My local newspaper has a blog on its web site that is all about education. Every time I look at the comment section, I see the ignorance of the general public. They think this job is easy. We get summers off. We get breaks. We don't have to produce results. Its hard to get fired. Honestly, there is a sliver of truth to some of those. (For example, it is hard to get fired) In reality though, this is one of the hardest jobs there is.
The business world is hard, but when you compare it directly to teaching high school, I think many would choose the business world. Let's start with something somewhat positive. As a high school teacher, you do get to see the highest of highs. You get to see kids achieve, and work towards there dream, but most of the time you only get to see it for a few short months. It's also tough to get the full story when you can teach almost 200 kids a year. If you are a manger in the business world, you get to see people achieve there dream, but for the most part you get to spend more than 8 months with them. You get that satisfaction that you made a difference in that person's life. To get that satisfaction as a high school teacher, you have to depend on students coming back to talk with you and share their success. While I have had plenty of students do that over the years, a brief conversation does not supplement the hands on experience and view of a business leader.
Now, lets debunk a huge myth, GOOD TEACHERS DO NOT TAKE SUMMERS OFF! A master teacher is always trying to improve, and that includes the summer. Good teachers are partaking in professional development opportunities and starting to plan for the next school year. This has become even more of a must as the use of technology becomes more prevalent. Technology always needs legwork. You can not start a school year without any plans, and the one week of pre-planning we get at the beginning of the school year is a farce. It's filled with meetings and other things with very little time for planning. Are there teachers that take the whole summer off? Yes, but they are usually the ones that stink. If you think of this in business terms, they just call our planning and improvement stage a "break" while the business world calls it work.
While there are always exceptions to the rule, people who work in the business world also have better hours for better pay. In an office setting, many work 9-5. As a teacher, you are always working. There is no leaving this job at the office. You are constantly planning and assessing assignments outside of the classroom, because in reality you only have an hour and a half each day to do the most labor intensive part of the job. You also never work a true 9-5. You get to school by 7:30, and if you coach, you don't leave the school till past 6. On nights of games or matches, you could leave the school as late as 9 or 10. You do all of this because it's the job, not because the pay is any good. I probably would get paid more if I worked in cubicle, and my coaching supplement works out to pennies on the dollar.
This is also an incredibly results driven business, and those results are judged by a bunch of test that don't ever tell the full story. Think about it this way. It would be like someone in business being judged by the results a person got from buying their product. In many ways, businesses are judged in this manner, but they always take in to account external factors such as the consumer using the product incorrectly. Our business never takes those factors in to account. Our students come in with all sorts of issues, that really need to be addressed by a professional therapist. I am not trained to handle issues such as neglect, abuse, and the multitude of drug problems I see every day. Those factors are not factored in with our results.
This also leads me to the point of someone in business can fire some one if they are not doing what they should be doing. I can't fire a student. So if I can't fire someone, I have to deal with problems that many in business don't. I have to try to teach kids on drugs. I have to try to teach kids who don't care. I have to try to teach kids that are only in school because its a part of their probation. I have had kids pulled out of my class and hauled off to jail. I have even taught murderers. Sound easy now?
You also have everyone and his brother interested in the results you produce, and almost all of them have a say. Think about the number of people who really have a say in what goes on in a single teachers classroom. They include the president and federal government who can withhold funding without results, state legislatures and the governor who can do the same, school boards, superintendents, administrators, parents, and even the students themselves. (in Ga students take surveys on teachers) That's a bunch of masters to answer to, and there is no real chain of command structure. These masters all have there own opinion and own programs. Many times these programs are counterproductive and put in place by politicians who have not been in classroom since they were a student many, many years ago. Would you want every stage of the government buracracy involved in your buisness decisions?
I don't want this piece to be taken as a complaint. I chose to go into this profession. I thought it would be different. I did not like the idea of sitting in an office of cubicle all day. If I had to do it all over again though, I think I would try to teach elementary school. Those kids still have their innocence. You can really change a kid's life before they get to be to far gone. The reality of it is, that by time many students get to high school they have been exposed to so much that they really need professional therapy to succeed. I can only do so much.
There will always be great kids that do awesome things, but in reality success in school starts at home. Many of the kids that succeed come from two parent households that truly care about their child's education. Many that don't come from one parent households, that are so busy trying to make ends meet that their children can get mixed up in the many negative things they are exposed to. If we really want to change the conversation we have to have an answer for this. We have to have ways to get kids with major problems professional help easily. We have to have safe places for kids to go at every age level. We can not leave this all on the teacher. We can not leave it all on a single parent who is doing there very best to make it Really, if there is anything I want you to get out of this piece, it is to quit blaming all of the education systems problems on the teacher and get us help.
Time to Jump in To Twitter
First, let me admit that I am not a very social person. I struggle and feel awkward in social situations. You would think Social Media would not be my thing, but I have jumped in full bore into social media as a teaching tool. It's engaging. It teaches skills for the 21st century. (digital citizenship, social marketing) It can be harnessed to teach historical perspective, have discussions, inform parents, collaborate, and just generally bring the level of engagement up.
Honestly, learning to use Twitter was my one big take away from grad school. I was fairly advanced technology wise when I started my Masters in instructional technology, so many of the things in the program were things that came easy or I already knew. I had not really dipped my toe in to to Twitter. Grad school changed all of that. It showed me the vast network of teachers and resources Twitter has. I also figured out hashtags which opens up a whole new avenue of student assignments and resources.
Up until this year, I have always been scared of the possibility of Twitter and social media assignments in class. My school district is the type that says if we see you cell phone it is punishable by death. I hate that feeling, but I have done my best to comply. They are softening that stance though, and have said that devices can be used for classroom purposes this year. It took me till second semester, but I finally said screw it. I added a Twitter based assignment to my list of options that students can complete. Really this was the test flag, and it has been a resounding success.
I started with Tweet as a Historical Figure. The basic parameters are that students create an account for a historical figure and they then Tweet like it would be that persons live Twitter account. This was just one assignment in a group that students could choose from, but it has been by far the most popular. Students love the use of social media, and by completing their assignment they are learning multiple skills. They are learning how to summarize (140 characters is not much), they are learning historical perspective, and they are also working with an increasingly popular tool.
If I am in the classroom next year (hoping I might be in ed tech), I am going to increase our options for social media based assignments. They are just to engaging, and I have had no problems related to students using them in an inappropriate way. Some of my ideas include getting students to live blog an event as a historical figure through Tumblr, Have them create a fake Facebook page for a historical figure, have student historical figure conversations, have them interview a historical figure through Twitter, have them connect with a historian and ask them 5 questions while also anticipating response, and have them live tweet a historical event.
Twitter can also be a powerful tool for both student and parent communication, student discussions, and things such as free response questions. Really there are loads of possibilities. You just have to get creative. So think about it this way, you are being creative and letting kids explore. Isn't that what we want education and teachers to be?
It's that time of year again! It's testing time, and I hate it. I teach US History in GA, and that means my students just took the US History. This year I am on a wing and a prayer that some of these kids pass. I have many that just don't care. If a student does not care, how in god's green earth am I going to get them to pass a test that starts with the History of Jamestown, and goes all the way through the George W Bush administration. I also had to deal with the fact that I am short about 7 days of instruction thanks to the weather. In many ways it's an impossible task, but the main reason I think evaluating teachers on test scores is stupid is that they are almost impossible to compare.
My district unintentionally made this process even more difficult. They put the American Literature test for juniors before the US History test. Almost all of my students came out of the American literature test with the impression that it was very easy. It's mostly a test that asks students to analyze readings rather than recall information. Many juniors can do this without the benefit of an American Literature class. This brings me to my main point. We compare teachers in American Literature in the same manner we do in American History. It's all about test scores. How is this fair? They are the same grade level, but one is based on analytical reading and another is based on recalling a ridiculous amount of information. Students in American Literature can practice the skills needed to pass the test over and over again while teachers in American history have very little time to reteach because if we do we won't finish the content. I tried to preach that the US History test would not be the same as the American Literature test. I had to hope and pray that my kids took me seriously.
The other comparison that makes this ridiculous is comparing test scores from year to year. I am a perfect example of this. Last year, I taught an International Baccalaureate class (If you don't know what it is, it's higher level course work similar to AP) that was required to take the US History EOCT. My test scores were awesome. Out of almost 60 kids, I only had 3 below a 70. I had less than 7 more who were under the exceeds category. The three failures either transferred in from another country or had attendance issues. This school year, I teach 5 regular level US History courses. I have worked my tail off trying to get the kids this year to care and take the test seriously. I honestly have worked harder at it than I did with my IB kids last year. I can almost guarantee the scores this year will be lower. How is it fair to add this into my evaluation? Teaching is a profession where you continually have to get better, and I have worked since last year to do so. Unfortunately, if you judge me on test scores, it does not show that.
Don't get me started on the new system that evaluates based on an impressive list of statistics that are supposed to show how you helped a student improve. How do you accurately show that in US History? They have not taken a Social Studies test since Middle School. Students change a great deal in the almost three full years in between. Some get close to graduation and they actually begin to work at school. Their scores improve, but this is all from outside factors. Some go the other way based on changes in their life such as drug abuse. There scores would drop, and its from nothing I did. I would be evaluated on that.
Where I think these new statistics will be very interesting, is seeing their effect on what are considered the best schools in the state. If the state is truly measuring the school's effect on student improvement, how will these schools be measured? Many of these schools get students who did well on test in their primary years, and continue to do well on tests in their secondary years. The school's effect on these is small. How do you judge a school if they go from a 92 percent pass rate to a 93? The improvement is small, but there is not a lot of room for movement
There has to be a better way to judge teachers and schools. Teachers have to be free to innovate and try new things, without the fear of test scores coming down on them. Teachers also have to have room to grow with experience. We want teachers and schools that are constantly improving and innovating. Find a way to get rid of the ones who are just here for the paycheck, but cultivate the ones who want to improve and be good. That's what we really need. Oh, and a society where parents are responsible and involved in their child's education........................