Category Archives: Advocacy

Don’t Just Appreciate Teachers, Pay Them

Teacher Appreciation Week kind of irks me.

Don’t get me wrong. I love being appreciated. I continue to treasure every single note and email from my students and their parents, and I still reread them regularly. Those words truly make me feel like I achieved my deepest desires as a high school teacher: to make a difference in young people’s lives.

I understand that Teacher Appreciation Week is a kind, genuine effort to publicly demonstrate and recognize the hard and influential work of our nation’s educators. Many thoughtful hours of parent planning go into celebrating a school’s teachers, and the week often serves as a way for teachers and parents to connect on a purely positive level, which is important for building and maintaining the relationship between two groups of people critically involved in students’ education.

I myself have now entered the stage of life where I’m a room parent cutting out paper hearts to show my kids’ preschool teachers how much they mean to my family – and  I absolutely mean it and am glad I have the opportunity to do so.

At the same time, I also think my kids’ educators, those from early childhood to college professors, should be paid more competitive salaries, worthy of their professionalism and craft.

According to The Teacher Salary Project, “teachers make 14% less than people in other professions that require similar levels of education” and the average starting salary is $39,000. Yet teachers work an average of ten hours a day and annual salaries increases are typically only a few hundred dollars. There are no bonuses or promotions, which is why the average salary after 25 years in the classroom is only $67,000.

In America, we want to hold educators accountable. I absolutely believe that’s an essential component of revising our profession, along with revising the recruitment and training of new teachers. But who wants to enter a profession known for being overworked and underpaid?

We – American citizens – shouldn’t show our appreciation during one given week in a year. Teacher Appreciation Week should be called Payday, and it should happen every two weeks of a school year.

What if, alongside our banners that say “We Love Our Teachers,” we also add, “And We Should Pay Them More”? What if, at the end of a thoughtful note, we also tell our teachers that we have written to our local school board members or state officials demanding an increase in their salary? What if, instead of hosting a breakfast, we host a community event to discuss how to take action on improving teacher pay?

Let’s make teachers know they are appreciated. We can tell them every two weeks, when they receive the paycheck worthy of their value.

With all due respect, Gov. Bush

Jeb BushLast weekend, The Washington Post ran an opinion piece penned by Florida’s former governor and potential presidential candidate, Mr. Jeb Bush. I felt strongly enough about the piece that I wrote my own response and submitted it to the Post. Lamentably (to me), they did not publish it this weekend, as I’d hoped. Fortunately (for me), the internet serves as a type of 5th Estate through which I can publish my thoughts and share them with the world through this blog. (Insert Newsies fist-pump.)

Click here to read Gov. Bush’s piece first.

My response to Gov. Bush’s editorial

As someone who grew up in Florida’s public education system, graduated from one of its universities, and then taught public high school there for seven years, I read former-governor Jeb Bush’s recent editorial with interest and then disappointment.

Gov. Bush’s main argument was that “the federal role should be subservient to the role of the states” in education reform. But he did not clearly explain why only states, local authorities, or parents should be making these decisions – only that the federal government shouldn’t. Isn’t the federal government run by people? Human beings who come from states and localities themselves? People who are parents too? Where are the legitimate reasons behind his point?

Also, I couldn’t help but notice that Gov. Bush failed to mention one of the largest, most important voices we should hear in education reform: that of the educators. They’re probably going to have some valid insights too.

Education reform can’t happen in isolation of any level of government. All levels provide insight into particular aspects of reform. Federal and state governments should work together to create a larger framework in which students all over our country receive a quality education, while being informed by and allowing for local innovation and professional discretion. Words like “never” and “always” don’t allow for healthy collaboration or a respect between levels of government.

The most ludicrous moment was Gov. Bush’s claim that “Federal funding has become a whipping stick to be used on local district leaders who are unwilling to go along with every program dreamed up by Washington.” I nearly sprayed coffee out my nose. The FCAT and school grading system, both of which were “dreamed up” in Tallahassee with Gov. Bush at the helm, have been the whipping sticks of Florida’s schools since 1999. As a former public high school teacher, there was no larger, looming pressure than FCAT testing. School grades, largely based on FCAT scores, meant schools were touted or tortured, depending on how students performed. We didn’t have local control over FCAT or its implementation; teachers didn’t even control how FCAT Writes was assessed – that job was often farmed out to anyone with a bachelor’s degree who applied via Kelly Services.

Those who built glass houses (and aspire to White ones) should be careful at whom they cast their stones.

I don’t doubt Gov. Bush’s concern and commitment to education reform, but I am exhausted by black and white, polarized thinking. Education reform is neither an easy journey, nor a short one. There is no reason why the states can’t drive, then switch off with the feds, then let parents and teachers take the wheel. We’re all adults in the same car, after all. Most importantly, we’re driving our children and the future of this country, so we can’t afford to get lost.

 

 

An idea: Teachers create a National Congress of Educators

In my last post, I asked myself and my reader(s), “Why doesn’t our word carry weight?” Shortly thereafter, I closed the post by asserting, “It is long past due that teachers define the image of the profession themselves and from within their own ranks.” 

The next day, I still agreed with myself. However, I hadn’t given anyone, including myself, any ideas on HOW to do such a thing.

I first started thinking about the organizations for teachers that exist today and their role in education.

The most obvious place to start is with the teachers’ unions, notably the American Federation of Teachers and the National Teachers Association.

When I first started teaching, I became a member of my local union. They were engaged in reform of the salary schedule and I believed in their cause. Several years later, I was offended by the caustic attitude and approach of our state’s union leaders, and I also disagreed with them on several key issues, so I stopped my membership.

A quick Google search says there are 3. 7 million teachers in the U.S. The NEA’s website says they have 3 million union members and the AFT site states they have more than 1 million members.

So do teachers keep getting pushed around then? Why aren’t the unions more powerful in affecting public policy? To the Google machine!

I found a slightly-dated article on Politico that outlined some of the problems and includes this quotation:

“People increasingly view teachers unions as a problem, or the problem,” David Menefee-Libey, a politics professor at Pomona College who studies education politics. That’s a striking shift, he said, because “for decades the unions were viewed as the most likely to contribute to the improvement of public education.”

Why do people view unions as a problem? According to several articles, the problem stems from the unions’ position on hiring and firing teachers. So maybe I’m not as much of an outlier as I thought, because one of my reasons for stopping my union membership was this very topic.

Unions exist to defend and support their members. The existence of unions have been of historical importance to our country, and I think they fulfill an important role in protecting workers’ rights.

Here we have the crux of the problem: the purpose of unions, to protect workers’ rights, has largely dealt with issues of money and legality of hiring or firing practices. These are not the same as professional standards.

So we have a loss of public and professional faith in the unions, but a growing (or continuing, depending on your perspective) frustration from educators who feel they have little autonomy in their jobs and little power to affect change. Makes for a bunch of pissed off people, and certainly an unhealthy system.

Moving away from unions, I began thinking about other educational organizations. It is a testament to educators and our desire for professionalism that so many exist. For example, I joined the National Council of Teachers of English and the Florida Council of Teachers of English while still in graduate school. I maintained my membership with both until last year, when I moved. I love these organizations deeply, because they gave me a sense of professionalism more than anything else in my teaching career.

In the last five years, NCTE has increased its advocacy efforts by in large part by establishing an office in Washington, D.C. and implementing an annual Advocacy Day. They have created a Policy Platform and post recommendations for policymakers. The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics also has a page on its site dedicated to advocacy, as does the National Council for Social Studies. The National Science Teachers Association has its own Communications, Legislative, & Public Affairs team.

So based on their particular subject area or at which level they teach (elementary, secondary, etc.), there exist organizations which classroom teachers can join. But what about an overall body or organization that doesn’t delineate between grade level or subject? To the Google machine!

Fairly quickly, I came across the American Association of Educators, an organization with which I was unfamiliar. The AAE defines itself as a “non-union professional educators association established in 1994 by nationally recognized educators who saw the need for a professional organization that focused on student achievement without an emphasis on partisan politics.”  According to their website, the AAE provides “professional services” and “only take policy positions on issues germane to education.” They also have liability insurance for members, but they do not engage in collective bargaining. Mainly, they seem to define themselves by what they are not – a union. Their policies seem entirely based on a membership survey, and I couldn’t find anything about a conference or process for discussion.

After thinking about all of these organizations, I still feel something is missing. There’s a void somehow.

My dream: that teachers create their own nationwide forum for discussing, debating, disagreeing, and deciding on our education system. Teachers’ professional opinions should play a larger role in education policy. But “should” is about as far as we’ve gotten. We must take action as well – action that sets our professionalism on display and makes us better professionals at the same time.

So I’m going to throw this idea out there into the online world: what if we had a National Congress of Educators?

Bear with me as I share the bare-bones of my idea. There are two houses: the Delegation and the Body.

The Delegation would be modeled after the House of Representatives. Teachers can run to be a Delegate from their region. Only current classroom teachers have the power to vote on their Delegate. These Delegates serve to represent their delegation of teachers by gathering their opinions and using that information to vote on issues at the NCE Annual Meeting (more on that in a minute).

The Body would be modeled after the Senate. Organizations that represent educators of various sects (subject area, grade level, specialization) would have long-term seats in this house and would provide the kind of wisdom that comes from a long history of working with educators on a national level.

Every summer, the National Congress of Educators would convene. Everyone is welcome to attend, just like any citizen can watch a session at the Capitol, but only Delegates can take the floor to speak or cast a vote in the Delegation, and only representatives from the organizations in the Body can speak or cast a vote. All of this business would be conducted in public.

The Delegation and the Body can put forth policy, legislation, or recommendations. Ideally, committees would be formed to reflect and refine these items before they come up for a vote, just like in the government. Again, all of this would  be done openly and publicly since every teacher has a voice and a vote. It would seem natural that joint committees may even form to create a constant bridge between the Delegation and the Body.

Something like the NCE would make every teacher part of the process of reform and on our own terms. Maybe we wouldn’t have power at first, but I’d like to dream that eventually an organization that was created by U.S. educators in order to better U.S. education would mean something to the counterparts in our state capitals or Washington, D.C.

The Women’s Rights movement started with a meeting. Why can’t the same be true for teachers?

 

 

 

 

Going Pro in Education

Flashback to a week ago: I have embarked on a (modest) quest to save update education in America. I went online in search of articles written by those more intelligent than myself and did not have any difficulty finding such information. This past September, the New England Journal of Public Policy, published by the University of Massachusetts, devoted an entire issue to the topic of education. All of the articles had to use the “2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) scores as a starting point and address the obstacles to education reform.” The site allows people to download the articles, and so I did.

I’ve read four of the articles thus far, covering a wide range of aspects of U.S. education. In my next few posts, I’d like to offer some commentary, thoughts, opinions, and conclusions I’ve drawn from my readings, as part of my quest to answer my own questions. (Sorry about the “questing” motif; I may be listening to the instrumental music from Lord of the Rings right now.)

Going Pro

I always considered teaching to be a profession. I entered the classroom with that mindset after graduating from the ProTeach program at the University of Florida. I held myself to professional standards, but I also realized there were fundamental differences between the environment and system in which I worked as compared to those of other professions, namely doctors and lawyers.

Ronald Thorpe, the President of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, begins his article entitled “Sustaining the Teaching Profession” by asking, “Is Teaching a Profession?” I think many educators would agree with me in saying I behaved as a professional, but in many ways was not treated as a professional. Thorpe argues convincingly that such conflict arises from the sad-but-true fact that teaching is not a true profession right now.

Why not? Some of Thorpe’s reasons echoed questions I’ve pondered before. For instance, does our lack of political and systematic influence stem from the roots of our fore-teachers? Think about it. Those who stood in front of the K-12 chalkboard were single women and spinsters; later, they were educated women who faced three career options if they wanted to work. I don’t think anyone would argue those women were in a position of power. Have teachers gained any power since those days? Thorpe writes, “we are talking about a workforce, unlike that of any other profession, that is made up mostly of middle-class women who take care of children.” It is unclear whether he means our students or our own children, but the point is nearly moot as most teachers are doing both.

Thorpe follows this consideration of gender with another painfully on-point point: “Furthermore, teachers do work that most people think anyone can do.” That’s the damn truth. It’s like when I first became a stay-at-home mom and my husband wondered why I couldn’t keep up with the dishes. Walk the walk, man, and you’ll find out. (He did. We’re still happily married.)

This belief that anyone can be a teacher is perpetuated by the fact that in many places, anyone can be a teacher. As an educator from Florida, I’m well-aware that someone can be hired for a teaching position and given three years to obtain their certification. If you have 25 high school students in six classes a day for three years, that equals 450 students. That number again is 450 students being taught by someone who is not fully trained to be a teacher. Hurts your brain, doesn’t it?

Here’s one of Thorpe’s main points and strongest opinions:

“Every profession has a culture that is shaped by a shared experience that in turn is defined by the profession’s standards and expectations. The experience must be universal, and everyone must travel the same path into and through the profession. Teachers complain that they do not receive the respect they deserve, but respect seldom comes from asking for it. It is hard-earned, and it comes not from what one member of the profession does but from what they all do.”

Same path? Universal experience? The part of me that embraces choice feels a little queasy. And yet, there’s an undeniable truth here. We respect other professions because of the high bar they set for themselves. We know them to govern themselves, from college all the way into their careers. We admire those who pass the LSAT and MCAT. We trust their expertise in large part because they’ve proven it to their own colleagues.

In teaching, others set the bars for us. Various levels of governments and politicians have regulated and governed our training, education, requirements for hiring, evaluations, and requirements for firing. Think about all of the things teachers have had impressed upon them from “above” and ask yourself: do doctors have to deal with this shit?

Another article in the journal, written by Florida teacher Catherine Boehme, is entitled “School Reform in Canada and Florida: A Study of Contrast.” It’s a fascinating read, and I plan to use more of Ms. Boehme’s insight in future posts, but for now I want to connect Mr. Thorpe’s comments to the teaching environment in Alberta, Canada, as observed by Ms. Boehme. Here are a few key points:

  • “[In Alberta] There exists a “strict requirement that teachers earn a full teaching certificate before stepping into a classroom as the teacher of record.”
  • “Teachers and school principals in Alberta may not be licensed unless they have completed all certification courses, including 48 credits (semester hours) in pedagogy and at least 24 credits in a particular subject specialty, and at minimum a full, supervised ten-week (250 hour) internship.”
  • “Unlike many states in the United States, including Florida, Alberta offers no alternative routes to a teaching certificate.”
  • Florida now fills 35% of the state’s teaching vacancies with untrained or minimally trained individuals. With about nine thousand teachers leaving the profession each year, the number of poorly qualified individuals filling teacher vacancies in Florida is shocking.”

And finally, a related point raised in an article from the same journal written by Linda Darling-Hammond: “As segregation and school funding disparities grew worse throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the practice of lowering or waiving credentialing standards to fill classrooms in high-minority, low-income schools – a practice that is unheard of in high-achieving nations and in other professions – became commonplace in many U.S. states, especially those with large minority and immigrant populations, such as California, Texas, Florida, and New York.”

So we face a problem. Teachers are not truly respected because we are not truly seen as experts who can govern ourselves. How else to explain the degree to which others with no experience in education profess to know what’s best? And if complaining and protesting were enough, wouldn’t we have seen a difference by now?

Why doesn’t our word carry weight?

Our collective word must come from our collective expertise. To establish unquestionable, undeniable expertise – the kind that makes classroom teachers an actual force with which to be reckoned – we must join together to create, support, and advocate for a professional path to becoming a teacher. This challenge can only be taken up by educators if it is to be a defining moment for teaching as a profession.

In his article, Thorpe says, “Professions are more like Michaelangelo’s figures waiting to be released from a great hulk of stone.” For decades, everyone else has been chipping away at educators. It is long past due that teachers define the image of the profession themselves and from within their own ranks.

michelangelo-s-david

 

 

 

 

Give it a whirl, girl!

Red bicycleOne of the things I love most about living in the Metro DC area is the sheer number of academic, cultural, and political activities taking place all the time. Thanks to a small feature in the local paper, I found out about an annual event called the Women’s Legislative Briefing hosted by the Montgomery County Commission for Women. It took place last Saturday and featured city, county, and state elected officials, plus leaders from organizations related to women’s issues.

The keynote speaker for the event was Ann Lewis, a Senior Adviser in the Hilary Clinton Runs For President Campaign: Part I. Here’s the short version of Ms. Lewis’s biography: smart, witty, prone to sarcasm, advocate for female power, involved in American-Israeli relations and (this one is my favorite), she once taught a class called “The West Wing and The Real World.” Here are a few of the most thought-provoking points from her address:

  • “If you know history, you know women weren’t ‘given’ the right to vote.”
  • “The fight for suffrage began with a meeting.”
  • “The right to vote is a fundamental building block of democracy.”
  • “Social Security is more important for women. They are more likely to earn less and live longer, and less likely to have retirement benefits.”
  • “When women bring our life experiences to the table, we get more common sense policies to build healthy communities.”
  • “More women in leadership is better for businesses.”
  • “More women among decision makers mean better decisions are made.” (New York Times article she reference called “Why Some Teams are Smarter Than Others.” An article from The Atlantic that I found is called “The Secret to Smart Groups: It’s Women.”)

To my male readers (shoutout to my husband!), I feel compelled at this point to say, don’t be afraid. Neither the WLB nor this post is about putting down men. I also don’t like to play the victim. What I really liked about this event was that the message wasn’t “replace men, they’re not doing a good job,” it was “women have points of view that matter and that aren’t being represented by women themselves.”

One particular fact was emphasized over and over again: women constitute only 19% of the recently sworn-in Congress. In the Senate, we’re talking 20 out of 100, and in the House of Representatives you’ll find 84 ladies mingling with 351 men. That’s what we at the University of Florida would call a Sausage Fest. Not sure that phrase would be acceptable in the Hallowed Halls, but this is my blog, so there it is.

All the discussion about women in government also made me think about women in education. How does gender play a role in educational leadership?

Here are some statistics I researched regarding women in education, specifically:

  • Of the 4 million teachers in America, 76% are female.
  • As reported in the 2010-2011 Schools and Staffing Survey published by the U.S. DOE, about 52% of administrators are female overall: 64% in primary, 42% in middle, and 30% in high school.
  • In the “2013 Superintendents Salary and Benefits Study” published by The School Superintendents Association, “respondents arrayed by gender favor males over females in a slightly more than three to one ratio.” Those numbers were similar to 2012 and 2010 surveys.
  • Nationally, the average number of women on school boards is 44%, according to the National School Board Association. That’s not a bad number when compared to the others, but then I found a recent article on Education Week reporting on a study that basically says women on these board don’t speak up nearly as much as men.

Clearly, females still aren’t the majority or even the equivalent in key legislative or decision-making positions, whether we’re talking government or education.

Now, I’m not a sociologist, economist, or really any other –ist, so if you’re looking for a study to support the following opinions, I don’t have that for you. I’m an –er: blogger, teacher, homemaker, mother.  Here’s what my observations and experience lead me to foretell: A rising number of women will rock the world of education in the near future.

Women my age ruled our high schools and colleges. We took on leadership positions in our jobs. But then we all started having kids and “me” time turned into “feed me, cloth me, play Frozen with me” time. We had to cut back or hold back. We did not lean forward. We are too busy trying not to keel over.

For my part, I know I’m lucky to have been able to stay at home with my kids. I would never change my choice. But sometimes I have the overwhelming desire to put on my black pants (not of the yoga ilk) and sit down at a conference table with other adults and make some shit happen. I don’t think I’m the only woman in her early 30’s who feels that way either. I think women around my age will, in the next 10 years, start stepping into the ring in much larger numbers than we’ve previously seen.

Does this mean I’m going to just sit back and wait for my kids to grow up? No. I do not ascribe to the “Waiting for the World to Change” coda. (Seriously, John Mayer. Let’s play hide-and-seek. You hide, and I’ll come get you when the rest of us change the world for you.)

After attending the WLB, I realized I need to do more. I can write letters and editorials. I can speak at school board meetings and local hearings. I can support other women leaders whose beliefs align with my own. Councilwoman Ingrid Turner asked us how much we spent on our purses we had with us. “$200? $300? $500? Take that bag money and commit to funding a person to further your cause.” Even though my Macy’s clearance-bin purse seeeriously lowers the numerical average of this point, I agree with her message.

It’s hard to be an advocate for your profession when the demands of your job leave you little time to do much else. (I can eat lunch, run 100 copies, and go to the bathroom in 20 minutes. That’s a skill, people.) I think that’s one reason why teachers, the majority of which are women, feel so frustrated. But what we lack in time, we make up for in numbers.

If every over-burdened, over-worked female teacher was able to spend 1 hour a month on an activity related to advocacy, our efforts would equal 3,040,000 hours each month. Can three million hours a month change the world?  I think it can. John Mayer might be able wait, but I’m more a Newsies “Seize the Day” kind of person.

Before WLB, I’d never heard of the 6 P’s statement: “Proper preparation prevents piss poor performance.” Councilwoman Helen Holton, who has been on the Baltimore City Council since 1995, gave us a more positive principle to follow: “Preparation and planning produces powerful progress for people.”

I admire and am inspired by that idea, so I’ve created a 6 Ps Planner for myself and for others to use in their advocacy efforts. It’s a place to organize information, specifically all the details that derail us and seem like obstacles at the outset. The 6 P’s Planner can be used as a reference sheet, a reminder, and a record of our efforts.

In 1850, women were ridiculed for wearing pants underneath their skirts, and the rise in popularity of bicycles in 1880 meant the fashion continued to catch on. Songs were actually composed about this revolutionary moment, including one called “Eliza Jane.” The first four lines read, “Eliza Jane she had a wheel, its rim was painted red; / Eliza had another wheel that turned inside her head. / She put the two together, she gave them both a whirl, /And now she rides the Parkway sides a Twentieth Century Girl.”

Maybe Eliza Jane received the first “Go, girl!” I don’t know. But I’m ready to put my wheel to use and give it all a whirl. I hope you’ll join me.

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