Thursday, September 30, 2010

The school year finally feels as if it is starting to settle in. I'm no longer wondering how to tweak my schedule to make it work. I no longer have to stop and wonder where I headed next when the bell rings.

Parts of my new job I am enjoying tremendously. I love working with kids who NEED me. I like the feeling that I am pushing them further and faster than they have ever been pushed before. Finding ways to teach them grade level material is a challenge but I am impressed at how hard they are working to meet my expectations. Today was our 3rd prealgebra quiz. ALL of them (except the one who slept and refused to take the quiz) ACED it!!! They were so proud of themselves. I was so proud of them. It is honest to goodness 8th grade prealgebra content. AND THEY DID IT!!!

I know my students are overwhelmed in their regular ed classes, and for that part, I feel badly. The one little girl was working on studying for her history test today in guided study. She was frustrated that I wouldn't/couldn't sit with her and study one on one. Finally, at one point, she mumbled, "I miss being in special ed." I bet she does. I can only imagine how difficult this transition has been for some of these students, going from a self-contained environment, to the big bad real world, in the blink of an eye.

I do miss my own classroom and that feeling of my own domain, my own little kingdom, doing things MY way. Being in with other teachers, watching them teach, can be exciting and interesting, but just as often, it can be frustrating. I know when the content confuses me, it must confuse my students. I know when I am bored and near nodding off, so must the students be.

But I am getting to the point in the year it is truly becoming about the kids. The dust is settling on things that matter not as much and the routine of me and my expectations, them and their personalities, are all begining to find their happy medium. It won't be long and it will be June.... and they will be moving up and on.... Can we make it to the finish line by then??? I don't know for sure, but the momentum sure feels like it is picking up!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

At our inservice last week, the conversation turned to that of teacher dress. Apparently, some people - staff, community members, board members - had made comments to the adminstration about the overly casual dress of some of our teaching staff.

I admit to being as guilty as the next of tossing on a paper of not-too-wrinkly khakis and a polo on many too many mornings. Corduroys tend to be my pant of choice on cooler days. I much prefer to toss on something snuggly and comfy, to high heels and a skirt.

The discussion continued with different people citing their reasons for their own frequent casual dress being everything to health reasons, to comfort levels, to not insulting parents. No one ventured to comment advocating we SHOULD dress more professionally as a group.

When I was in college, one of my education professors lectured us on our professionalism - everything from our dress (NO DENIM EVER) to not hanging out in the teachers' lounge bashing parents and adminstrators to the appearance of our desk/classroom. To this day, her words echo in my head when I pull on my jeans on Jeans Friday. On days I slip into a blazer and a skirt, I see her smile at me.

Do our students CARE what we wear? Do they learn better just because we dress up or down? The latter, I am not so sure... but the first question? I think they do notice. A young lady once complimented me, saying, "You always look nice, like being here at school is important."

When I was a teenager, it was the rage to wear your casual clothes, jeans especially, to church. My mother was appalled. She admitted God didn't likely care what I wore, but pointed out if I wasn't going to value church enough to wear my very best clothes there, when was more important than church to wear them.

To me, school, my job, my professional appearance, reflects how I think about myself and my job. If I dress the part, I feel the part, and I tend to more walk the walk that day.

I do teach in an impoversished area, where parents tend to dress casually, often in what most teachers would toss in the dumpster, stained, worn, ripped. But, that is all they have. I don't think they are offended by their child's teachers wearing respectable, PROFESSIONAL clothing. When they go to their doctor, their lawyer, the bank, the insurance office, etc... they see professionals wearing professional attire. I think they expect us to also dress the part. Parents view teachers in this community as well paid (and compared to Average Joe, we are), educated and a notch 'above'. Wearing clothes that make us look that part would not be insulting, but rather expected.

I don't think teachers need a tie, high heels, or fancy duds, to be effective. We need to be comfortable, able to move, walk, stand, bend, move. We need to be active among our students, and wear clothing that does not hamper our abilities to do that.

But on the other hand, would it be so terrible to show up looking as if SCHOOL IS IMPORTANT TO US? Perception IS reality, and I want students and parents to look at me, my actions as well as my attire, and think, "Mrs. George looks and acts the part of a teacher."

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

We all have days in our classrooms when we are less than 100%, not quite organized, not completely prepared for what we are doing. I've certainly had my share!

However, with that in mind, I am shocked at how unorganized and unprepared some teachers are for their day. I could never function with the lack of preparation and sense of order for the day that they seem to manage.

Beyond the obvious just being unorganized, I wonder how this impacts students and their learning. How can you, as a student, ever feel like you know what you are to learn, how you are to learn it, and how that learning is going to be judged/assessed, when you are in a classroom that flies by the seat of the teacher's pants?

Imagine coming to work each day, having no idea what tasks might be expected of you, the rules of the job changing day to day. Imagine that one day, it is OK to eat your lunch at your desk, but the next day, you have to eat in the cafeteria or be reprimanded. But the next day, the opposite is true. Imagine at today's staff meeting, you are berated for not contributing ideas to the discussion but at next week's meeting, you do contribute and are told to be quiet. Imagine your upcoming evaluation being based on how well you conform to those expectations.

Even worse, imagine being a new employee under this boss. References to events that happened before you were there are frequent and you are made to feel stupid because you weren't working there at the time and have no idea what the references mean.

I realize that we all operate our classrooms by our own standards, and I truly do not expect everyone to abide by "MY" standards. We are all changing and evolving as educators, trying to offer our students the best educational opportunities possible. But it seems incredibly unfair that incompetency is allowed to pervade education and reflect poorly on all.
In order to experience success at schools, students need structure, predictability, fairness and engagement. Classrooms without these in place are wasting students' time and energy and opportunity to learn.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Michigan teachers are making less this year. To help pay for health care benefits of the retirees encouraged by the State last year, all teachers will lose 3% of their paycheck. So my already inadequate paycheck just got smaller.

When I became a teacher, I didn't expect to get rich doing it. I knowingly took this career path, despite the fact, compared to other similarly educated people, my paycheck pales. I knew that I would be expected to continue my education, at the high cost of graduate credits. I knew that my employer would never cover all the incidentals I would need for my classroom.

But as time goes by, I see the costs of everything else increasing, and now my paycheck decreasing, and it is depressing.

Pay is relative of course. According to Average Teacher Salary by State, teaching in Michigan pays pretty darned good relative to the state median income, at approximately $8000 over that figure. That sounds pretty good, doesn't it? I would like to know the education level compared to those salaries those. How many people in the state have a bachelor's degree? a master's degree? are required to pay to continue their own education? My gut tells me our median income in Michigan is inflated due to auto workers' wages. Working in an auto factory is an honorable profession. However, to work on the line, you do not need a college degree. You certainly don't need a master's degree, nor do you pay to continue your education to keep your certification (which you pay for as well) to keep your job.

According to the graph comparing teacher salary to median house prices, also makes my pay look pretty reasonable. Granted, other places have much higher prices than where I live. My 2000+ square foot house, sitting on 4 acres, about 4 miles from town, would sell for somewhere in the neighborhood of $100,000 if put on the market today. Well, it would list for that price, but would it sell? With the high number of foreclosures on the market, the declining job market, I doubt it would sell at all. Other places where home values are greater, have more perks as well. Where I live, the nearest traffic light is 65 miles away - ok, maybe that is a perk :) But when you are enjoying the lack of traffic, remember that means the nearest shopping is 65 miles away as well. The nearest REAL mall is 200 miles away. That translates into a lot of miles on a vehicle! My truck is will be 1 year old in December and just turned over 18,000 miles. Everywhere is a major trip.

Different states have different rates of pay no doubt. If you'd like to see how each state measures up, you can view state summary pages at the links below:
Average teacher salary Alabama
Average teacher salary Alaska
Average teacher salary Arizona
Average teacher salary Arkansas
Average teacher salary California
Average teacher salary Colorado
Average teacher salary Connecticut
Average teacher salary Delaware
Average teacher salary District of Columbia
Average teacher salary Florida
Average teacher salary Georgia
Average teacher salary Hawaii
Average teacher salary Idaho
Average teacher salary Illinois
Average teacher salary Indiana
Average teacher salary Iowa
Average teacher salary Kansas
Average teacher salary Kentucky
Average teacher salary Louisiana
Average teacher salary Maine
Average teacher salary Maryland
Average teacher salary Massachusetts
Average teacher salary Michigan
Average teacher salary Minnesota
Average teacher salary Mississippi
Average teacher salary Missouri
Average teacher salary Montana
Average teacher salary Nebraska
Average teacher salary Nevada
Average teacher salary New Hampshire
Average teacher salary New Jersey
Average teacher salary New Mexico
Average teacher salary New York
Average teacher salary North Carolina
Average teacher salary North Dakota
Average teacher salary Ohio
Average teacher salary Oklahoma
Average teacher salary Oregon
Average teacher salary Pennsylvania
Average teacher salary Rhode Island
Average teacher salary South Carolina
Average teacher salary South Dakota
Average teacher salary Tennessee
Average teacher salary Texas
Average teacher salary Utah
Average teacher salary Vermont
Average teacher salary Virginia
Average teacher salary Washington
Average teacher salary West Virginia
Average teacher salary Wisconsin
Average teacher salary Wyoming

I don't begrudge my doctor his paycheck. He went through many years of education to get where he is today. I don't begrudge my attorney her paycheck. Again, she earned it. In turn, I think people who bash teacher paychecks should stop and think for a minute about our jobs, their importance, and what it took to get here and what it takes to stay. Maybe instead of bashing my pay, think about how much that big shot tossing the football is getting paid, or how much that crooner on the radio made last year, and the importance of their job in the spectrum of life. In the meantime, I am looking at my smaller paycheck thinking... hmmm... OK, hope those retirees are enjoying their time off!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Having last hour prep means an opportunity to earn some comp hours subbing for coaches who leave early for games/meets. I haven't had last hour off in years, so with this year's schedule, I thought, sure, why not.

So here I sit in last hour advanced Spanish. Most students are working on their assignment, while visiting with friends, flirting with the opposite sex, and/or listening to iPods.

As I watch them I have to laugh at the difference in your average middle schooler, and these junior/seniors. Granted, advanced Spanish does not attract many lower level students, esepcially those who struggle with their own language. The bodies in this room are among the best and brightest of the school.

I am struck by their non-dependence on me to help them, guide them, or even keep them on task. Despite the side-tracks in their behaviors, they are all going to complete the assignment before they leave here today.

With middle schoolers, assignment completion is tentative at best. Even work completed in a large group often doesn't get completed. The maturity level escalates dramatically between middle school and here.

I remember this crew as 7th graders. Some of them remain in their same role with their peers, the class clown, the quiet studious student with no friends, the flirty jock, the over-the-top loud girl. But others have changed. The once quiet now sits commanding his groups of friends, leading the discussion. The once short, timid 7th grader who used to hide under my desk and jump out to scare me has grown into a young man, tall and changed, mature, but still quite a character. I guess in my mind, they'd all stayed the same, just moved on to high school, and maybe a bit taller. Now I see them, growing into their grown up selves.

And I see the them's they used to be... and miss them.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Today probably isn't the best day for a blog post but it isn't like me to hold back. It wasn't a bad day, just a bad attitude day, at least for me. It seemed over and over I was struck with the absurdities of school in general, the ridiculousness of what goes on there, and the wastefulness of time and resources in the name of EDUCATION.

Part of the frustration comes from being in a new position, no doubt. I feel like a fish out of water, zigzagging back and forth, here and there. I knew that would be a reality of this new job, and I accept the realities and consequences of that. However, I don't feel like I am really helping any kids, doing anything monumental for them, in any of the "inclusion" hours I have.

For the most part, the teachers have been very welcoming, offering to include me in any or all parts of their classes. But there again, I feel inadequate. What do **I** know about civics or economics that the regular classroom teacher doesn't know better? I honestly haven't even looked at the state requirements for these classes, and even if I had, I cannot be an expert in all of them, knowing exactly what is required, where to find it, and how to teach it.

Then there's my own 8th grade prealgebra class. The kids in there are all over the place skill wise, but all of them are low, very low. Like some cannot even manage to copy a problem off the board or out of the book, low... They are nice kids, sweet kids, and most of them are really trying hard to please me, to do what is asked of them. But we are struggling greatly to find a starting point to our learning. I am expected to drag them all to the point they will be ready for algebra in high school next year, somehow. I feel like I am driving the Indy 500 in a car from 1950 that has never had its oil changed or even air put in its tires in all these years, but just gets driven and driven, hoping to make it to its final destination somehow safely. And now, I am expected to win this race with it somehow.

I think if somehow we could slow down, find a logical starting point, a place where they are all comfortable, competent and confident, we could do great things together. Instead, we are floundering, try to make sense of things that make no sense.

Too many of these students have been in a self-contained special ed classroom their entire school career, and are now, tossed to the wind, taking regular classes, trying to keep their head above water. Their skills are low, their self-esteem levels are low, and their confidence is zilch. I feel badly that there is little I can do to rescue them.

So while these kids are floundering, sitting in regular ed classes all day, pretending to have a clue about what's going on, I am sitting in another classroom, in another building, doing zilcho most of the time.

I understand the importance of inclusion. I have long been an advocate for inclusion. But I think for some of these kids, that is no longer an option. They have spent too long in an isolated setting, and are ill-prepared to be out there in real classes. Wouldn't it make more sense to have me with them all day?

Inclusion is good on paper, for most kids, most of the time. But in today's educational world, where all kids must meet the same standards, expecting them to get there at the same pace as everyone else, is simply unreasonable.

Who is to blame? I don't know. Those people who sit in Lansing and Washington and points in between and think that all kids are GOING to make it through high school with these new expectations... That's where I want to start!

I am all for raising the bar, for challenging kids, for taking them as high as they can go. But reality check people. We are NOT all created equal, we are not all the same. Just as I will never be a Olympic gold medal gymnast, some of these kids are never going to make it through high school with the new requirements.

From my perspective, raising the bar for EVERYONE means lowering the bar for many in the long run. As we try to get more and more kids through a challenging curriculum, we are forced to either leave some behind, or lower the bar so they can all make it over. Either way it is a losing proposition for someone.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

With high stakes tests always at the forefront of teachers' minds, it is not a surprise when some lose sight of what school IS, or at least, OUGHT to be about. We often get caught up in the mindset of "Don't smile before Christmas" and "School is for learning not fun" modes, and forget one of the fundamental 3 R's of education: rigor, relevance, and RELATIONSHIPS.
Without building a relationship, a positive, strong relationship, with our students, for many of them, the rigor and relevance of our curriculum will be lost. Not only will they shut down, refusing to entertain even the most engaging of lessons, they will likely become our worst nightmares, as far as behavior issues go.
For some teachers, building relationships with students comes easily, naturally. They honestly enjoy the age group they stand in front of each day. Conversations flow naturally, good natured joking is a two-way street, and soon, even the most reluctant learner has braved the educational waters of that teacher's curriculum.
In other classrooms, forced congeniality is the standard. While it is often obvious students and teacher are not always on the same page, a mutual respect and tolerance develops, allowing learning to take place. These teachers may just not be 'natural' born teachers, not having the knack to interact effortlessly with their clientele, but through careful deliberate planning on their part, the gap is successfully, or at least adequately bridged. Students develop a respect for these teachers, and while may never vote them their 'favorite' come to learn how to be successful behaviorally and academically.
Sadly, in a few classrooms, it is obvious the teacher has no interest in the students, personally or beyond that test score. Their interactions are limited and forced, leaving a hgue divide. Students are disruptive, afraid, intimidated, or simply unable to learn in this environment. These are the classrooms, the teachers, that make me wonder if anyone CAN be a teacher, or are some of the traits inherent that allow for successful teaching. Can we create an effective teacher from one without those natural tendencies? Can those individuals be taught the interact with their students in manner that allow them to be successful? I don't know the answer....

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The kids are back!! The kids are back!! It was a great first half day, ups and downs and twists and turns, to be sure, but overall it went wonderfully.

Being in the high school is strange beyond strange. I cannot even describe what a different vibe I get over there. It isn't bad, at all. Just different. Being the 2nd string in the classroom is a new feeling as well. It will take some getting used to I am sure.

Seeing so many old faces in new places was exciting. Seeing their faces light up when they realized I would be there with them, realizing for some of them, I was their comfort zone, really melted my heart.

Seeing the 8th graders I won't have again this year, melted my heart as well.. just in a bad way. I was sad seeing all of that group I loved so much, knowing I gave up the chance to teach them again.

My own 2 classes went fine. We only had half an hour, so not much to go right or wrong. We played a couple of quick math games and just chitchatted the time away. I can tell just from the multiplication bingo we played though, some of them have skills too low to be where they are. 8th grade prealgebra is going to be so far over their heads, we are in for rough waters. I am not quite sure how to adequately prepare 8 kids for algebra 1 in high school next year, while I basically babysit 4 more, with skills so low they will NEVER be able to make it to algebra.

Being in with other teachers was always an interesting part of my job. I've long said I learned as much from the 'bad' teachers as I did from the 'good' ones. Today was no different. The way some of the teachers interacted with their new classes, making them feel wanted and welcome, versus the others, who acted as if each and every child were evil and destined to become delinquents, was just amazing. From the ones who say, "My goal is for every kid to pass" to the ones who say, "my way or the highway"... the stark contrast is simply amazing.

And...... their dealings with me are just as stark. The ones who say, "Can you help me with __________" or, we'll have to sit down and talk about how we want our class to look" to the ones who say nothing, just acting as if you are as invisible as the wall, or as evil as the students.

Ahh.. yes, it is going to be an interesting year.

Monday, September 06, 2010

The Night Before School Start
based on the original Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore
or Henry Livingston
with my apologies

'Twas the night before school starts, when all through the building

Teachers were scurrying, all in the halls;

The classrooms were decorated, new posters all hung with care,

In knowing that the students soon would be there;

The children were nestled at home in their beds,

While visions of school books danced in their heads;

And me in my cutoffs, and old Packer shirt,

Had one day left to walk around not in a skirt,

When over in the office there arose such a clatter,

I sprang from the desk to see what was the matter.

Away to the doorway I flew like a flash,

Ran down the hall and into the room.

The copier was spewing papers below

Giving the look of a paper volcano ablow,

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,

But another eager teacher with dust on her chin,

Arm full of copies, stapler and pens,

I knew in a moment how harried she was.

More rapid than eagles her feet carried her in,

And she shouted, and swore softly, and called the copier a name;

"Now, you stupid machine can’t you just do it right!

On both sides! on one side! Now please do colate!

Make the copies now! Make them, please do it for me!

Don’t jam up the paper, don’t wrinkle it so!"

As teachers will do when they know time is short,

She expertly dismantled and got out of the pickle,

So back to her classroom with copies all made,

And me back to mine to finish today.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard in the hall

The slamming and bamming of each locker door.

As I drew in my head, and was turning around,

Down the hall the secretary came with a bound.

She was dressed for school, from her head to her foot,

And her clothes were all tarnished with toner and chalk;

A bundle of books she had flung on her back,

And she looked like a peddler just opening her pack.

Her eyes -- how they twinkled! her dimples how merry!

Her cheeks were like roses, her nose like a cherry!

Her feet were scurrying as she carried her load,

Delivering her goods to classrooms along;

The stack of her mail perched loosely on top,

As she made her way down the hall;

She had a determined face and no-nonsense grin,

That looked plastered on with permanent pen.

Tossing and throwing books here and there,

And I laughed when I saw her, in spite of myself;

A wink of her eye and a twist of her head,

Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;

She spoke not a word, but went straight to her office,

And filled all the mailboxes; then turned with a jerk,

And laying her finger aside of her nose,

And giving a nod, rang the school bell just once;

She sat at her desk, and surveyed her domain,

Knowing tomorrow everything will change.

But I heard her exclaim, as I walked out of there,

"Happy SCHOOL YEAR to all, and to all a good night."

Thursday, September 02, 2010

School starts next Tuesday for us, the day after Labor Day, just like always. However, we don't know what time school starts! Apparently, the union is still negotiating this issue. Come on... for crying out loud. DOES IT REALLY MATTER??

I understand the school of thought that if we give a minute here, they'll just take another one there. And, sometimes, it is probably true.

However, the ridiculousness of it all frustrates me to no end. Pick a time and go with it. A fair number of our teachers show up late no matter what the contractual start time is. Wouldn't it be more productive for both sides to deal with THAT issue instead of arguing about an arbitrary time no one abides by. Most teachers arrive early, the remainder straggle in when they get to get to school, so why waste time arguing?

It seems to me the amount of time spent on trivial issues could be better spent dealing with true issues - curriculum, effective teaching methods, classroom management, behavior issues, bullying plans, how to meet the needs of our ever changing student population with ever shrinking funds....

Until unions are ready to really support teachers, truly promote quality instruction, and rally to have adminstrators be the driving instructional leadership force in our schools, I will struggle to support them.