Monday, February 28, 2011

Teacher's Bumper Sticker gets her fired

Check this out....

Friday, February 25, 2011

Some Musing from St. Louis

Bottled water in ... schoolteachers out by Bill McLellan
The charming thing about life is its unexpectedness. Bottled water, for instance. How did anybody come up with that? And what did the boss say when the idea was first proposed?
"You want to do what, Jenkins?"
"I want to put water in bottles, sir."
"What would you do with these bottles of water, Jenkins?"
"We'd sell them, sir."
"Let me make sure I understand, Jenkins. You want to take water — regular, tasteless water, the kind you can get out of the tap — and you want to put that water into bottles and sell it."
"Yes, sir."
It makes no sense, but it worked. Bottled water now costs more than gasoline.
Ornamental oranges are even stranger. They look like real oranges, but they're inedible. Why would that be considered an improvement? How would you present that idea to your bosses?
Televised poker is another oddity. Why would anybody watch other people play cards?
But the strangest thing of all, the thing that years ago would have seemed inconceivable to me, is the denigration of teachers.
When I was a kid, teachers were the ultimate authority figures. They were thought of as cops, but smarter.
Although they were greatly respected, teachers did not make a lot of money. They were in the middle of the middle class. They made roughly what cops, electricians and factory workers made. In fact, most teachers worked summer jobs.
Of course, in those days, baseball players worked winter jobs. Here is a strange tidbit from my youth — my seventh-grade teacher worked at the local Sears store during the summer. Sammy Esposito, a player on the White Sox, worked at the same store in the winter.
Think about that — a baseball player and a seventh-grade teacher sharing a job.
Of course, ballplayers have zoomed up the economic ladder. The average salary for a major league player on opening day rosters last year was $3.3 million.
Teachers are still in the middle of the middle class.
Yet they have become whipping boys and girls. Incompetent, lazy, selfish and so on.
How did this happen? Well, they formed unions. But so did baseball players, and while the baseball players have seen their salaries soar, the teachers unions have only been able to keep teachers safely in the middle class.
Nevertheless, you'd think they were enemies of the state. They're demonized. You can see it happening right now in Wisconsin. The governor has declared war on public employee unions, and the most visible of these public employees are the teachers.
The crazy thing about it is, it's not a crazy strategy.
We are seeing a backlash against all public employees. Part of it is human nature. I understand that part. Public employees have pensions. Fewer and fewer of us in the private sector do. Also, public employees are less likely to be laid off in hard times. So employees in the private sector get jealous and angry. We're taxpayers, we say, as if public employees aren't.
Furthermore, we are in the midst of a financial crisis. Government is broke. Public employee pensions are a big part of this. Just look at St. Louis.
So sure, something has to be done. Reasonable people ought to be able to understand that.
But the animosity toward teachers, that's the part I don't get. They do important work. Vital work. They educate our children. That's a difficult job. In some schools, it's nearly an impossible job. Teachers are supposed to overcome all sorts of obstacles that are not of their doing — poverty, violence, the gangster culture, absent or neglectful parents.
I dare say most of us couldn't make it a week in many schools.
But it has become increasingly popular these days to scapegoat teachers. For that matter, I get lots of e-mail from people who refer derisively to "government schools." Government schools? Oh yes, what we used to call public schools.
I can remember when people took pride in public schools. In fact, public education was considered a hallmark of democracy.
Of course, those were different days. We had not yet thought of bottled water, ornamental oranges or televised poker. And we respected teachers.
McClellan: Don't blame teachers when schools are bad
As far as newspaper columns go, writing about respect for teachers ought to be about as controversial as writing about the approach of spring. Who doesn't like the arrival of warm weather, songbirds, flowers and baseball? Who doesn't believe that teachers deserve our respect?
Lots of people, it turns out. Wednesday's musings about teachers — musings set off by the current battle in Wisconsin — elicited a great deal of response, most of which was against my pro-teacher stance.
Much of the more rational criticism was directed at unions.
"I can remember articles like 'Why Johnny Can't Read' and the like from the 1970s when I was a teenager. Many promises, much money and 30 plus years later, urban public schools are in even worse shape. The teachers union has been a force against reform and improvement in the urban public schools. P.S. Your Clayton school district is probably the best in Missouri. Dan V."
Many other readers struck a similar chord. They suggested that the real problem is with the teachers unions, especially in the urban districts.
David M. took that even further.
"Here's a story to investigate. Growing and radical disparities in the performances of school districts since the late '60s have done much to exacerbate the income inequality that liberals say they are so concerned with. During the real estate boom, the soaring values of houses was closely tied to school district performance, with houses in 'good' districts selling for many times the price of identical houses in 'bad' districts. Those families with houses in 'good' districts had incomes and credit leverage far beyond those in 'bad' districts, with their homes' equity the main source. Ask any Realtor about that.
"In other words, teachers' bad performance helped distort real estate markets. In the immediate postwar period, parents could look for any house they could afford, confident that the closest public school was adequate. That was not true beginning in the late '60s with the erosion and politicization of teaching standards and the subsequent 'sorting' of families into good and bad districts. But I don't suppose any 'mainstream' paper is interested in that investigation. It doesn't fit neat liberal narratives."
No, it doesn't, but it's an interesting thought. Bad teachers distorted the real estate market and exacerbated the income inequalities that liberals like me so often decry.
The last thing I want to do is demean teachers, but I really think that both Dan V. and David M. are giving them too much credit. What I mean is, teachers can only do so much. They are not working in a vacuum.
I agree with Dan V. that urban school districts are in bad shape, and I agree that the Clayton School District is terrific. For the most part, the teachers are great.
But if you were to take the Clayton High School faculty and move them en masse to Vashon High School, Vashon would not turn into Clayton. All the graduates would not magically start going to college. It would still be Vashon. Some of the kids would be motivated, and others would not be. Some would be able to read well and some would hardly be able to read at all. Even the best teachers can only do so much.
In a similar vein, I reject the theory that bad teachers caused bad schools, which in turn distorted the real estate market. Parents, neighborhoods and culture have more to do with schools than do teachers.
I recently wrote about the shooting death of a teenager who was called "Little Bill." He wasn't a small kid. So why the nickname? Because he had joined a gang at the age of 10 and the older gang members — kids in their teens — called him "Little Bill." The name stuck.
Think about that — a fifth-grader in a gang. If you're the teacher in that school, what are you supposed to do? I don't know. Maybe it's triage. Maybe you try to save whoever can be saved.
As for unions, I would never argue that they are always a force for good. Much more good than bad, I'd say. Do they protect their members? Sure, and as a member of a union, I'm glad they do. Do the teachers unions sometimes stand in the way of reform? Yes, and I'd say if a district wants a certain reform, that should be addressed in collective bargaining.
Same thing with pensions and pay. As I mentioned in Monday's column, I think there are legitimate concerns about government employees and pensions. Some of the pensions seem unsustainable.
But those are incidental points. My main point remains — a society that does not respect its teachers is not a healthy society.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Wisconsin showdown: A teacher responds

If Scott Walker removes my job protection, he won't just be hurting me -- he'll be compromising the whole system

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

More on Relationships

Educational Leadership
March 2011 | Volume 68 | Number 6
What Students Need to Learn    Pages 82-83
Relating to Students: It's What You Do That Counts
Robert J. Marzano

Positive relationships between teachers and students are among the most commonly cited variables associated with effective instruction. If the relationship is strong, instructional strategies seem to be more effective. Conversely, a weak or negative relationship will mute or even negate the benefits of even the most effective instructional strategies.

But exactly what constitutes good teacher-student relationships, and how do you develop them if they don't exist? Both research and theory provide some answers (Goodenow, 1993; Marzano, Pickering, & Hefelbower, 2010; Wentzel, 2009; Wubbels, Brekelmans, van Tartwijk, & Admiral, 1999).

Perhaps the most powerful message from the research is that relationships are a matter of student perception. They have little to do with how a teacher actually feels about students; it's what teachers do that dictates how students perceive those relationships.

This fact can be quite liberating. Teachers will certainly have an affinity for the majority of students in their classrooms, but from time to time they may react less positively to a given student. However, this won't really affect how the student perceives his or her relationship with the teacher. The major factor is how the teacher interacts with the student.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Why Teachers Are Outraged

At CNN...


Excellent commentary -

Found on Facebook...

This is great... Read this if you appreciate or even hate teachers.

by Eedroj Remier on Thursday, February 17, 2011 at 1:42pm
Are you sick of high paid teachers? Teachers’ hefty salaries are driving up taxes, and they only work 9 or 10 months a year! It’s time we put things in perspective and pay them for what they do - baby sit! We can get that for less than minimum wage.

That’s right. Let’s give them $3.00 an hour and only the hours they worked; not any of that silly planning time, or any time they spend before or after school. That would be $19.50 a day (7:45 to 3:00 PM with 45 min. off for lunch and plan — that equals 6 1/2 hours).

Each parent should pay $19.50 a day for these teachers to baby-sit their children.

Now how many do they teach in day…maybe 30? So that’s $19.50 x 30 = $585.00 a day. However, remember they only work 180 days a year!!! I am not going to pay them for any vacations.

LET’S SEE…. That’s $585 X 180= $105,300 peryear. (Hold on! My calculator needs new batteries).

What about those special education teachers and the ones with Master’s degrees? Well, we could pay them minimum wage ($7.75), and just to be fair, round it off to $8.00 an hour. That would be $8 X 6 1/2 hours X 30 children X 180 days = $280,800 per year.

Wait a minute — there’s something wrong here! There sure is!

The average teacher’s salary (nation wide) is $50,000. $50,000/180 days = $277.77/per day/30 students=$9.25/6.5 hours = $1.42 per hour per student–a very inexpensive baby-sitter and they even EDUCATE your kids!)

Monday, February 21, 2011

You Need Strong Relationships

I don’t think there is anything more basic, more vital to the classroom than good, supportive relationships between teachers and students.  The best pedagogy, flawlessly aligned curricula, and vast content knowledge will not count for much if the teacher doesn’t explicitly care for the students.  Furthermore, this is most important to our lowest performing students.  Any teacher or potential teacher can master lesson construction, use a solid curriculum and master content.  How do we teach teachers, new and experienced, to form the sort of relationships necessary in the classroom?  We must remember that the classroom is fundamentally about human relations and communication, and we must teach teachers how to form these relationships.  While I have been saying this for years because my students taught it to me, I’ve not been able to put my finger on exactly what it looks like so as to be able to teach others.  Finally somebody has.  Mary Kim Schreck’s You’ve Got to Reach Them to Teach Them: Hard Facts About the Soft Skills of Student Engagement hits the nail on the head about the many facets of teacher-student communication.  Go get a copy now.  I think you will be glad you did.
Full disclosure: I was a blind peer reviewer prior to publication, but I made nothing and make nothing from its sale.  

Friday, February 18, 2011

Teacher Education

A few years ago I started getting very interested in teacher preparation.  How do we prepare a young person to step into a classroom and be a teacher?  How do we help them be the best teacher they can possibly be from day one?  Their students don’t have ten years to let them develop into Master Teachers, so what can we do to make sure a rookie teacher is truly ready to go?  Can teacher education program really do it?  What is a school or district’s role in the process?  Once hired how do professional development programs support and develop excellent teaching?  For the good of our students we have to figure these things out.  I’m not sure the system as we have it is working very well.  We lose too many young teachers in their first few years.  We don’t even get too many capable and passionate young people to even give it a try.  In the last couple years these three articles inspired some deep thinking on the subject…

Thursday, February 17, 2011

School Size Matters

As a teacher in a small, private school now and formerly in a large public school, this article struck several notes.  But I don't think it is quite as cut-and-dry as this makes it seem.  It still comes down to the quality of instruction and the curriculum.  Still, read it and consider...

How do we fix public education?

Here's an excellent editorial that raises questions we must all answer nation-wide.

Tiger Moms and Panda Dads

Unless you live under a rock, you saw something about Amy Chau, The Tiger Mom, and her book about her parenting skills.  She has caused quite a stir, gotten much backlash and more than a few supporters.  Her initial Wall Street Journal editorial ( may have overstated a few things and her book has received more balanced coverage ( ,,8599,2043313,00.html).  But I think the best response was this… from a Panda Dad.  Sure it is funny, but there is an important point.  We need to consider what sort of children we wish to raise.  Do we want them to be independent, creative, free thinkers who may or may not end up in charge and wealthy?  Do we want them to ace every test and accept nothing less than first place?  What is the role of happiness and quality of life?    

History Education

Education Week published an interesting article about history standards and various states' performance relative to them  (  What should a social studies education be?  Depth or coverage?  Skills or content?  Thoughts?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Where should we start?

What issues in education bother you the most?  What most concerns you?  What do you think we need to start with? 
Anyone who has worked with me knows I am interested in thinking outside the box and entertaining at least conversation on all the possibilities…and a few impossibilities while we are at it.  I like to ask people to design an entire educational system from the ground up and see what we have.  What would be different if we started with a clean slate?  If we would design anything other than what we have, then we all need to be working for change.  This is about our students, our children, our communities and our long term quality of life for all.  So let’s get to work.  Let’s quit with the excuses.  Bus schedules can be changed, vacations can be altered, contracts rewritten.  For the good of our society, let’s get it all on the table.
So here is a little brainstorm of issues I see with a short comment on each.  You tell me what you think is most important.  Where should we begin?
In no particular order
-The racial achievement gap, performance disparity between Black, Latino and White and Asian kids – I believe this is THE civil rights issue of our day and it has been time to stand up and get something done on this for a very long time.  What is stopping us?
- School Funding – The economy is in the tank, but some areas of our government budget remain healthy and funded.  Can we do the same for education?  Are we ready to pay for it?  Where should the money be spent if we had it?  How can we get improved student performance without more money?
-Increased obsession with test scores – Can we have strong test scores and a good education?  Are they the same thing?  At what cost do we increase test scores?  Do the scores really tell us anything?  Recess, arts programs, physical education and more have been cut to provide more time on the skills measured by high-stakes tests.  Is this okay?
-Loss of enrichment programs like Physical Education and the Arts – Do these not go hand-in-hand with an academic education?  Strong mind, strong body?  Do students with creative outlets perform better? 
-Loss of athletic programs – see above
-Technology – Does having a projector make you a better teacher?  Should students all have laptops?  Can Facebook and Twitter be used to enhance education?  How can teachers get a handle on the varieties of software, websites, and social media in such a way that we improve what and how we do?  How much can or should the hardware impact the classroom?  Are there ways to harness the power of smartphones, iPods, etc. to enhance education?
-Institutional Food – Can we enhance acamdeic performance by serving higher quality food in school?
-The Calendar – We know summer loss is a real concern for our lower-performing students.  What about year-round schooling?  But doesn’t summer vacation help enhance our wealthiest students’ performance?
-The Daily Schedule – little kids wake up wired and teens….don’t wake up.  Why do teens start school earlier in the day than the little ones when we know that this is physiologically unsound?
-Administrative Overhead – We have more administrators now than ever.  Why?  Do we need them?  Can we incorporate them back into the classroom to teach real students once a day? 
- Poorly prepared teachers – Did your university education have you prepared to teach?  Do you wonder if your son or daughters’ teachers know their craft?  What would an ideal teacher preparation program look like?  Should there be a long apprentice-ship program?  How do we improve on-the-job training?
- Teaching as an Art – Is it even possible to learn to be a good teacher or do some just have it while others do not?
- Lack of respect for an education – From Beavis and Butthead to Survivor, have we become a culture so obsessed with the rude, cynical or trivial that we don’t actually care about a well-rounded education?  To what degree does pop culture, advertising and the media send messages that fly in the face of intellectual development, thus making it a gigantic uphill battle for teachers to have any impact?
-Science and Math – Have we emphasized these areas to the detriment of social studies, language arts, foreign language, art, music, and physical education?  Are these equal pursuits?
- Educational Inequity – as highlighted by the movie Waiting for Superman, are we harming families and communities with poorly funded school districts in the communities most in need?  How do we provide excellent resources and educations to the places with the least ability to fund it?
-Obsession with Achievement – as highlighted by the movie Race to Nowhere, do we have students and families so obsessed with getting into the best schools, having the highest test scores, and making the most money that we have lost sight of getting an education, being a kid, and quality of life?
- Parenting – Too often we have parents who seem to want to hold their child’s hand every step of the way, sheltering them from anything difficult, anything that might injure their fragile self-esteem.  On the other hand we have too many parents who seemingly do not care.  At my first position on back to school night I met 4 students’ parents out of 134.  In my current job I met with 63 of 65.  Should parents be bothering their kids’ college professors?  Should parents be skipping IEP meetings for their 17 year-old children? 

Racial Identity and Education

The New York Times posted an interesting series of editorials concerning race in their Room for Debate.  This ought to be a major issue for schools.  When we try to close achievement gaps it is inevitable that some will use statistical and political tricks to change the issue.  Some of these editorials allude to that possibility.  Should race be used as an identifier?  If so, how do we define race?  Who gets to define it? 

Speak Your Mind, Achievement Gap

One of the coolest programs at my old home….

Can Teachers Complain? But is there a right way?

I’ve been out of commission sick and busy for the last few weeks.  But I am back.  Check out these stories.
First, consider the case of this teacher caught complaining about her students on her blog.  Thoughts?  Is her conduct acceptable?  Worth suspending her for it?  Does she have a point?  Did she make it the right way?