ID law.
• Think about the lax regulations for fracking and coal ash ponds that hurt our water supply.
• Think about less money per pupil in schools.
• Think about more money coming from out-of-state Super PACS to fund political races here in NC than exists in the operating budgets of many counties.
• Think about TABOR and HB3.
• Think about HB2.
• Think about cut unemployment benefits.
All of those affect students in our schools. And we still do the job. Rather, we still heed the calling.
That’s the best measure of what we do.
That and the drawer where I keep all of those cards and letters because I keep every one of them.
Published by Stu Egan in Caffeinated Rage https://caffeinatedrage.com. July 11, 2016.
A group of educators marched from Durham and North Raleigh to the State Capitol on June 14- 15, 2016, asking to meet with governor. Fourteen members of Organize 2020 were arrested on June 15, 2016 after blocking a street when the governor chose not to meet with them. These teachers believe that our students deserve more. Here are their reflections on the 23-mile march, the rally at the legislature and Capitol, and their arrests for civil disobedience.
By Turquoise LeJeune Parker, Durham Public Schools Teacher & Donald Parker III, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Teacher
June 30, 2016
WIFE: Whenever I realized the action we’d been talking about for months was going to take place on June 14th and 15th, well honestly, I was actually kind of excited. Donald and I are always sharing our big and small moments with our kids. We aren’t stepping into something new. I mean, our students were guests at our wedding. So, we got up on that Tuesday morning, which was our 3-year wedding anniversary by the way, and set out to do what we always do: take care of our kids. We marched those grueling, boiling HOT and long 23 miles to the Capitol together.
HUSBAND: And man was it LONG! My feet still hurt actually but anything to support my wife and the children we teach. I was still kinda like,”DANG, why does this have to be on our anniversary though” lol. I carried that large tree branch, described by a writer as a small tree, from Durham to Raleigh not just to symbolize struggle but to show an even greater picture that if Jesus Christ can carry a cross for the sins of the world and defeat sin and death giving us access to eternal life, then I as an educator can carry some large tree branch for the burdens and struggles of our children to win over the governor, giving them access to a better, more funded education.
WIFE: It wasn’t easy. At all. But WE MADE IT! We bonded with other educators those 23 miles. We grew to love, respect and appreciate so many people we’d never met before that 23- mile journey. As we turned the corner and the North Carolina Museum of History was on our right and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Science was on our left, we chanted and screamed our affirmations for the future of our public schools. After the “All In for Public Education” rally by the General Assembly, we turned around and set out to complete our mission. This time the North Carolina Museum of History was on our left, and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Science was on our right. I feel like I have walked through and protested loudly right in that same corridor a million times and boy does it get you hype. It’s something about the buildings, the way sound works, being beside people fueled with passion and a strong desire to not quit until our babies get what they deserve! We took that left onto Edenton St screaming, then we took that right onto Wilmington St. shouting “We ready, we coming” (that one gets me hype too). Ever since those days, when we drive near any part of our trek, we reminisce.
Just a few weeks before that, and a few days before that very moment, we held press conferences requesting a meeting with the governor. We are teachers after all, so we know how to meet! I was ready and prepared in my mind for what I would say in our meeting. Crystal Scales Rogers, Dawn Amy Wilson and Bryan Proffitt and I looked at each other and said, “It’s game time y’all.” When we turned onto Wilmington St., I saw the doors of the Capitol still open because it wasn’t 5 pm yet. When we turned towards that main entrance, the door was being shut. We called the Governor’s aide repeatedly, went around the Capitol, and knocked on all four doors, hoping for the best. At that last door, we decided that if our kids can’t get it….SHUT IT DOWN!
HUSBAND: To be completely honest, I sat myself down while they walked around the building knocking on the doors because my foot was killing me. Then I heard the police officers’ walkie talkies going crazy saying,”They are moving to the street.” Then I got up and started walking to the street, along with the educators who marched and people who supported educators, which totaled at least 100 people.
WIFE: After the police told everyone to move to the sidewalk, 14 of us North Carolina Public School teachers unlawfully and willfully stood in the 100 Block of E Morgan Street linked arms with signs in our hands that said: “I’D RATHER BE TEACHING” and we SHUT IT DOWN!
HUSBAND: At that time, I didn’t really know what was going on when I walked up, but all I saw was my wife in the middle of the street locking arms with other educators. I later found out that the teachers standing in the street already planned to do so. I wasn’t in those plans, but playing basketball, participating in band, and being in two fraternities taught me brotherhood and teamwork. I couldn’t let down NOW my teammates and brothers and sisters I walked with for 23 miles from Durham to Raleigh for our children, stand in the street without me. As a husband, there was also no way I was letting my wife get arrested without me either, while I sat on the sidelines, clapping, pulling out my phone to record and wave her on. Man, “I’m bout that action, boss.” Marshawn Lynch style. We doin’ this together.
WIFE: Locking arms in the middle of a very busy street and refusing to move wasn’t an easy move we made. It was scary actually, very scary until the interaction with the officer began; then it felt like we were definitely doing the right thing. When the police arrested Donald, that scared me because they put real handcuffs on him. They sat him in the police van alone. I had never imagined I would see my husband being taken away from me in handcuffs.
HUSBAND: They arrested me first. “You do know you are now under arrest?” said the officer in a very Southern voice. I slowly raised my head and with my shades on, stared into his eyes. Behind those shades were eyes of a black man whose heart was torn between two dissonant choices: one, calmly supporting his wife, educators locking arms, and the children of NC suffering at the hands of poor government; and two, rising up against the cops as a black man whose eyes are gouged and ears are punctured with hate from stories of innocent blacks’ interactions with law enforcement like Walter Scott, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, and many more.
I hadn’t answered his question after about seven seconds of a silent stare, so he asked, “Are you going to resist arrest?” I responded “Yes,” but it was to his first question, and Alexa said, “He means yes to your first question.” Once I answered that, I was not resisting arrest. I gave him my bookbag and he grabbed my right arm to put behind my back. Let me just say that as peaceful protesters with a crowd of people watching, the force he used to put my arms behind my back wasn’t aggressive, but it was still painful. I could only imagine the force and effort he would have used for someone not as peaceful or if alone with just officers. What made me feel isolated, segregated and discriminated against was that out of 14 teachers, the one black male teacher was the only person they used real cuffs on to arrest. Everyone else had zip cuffs. Man, those things were tight. I hated the metal sound they made and I felt for the first time in my life that I had no freedom. While walking to the police van, I had to remind myself that I wasn’t a criminal and that we just did something honorable. The policemen were not aggressive with us at all, so I walked with my head high with no shame. It’s crazy that as a black man, I go my entire life making sure I stay out of trouble that would involve the police and the one time I’m arrested, it displays one of the highest forms of altruism.
WIFE: In that moment, I began to squeeze Bryan and Leah’s hands even harder. It hurt me in a place I don’t know how to explain. Then everyone started screaming “We love you Donald! We see you Donald!” I could barely make those words out, but I thank God for hearing those words. As the police began picking the rest of us up, I cried even more. I cried because I heard Sendolo on the bullhorn saying one of Assata Shakur’s famous quotes:
“It is our duty to fight for our freedom.
It is our duty to win.
We must love each other and support each other.
We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
HUSBAND: It was hard for me as a black man and a husband to be in handcuffs and see another man, a white male police officer, grab my wife. I hated it. Putting those zip cuffs on her, standing her up, etc. It pissed me off really. And this isn’t hate for another race or anything, it’s hate for corruption and for many years policemen have systematically exhibited corrupt ways towards blacks. That viewpoint doesn’t change because the cause is for our students; it’s just placed to the rear and came to the forefront as I sat detained in that police van hearing the crowd chant, “We Love You Turq.”
WIFE: But I couldn’t hear them saying “We Love you Turq.” It was like the world turned off for a few seconds. I could only hear the officer. I do, however, distinctly remember hearing Matt Hickson’s voice saying, “The Professors love you and are proud of you for this.” That made me smile and feel like this was right. Although extremely frightened about the care of my husband because of the horrible history of our men and women of color in police custody, I was so extremely proud of him. I was so happy to be taking such huge steps for our kids together. Weird, but I fell more in love with him that day. The police didn’t know we were husband and wife, but we got placed right beside each other in the police van, only separated by the plexiglass. I will never ever get the picture out of my mind looking at my husband through that glass in that police van. All for our students, our babies. They deserve more.
HUSBAND: I’ll never forget that either. The heat, the confinement, and seeing her without the freedom to touch was rough. Those real cuffs hurt too, man.
WIFE: What we did that day was for the children. What about the children? What about the babies? They were who I thought about the whole time. Who we all thought about. Who we all did this for. These children have dreams, emotions, needs and they are all being choked right now by poor elected leaders. We walked in that street, formed that line, locked hands, and eventually sat down locking arms because our kids cannot take it anymore. It’s easy to ignore this ridiculous and embarrassing situation happening in our state because it’s “grown ups” making the decisions, but really, the kids are at the center. If we reminisce for any quick moment, we didn’t get where we are as a country (even though we have so very far to go), by just standing on the sidelines and doing nothing about the basic needs and rights of our babies. We got where we are by brave men and women holding hands, singing, chanting, row by row, of what they believe to be a possibility for our country and for our future. And look, we’re living in some of what they fought for. Their circumstances were not as gentle as ours. The police officers that dealt with us on June 15th, 2016, were kind and respectful. The police during demonstrations some time ago were disrespectful, disgraceful, and degrading to say the least. But those demonstrators didn’t care. They realized that drastic situations call for drastic demonstrations. I’ve been in the classroom for going on six years, and in that short time, I have seen some things. No one can make me believe that what the 14 of us did that day was wrong. Nope, not at all.
I’ll tell you what’s wrong:
-What’s wrong is teachers having to set Go Fund Me after Donors Choose after Go Fund Me after Donors Choose just to get full sets of books, supplies, and classroom and school necessities.
-What’s wrong is the achievement school district bill.
-What’s wrong is the attempt to silence educators.
-What’s wrong is elected officials taking personal deals to benefit themselves and throwing our kids under the bus.
-What’s wrong is our kids not having enough!
On June 15th, 2016 I was ready for something beyond emails and sitting passively, I was over it. I am beyond tired of hearing the negative rhetoric around my school and schools like mine all across this great state and nation. The rhetoric says we are failing. NO! These elected officials are failing our public schools. My beloved school is NOT an F school. Mrs. Parker’s Professors’ classroom, as well as the many beautiful habitats of learning like mine, ARE NOT FAILING! We are doing the best we can for our babies with what we have. They deserve more. Remember when you were a child? Remember how much ambition, drive, excitement you had? Remember that someone invested in you? Someone told you you could be anything you wanted to be? If not for those who loved us and who cared enough to show us, where would we be today? How can we just leave our kids out to dry like this? Nope, I won’t do it.
HUSBAND: Can you imagine for a second how frustrating it would be to not have a textbook to take home or the ones you take home are 10 years old or older, ripped, missing pages and are falling apart? Now, in a different context, imagine how frustrating it would be to use a computer from 10 years ago or a phone from 10 years ago? Not the easiest task. Dr. William P. Foster, the late great band director of the Florida A&M University, once said,”Why should we provide second class resources for students and expect first class results?”
My eyes in my mugshot are saying, “I can’t believe all of this has happened to educators who just want to do their job efficiently for our children and we are punished if we fail to do so.” Don’t you think if things were the way Pat McCrory and his team are trying to make them out to be, teachers wouldn’t have to lock arms in the street protesting? And what’s most ironic, as someone said in the detention center, is that the people who are about following rules are the ones breaking them, not even for themselves but for students. Marching and protesting for the love of my wife and the many students in North Carolina was an honor and a privilege. Leading by example is something I would gladly do again because I can. As Jesse Williams said at the B.E.T. Awards, “A system built to divide, impoverish, and destroy us cannot stand if we do.” Stand for something or you’ll float with or fall for anything.
Stand for our children. Students deserve more.
A group of educators marched from Durham and North Raleigh to the State Capitol on June 14- 15, 2016, asking to meet with governor. Fourteen members of Organize 2020 were arrested on June 15, 2016 after blocking a street when the governor chose not to meet with them. These teachers believe that our students deserve more. Here are their reflections on the 23-mile march, the rally at the legislature and Capitol, and their arrests for civil disobedience.
By Lisa McCool-Grime
Durham Public Schools Teacher, High School Dir. of Durham Assoc. of Educators, Member of Organize2020
June 23, 2016
My son’s father served in the military for 11 years. When I met him in 2000, I was a teacher to math students at Fuquay-Varina High in Wake County. I loved it. But I also loved him, so when he joined the military in 2003, I joined him as he moved from base to base for the next decade plus. When he left the military in 2014, we wanted to put down roots for ourselves and our son, so we settled near family in Durham and I returned to teaching math students, this time at Southern School of Energy and Sustainability.
With that move, we went from living as a three-person, one-income household funded by taxpayers via the military to living as a three-person, one-income household funded by taxpayers via public schools. Changing that one word from “military” to “public schools” was quite the stark contrast. For example, we gave up no-deductible, nocopay, comprehensive health care. My son, at age 4, had to go to the emergency room when he took a stick to the eye. An eyelid surgeon stitched up his eyelid and we paid that surgeon two more follow-up office visits, but not a single cent. Neither my teacher’s salary nor my health benefits could cover such an accident today. Actually, neither my teacher’s salary nor my benefits can meet the needs of our family of three at all. We lived well on one income in the military. Now that I am a teacher, we cannot make ends meet without other sources of income.
State tests take all the living and learning that happens in our classrooms throughout the year and reduce that to a single number of “proficient” students. So too, we could take my lived experience of different standards of living, quantify it and reduce it to a single data point. Some folks might then want to claim that single data point is a measure of how poorly our culture values teachers. But my lived experience tells me that the truth is much more complicated. For example, I receive the same kinds of thanks and praise when people learn I am a teacher as my son’s father did when he was military. Many of my lived experiences suggest our culture believes that teaching is a noble profession, that teachers offer a valuable service. To better understand my decrease in standard of living, we must hold wealth’s measuring stick out and look at the far end. There you will find a good number of my students whose family members work as many if not more hours than I do, but bring home less money with no health coverage and no thanks for their work from the community at all. One of my brightest seniors this year worked 40 hours per week outside of school to contribute to her family’s income because her mother was sick and could not. Neither her potential to learn the math nor my ability to teach that math made any difference, because she was so exhausted she often didn’t make it to school and when she did, she fell asleep. If we want to better understand my decrease in standard of living, we must also look at our jails which house so many of our children. In the detention center after my arrest, in every room that I sat, I sat jailed with jailed children.
Every day of the school year I sit with young people at the hard end of wealth’s measuring stick. Young people who, if judged by their fierce resilience, would surpass me by far. Young people I am privileged to know and love. I am learning from them that their lived experiences reveal what the data is actually pointing to: we have failed as a culture to value the lives of our poor students and students of color. The struggles that public school teachers face making ends meet–these struggles are just the collateral damage in the systemic devaluing of my student’s lives. If you truly want to support teachers in their work, you must love and support their children and their children’s parents. You must provide for their health and wellness.
McCrory talks of raising teacher pay but stands in the way of our students’ and their parents’ access to Medicaid. He wants to sock away the surplus while school nurses are split between buildings, while school resource officers far outnumber school social workers, while my son’s first grade classroom has over 20 students and no teacher assistant. We are calling him on this. We marched 23 miles to make clear to those in power that our students deserve so much more than our state currently provides for them. And when I say, “those in power” I mean McCrory and other elected officials, but I also mean the public at large. Because what we discovered when we arrived at the capitol with our plan for raising per pupil expenditure and expanding Medicaid was that McCrory did not care enough about us or our students to even greet us. But we also discovered that you, the public at large, did care. You met us with food and shelter at resting spots during our march. You asked us questions and wished us luck. You honked your support and drove alongside us. You not only greeted us along the route we took, but you took the streets with us to clear traffic in protest so that 14 of us could safely lock arms and remain in the street as the symbol of our collective insistence that students deserve more, that we as a body of people are also powerful and that we intend to use that power to get the resources our students need.
While McCrory tries to paint those 14 of us as fringe, his constituents continue to show their support for our message and our plan. He would do well to listen to his constituents. While McCrory slanders us by claiming that we are working for Roy Cooper, he reveals how divorced he is from the way that true public service functions. I work for my students. I walked for my students. I stood blocking traffic and took arrest for my students. The governor’s job is to work for us—the public at large, who stands with public school teachers and their students–and we will hold anyone in that office now or in the future accountable to our children. They, unquestionably, deserve that.
Teacheritis is a common ailment that afflicts millions of teachers in the United States every year.
- The most common symptoms are fatigue, headache, raw nerves, forgetfulness, diminished social activity, and intolerance to apathy/BS/ignorance/whining.
- Many teachers also experience teeth grinding, sore feet and back, fluctuating body temperature, and recurring dreams (forgetting to call in for a sub when you are out sick, not having your lesson plans ready on the first day of school, your students refusing to do anything you ask them to do, etc.)
- In rare cases, some teachers also develop obsessive behaviors like constant hand sanitizer use, re-reading emails 10 times before hitting send, and counting how many papers are left to grade every two minutes.
Teacheritis can be caused by a number of physiological and environmental factors.
- Your risk of chronic teacheritis is higher if you are a new teacher, a teacher with young children, or a teacher who is close enough to retirement to start counting down the years.
- Teachers with a history of anxiety and depression are more susceptible to teacheritis, as are those with family or medical concerns.
- There also seems to be a correlation between teacheritis and the number of workdays lost to inclement weather, frequent changes in state curriculum and testing policies, and stagnant pay.
- Teacheritis is not contagious, though someone with prolonged exposure to senioritis or adolescent hormones may develop symptoms. Students should use caution when interacting with a teacher suffering from teacheritis, as there have been some reported cases of evil eye and uncontrollable sarcasm. Afflicted teachers will need to take measures to ensure this condition does not cause stress on their partners and children.
- There may also be a component of Seasonal Affective Disorder involved in teacheritis since it seems to be worse in the fall, winter, and spring and better in the summer.
- Triggers of an acute teacheritis episode may include events such as: a student misrepresenting you to their parent or administrator to deflect taking responsibility for their own actions, parents enabling their child to be disrespectful and/or irresponsible, 18-year-olds complaining that you don’t play enough games and give them video guides, or a meeting of colleagues where everyone is touchy and defensive because you can’t agree on how to solve the achievement gap or handle the phone cheating epidemic.
Teacheritis is usually self-diagnosed, though some teachers need to be alerted by a family member or colleague who detects symptoms. Students often misdiagnose a teacher suffering from teacheritis with diseases such as Not Being Chill or Getting Old. A teacher who becomes sick easily or is extremely fatigued, anxious, depressed, or obsessive-compulsive should seek prompt medical attention, as there may be other issues that will get worse if neglected.
- Proper rest, nutrition, and exercise will alleviate the physical symptoms of teacheritis. The most commonly prescribed treatment for teacheritis is stress management – cutting back hours, going to bed earlier, taking a true lunch break. Teachers sometimes resist this course of treatment because they cannot figure out how to meet all of their professional obligations if they take more time for themselves.
- Some teachers self-medicate by eating, drinking margaritas, or binge-watching shows to relieve the pain of teacheritis, but the relief is temporary and there can be adverse effects like weight gain or setting a bad example for your kids.
- Other more radical and costly therapies include providing teachers sufficient time, resources, and support to manage all the demands and expectations of students, parents, administrators, and colleagues. Unfortunately, teachers who request this treatment are often denied and this can actually make the condition worse if they feel powerless or hopeless about the situation.
- Teachers who have spiraled from teacheritis into something more serious like workaholism or depression may need to try therapy or a support group that helps them learn to suppress negative feelings like guilt and try a different mindset that could promote recovery.
- One of the most effective ways for a teacher to reduce the symptoms of teacheritis is to focus on the positive: All of the students who tried their best, showed maturity, engaged themselves in critical thinking, were sincere and honest, had positive attitudes, admitted when they were wrong, made you laugh, and gave you hope for the future. The parents who said thank you, the colleagues that helped you make a tough decision, the administrator that encouraged you to set limits and take care of yourself. The family that loves and supports you unconditionally.
There is no cure or vaccine for teacheritis; even after teachers quit or retire they can experience residual pain. However, with the proper support and treatment many teachers learn to manage the condition so that it does not prevent them from creating a positive learning environment, growing professionally, achieving personal health, and being there for their families.
By Angie Scioli, Wake County Teacher
I remember learning the word “paradigm” for the first time in college. The presenter showed us a visual puzzle that was totally perplexing. He gave us a single word that allowed us to shift our perspective and look at the problem through a new “lens”, and “click!” – all was clear!
We need a paradigm shift in education.
In my last two articles, I wrote about how education is and is not like business. While that was a worthy mental exercise, I hope to convince you that we need to throw that whole “lens” out and use a different referencing institution when we think about schools: family.
In simpler times (think hunter gathering / farming economies), education was mostly handled in the family unit (here’s how you hunt, here’s how you preserve food, etc.) It was only with exploration and industrialization that we began outsourcing the education of children to formal schools. Increasingly, and yet strangely, our schools have come to resemble businesses more than families. We think of parents as consumers, student as products, and we seek to quantify what “value – added” outcomes students will demonstrate by matriculating through an orderly, standardized, age-based processing system.
That system worked well for an industrial economy, but in a post-industrial context, the limitations of this approach are becoming evident. Increases in technology, communication and transportation have created a population that demands more individualized and efficient ways of learning. At the same time, we are struggling to close an “achievement gap” and deal with students who are difficult to educate because they are absent, don’t speak English, have experienced trauma, or suffer from food insecurity and/or homelessness.
What would a family mindset look like in education?
You don’t take an exhausted child to Disney World. It doesn’t matter how engaging and entertaining the setting, there will be a meltdown. Parents know they must first make sure a child’s most basic needs are met: they are fed, they are rested, they feel safe.
We bring exhausted, hungry, scared kids to school every day. We’ve convinced ourselves that if their teachers are entertaining enough, or if the subjects are interesting enough, that they will magically forget about their aching tooth, their rumbling stomach, or their anger about what they have seen too soon.
We must first attend to students’ most basic needs, emotional and physical, before we can proceed with the wonders of learning. We need more therapists, we need wrap around services that provide basic health and dental care, and we need social workers. We must show kids that they are valued, and that school is a place they can come to find safety, nutrition, peace of mind and care. And we must do these things first, as no environment, even Disney World, can overcome a child’s basic needs.
A second key aspect of family is acceptance and negotiation. I sometimes look around at family gatherings and think what an odd and random family assortment we make. My classroom is the same. We are rapidly becoming a very diverse nation. A random mix of students show up on day one, and we struggle from that day forward to accept, accommodate and negotiate to make our time together as productive and affirming as possible. But that progress is built on a foundation of mutual respect, acceptance and encouraged by the fact that we are “stuck” together.
Navigating both of these contexts requires a sizable serving of emotional, social and soft skills. It involves communication, anger, expectation and conflict management. I’ve been aided by studying EQ (emotional intelligence) models, mindfulness, constructs of gender and race, and personality types. As a result, I’ve learned how these skills are of increasing importance to our professional and personal satisfaction, but they are not explicitly taught in school. Meanwhile, more and more of us are burying our faces in electronic devices and ingesting a steady diet of digital media. Entertaining for sure. Preparation for real life and relationships? Hardly.
We need to make relational studies a central element of being an educated person in this society. We need to make isolation less common, strengthen the social fabric of our communities, and make the long-term relational health of “our” kids our highest priority. Schools and families can and should unite in that vision.
The final elements that are key to family are commitment and stability. Long term investment in an institution leads stakeholders to make different decisions – they tend to pursue their own self- interest less, and consider the health and viability of the whole. Currently in education reform, we are pursuing policies that create “free agents” out of teachers. With the end of tenure, the rise of charter schools and ideas like differentiated pay, we are suggesting to teachers that they might switch into a business / corporate mindset and simply pursue their own self interest. Teachers will be one of the last categories of workers to break out of their “institutional” mindset and join the grand “talent shuffle” that is so common in other fields. These reforms are touted as ways to get rid of weak teachers, but I wonder if many people have considered what fundamental shift it is creating among all teachers.
We need to pursue policies that will attract the best teachers we can to the classroom, and we need them to stay there, at that school if at all possible, for a very long time. It took me about ten years to become a good teacher – to know my subject, to understand the developmental level of my students, to understand the community context of the school. It takes considerable time to build trust and understand the personalities of your colleagues so you can collaborate and know where they are coming from. Teachers that are committed to a specific school sit in meetings with a different mindset – they are invested in the decisions that are being made. They buy spirit wear in the school colors, their reputation and the school’s are entertwined. They teach siblings, they get to know families – they care deeply. And students can see that, they sense that, and that is a very different dynamic than the one we are creating through most educational reforms today. Students want to know that their teachers are invested in the long-term well-being of the school family, just as they seek stability and commitment from their parents.
So, we need to pick up a new set of lenses to see our schools. Let us set down the business frames, and pick up the family mindset. Let us remember the primary job of our schools: to nurture children, to help them come to know themselves and others so they might better understand the world they are inheriting, and let’s be sure they are in the hands of committed adults that have their long-term interests in mind. Loved, nurtured, accepted and secure people can figure out most problems together. Strong families always do.
Make our schools more like strong families, and they will serve us, and our future, well.
By: Angela Scioli, Wake County Public School Teacher
“If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to treat everything as if it were a nail.”
This quote encapsulates how education policy is framed in North Carolina. Why are business leaders and our state legislators taking the lead on education policy? More troubling still: why is teachers’ input seen as superfluous?
Our state legislators, as part of a part-time legislature, are predominantly entrepreneurs and professionals. They bring those valuable perspectives to policymaking, but their experience proves a liability when they apply such principles to education.
It is dangerous to blindly accept the assumption that businesses are the proper referencing institutions for developing public education policy. While there are some ways in which education is like a business, there are significant ways in which it is not. Knowing that nuance makes all the difference in policymaking that is effective in classrooms.
This article is the first in a three-part series. Here, I will explore how schools are not like business, in the second article I will explore how they are like businesses, and in the final article I will explore why we need to return to an alternative and superior referencing institution for nurturing children – the family.
Successful businesses control their supply chain. Starbucks desires the production of only the best coffee, and therefore requires the freedom to reject some sources of coffee that are substandard. Public schools do not have that ability; they take every child, whatever their abilities and challenges might be. The most critical period in a child’s development lies between the ages of 0-3 yet public school does not begin until age 5. Schools cannot simply reject those coffee beans which were not grown under the perfect conditions required by Starbucks. Schools do not have control over the most important teachers children ever have – their parents. Since parents vary widely in their skills and abilities, children vary drastically in their skills and abilities. However, the single standard to which we hold our teachers is not nearly so flexible. We don’t ask Starbucks to magically produce top-rate coffee from any source. Yet we frequently ask teachers to produce world-class educational outcomes in every student, no matter the supply stream.
Using business as the reference model for education also sets up dangerous expectations in parents and students. By reinforcing that paradigm, parents and students come to have a set of possibly-helpful, mostly-counterproductive “customer service” expectations. I am the first to recommend that if parents have concerns about the way their child is being educated, then they should consult with the teacher. I have become a better teacher because of such contact. It didn’t always feel good, but it made me think and act differently. However, a background assumption of business models remains that “the customer is always right.” We increasingly see a default expectation that teachers should custom-tailor instruction to meet an individual student’s individual preferences. I have students who say, “I’m a visual learner, and I just don’t get the way she teaches.” While I understand that students as consumers want the path of least resistance, we are increasingly coming to understand the importance of students experiencing frustration, developing coping habits, and demonstrating grit. The idea that learning should not be stressful and should seamlessly result from teacher input ultimately robs the student of the notion that there is one person ultimately responsible for their learning – them. Also, how will the “customer service” model of learning transition to the workplace or to family life? What shall our kids do when their role in life is not to be catered to, but to serve others? Will our children be equipped for that role reversal?
Business models that focus on production of a predetermined “product” are also dangerous. For example, it has become commonplace for elected officials to mock educational endeavors that do not directly prepare students for work. It was W.E.B DuBois who said:
“If we make money the object of man-training, we shall develop money-makers but not necessarily men; if we make technical skill the object of education, we may possess artisans but not, in nature, men. Men we shall have only as we make manhood the object of the work of the schools–intelligence, broad sympathy, knowledge of the world that was and is, and of the relation of men to it–this is the curriculum of that Higher Education which must underlie true life. On this foundation we may build bread winning, skill of hand and quickness of brain, with never a fear lest the child and man mistake the means of living for the object of life”
We may want to tightly control our “production line” and pop out programmers, accountants, and engineers by the dozens, but human creation is not quite that compliant as a raw material. We tenaciously refuse to all march to the same drummer. Education is really more of a mining endeavor, and a child is a natural resource that has treasures to be developed and refined. It is the job of education to mine and shine, not break and make. Attempts to rigidly standardize educational outcomes, to produce a single student “product,” are counterintuitive, dehumanizing, and short-sighted.
Competition in the business world can yield efficiency and cost savings. Want to get that sales team motivated? Give a prize to the member of the team with the highest sales numbers! However, in education, competition results in waste and inefficiency. For example, any merit pay system that encourages teachers to compete to “stand out” above other teachers threatens collaboration and leads to “silo-ing” that prevents the sharing of good ideas and best practices. A better model is one that gives teachers a shared school wide goal that they can collectively aspire to and work together to achieve. We did this with the “ABCs of Education” model from 1996-2012. That model paid teachers bonuses when the whole school met growth goals. That ended in 2013. The state had to quit paying bonuses in 2009 because so many schools were exceeding growth. Schools demonstrating growth became victims of their own success.
These are just a few examples of how framing education through a “business” lens can be myopic and misguided. That model could only work if were to control our supply stream, if servicing our “customers” were actually in their long-term interest, if the human mind and heart were more satiated by work alone, and if good teaching were less reliant on collaboration. However, make no mistake, market forces are at work in our schools. More on that next time, and then a quick turn to “home” – and how family should be the ultimate paradigm through which we see education.
In the meantime, some advice for state legislators: Put that hammer down.
Former Teacher Assistant, Teacher, Asst Principal
Charlotte Mecklenberg Schools
I was born a teacher. My mom often recalls her memory of being a substitute in the elementary school where my brother and I attended. She walked by my classroom and saw a line of students at my desk waiting for my help. At that point she knew teaching was in my future.
She was right. I worked as a teacher assistant in CMS for two years and then taught elementary grades for five years. I absolutely loved it. Sure, there were afternoons of tears because I was overwhelmed, or tired, or wondering if I was meeting all of the social and academic needs of my students. But I thrived because I had support. I had a teacher assistant, who did time consuming clerical tasks which spared me from spending hours working during my free time. My administration trusted me to use good judgment. Each decision did not require validation with an artifact. Parents supported my classroom, and so did my district. I enjoyed teacher workdays, some with professional development but some with classroom time for me to catch up on so many things that piled up during the week. I was named First Year Teacher of the Year, and I achieved National Board Certification. I wasn’t the greatest teacher on the planet, but I was certainly no slouch.
I was accepted and completed my Master’s in school administration thanks to the NC Principal Fellows program, and served as an assistant principal for two large CMS high schools. Administration was challenging. Days never went as planned, many hours spent focused on resolving conflict or force-feeding teachers the latest district initiative that I didn’t really believe in. I was not a particularly good administrator. I tried to follow the lead of those who seemed to know the right buzzwords, but I did not have the skill or desire of self-promotion. After fulfilling my required years of service, I returned to the classroom.
What a difference five years made. Trust and creativity were replaced with added levels of bureaucracy. Now I had multiple “administrators” to “support” me. I noticed a stronger emphasis on meetings, taking up time during planning that used to be reserved for actually planning lessons or – GASP – take a breather or a bathroom break. With each passing year, the expectations became tougher. With a broken heart, in December 2015 I closed the door on a 17 year career.
Why leave after so many years? It had nothing to do with salary or perks. I was no longer empowered. I was not given true support. My time and expertise were not valued. Every day my planning period was consumed by a meeting. Every single day. And this does not include meetings one or two days a week after school. The last year I taught I did not have duty-free lunch. So this resulted in my coming in an hour or two early, and leaving just as late to get everything done that could not get done during the day. I worked at least 12 hours a day, and many of those hours were intense with the high poverty students I was serving.
All those meetings? Mostly worthless. Analyzing terrible questions and answers to the latest common assessment that was not created by teachers, but by a district person clicking standards from a test bank. Forcing lessons into a template dictated by the school or the zone, without any regard to what I could do on my own. Justifying parent communication, collaboration with mentees, every single breath that I took had to be documented and validated. I was “rewarded” with a grant that had additional meetings and paperwork attached. Meanwhile I had no time to go to the bathroom during the day.
Despite my test scores being some of the highest in my zone, I was called to task for my lesson plans not matching what was observed. I reminded the administrator of his own requirement – lesson plans written two weeks in advance (so that multiple administrators could review them). But data I had gathered more recently required that I change my plans. I was still chastised for not amending the plans so that administrators, facilitators, intervention specialists, social workers, multi-classroom leaders, discipline administrators, and any other number of “support staff” could see what I was doing at any given moment.
I was supposed to spend hours filling out data trackers with numbers, because numbers have replaced student names, personalities, dreams, and unique qualities. I received direction and mandates from people who had never taught my curriculum or grade level.
Determined to survive, I attempted the bare minimum. I tried to arrive and leave at the bell. But I am a rule follower and this did not last long. I began to pray for how to make my life better. I could not sustain 13 more years of headaches, clenching my jaw while I slept, high blood pressure, no empowerment and general unhappiness. So I left, in the middle of the year, amid criticism from many who did not understand.
I left behind some fantastic colleagues. They are struggling, even the veterans. Having the summer off (even though many teachers work in some capacity every summer) does not justify piling on work and not giving teachers a moment during the day to regroup. According to NCpolicywatch.org, teacher turnover in North Carolina was at a five year high in 2014-2015. I have contributed to the 2015-2016 figure and know of several colleagues who have resigned and will add to it as well.
I will always be a teacher at heart. Although my spirit was broken when I left, it was the best decision I have ever made. My quality of life has improved and I don’t feel like a failure every day. Unless things change drastically at the state and local levels, my story will become one that is more and more common. It is my hope that by speaking out, voters and decision-makers will wake up and take action, and more “born teachers” will stay, and flourish, in their classrooms.
By Angela Panel Scioli
Believe it or not, our democracy is more democratic than it has ever been. That is the problem.
Alexander Hamilton was a real guy before he was a hit on Broadway. Were he alive today, he would be amazed by our naïveté. Majority rule is not a problem if the majority is well educated and can think critically about the complicated issues of the day, demand specific policies that will address those issues, and assess the reliability of sources regarding the candidates and issues. But an angry majority lacking those skills makes for a frightening specter. Right, America?
Our Founding Fathers were a fairly privileged lot. They built the American democracy with a keen awareness that the vast majority of the population was not properly educated. They knew an uneducated majority could be swayed by simple speeches, manipulative media and fear. To insulate the fledgling democracy against that threat, they made sure the “mob” had very limited direct influence on our institutions of government. The sole body directly elected by the common people was the House of Representatives. The Senate was appointed by state legislatures, the electoral college carefully guarded the presidency, and judges were appointed by the President and approved by the Senate. The uneducated majority might vote, but their actual influence would be minimal.
Around 1900, Progressives sought to make the democracy more . . . democratic! They passed the 17th amendment allowing for the direct election of senators by the people. Primaries, caucuses and state laws turned the electoral college into more of a rubber stamp. After the contentious 1968 Democratic Convention, the party conventions were also “democratized” to allow for more participation.
The good news? Our democracy is more democratic than ever before in history! And many think it should become even more so. And that’s the bad news. We are putting the (democracy) cart before the (public education) horse. We have allowed for shocking levels of inequality in our schools, to the degree that a court case, the Leandro case, made the courts the feeble guardians of our most vulnerable youth. We have cut per pupil spending in real dollars, cut supplies and support staff, and irreparably damaged the teacher preparation pipeline. We have created a grading system that assigned 682 public schools in NC a grade of “D” or “F” but did not offer those same schools additional resources or support.
And our latest idea? Replace the public schools altogether. We are looking to emulate Tennessee’s Achievement School District program. Through the ASD, the state runs the “failing” schools or allows a private charter company to do so. Gary Henry, a researcher at Vanderbilt University, testified to a legislative committee that students in charter schools did not do any better than other low-performing schools. Tennessee’s former ASD superintendent Chris Barbic, who resigned in 2015, determined that the charter concept cannot be transferred to neighborhood schools; he realized that charters cannot magically overcome generational poverty. Apparently, experience is an efficient teacher.
Not only is this outcome a tragedy for the students attending these failing schools, this growing “education deficit” is a very frightening reality that already threatens our democracy.
As Thomas Jefferson said, “We must attend first to the education of the common people [so] on their good sense we may rely”. In North Carolina, we have not heeded that advice. We have sacrificed our public schools on an altar of speculation, and we are finding many reformers to be “charter”latans who make great promises but can’t deliver. Our democracy, if this election is any indication, is not far behind. We must recommit ourselves to the fact that our public schools are the most important institution for the success of our democracy.
And then, unlike in the past, our education deficit won’t require a democracy deficit.
by Jeff Schweickert & Erin Meyer, NC Public School Teachers
In the midst of high teacher turnover rates, glaring teacher shortages due to an unprecedented decline in students majoring in education, and the overwhelming frustration felt by our state’s public educators, there is fairly condemning evidence that the majority of our state’s legislature has looked the other way.
In the fallout of this year’s budget and year’s past—when the state government pushed an agenda of jobs and tax credits at the expense of the middle class— it was ironic, yet sadly not surprising, that public education experienced quite the opposite. We regressed; we lost teaching jobs despite unprecedented population growth throughout the state; we were deprived of state funding in lieu of private school vouchers, charter schools and online schooling; and we witnessed our state’s decline in the national average for teacher pay, going from 23rd in 2008 to 46th in 2014-2015.
Proponents of this change might have had valid reasons for such regression. When our legislature is charged with the responsibility of a fiscal budget, cuts are required and feelings tend to get stepped on—that’s life; however, two legislative moves were so antithetical to the tenets of education that they have resulted in damning ramifications that have ultimately put a kink in the proverbial teacher pipeline.
The first attack on the pipeline that was so utterly contrary to the essential purpose of education started in 2013 when the legislature decided that teachers with advanced degrees wouldn’t be compensated. In the wake of this, I comically found myself asking, “how is THIS a thing!?” What precedent are we setting for future teachers? That furthering your education is frivolity? Our society is inherently reward-based, yet we set teachers aside as an exceptional class, immune from such influences? And we expect to recruit and obtain the best and the brightest using this model? Humor me for a second – would Advanced Placement enrollment drop if no extra point was given for students’ grade point averages? This scenario is representative of the situation teachers are currently in— do more without expectation – and I can’t help but dwell on the message that this is sending.
The second offense to the pipeline that myself and my colleagues take umbrage with was defunding the North Carolina Teaching Fellows program despite its impactful effect on the teaching profession. Though the North Carolina Teaching Fellows program has had obvious success, the program was cut from the budget in favor of Teach for America in 2011, saving the state $13.5 million annually. The graduating class of 2015 is currently the last cohort of North Carolina Teaching Fellows. While monetarily this decision makes sense for the politicians who want to spend less money, the track records of both Teach for America and the North Carolina Teaching Fellows program show this decision to be troubling. Currently, there are more than 4,000 Teaching Fellows who are teachers, and more than 75 percent of Fellows remain in the profession past five years—a far cry from the 10 percent of Teach for America teachers (DeWitt, 2013). Though costing more, the Teaching Fellows Program produced teachers whose goals were to teach as a career, not use their experience as a resume builder or stepping stone into politics or business; Teach for America teachers make up 0.5 percent of teachers in North Carolina. Instead of ensuring that the state had well-trained career teachers, our state legislature preferred the cheaper alternative as a cost saving measure, suggesting, yet again, that the majority of our legislature devalues education when it is in conflict with their bottom-line.
How can one look at our current situation over the last 8 years and not surmise that the majority of our legislature devalues public education? Can you say with any confidence that the pipeline will always bend and never break? How can one not see that the state and its citizens will have quite the problem on its hands the day that there isn’t a credible, effective teacher to place in the classroom for their son or daughter?
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”?