Why Teachers Are Afraid

andreabittle:

Why teachers (who want to keep their jobs) don’t speak out about their own profession….

Originally posted on Kids in the system:

This isn’t about teachers being afraid that they’ll be knifed in class, or have their cars stolen in the bad neighborhoods where they teach. Nor are they worried that a disruptive student will threaten them, or that a disturbed gunman will invade their school. It’s not about being berated by an angry parent, or accused of being unfair—or something far worse—by a student.

It’s a different kind of fear. I only began to understand this fear after I started the series “Teachers in Their Own Words” that I’ve been running here on “Kids in The System.”

I follow the education reform debate closely. Over time I realized that most of the voices raised in this debate were those of people who had nothing to do with the classroom. The obvious question was, “What do politicians, business executives, clergy, academic researchers know about teaching?” The people who would know best—teachers—were rarely…

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Speak English Please: The Use of Educational Jargon

teacherjargonAs the school year begins, teachers prepare for their parent night, often called Open House. In a short period of time, they attempt to communicate their expectations for the school year. Homework policies are explained, behavior expectations discussed, schedules and policies are covered. There might be a few minutes for parents’ questions.  But how many parents walk out of the classroom really understanding what was said? This article in Slate magazine explains the disconnect one parent felt after trying to understand what her child’s teacher was saying.  Parents Left Behind.  The culprit?  Jargon. The language specific to teaching and education.

As in most professions, there is a lexicon of words specific to them.  I could not hold a conversation with a nuclear physicist, a computer programmer, or an audiologist about the details of their jobs unless they generalized and simplified their language to match my knowledge base.  Likewise, teachers have their own language.  As new educational initiatives are continually being developed and publishing companies scramble to align with these, along comes the new jargon to go with them.  We must learn, speak, and write this language. It comes with the job.

Common Core State Standards, for example, is the new initiative in curriculum and instruction that 46 states have adopted. These Standards are a guide for what content is to be taught and what skills students need to master to be career and college ready.  Naturally there is a new set of vocabulary that go with Common Core. In math, for example, the content is organized within a domain. At each grade level, there are several standards for each domain, and these are organized into clusters of related standards. Domain, standard, cluster. Eight practices are to be used by young mathematicians. In addition to attending to precision and constructing viable arguments, students will look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.  In the first grade.

In English Language Arts, students are expected to consider varying perspectives as they read increasingly complex texts and display their understanding within a performance- based assessment. A fifth grader needs to orient the reader and organize an event sequence that unfolds naturally while writing a narrative.

Beyond curriculum, there’s plenty more jargon: criterion-referenced tests, positive behavior intervention, data-driven instruction, differentiation, metacognition, brain-based learning, and lots of acronyms to go with them. But this is the language of the profession. What becomes problematic is when teachers, and policy, and mission statements aren’t understandable to parents or the public.  Potentially more damaging is when the jargon distances or removes us from the reason we teach: the students.  Andy Allan, a science teacher who blogs at sciencegeek.net supports this by saying heavy usage of education jargon says to parents: “You are not one of us” when parents are supposed to be our partners.

jargon                           blah

So, a simple reminder to my teaching colleagues – remember your audience when speaking to parents.  And parents, if you don’t understand, ask for explanations. In plain English.

I’ll leave you with this. Andy Allan, just for fun, created this:

Educational Jargon Generator

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Teach happy. Teach right. Speak up!

Depressed teachers …. and comics?

Middle school teacher David Lee Finkle, shared his story of education “reforms” and mental health in his comic strip, Mr. Fitz.

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School’s Out for Summer!

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Counting watermelons

You know you're counting watermelons

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I’m always amazed at how many people speak about or make policies about teaching without knowing the pedagogy behind how students learn.

Everything You Wanted to Know About the Theories Behind Teaching

This cool graphic by Robert Millwood, shows just how much research goes into understanding how people learn. Teachers study learning theory in education school, then continue to learn current research as it develops, and fit it into what they already know about learning.

Surgeons know how to operate. Accountants know how to do taxes. Athletes know how to play their sport. Musicians make music. It would never occur to me to tell any of them how to do their job.  Or leave them out of the decision-making process when new initiatives would impact their work.

When it comes to educating children, who are the experts here?

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Teachers Gone Viral – Resigning the Profession Publicly

Several teachers have recently resigned from teaching via social media. This method of quitting their jobs has garnered attention. Some of tquithese teacher’s resignations have had half a million hits on Youtube. Other teachers have published their resignations in their local city newspapers.

Teachers usually resign quietly through the usual channels. They turn in standard forms to human resources, let the principal know, and get a small parting gift at the last faculty meeting. But these teachers chose to go public with their resignations because they needed to speak their peace in a profession that does not allow this kind of voice.

These are not the usual quitting-before-five-years in the profession. These teachers are veterans with long teaching careers. Teachers who have seen the coming and going of initiatives, the pendulum swinging back and forth. But this time, the pendulum has swung so far and does not appear to be coming back to center.

The reasons for quitting are unremarkably similar: “Rather than creating lifelong learners, our new goal is to create good test takers…our students are now relegated to experiencing a confining and demeaning education,” says Steven Round from Providence, R.I. an 11 year teacher.

Ellie Rubenstein, who changed careers to make a difference in the lives of students has quit after 15 years as she has seen “the depressing gradual downfall and misdirection in education.”  The emphasis has shifted teaching from a creative endeavor fostering student growth to one of “demanding uniformity and conformity. Raising students’ test scores on standardized tests is now the only goal and in order to achieve it, the creativity, flexibility, and spontaneity that create authentic learning environments have been eliminated. Everything I loved about teaching is extinct.”

icantestSimilar sentiments are expressed from Ron Maggiano, a 33 year teaching veteran in Virginia who says “I can no longer cooperate with a testing regime that I believe is suffocating creativity and innovation in the classroom. We are not really educating our students anymore. We are merely teaching them to pass a test. This is wrong. Period.”

Abby Breaux, a Louisiana teacher of 25 years says, “You have made us information pushers, test givers, and paper passer outers.”

Similar themes: teaching to the test, loss of creativity in teaching, and imposed mandates have caused teachers to leave a profession they loved because they do not feel it is best for their students. And clearly, teachers who do not believe they could express their professional opinions on this testing culture and be heard, until they were out the door.

This raises some important questions:

1 – Why are the true professionals – the teachers – not given voice in their own jobs?

2 – Why are the true professionals – the teachers – not part of the decision-making processes that impact their students?

3 – Why are the true professionals – the teachers – relegated to teach to and administer tests they do not feel are appropriate?

Something is very wrong with this picture. The pendulum has swung to a “top” down, bureaucratic, hierarchical, out-dated business model. The product? Test scores. The cog in the machine? The teachers.

A reminder to those who have forgotten – it is the classroom teacher who delivers instruction to students. It is the classroom teacher who is with the students every single day, hour upon hour. It is the classroom teacher who knows his or her student’s skills, hopes, dreams, fears, interests, and potential.

Teachers are resorting to shaming the system by quitting via the media. Teachers should not be resigning their jobs in public as the only recourse to be heard.  Is anybody listening?

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Yes, I did read Captain Underpants…

Make it a rule never to give a child a book you would not read yourself.

–George Bernard Shaw

As a teacher, I agree with this sentiment and can only hope our new “common” curriculum allows us to do this…

(I totally lifted this quote from a cool blog by Lizzie Baldwin, mylittlebookblog)

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I’m (Over) Testing

ImageTrue Confession:  this week I reserved a testing space, grabbed my list of kids to test, went to their classrooms, called out their names. They dutifully lined up, we filed down the hall. I put the We’re Testing sign on the door as a warning, opened the instructions, began reading the script, passed out the blank answer sheets, gave directions on how to fill in their name, grade, school, made sure they had 2 number 2 pencils. Then passed out the test booklets. Continued to read the script reminding students to match the number on the answer sheet to the question number from the test book. Set the timer. Asked if there were any questions before we began and saw hands raised.

“Ms. B? We’ve already taken this test,” said the nine-year-old girl with confusion on her face.  “No you haven’t,” I said.  “You took the X version of the test. This is the Y version.”  Other hands raised. “No, we took the Y version already,” she said.  Heads were nodding.  “No,” I said patiently.  “This is the Y version.  I gave you the X test last time.”

“But this is orange. We took this one already.” Other voices were chiming in. I looked at my list again. Checked that these were the kids on the list. Looked at the test again. Version Y.   The kids become more vocal and were leaving their seats to come up and convince me.  I was losing control. What if the principal came in?

Visions of total chaos floated in my head. Mis-admin-is-tration. A horrendous crime of which the repercussions would be mounds of paperwork with my name all over it. Oh the shame.

Well, the students were right. I had given them Version Y and most frightening, had absolutely no memory of doing so. One test among the dozens I have given since January (it’s now May). After apologizing for my mix-up (in which one particularly precocious boy suggested I think about retirement), and sending the kids back to the relative freedom of their classroom, I found their Version Y answer sheets in my file drawer, waiting for me to hand-score them.

Like all teachers I know, I test students all year. Actually, the pc way to say this is assess. I assess their reading levels, math abilities and writing skills. I do paper and pencil testing and I give computer-based tests. I am trained in test administration and I have read the test manuals thoroughly, including the Testing Code of Ethics.  I score, enter scores, analyze scores. As a gifted ed. teacher, not only do I assist with the “regular” testing in classrooms, I give tests for the gifted program as well. These tests are high stakes for anxious parents who want their children in this program. I give end-of-grade tests that are high stakes for the teachers, principals, superintendents, and politicians. (Did I mention students?)

Test and retest and test. I look for percentiles. I use my college Statistics class to find the standard deviation. I norm and average and calculate and report. I test until I can no longer remember which test I’ve given and this week I got caught by nine-year-olds as I grabbed the wrong list and suffer from the blur in my brain from over testing.

I was lucky. This near-testing scenario was not for the end-of-grade tests in which case the consequences would have been bad for me. But even so, the complete lack of remembering already giving this 2-day, five hour test drives me to consider Alzheimers or a brain tumor or a reminder that we over test our children today.

If I am testing, I am not teaching. If kids are testing, they are not learning.

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Some weeks are harder than others

Some weeks are harder than others

Especially testing weeks

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