Blurred Vision

In this weeks Folio:

One of the biggest problems the Duval County School District has is it lacks a realistic and achievable vision. We don’t have a comprehensive and realistic plan for our children. Now we do have a vision statement. It says: Every student will graduate from Duval County Public Schools with the knowledge and skills to be successful in post-secondary education and/or the workforce.

Unfortunately recent indicators say we’re not doing such a good job achieving that.

Florida State College at Jacksonville reports that seventy percent of recent grads have to take remedial courses before they start their studies. Then several employers have likewise said that finding competent workers among recent graduates is getting harder and harder to do. Which begs the question what are we doing wrong? Could it be possible that our vision is blurred?

Did you know that we are requiring every student to take and pass the same classes to graduate? That’s right folks, here in Jacksonville every child regardless of ability, aptitude, intelligence, interest or desire has to take the same classes to finish school. We in effect have a one-size fit’s all curriculum that isn’t leading to many children being successful in either a post secondary education setting or in the workforce.

The reality is even society doesn’t support our districts vision. We don’t want a city of just brain surgeons or engineers, which is what the school board will have you believe, is possible. We need laborers, artists, tradesmen, and dozens of other professions that won’t be outsourced to India or other emerging third world countries. We however do need them to be able to do their jobs well.

Shouldn’t our vision instead to be to help every child be as productive member of society as possible, regardless of what they do? That’s whether they work with their hands or with their brains or if they dig ditches or fix hearts? Shouldn’t the vision we have for our children be realistic and achievable?

The truth is, that if some or our students after they graduate high school get a job with a decent wage that has potential for advancement even if they never plan to go to college we should celebrate that. Not every child is going to be cut out for college and even more aren’t going to have the desire to attend. We as a society should not just accept that fact we should also embrace it. We should encourage children to be the best they can be whether they have a degree or not and public schools most importantly should help develop whatever skills they have, not what skills we wish they had.

Furthermore as society has evolved it’s even become debatable that college is required for one to be successful. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that seven of the 10 employment sectors that are growing the quickest, those that include occupations such as home healthcare aide, customer service representative, food prepares and servers not only will see the largest gains over the next decade but will also require little more than on the job training to do successfully. Those jobs don’t require four years of college and tens of thousands of dollars of student loan debt to do. They also don’t require advance maths like algebra II or other courses that the DCPS system requires. A math teacher colleague of mine once asked, why am I teaching algebra II to a kid who wants to drive trucks for a living? (1)

In a recent Las Angeles Times article W. Norton Grubb, a professor at UC Berkeley’s School of Education said that “People with bachelor’s degrees will increasingly get not very highly satisfactory jobs. In that sense, people are getting more schooling than jobs are available.” The article also noted that in 1970, 77% of workers with a bachelor’s degree were employed in professional and managerial occupations but that by 2000, that number had fallen to 60% and went on to sight the National Assn. of Colleges and Employers, which said that only one out of four college seniors this year had a job waiting for them upon graduation. (2)

Please don’t get me wrong. I am not saying college isn’t important, you will find legitimate study after study that indicates college degrees leads to higher salaries and more opportunities. I also personally greatly believe in education and encourage all the kids in my class to pursue as much as they can, even the ones I know because of desire or ability won’t get that far.

I am also not saying we shouldn’t have minimal standards. Kids should be able to read and write, do math to a realistic level and have the ability to critically think upon graduation. They should also be respectful and have some semblance of a work ethic too, things the school system destroys when it doesn’t give kids consequences for bad behavior or pushes then along without the skills they need to be successful or just teaches to one test.

What I am saying is we need to have graduation tracks that teach some kids, skills and trades. We need to serve the needs of all our students not those just destined to go to college upon graduation.

What I am saying is a bachelors degree is not the end all be all that it was a generation ago and since now we have fast food eating, video game playing, Ritalin popping kids roaming the halls of today’s schools we should be exploring other options. I am saying that instead of just unrealistically preparing all our students for college, instead we should be preparing them for life and to be successful at whatever they choose to do.

How’s that for vision?

Those who are in charge at 1700 Prudential Drive might disagree with me when I say we lack vision. They would probably point to the Magnet School programs that have seen two of our schools, Stanton and Paxon be ranked in the top eight of the whole country. They might also point out that for years students here have been required to take advanced maths and science classes to graduate. That these are requirements that the state is now just beginning to phase in over the next four years.

The thing is for every success like above that the district points to, critical thinkers can also find numerous blaring drawbacks. There’s our graduation, reading and drop out rates, which are some of the worse in the state that people can easily point to. That and the fact even that college isn’t for everyone and by forcing all students into the same track more and more are needlessly dropping through the cracks. Plus I never said we lacked vision, I said we lacked a realistic and achievable one.


The scientific method

When I first learned about the “scientific method”, I was a student in the same building where I now teach. I learned about it in a very definite way. There was no room to wiggle, no gray area. Every time we did it, we started and finished in the same way; ask a question; do research; develop a hypothesis; experiment; analyze data and communicate results. That was it. (Now, sure, the terms might have been slightly different from teacher to teacher, but they always meant the same thing). Then, in college, ‘collect and analyze data’ may have been split apart, but even their gist was always the same: there was a definite start and a definite finish.

Fast-forward to 2010: Now, the scientific method is no longer a beast with a definitive beginning and ending. Instead, it’s now a free-flowing entity that jumps back and forth, or can skip steps altogether. That’s right, folks – for almost 2,500 years, the scientific method was fine and dandy…but, suddenly, the Florida Department of Education decided it needed tweaking. (Aristotle, long thought to be the father of the scientific method, probably wouldn’t be pleased).

I asked another science teacher what the deal was – why were they switching up the scientific method after following it had led to TIVO, air conditioning and the peanut butter cup – (the three greatest inventions known to man) along with all the other scientific breakthroughs we currently enjoy? “Where were the steps…the order…” I asked, “and how can we skip doing ‘research’ and go straight to ‘experiment’ “? He kind of shrugged his shoulders and scrunched up his face, and replied, “Chris, I learned it the same way as you did, and this is the first year I am teaching it the new way; but I do what I am told”.

“It’s science”, I replied. “If people would have done what they were told, we would still think that the world was flat, the sun revolved around the earth, and I shudder to think what peanut butter would taste like. Come on now”, I continued, “ ‘just because’ is not what science is about”.

“Well…” he began, “I think it’s because it’s easier this new way. When kids have to put things in order, they can miss a step or mix the steps up”. He scrunched up his face and shrugged his shoulders at the same time. I nodded that I got it, and what I got was that the ‘everybody-gets-a-trophy’ folks (who had somehow become in-charge of education’s big picture) had decided to dumb-down the scientific method in order to make sure more kids could get that question right on the F-CAT. That’s what I got.

Folks, I know it’s ironic that I use a tool, the scientific method, (that tells us things can constantly evolve and change) to make my point – but my point is that there are some things we shouldn’t evolve or change. I get it, but at the same time, I really think there are some things that shouldn’t change unless it’s a manifest necessity. We shouldn’t change just for the sake of change and we definitely shouldn’t make changes that dumb education down. We should be moving forward, not back.

Education experts talk about the need for rigor, and also call for students to take advanced classes like Algebra II and Chemistry; but, then, at the same time, they dumb-down the Science portion of the F-CAT by getting rid of the short-answer questions. That makes it all multiple-choice, and it lowers the passing grade requirement on the Writing portion of the F-CAT from a 3.5 to a 3. An English teacher friend of mine said that a 3 on the F-CAT basically means being able to hold a pencil. I have another friend who told me only about 30% of his Algebra II students could pass a legitimate Algebra I class. Wouldn’t a better idea be to make sure students have mastered a skill and can do it well, rather than pushing them along and hoping they miraculously pick it up somewhere? In short, wouldn’t it be better to make sure students can do some things well rather than a lot of things half-assed? We shouldn’t be afraid of rigor, we shouldn’t be afraid to challenge students, and we shouldn’t be afraid to fail children, either, as long as, in the end, they have the skills they need. Education is not just a destination, but it is a journey, as well.

Education currently finds itself in a precarious position. We’re caught between what we say (“we want to prepare all children for a post-secondary education”), what we have done (created the reality of a nobody-can-fail environment), populated by who we have, (a significant portion of children who aren’t prepared for school; who should either be held back to get the skills they need or, sadly, will never get the skills society wants them to have). That doesn’t mean they can’t be successful; it just means we have to be realistic.

Education has reached a tipping point where something has got to give – and, because of the dichotomous nature of education, ‘pass them at all costs – regardless if they are successful or not’ – means, in the end, numerous children will be robbed of a proper sense of how society works and society itself will suffer.

The system has made it nearly impossible for teachers to fail children; “the kids aren’t doing the work”, or “the kids are doing substandard work” aren’t good enough reasons anymore. If a teacher fails a child now, the teacher’s ability and credibility are questioned. Now, I am not saying that we shouldn’t have safeguards in place like tutoring after school and summer school opportunities. What I am saying is when we differentiate instruction to the point where three different levels of work from three different students can get the same credit and when we initiate learning recovery that any child can take (regardless of why they need it; unexcused absences, behavior or a lack of effort), we pervert the whole system.

What’s going to happen when these children join the workforce or go to college? Are their employers and professors going to dumb-down what they have to do, or have different requirements for the same class or for the same job? No, they are not – and after a lifetime of being pushed along or having things altered to fit not just what they can do but what they want to do, then cold reality is going to slap them in the face. They are going to get a wakeup call that they are not prepared for.

When education meets students where they are, it prevents education from getting students to where they should be. I would argue that when we dumb-down the scientific method, we’re not doing the kids any favors. Sure, it might be easier; sure, our test scores might go up, and a school grade might get better – but what’s the real benefit? Is there a real benefit? I doubt Aristotle would think so

The pallets

A teacher friend told me there was something in the back of the school that I should go check out. When I asked what it was, they told me I would know it when I saw it. I went back and looked around and I quickly found what they were talking about.

I was saddened when I saw the dozen pallets stacked up five feet high with books under an awning barely protecting them from the elements. I later found out they were waiting to be picked up to be taken to bulls bay, the school districts book and surplused item depository and had been for quite some time.

I know what some people might say. Chris why do you find fault with everything the school district does? Editions change, old books become out of date and need to be replaced by new ones.

Believe me it wares on me constantly talking about the problems in the district when the truth is there are so many amazing things going on. I just happen to think the vast majority of them are the individual interactions between students and teachers and quite often they happen in despite of the school district and its policies and procedures.

All that above however doesn’t change what I saw. I saw pallets of books in boxes, the vast majority of which were unopened. Books that at most were just a few years old. I am no expert on book prices but I would estimate there were thousands if not tens of thousands of books on those pallets being exposed to the elements. This isn’t a situation, which is unique to my school either. I asked teachers at other schools and most reported a similar situation. An area or a room where books left in unopened boxes gather dust.

This is my problem with the pallets. I believe education is under funded; I believe there are so many needs that are going unfilled but how can I in good conscious fight for more money or try and convince others that we desperately need it when there is such waste going on? How do we not have a system in place where we just order what we need and what we are going to use? I am all for new books. I am not for new books replacing books that have never been used.

A dozen pallets stacked five feet high; with books in unopened boxes exposed to the elements is something nobody should ever see at a public school. It’s truly a sad site.

The Pallets

270 Thousand

When people talk about education they often throw lots of numbers around. Some of the most discussed are the dropout and graduation rates and how different groups score on tests such as the f-cat. However there is one number that trumps them all and that number is 270 thousand.

270 Thousand is the salary of our school superintendent. He makes a hundred thousand more than our mayor and substantially more than the chief of police as well. He makes thirty thousand less than the superintendents of Clay and St. Johns counties combined. People who disagree with what they read next might do so by saying, his salary is fair, that to get top talent we must pay top dollar. Since most teachers I know are little more than paycheck-to-paycheck, that’s they are barely getting by on far less than top dollar I believe they might have a problem with at least the first part of that statement. I personally have a problem with the top talent part.

Let me ask you a question, what would you do if you could have a salary of 270 thousand dollars?

Would you sacrifice the future of some of the cities children by forcing elementary and middle school teachers to promote children that won’t be successful? The reason to do so is how many kids fail impacts a counties grade. The proof that it happens, a recent Times Union article pointed out that only about fifty percent of tenth graders read at grade level, yet strangely enough they somehow made it to tenth grade.

Would you allow children to progress through the school system with a false sense of how society works by ignoring discipline and withholding consequences for bad behavior? The reason to do so is because referrals and suspensions affect a districts grade. The proof that it happens, why else would how many children are suspended be tied to principal’s evaluations, unless the superintendent wanted to dramatically reduce the number.

Would you encourage kids who were ill prepared to take advanced placement courses to take them? The reason to do so is because the more students taking, not necessarily passing, advanced placement courses affect a districts grade. The proof that it happens, check out last years article in the Times Union to see how as the amount of children taking the tests has gone up the percentage of children passing them has gone way down. That and the fact that level 1 and level 2 children, kids who haven’t passed the f-cat are allowed to take A.P. classes, which are designed only for the most advanced children to take.

Would you pervert programs like grade recovery, that were originally designed to aid children who tried hard but just didn’t get it or children who had legitimate reasons for missing school like illnesses to make up classes, into programs that allowed any child to make up classes for any reasons regardless of effort, behavior or reasons for absences.

Would you put a positive spin on everything taking every opportunity to say that the state has given Duval County a B grade? If the counties graduation rate, 65 percent, was sole criteria for computing a counties grade we would have a grade of D. If we used tenth graders reading the district would have an F.

Would you do anything to protect your job? What wouldn’t you do?

There are lots of numbers in education that the city should be worried about but the biggest one is 270 thousand.

Are you F*$%ing kidding me: The Pratt-Dannals evaluation story

If my friends heard me cursing, their jaws would drop. That’s not what I do, and one of the reasons I don’t is because I don’t want my kids to curse and I think it is important to practice what you preach. So, when I read that Jacksonville’s School Superintendent had received at most a minor hit to his evaluation yet he was still considered highly effective, it was out of character for me to yell “are you f*$%ing kidding me”! Though, I admit, I have often said the Superintendent must have pictures of various school board members with either a live boy or a dead girl.
Let’s take a moment to look at what garnered Superintendent Pratt-Dannals this exemplary rating:

In the last three years, the district will have lost over two thousand children; during the same period of time, the city has seen modest growth. When I teach biology, I teach ‘if it’s not growing, it’s dying’.

Enrollment in home schools and private schools has declined all throughout the state except in Jacksonville, Florida.

Less than half of our tenth graders can read or do math at grade level despite the fact that we have so many “A” elementary and middle schools sending students to high school. Furthermore, 9 out of 13 neighborhood high schools that are either failing or in a turn-around status.

Seventy percent of recent graduates have to take remedial classes once they enroll at Florida State College at Jacksonville.

Pratt-Dannals recently (unnecessarily) instigated financial urgency against the teachers to show them who is boss only to ultimately give them more than they asked for so he could quickly sweep the mess under the rug.

Our graduation rate is low, our dropout rate is high and the city’s confidence in the school system is abyssmal.

While I could go on and on and on, I’ll finish by repeating what the Superintendent recently said (which should give everyone a true idea how he feels). He said “the school system is one good community away from having a good school system”. If you are dumbfounded that all of the above garners an evaluation ranking him ‘highly effective’, then you are not the only one.

I don’t blame the Superintendent though; he’s a math teacher who worked his way up the ranks. If things were going better, he would probably be the subject of a lifetime movie of the week – “The Pratt-Dannals Story: From Equations to Destiny”.

I don’t question his character; I don’t question his work ethic; I don’t question his desire, not at all. Instead, I simply question his depth, as he seems out of his.

Though, if I am being honest, I can admit it’s not his fault that he has a $275,000 salary to protect and a school board who is amazingly disconnected from the realities of what is happening in the city’s schools. It’s the school board, Duval’s elected team of career politicians who have decided to use the school board and our children as as stepping-stone up or down and random people filled with hubris who only have a tenuous relationship to education, who treat the job as a part-time inconvenience that I really blame for the problems here in Jacksonville. Lets look at a snippet of the evaluations they gave the Superintendent:

(1)Board members praised Pratt-Dannals for fostering a multiple-pathway approach to graduation, creating strong community ties and rolling out accelerated academic programs to every high school. We could go with that, or we could translate that into everyday words that the citizens of Jacksonville use. He has helped create a “one-size fits all” curriculum that has gutted the district’s teaching of trades, skills and the arts; he is, at a minimum, partly responsible for a community that is high in crime and unemployment and low in civility and he has reintroduced to the neighborhood schools the very programs that were taken out of them, that ruined or nearly ruined many of them.

(2)Now …there were a few rebukes sprinkled in the evaluations. Some board members expressed frustration at the slow pace of needed improvements, keying in on reading proficiency, the racial achievement gap and graduation rates. The Superintendent said he got the message.

(3)“There are some areas that we need to improve,” Pratt-Dannals said Friday night, “so I think [the evaluations were] as much as anything saying that ‘we still have confidence in you, but we want to make more rapid progress’.”

He might believe that the school board has confidence in him, but many teachers and principals throughout the district, (nearly forty of whom were reassigned this past summer), have seen it severely eroded.

They also all know what it means when the Ssuperintendent says ‘we need to make improvements’. You see, the Superintendent’s strategies consist of forcing principals to crack the whip (because it must be the teacher’s fault) and then to overburden the teachers with task after task and requirement after requirement that, at best, have only a peripheral relationship to education. Say ‘hello’ to complicated universal board configuration that most kids don’t even notice and ‘goodbye’ to teachers wearing jeans. That’s his part of his solution, stopping teachers from wearing jeans. As far as I can tell, he doesn’t plan to reinstill discipline and stop social promotions – the bare minimum of what he should be doing.

To do that would jeopardize the smoke -and- mirror “B” rating that the State (perhaps the biggest group of incompetents in the bunch) has given the district. I say “smoke-and-mirrors” because the powers-that-be here in Jacksonville seem way more interested in saying the right thing than doing the right thing, and before you get upset with that statement, think about the numbers: “sixty-five” and “less than fifty” as in our graduation rate and the number of tenth graders that read at grade level.

Ladies and Gentlemen, friends and neighbors, I get how reasonable people can look at a problem and disagree. I get how we can have different ideas and solutions. The thing is I can’t get is imagining any reasonable person looking at the district and thinking it’s going in the right direction. I can’t imagine any person looking at the state of our schools and thinking the superintendent is doing a great job – nobody, that is, but the seven individuals who make up the city’s school board.

We have serious problems and we need to tackle them quickly. How many more children are we going to sacrifice to the altar of patience because we have chosen to have a Superintendent who is more concerned with appearances, and be represented by a school board who is blind to the district’s problem? How many more children are going to pay the price. How long can they and our city afford more of his highly effective leadership?

(1-3)I used part of a Times Union article above:

School Board offers more money to teachers than they asked for (unedited)

Flabbergasted was the look I tried to conceal when school board Chief Negotiator Vicki Reynolds came back into the conference room where negotiations were taking place. She came back with an offer of more money than DTU had asked for just a few minutes before – and, for the record, the union only asked for what they had been promised in the contract. That’s the middle of the story.

The beginning of the story was on August 9, 2010, when the school board voted 4-3 to break the contract it had with Duval Teachers United and declare a financial emergency. They pointed to a projected $5 million shortfall in the budget, despite the fact that in the last year they had been spending like drunken sailors: $1 million on new cars; an increased travel budget approaching a half million dollars; multi -million dollar renovations at Ed White high school and Lee high school(which, you might remember , was just rebuilt a few years ago, after a fire). The list goes on and on. Also, keep in mind that President Obama was scheduled to sign the Federal Jobs Bill on August 11, 2010.

Since then, it wasn’t just the teachers who were fired up and shocked by what the school board had done, but a large segment of the public, as well. They knew that local educators weren’t the most well- paid bunch, but, even in these troubling financial times figured they should get at least what they had been promised. The school board had taken a public relations hit that may have even led to at least one upset in the local school board races. People are slowly beginning to grasp that maybe having politicians using the school board as a stepping-stone on the way up (or the way down) as well as people who only have a tenuous relationship to education might not be the wisest move – especially seeing the dire straits our shrinking school system has been facing.

When the board declared financial urgency, it set in motion a timetable that would send the contract to mediation if the parties didn’t either agree on a new financial model or, at least, agree to extend the deadline. That led to one negotiating session preceded by a rally which saw several hundred teachers and their supporters in attendance. At that initial meeting, the school board offered to eliminate steps for the county’s paraprofessionals, universally recognized as the most underpaid, overworked and disrespected employees the school system has. The teachers, however, could receive their step – though there would be no money for those teachers at the top of the pay ladder. The district also proposed setting up a committee to look at future pay scales. Something which you won’t read in the Florida Times- Union is that DTU was very amiable to the suggestion – so much so that on the info sheet sent to DTU members, that part was in bolder and bigger letters than the rest. Perhaps this is rightfully so because after that first meeting, that was the only thing upon which the two parties had agreed.

When the union contract negotiating team came back together, the first thing they agreed upon was that the paraprofessionals would not be left out in the cold. While it wasn’t said out loud, there seemed to be a feeling in the room that they would be taken care of first. It was decided by all that they would counter with each group, teachers and paraprofessionals, asking for $250 for the paras at the top and $400 for teachers at the top (both in lieu of steps). The team was also still very amiable to forming a committee to talk about future pay scales. They were going to let the school board know they would be willing to extend the deadline so the negotiator could take the proposal back to the board. The DTU did not ask for raises (something teachers have not received since the ‘07-‘08 school year); instead, they basically just asked for what they were told they would receive.

Negotiations are like a dance; at first, one side leads and then, the other. There are also a lot of subtle niceties that, if you read between the lines, really don’t always come off as all that nice.

Vicki Reynolds asked to confer with her team. Once they left, the DTU team looked at each other and someone suggested maybe they were going to try and finish this tonight, which is kind of amazing if you think about it: the school board had gone from eliminating everything to offering teachers their steps, to now considering both teachers and paras receive their steps, and then kicking in some money for those members on the top ends of their prospective pay scales.

The school board negotiating team came back in. First, they agreed to the paraprofessionals’ step increases and then the $250 for the paras at the top end of the pay scale. Then, something amazing happened – something I imagine is very rare in the negotiating world: the negotiating team offered teachers not only their steps, but also $500 for those members at the top end of the pay scale. Yes, folks – they were offering teachers $100 more than what the DTU was asking.

Now, it’s true that I am very new to the process, and what I don’t know could fill volumes. I may have missed something in the language that, on occasions, seems purposefully wordy and confusing – but, regardless, there they were; offering more than what was asked. It seemed all they wanted in return was for the DTU to sign off right then and there and agree to look at reworking future pay scales. Both were things the union was more than willing to do.

Flabbergasted was the look I tried to conceal when school board Chief Negotiator Vicki Reynolds came back into the conference room and offered more money than the union had asked for – and now they were willing to pay more than they would have had the board not called a financial urgency.

The negotiating team asked for a few minutes to discuss the offer, and, as the board negotiating team left, the first thing we wondered was what we were missing. Why had the district first shown so little respect to their staff just so, in the end, they could pay more money that they would have, originally? The best we could come up with was that they wanted to move on and do so quickly. They realized that the financial urgency was nothing but a failed ploy which they thought they could use to get the public outraged against teachers in the same way so many seem to be against firemen, policemen and other civic employees. We imagined they realized it had failed and that they felt they needed to get it out of the headlines and off the minds of the citizens of Jacksonville as quickly as possible.

During the team’s talk, several teachers even discussed settling for our original offer. These are tough times, and teachers know that; they also know what public perception can be. Unfortunately, there is a certain segment of the population, which is all too willing to blame teachers for the state of things while giving the school board and superintendent a pass. Even though it was ultimately passed upon, mostly due to the huge increases of out–of-pocket benefit costs that teachers are paying this year, it was literally touching to hear teachers (many of whom already sacrifice and give so much, and many of whom had felt so disrespected when this process began) even discussing it.

When the district team came back into the conference room, the union bargaining team accepted their offer – an offer that was more than what the DTU had asked for. This isn’t even the end of the story; no this is just another chapter showing the capricious matter in which things are run. The end of the story is still far off, and it won’t be a happy one for the districts teachers and its children nor their parents the stakeholders or the city of Jacksonville itself unless we make changes, big changes.

A mischaracterization

It’s a mischaracterization by the Times Union to say teachers received seven million dollars in raises. Teachers don’t get paid the same and haven’t for quite some time. First year teachers get paid so much; second a different amount and so on. The district, who gave teachers more than they asked for by the way, to quickly end their financial urgency debacle just agreed a seventh year teacher would be paid like a seventh year teacher and that’s all.

Teachers by the way also routinely and annually spend hundreds if not thousand of dollars on other people’s children while working hundred if not thousands of hours of unpaid over time. They have seen their cost of benefits rise dramatically and haven’t seen an actual raise to the pay scale since the 07-08 school year.

Finally it isn’t just the district who thinks there are inequalities in the teacher pay scale and DTU made that abundantly clear during the negotiations.

Chris Guerrieri
School Teacher

InSIGnificant Others

Several “low achieving” schools accepted school improvement grants (SIG) to help them turn things around this past summer and to be honest this is as close as anything I have seen to throwing money at a problem. Now there were other things but the gist was teachers would work and extra forty-five minutes a day for which they would be paid and an enrichment/review (re: F-CAT prep) class would be inserted into the schedule for all students to take.

A month ago there were varying degrees of enthusiasm.

Fast-forward to this past Tuesday, after pre-planning and after school had been in session for two days. The district in all its infinite wisdom came and told a third of the teachers (elective teachers and a few others) that they would no longer be involved in the SIG grant. They wouldn’t have to teach the prep-class and they could leave at 2:25, all teachers up to this point had been required to stay till 3:10. This means the prep classes, the classes designed to give students the extra instruction they need to do well, will now have forty kids each in them and yes this will happen even with the class size amendment. You see they are coded as electives despite the fact no kid in his right mind would elect to take it. That’s forty kids in a class they don’t want to be in, studying something they don’t care about.

Tuesday there were varying degrees of enthusiasm, though many teachers felt just a tad bit insignificant.

The powers-that-be often talk about schools being communities and families but if the truth be known teachers are just pawns to be moved around whenever a new education trend or fashion blows into town. Then the powers-that-be scream be organized and be prepared and then it turns out they don’t know what they are doing. Though it’s not just teachers that pay the price, students suffer just as much if not more.

If you didn’t know it, we’re in trouble with our education system and if you can’t quite put your finger on it let me help. Far off in their ivory towers are people who know very little about education, there they mettle and pass laws and edicts to be carried out by the local school districts. Then the leaders of the local districts force teachers to carry out these orders, the administrations do this lockstep without a thought or a care if they will work or not. Next teachers are overwhelmed with task after task many of which have very little to do with actual teaching and are forced to teach kids subjects they are not only not interested in but will never use again. Finally it’s the kids, the ones at the bottom who pay the ultimate price. They are at the mercy of those above them, their desires, dreams, and abilities ignored. Sadly in education they have become the true insignificant others.

Visited by the classroom police

The classroom police visited me the other day. They said my board configuration was off. They said my classroom agenda was missing. The said my rules policies and routines weren’t posted and they said my word wall was non-existent. Then they said Guerrieri get with it! The last part they didn’t say very nicely.

I had several problems with this.

First, the kids don’t need those things above to learn and where is the proof it helps. In this era where data is king, where is the data that tells us having a complicated and time consuming agenda helps with the transfer of knowledge? Where is the evidence that shows that students in a class with a word wall do better on standardized tests than those that don’t? How do we know that massive data notebooks lead to kids going to college? Show me a paper, a book, an article, show me something, show me anything! Sure it might sound good on paper not that one exists but when teachers are just creating these massive volumes to get their principals and A.P.s off their backs it hurts the whole process. Just show me some proof, some evidence that any of this leads to success and I’ll do it. Like most teachers will I’ll go the extra mile for my students if it proves beneficial.

Now you might be saying, suck it up Guerrieri, when you are on the company dime you need to do what they say. The problem with that is that I am not doing it on the company dime; I’m doing it on my own. When I am arranging my room, updating my agenda and spending hours on cramming stuff I’ll never see again into data notebooks, it’s preventing me from doing other things like interacting with my parents, planning and grading papers, you know teacher stuff. What people are failing to understand is that teaching more and more has little to do with actual teaching and more and more with throwing time consuming and half thought out ideas against a wall like it was paint and seeing what sticks.

My second problem with the classroom police visiting my room and telling me to make extensive changes is I don’t have a room. Go ahead and read that again. Yes, that’s right I don’t have a room. I am either teaching or co-teach seven of the eight periods and in doing so I find myself in six different rooms. I am in one room twice, a room that other teachers use as well, well if they would show up that is.

I’ll cram stuff into a data notebook. I’ll also use the lesson plan format even though I only understand about half of it. Then as usual teach my ass off but configure a room, which I am in twice every other day? Really?


Teacher Raises

Times being tough is one of the few things most people can agree upon. As a result I certainly understand why some people become upset at the notion of teachers getting raises. However actualy teachers aren’t getting raises they are getting step increases.

A step says a first year teacher will get paid this much, a second year teacher will get paid a different amount and a third year teacher something different and so on. It’s the equivalent of a company paying a wielder a certain amount, a mason another and a carpenter yet a third sum. The steps themselves unless you are at the top end of the pay scale are very small and teachers haven’t seen an actual raise in several years. Okay if some of you are thinking maybe a step increase and a raise is actually a distinction without a difference, fair enough but here is where some real differences come into play.

Many teachers annually spend hundreds if not thousands of dollars on their students and their rooms’, money that is not reimbursed by the district. Then this year teachers saw their out of cost payment for health benefits rise substantially. As a single person my payment went from nothing to forty-seven dollars a paycheck or nearly a hundred dollars a month (my step increase as a tenth year teacher would be 22 dollars a paycheck). Single mothers and teachers with families saw their costs increase even more dramatically. The last time teachers actualy got a raise was during the 07-08 school year and they won’t get one this year either.Finally and this is just my opinion, I think people complaining about teachers step increases during tough times is a bit disingenuous unless they called for teacher to get raises during good times.

I doubt above is going to change anyone’s mind. I just thought some accurate information might be beneficial.

If you would like to see teacher pay steps check out the link below.