Friday, November 21, 2008

I'm going to be a super model rocket scientist professional tennis player when I grow up ... just like everyone else

I'm going to go out on a limb here ... Can we start calling things what they are and throw away the "political correctness" that has turned our society into a litigious bunch of wimps who can't handle a single negative comment - true or untrue?

When did it become standard operating procedure to behave as though every student is created equal. Freak out if you want that I am saying that, but the truth is that we aren't all created equal. If we are all created equally, then why aren't we all super model rocket scientists who play professional sports on the side? Sure, we deserve the same rights. When it comes to education, we should have the right to an appropriate education, individually tailored, that will help each person become a productive member of society. We aren't doing anyone any good by putting all students into the same classrooms and expecting the same results.

This gets so old day after day. We allow the complaining and whining of a small group of people to change the policies to the detriment of the majority. These incredibly selfish parents who find doctors to diagnose their children with ADD and ADHD and all other sorts of ailments insist that their children stay in (what used to be) honors level courses. They have no regard for the other 25 students in the classroom who now have a teacher who has to take time out of every single lesson and every single planning period to alter lessons and tests to accommodate for a parent's self-esteem.

The truth is ... and talk to these kids because I have ... that most of them know that they aren't going to be successful in college, but they still want to succeed. They start to feel worse and worse about themselves as their parents push them to fit into their parents' preconceived notions of their son/daughter is going to be. We have given too much power to the parents and their sensibilities. If we TRULY care about each individual student, we will do what is best for them. We will put them in classes that are appropriate for their academic aptitude. We will provide them with options that are within their reasonable grasp for the future. We will coach them to be the best they can be within their abilities.

I can tell you right now ... If the high school football coaches and athletic directors told every single boy in the school that he could be the next star Eli or Peyton Manning (and gave them the playing time to go with that promise), parents and community members would be in an uproar. Why do we accept the same thing in the academic arena?

Some people might say that I don't care about the less-apt student, or that I am an elitist, or that I am coldblooded, or that I have no business teaching. Quite the contrary. I WANT to teach those less-apt students. I want know that our society needs to focus on the lower 75th percentile in order to improve as a whole. I want more of our youth to feel useful and to know that they have something to offer. That's why I became a teacher. (Sure, I love literature and writing, too.)

I suggest the following ... (and more that I'm sure will come to me later ...)

It's time to start acknowledging weaknesses and tailoring educational opportunities to the strengths of the individuals.

It's time to put parents in their place ... responsible for what goes on at home, responsible for their son/daughter's behavior, responsible for their son/daughter's success in school (during the early years at the very least).

It's time that we start placing value on the profession of teaching.

It's time that teachers are held to higher standard and rewarded for reaching it and REMOVED for failing.

It's time that students who can't/don't/won't hack it in rigorous academics -- for whatever reason and in spite of whatever diagnosis -- are put into classes that meet their individual needs.

It's time that school boards are made of concerned teachers and have no political affiliations or obligations whatsoever.

It's time that our country recognizes the incredible importance of its public education system for its economic success and its future prosperity.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

politics aside ... this is good!

I found this article this afternoon: "First Steps to a GOP Recovery" on written by Mort Kondracke. Putting politics aside -- because "left" and "right", "Republican" and "Democrat" shouldn't matter when it comes to education -- the author of this article makes a fantastic point in his item #3 for the Republican party. (portions in blue and blockquotes are copied directly ...)
"And the third -- maybe the biggest one -- would be for GOP governors to use their posts to show the country how conservatives can solve problems, especially the dismal state of American education and its menacing cousin, lagging American competitiveness."
Then, if you skip all the content about Rush Limbaugh and his cohorts and pragmatism of the parties, he goes on to say:

"Three governors -- Republican Jon Huntsman Jr. (Utah) and Democrats Deval Patrick (Mass.) and John Lynch (N.H.) -- have set up pilot projects partially implementing proposals of the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce, issued last year."

"Significantly, their initiatives have been blessed by leaders of the National Education Association, though its rival, the American Federation of Teachers, opposes them."

Teacher unions are going to oppose this because too many teachers would lose their jobs if they had to live up to the higher expectations that being a professional would require. Every time our union has some kind of rally, guess where most of the good teachers are ... at school -- grading papers, working with students, preparing lessons. Guess who hauls butt out of the building to demonstrate for a bigger paycheck so that they can continue to sit on their butts all day long doing nothing but collecting benefits and wages and allowing our students' brains to dwindle and soften.

"Under the proposal, states would take over schools from local boards, teachers would form corporations to run schools on contract and hire principals, salaries would go up significantly to attract first-rate teachers and standards would be set to international norms."

Thank god! School boards are ridiculous. Parents in the community in which I teach use the "going to the school board" as a daily threat to get administration to bow down to their ludicrous demands. It is hard to stick to enforce policies under the constant threat of being dragged through hearings with school boards. The administration at my school must always consider this when making a decision.

For example: I also coach a sport. One of my athletes refused to do her required fundraising despite the fact that she and her parents signed all kinds of forms acknowledging that this fundraising is a part of her responsibility. Her parents are insisting on meeting after meeting all under the threat of "going to the school board" if we don't comply. I am actually going to have to bring my young infant to school with me to participate in one of these meetings all because a parent feels that her daughter is special and shouldn't have to sell 52 candy bars. The best part is that our administration is obviously so spineless that they cannot even stand up to this parent and say "Sorry. Rules are rules." No, instead they have to waste their time, my time, and my assistant coach's time, and the athletic director's time ... This is just one example that is happening right now.

I have so many more examples ... but that's a can of worms I don't have time to open right now. The overall lesson to be learned is that the power should most definitely be taken away from the school boards who have to pander to the parents. That way the individual school administrations can stop pandering to the parents. The parents have been given too much power without having any of wisdom needed.

There is a reason why teachers need to be treated as professionals. We are professionals. At least in my community, the parents as a collective whole seem to think that they know better than the teachers. As a result, students no longer respect teachers because the general message that they get is that teachers aren't to be respected, that if a teacher does something with which a student/parent disagrees then the teacher is wrong and a spectacle should be made with administration and the school board.

Of course schools should be operated by many of the same principles that dictate successful business practices. Make teaching a job worthy of aspiration. If teaching becomes competitive like so many other professions, then we will see a rise in the quality of the educators. If a teacher's job (salary and benefits included) becomes enviable, we will see a rise in the quality of educators. Imagine if teacher was an esteemed profession. Imagine the shift that would take place in the hallways of our schools, in the classrooms, in the conferences ...

Many of my friends who are teachers have to work second jobs. No wonder we aren't respected by parents or students any longer! If a student can see his or her teacher waiting tables on the weekends, what does that say about the value of the occupation of teacher? Not much. (Nothing against waiters ... one of my friends is the example I'm using there ... another works the desk at a gym, several others work as camp counselors, I design web pages, etc.)

"Most students would graduate after 10th grade and go on to upgraded trade or tech schools, while others stayed and took college-level courses. And money saved would also fund preschool for needy kids."

"If one governor fully implemented the proposal, his or her state could be a competitiveness juggernaut, set a model for the nation -- and begin solving America's biggest long-term problem.

So, I guess a few people out there are starting to see the light on this subject, but that doesn't really matter ... does it?"
In case anyone is out there reading ... (I've gotten a few comments now which is highly exciting for me!!) I hope that I'm not coming off as a whiner and complainer. That is not my intention. I guess there is a good deal of venting going on, though. I just think that the whole country needs to change its perspective on this key issue. It is sooooo important for every single person in the U.S. to want to fix this.

So, can we stop talking about Obama's BlackBerry and start talking about the things that matter!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

More on "Stupid in America"

I still find responses to this special all over the internet. It seems like a lot of people out there want to defend our system and be offended by the title. They need to hold on and get a hold of the data. You can hate John Stossel, he is kind of annoying, but you can't disregard the data -- all of which can be verified through your own quick internet research.

Then, there is the statistic I posted recently about our increasingly lower graduation rate. Isn't that data enough that we need to do something about our system.

What about the fact that countries with far fewer resources are surpassing our efforts to educate? This is the United States of America, land of opportunity, home of the free and the brave ... where is our patriotism?

Finally, people all over the U.S. get up in arms over some of the most mundane issues. What kind of dog (I'm guilty of being obsessed with this as well) is President-Elect Obama going to buy? Madonna is getting divorced, my god! Yet, no one cares about the youth we are leaving behind.

Maybe it is just that the problem is so vast and overwhelming that the task of reforming our high school system is simply too daunting. I'm willing, but I'm just a teacher ... what do I know?

Merit-Based Pay, Liars, Cop-outs and Incompetence

The article above from the Associated Press regarding teachers unions that are starting to embrace merit-based pay reminded me that I had a few thoughts on the subject.

Let me tell you about the system that I am a part of though. I teach ninth grade English. I get the same bonus as the twelfth grade English teacher who refuses to teach anything all day long. His students have already passed the test on which the bonus in our state is based. Our administration continues to "reward" him with a six classes of twelfth-grade students because they know that he won't DO anything. Apparently, these students are less important and their educations more expendable because they have already passed the state test upon which our administration is judged.

Oh ... it is so frustrating! If a merit-based pay program is going to be put into effect and really, really work, then the people need to stop being politically correct and actually just be correct in their implementation of the program. Why did that man get the same bonus as I on Friday? Explain that to me. Did he stay after school five days a week? No. I could see him from my window leaving when the bell rang. Did he teach any of his curriculum? No. My former students who had him last year complained that they didn't do anything and expressed concern about their first year of English at the college level.

Why, if our administration know that this man doesn't do anything, are they forced to retain him in his position? That goes back to the John Stossel report. This guy is just one sad example of many in my experience and I teach at a high school that is ranked within the top 150 high schools in the United States. Sad, sad, sad.

I became National Board Certified as soon as I was eligible because that was a bonus in which I felt I could believe, that was an accolade about which I could be proud, that was an achievement for which I was willing to work. Then ... I started learning about teachers who repeatedly falsified documentation so that they could pass the "documented accomplishments" portion of their portfolio entries. One national board teacher would actually write fake letters from parents in praise of a fellow national board candidate. Both passed. Both continue to collect bonus money for fake achievements. Both mentor upcoming candidates and get money for that as well. Sad, sad, sad. Yet, there are teachers out there like me who actually had accomplishments, who actually received letters from parents and students, who actually taught at conventions, who actually did things to help further the causes of education ... it is so frustrating.

I had a friend who became an administrator. When this friend did not pass her boards, this friend walked around telling everyone that the a certain percentage of people have to fail in order for the program to make money on retakes. Really? Now, this person is an administrator. How much respect do you think this person really has, then, for the teachers under her authority who are working hard to achieve these kinds of above-and-beyond certifications? Not much. This person, no longer a friend, is a stellar administrator in the county. This person is, in fact, just the kind of administrator they look for. What does that tell you?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

"Stupid in America": John Stossel's 20/20 report on failing American schools

When this special was being advertised in '06, I was excited to watch. Now that I have started blogging on this general topic, I wanted to review. I found it on YouTube and rewatched the entire thing last week. I posted a few comments on the YouTube discussion, but they limit your characters so ridiculously that I was barely able to say anything. This is what I had originally drafted to say. (I never type my original posts ... I'm an English teacher through and through -- everything gets a rough draft!)

It seems like a lot of people take personal offense at this special. Sure, the title on its surface is offensive. Sure, John Stossel is looking for the most controversial examples. Sure, the producers are going to pick the most dramatic examples.

I am speaking as a board certified teacher, this special brings up many important issues. The most important for our global economy is the fact that we are falling farther and father behind the other countries: Those statistics and test results are real and cannot be denied.

We cannot afford to ignore the fact that our students are falling farther and farther behind their counterparts across the globe. That are their future competition and our future as a country depends upon their success.

I agree that teacher's unions are a problem, but it is not true that all American teachers are bad. It IS true that probably half of the teacher's are lazy, unmotivated, and ineffective. Those teachers poison the system and the teacher's who try their hardest. There is a running joke among teachers. You have to sleep with a student or stab a student to get fired. Otherwise, you're free to do what you want as a teacher. That is pathetic and disgusting. Americans should not be satisfied with this system, but they are. No one seems to care.

Good teachers are crippled by a pathetic, ineffective system that is guided by administrators who don't care about quality teaching. They care about bureaucracy. All of the teachers that I know who have gone on to become administrators have done it for the MONEY and not because they want to be agents of change. Good teachers cannot be good teachers because of a system that does not meet the needs of all students.

Good teachers should be rewarded. Ineffective teachers should get help and a short trial period and should be fired if they don't improve. Bad teachers should be FIRED -- flat out fired.

There is one all-important point that is glossed over too quickly in this special. Tie teacher pay to performance. Pay teachers more. Fire teachers who suck. Make teaching a highly competitive occupation. Make teaching a job that more talented people aspire to.

The Florida teacher who says that competition isn't for public education is a moron.

Our Declining Graduation Rates! (and my lack of blog entries)

First, in case anyone out there is reading this, I want to apologize for a lack of entries. This past week was the Homecoming week at the high school where I teach and coach cheerleading. I was engaged all week in preparations for the big events -- pep rally and the homecoming game.

Back to reality ...

The Week Magazine (, which is my favorite news magazine subscription because of its brevity and balance (what can I say, I'm busy!), reported a blurb from the New York Times in its November 14, 2008 issue. I'm quoting: "The U.S., which long enjoyed the world's top high school graduation rate, has fallen to 13th place behind such countries as South Korea, the Czech Republic, and Slovenia. The U.S. is now the only country in the developed world where young people are less likely to graduate than their parents were."

Wow! That is disturbing, and, yet, I am not at all surprised by the fact; however, I am surprised by the lack of attention such a disturbing trend is receiving. Hello world! I really feel like people are blind to the problems in our system. I've been engaged in a few online conversations about some of the issues -- mostly those prompted by the Time article with which I opened my blog.

I posted the following on one blog:

This article definitely touched a nerve with me. I think that most educated, concerned citizens can recognize that our public education system needs repair. In my head, I've been playing around with trying to create a 10 point list of the things that need to be done to fix the system. One of those major points has to do with some of what this article proposes.

I agree that, academically, for many the last two years of high school are a complete waste. I believe this wastefulness is a result of the trend towards forcing all students to fit a particular mold: the high school, then college, then professional career mold. The students in my classroom who do not fit this mold are evident from the first days of school. I teach ninth grade. A large portion of our high school populations are not equipped and/or not interested to pursue careers that would require higher education. Why are we forcing all of them to try to follow in that path?

What happened to vocational schools and technical schools? They weren't even an option when I was in high school. I know too many people who dropped out or are going to drop out because the standard high school curriculum has nothing to offer them.

Why can't there be many choices? There are, after all, many different choices once we leave the public education system, but we are failing to meet the needs of the public as a whole.

1. Students who are not academically inclined are not lost causes. Almost everyone has some kind of aptitude. We should be finding these aptitudes early and steering our youth in directions that will bolster their strengths. Send students to vocational and technical schools so that they can graduate from high school with a diploma, some skills, and the ability to support themselves and make educated life decisions.

2. Students are are academically inclined, but who would meet the criteria of "average" should be given some boosts in the first two grades. 9th and 10th. At the end of 10th there should be some indication if they are going to mature academically. If so, carry-on in our standard college-prep education. At the end of the four years, they can decide for themselves. If, at the end of 10th grade they are not showing any stronger aptitude, they can switch over to a more specific, vocational preparation and graduate with some job skills or go ahead to the community college to finish an education with a specific career in mind.

3. Students who are academically gifted can do what they are still doing today. Take their classes at their local public high school. Do their best. Take more and more advanced classes. Possibly take some classes as dually-enrolled students or take the AP/IB classes available at their high school.

I just don't understand why the system insists on trying to make every student go to a four-year university and leaving all the others who don't fit this mold languishing in the hallways with the bathroom pass. Those students know that this system isn't going to do anything for them. They aren't stupid!

And ... in response to another blogger who doubted my state's "college prep" curriculum, I posted the following:

Regarding Florida not really having a college preparatory curriculum:

You are correct on two points.

1. My state administers its "exit exam" called the FCAT at the end of 3rd quarter sophomore year. The state is basically saying "we have taught you everything that we think you need to know by the end of 3rd quarter sophomore year. Of course, I'm convinced they administer the test at that time so that the schools have two more years to get all the students who don't demonstrate competency up to passing level. Of course, the retake is a simpler format than the original exam, anyway.

2. As a result of trying to force all students to fit into the mold (to which I referred in my original post), we high school teachers are stuck teaching to the middle group. The higher-performing students get easy A's. The lower-performing students are left behind.

Regarding the concern over maturity of 16-year-olds:

Our system no longer requires responsibility, accountability, or maturity from our students; therefore, they aren't learning those skills. Because teachers and curriculum is now being watered down to aim for the middle ground, many students are able to get by with very little effort.

If we appropriately challenge and educate our students at the high school level and before, they will be up to the challenge. They will mature. Veteran high school teachers (the good ones, at least) will tell you that the maturity level of the students is decreasing every year. The kids aren't changing. Our highest expectations of them are changing. If the most we expect is what we are looking for today, then we shouldn't be surprised that our 18-year-olds are immature and ill-prepared.

Moving on ...

The conversation is interesting to me, and at least I saw that there are a few other people out there who are interested. I'm just wondering how lost we are going to have to be before people start asking for directions ... or at least before they start giving a crap.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Maternity leave

It occurred to me as I sat on my couch feeding my baby that anyone
reading my blog might think I was full of crap. I'm on maternity leave
right now, so please don't think that I am using class time or school
resources to write my entries. Once I am back in the classroom
(January), you will notice that the times on my blog posts will
change. I imagine the frequency might be impacted as well.

I am glad, though, that I have found the motivation and time (during
the baby's late morning, early afternoon nap) to begin this project. I
need somewhere to vent. My husband is so tired of hearing me complain
that he wants me to resign. My friends who are all teachers would
disagree with a lot if what I say. They also think that I'm too easily
"worked up" over this stuff -- as though it is not my business.