Home

now browsing by category

 

NC Teachers: Are We Still Seeing (and Wearing) Red?

By Angela Scioli, Wake County Public School Teacher

You know how your Facebook feed hits you with a photo you posted from years past, causing you to reflect on how long ago something actually was?  Sometimes that helps you take stock of how far you have come from that day.  Or not.

DSC_0021

This picture came up:  It is from the summer of 2013, when my teacher friends and I realized that state policies regarding education had gotten all out of whack, and we needed to take action to bring change.  So I wrote this letter stating we should Wear Red 4 Ed on Wed(nesday) as a visual symbolic protest. And Red4EdNC was launched.  Since then we have started a website, written articles that circulated statewide, sold 500 t-shirts, attended protests, produced an occasional podcast, lobbied our elected leaders, and joined networks that collect data to write reports to shape policy.  I even had a documentary crew follow me around for a year, and that film is about to come out (titled Teacher of the Year).

As the movie will show, all this advocacy has taken quite a toll on us and our families, and unlike most organizations, we’d really like to quit, close up shop, and just go back to teaching.  Based on current campaign commercials, you might assume we can do just that and all is well with education in NC.  Maybe we could burn our accumulated red wardrobes in a celebratory pyre!

Not so fast.

This movement has never been about teacher pay raises, and even if it were, only 3 out of 10 NC teachers have truly received an increase in salary since 2013.  We did not become teachers for the pay.  We might get out of teaching because of inadequate pay, but pay is not what really makes us tick.

We became teachers for the students.  We want them to learn and grow.  Students are still suffering, however, because of the misguided priorities that have shaped education policy since 2013:

  • About 3,000 teacher positions and 9,000 teacher assistant positions in NC have vanished since 2011.
  • North Carolina jumped to 46th in the country in per-pupil spending from 47th in the country in 2013-14 per-pupil spending.
  • North Carolina spends 14.5% less per student than it did before the recession. That’s a bigger drop than all but six other states. (FY08 to FY15, inflation-adjusted).
  • North Carolina spends $855 less per student than it did before the recession. That’s a bigger drop than all but five other states (FY08 to FY15, inflation-adjusted).
  • In 2007-08, the state allocated just over $83 million for classroom materials, instructional supplies and equipment, according to numbers from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction. During the last school year, the state allocated around $44.3 million . . . AND the state has eliminated the school supply tax holiday weekend.

This whole situation is like that last class of the day that often drives you crazy.  They test your patience, cause you to feel hopeless, and sometimes, make you want to just give up.  But no, the stakes are just too high.  These are not chess pieces on a board or widgets hitting the factory floor.  These are human souls with a story and vast potential.  And we cannot walk away from this larger fight any more than we can walk away from one our students.

So we must keep wearing Red on Wed., and we must keep writing, and speaking, and posting, AND VOTING – doing what we can, when we can, as much as we can.

Our students deserve more.  And until they get more, if the flag drops, one of us will pick it up, and all of us will keep moving.  I look forward to the day we can rest.  That day is just not yet, but it is coming.

How will you know?  When you see or smell a plume of red polyester rising up over Raleigh.  A celebratory funeral pyre of red.  I can’t wait!

To Smile or Not to Smile, That IS the Question

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.

Alyssa Putt, Durham County Public School Teacher

June 30, 2016

I suspect the word “mugshot” is a litmus test for anyone who has ever had an incarcerated parent. From fourth to tenth grade, the only interaction I had with my biological father was typing his name into a search bar and seeing whether or not he had amassed new charges and an updated mugshot since my last search. To me, he always looked so guilty. After a while, I didn’t want to know anymore.

When the end of college neared and I began applying for teaching positions, I petitioned several data-dragging sites to remove any connection between my name and my father’s, so that potential employers and future students would not draw a parallel between us.

This is a piece of my past that I only discuss when kids trust me enough to tell me their own struggle with an incarcerated parent. I tell them that we are responsible for making our lives the lives we want to lead, for making ourselves the people we want to be, and that we are not required to carry around the painful pieces of our past any longer than to find strength in them.

Thursday morning I woke up — blistered from the march and bruised from the zip-tie cuffs — to endless text messages featuring my own mugshot. Mortification. In the months of planning and in the days of the march, it never occurred to me that I would be starting the summer with my mugshot being broadcast on television screens and shared rampantly on social media sites. I got into my car and cried.

I did not cry from shame or self pity. I did not cry because I had become something I have tried my entire life to avoid. I cried because I chose to be put into handcuffs at 26, while some of my students have already been in handcuffs by 15. I cried because I had seen children come into that jail alone. I cried because I wasn’t sure if those children were still there while I was on my way home. I cried because I know the statistics of the population served by my school, and it is inevitable that some of the children that have sat in my classroom will sit in that jail. I cried because I was being thanked for my arrest while thousands of black and brown kids are criminalized for theirs.

I cried because I wholly recognized that my arrest was privileged.

Because we got help when we asked for help. Renisha McBride did not.

Because we were told we would be under arrest if we did not comply. Tamir Rice wasn’t warned.

Because our seat belts were buckled upon my request. Freddie Gray’s was undone.

Because we were able to hold up Kristin as she ebbed in and out of consciousness. No one was there for Raynette Turner.

Because we knew we would be out before the night was over. Over a million people are still waiting.

This industrialized prison machine is vile, guys. The observed ratio of officers to prisoners was better than the ratio of teachers to students in my school. The food was more nutritious than the lunch my kids are provided daily. The facilities were better than many schools I’ve seen in rural counties. The cost of keeping one person in prison for a single year is already more than three times what we spend on a student per year in this state, but here we are, begging for educational funding in the streets. How has it come to this? Why will we spend more on incarceration than education? Why will it be easier for my kids to get a gun than a diploma?

Before the intake officer took my photo, we joked about smiles being disallowed. I asked her what she would want her kids’ teacher to look like in a mugshot. She laughed, and so did I, as she snapped the picture. I asked because I was terrified my students and their parents may see me looking solemn and think I was ashamed, or see me with a smile and think I was selfcongratulatory. I am not ashamed, but I am not congratulating myself, either, despite what my mugshot may suggest. I’m just hoping no kids are disappointed by my guilt.

This isn’t about 14 unflattering photos. This is about the fight for our kids, and how #studentsdeservemore. If you’re proud of the dozens of people who put time and effort into this thing, if you’re proud of Amy, Jessica, Kristin, Bryan, Carrol, Turquoise, Anca, Dawn, Alexa, Leah, Lisa, Donald, James, and me who went to jail for our kids, let’s work to turn this thing around. Get involved with ORGANIZE 2020, vote, attend School Board Meetings … do anything to make sure our kids get what they deserve.

Open Letter to Fellow NC Public School Teachers – What We Do Cannot Really Be Measured

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.

The Measuring Stick of Education

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.

#studentsdeservemore

State Legislators: Put the “Business Hammer” Down

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.

 

A Year in Two Different Worlds

by Katherine Meeks, Wake County Public School Teacher

Since the 1999 court case that required Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) to end busing because the schools had “eliminated the vestiges of past discrimination,” the district has primarily assigned students to schools closest to home. This practice results in extreme socioeconomic disparity between schools, which CMS attempts to counteract by spending more money on the low income schools.

Between 2000 and 2010, the Wake County Public School System (WCPSS) was nationally recognized for socio-economic school integration, and, before that, racial integration. Although this practice has since ended, many of the effects linger.

In the 2013-2014 NCDPI School Report Cards 40% of CMS schools were rated an “A” or “B” compared to 50% in WCPSS.  29% of CMS schools were rated a “D” or “F”, compared to just 11% in WCPSS. According to a 2015 New York Times report, Mecklenburg County currently ranks second to Baltimore for “big counties worst for income mobility for poor children.”

This is the story of my experiences teaching at two vastly different schools and the systemic problems of socioeconomic inequalities I witnessed:

  1. CMS: 90% free and reduced lunch; extremely low performing; rated “F”
  2. WCPSS: 20% free and reduced lunch; high performing; rated “A”

At the first school, we were flooded with monetary resources, technology, and additional school personnel. To serve 900 students, we had 5 administrators, a school resource officer, 2 security associates, 2 behavior management technicians, 2 in-school suspension teachers, 2 “Communities In Schools” staff, 3 instructional facilitators, a full time beginning teacher coordinator, a CTE coordinator, 2 counselors, and a social worker. We had a technology device for every single student. Class sizes were lower than average. Despite these supports, I worked 12 hours a day to complete the most basic parts of my job and working conditions were far below what I would consider professional. I witnessed an unfathomable amount of violence and on more than one occasion felt personally unsafe. There is a culture of fear for everyone involved: fear of theft, fear of violence, and fear of multiple kinds of abuse. When teachers were absent, students were most often covered by stretching current staff because substitutes did not want to work in the unpredictable and sometimes hostile environment. On these days, teachers gave up their planning period and worked unpaid overtime at home. When I didn’t have to cover other classes, I spent most or all of my planning period writing discipline referrals, calling parents (often unsuccessfully), finding a translator to call parents, and wrestling with the copy machine. Yet as hard as we worked, we perceived, at best, miniscule improvements to students’ lives.

Now, I spend my planning period almost exclusively planning engaging lessons. I feel appreciated and I see the difference I make. I’ve only written one discipline referral and covered one class this year. In a year at the first school I spent over 180 hours performing daily non-instructional duties necessary to maintain order and help keep students safe. This year I expect to spend just 53 hours on such duties. There were similar discrepancies between required attendance at after school events. When I talk with another teacher that left the first school the same time I did, she describes her feelings of guilt that prevented her from leaving earlier as “masochistic.”

Many believe that we need to attract more highly qualified teachers to low-income schools – I disagree. I worked with highly-qualified, brilliant and passionate teachers and administrators who were relentless in their efforts to achieve student growth. The real problem is keeping any teachers at all. Research shows low teacher turnover increases student performance. Turnover at the first school was around 50%. Less than one year later, of the administrative staff, only the principal remains. My quality of life and sense of professional achievement at the first school was so low that I doubt I would have stayed for any monetary incentive.

In Part 1 of This American Life’s “The Problem We All Live With,” Ira Glass talks with Nikole Hannah-Jones, New York Times investigative reporter, about dozens of strategies school systems like CMS are using to help failing schools. “What she noticed was that it never worked. I mean, like, never. The bad schools never caught up to the good schools. And the bad schools were mostly black and Latino. The good schools were mostly white. And sure, there might be a principal here or a charter school there who might do a good job improving students’ scores, but even there, they were just improving their student scores. The minority kids in their programs were still not performing on par with white kids. They hadn’t closed the achievement gap between black kids and white kids.”

So if all these programs aren’t working, what does work? Nikole continues “I find there’s one thing that really worked, that cut the achievement gap between black and white students by half… [school] integration… But instead, since 1988, we have started to re-segregate. And it is at that exact moment that you see the achievement gap start to widen again.”

Her research aligns with my experience. But integrated schools aren’t just better for students – they’re better for teachers too. Integrated schools are significantly better at retaining teachers long-term as well as educating all students.

I couldn’t fully appreciate how lucky I was to be educated in an integrated system until I worked for a segregated one. Unfortunately, in the six years since the end of socioeconomic integration, WCPSS is trending towards segregated schools. The 2014-2015 NCDPI School Report Cards look more like those of CMS.

In Part 2 of “The Problem We All Live With,” Chana Joffe-Walt describes the community engagement necessary to achieve school integration. “There are only a few places in the country that have seriously committed to school integration over a long period of time. Louisville, Kentucky is one; Wake County in North Carolina; those are the biggest. And in each case, something like this right here has occurred: a public reckoning seems to be a required step; some sort of long process by which the gap between two unequal systems is made very clear to the people who are not paying attention.”

I share my experiences not to disparage the valiant efforts of low-income schools but rather to bring awareness to the larger systemic problem. I share because the personal time it took me to write this article did not exist a year ago. I share because my heart breaks to watch WCPSS travel down the path towards segregated schools and because I’ve seen where that path leads. It’s time for a public reckoning. We know from anecdotal evidence and quantitative data that separate is not equal and does not work. Our teachers deserve safe and professional working conditions. Our students – all of them – deserve a safe learning environment and a high quality education.
Add my voice – an informed witness from the front lines – to the growing chorus. Wake up, Wake. Pay close attention. You are headed the wrong way.

Who Will Protect Our Protectors?

By David Robinson, NC Career and Technical Education Teacher

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

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

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

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

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

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

They are the teachers.

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

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

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

 

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

By Angela Scioli, John deVille, and Teacher X

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

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

Read the rest of this page »

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

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.