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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

I May Not Matter to Some, but...

I've had this one in draft for a while. I've stayed away from posts like this for a few reasons. One, there are a lot of people who write about these issues much better than I feel like I could. I read, I ponder, and share other's work when I find value. I thought I should leave the heavy stuff to them. Two, contributing to discussions about education reform and the players is not what I want this space to be about. Three, I just couldn't figure out how to write what I wanted to say without sounding like I was having, like my Mom used to say, a pity party. I'm not. It's more a statement of purpose. An affirmation that I know what's important to me, even if I'm not important to everybody. Besides, this is my space and I'm going to change its definition for just a tad.

I'm a husband, a father and a public school teacher. I haven't been doing this for a very long time, but in just a few seemingly accelerated years, it is clear to me that I love what I do. To paraphrase the knight guarding Christ's chalis in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, "I chose wisely." Even my wife, who knows me better than anyone on earth, doesn't fully realize how much I enjoy the creativity and autonomy when I do what I think is best for my students, and the fulfillment I feel when I get it right. It is difficult to describe to non-teachers how difficult, demanding, heartbreaking, and thrilling the profession can be.

However, anytime a teacher, especially a public school teacher, tries to communicate concerns or tries to impact a conversation about education to non-educators, the quiver of dismissive cliches' gets unloaded pretty quickly.

In this video highlight from the Boca Raton Presidential Debate in October 2012, the candidates start debating who loves teachers more. Bob Schieffer, finally tries to settle the issue in an effort to get the debate on track.

"I think we all love teachers"  For me, the better affirmation would have been, 'I think we can all agree that teachers matter' Wishful thinking to be sure, because the truth of it is that

I don't matter to...

  • Who want to shake my hand and tell me how important I am, but then cut funding in numerous and creative ways that make educating my kids more and more difficult. You can't get more with less. Schools are not factories and learning is not a product.
  • Who continue to dilute mine and my peer's expertise by reducing licensing requirements for both teachers and administrators. It's not enough to simply know the content or how to manage people and products in other fields. It's one thing to know how to add fractions, it's quite another to be able to show someone in a way that is interesting, long lasting, and in a way they can recognize and properly apply the concept in real world situations.
  • Who, check local listings, are piece by piece trying to dismantle public education through various schemes. Funnel Public money into parochial or for profit charters, sure. Chip away at collective bargaining and the "power" of unions. You betcha. 
  • That by sneaky methods, rarely used parliamentary procedures, or the outright brandishment of majority power, try to diminish the power of Teacher Unions. Say what you will about unions, but who will be the voice for 'YourKids' when laws are made that impact their learning.
  • Demonize teachers who have earned and benefit from pensions from their long years of service, or fight for better wages. They are not 'thugs', Governor Christie. We are not selfish for wanting our worth for the services we provide.
  • That hold the view that experience matters little in student achievement. It does. Not everyone can teach. Students deserve experienced teachers. Freshly minted college graduates who need to build their resume and then bolt when they got the bullet point, are not the answer to kids who need a long term commitment to their neighborhood.

The Public at large

Teachers are like cops. 
You don't know how much you value them until you need one.
  • Who characterize teachers as lazy. "You don't work summers" "You get off at 3" "You just spend your days coloring... blah, blah, blah.
  • Who don't want to vote favorably for that millage, because they don't have kids or they don't recognize that an educated workforce makes their community a better place to live in.
  • Who thinks that tenure means 'bad' teachers can never get fired. They can. Better evaluations are part of the answer. (Washington Post) Most of what they've have been told are myths.
  • Who think that student learning can be standardized or assessed. It can't. 'Data driven' is an obscene distortional phrase and incredibly shortsighted prism of progress. In what other profession is perfection or 100% the acceptable goal? Data guided is more appropriate, use what is uncovered in diagnostic testing to fit the instruction to the child. Every kid can grow, everyone of them can learn, but not at the same rate and not necessarily at the same time. Kids aren't perfect and neither are teachers.
  •  Who compare test results to countries who don't come close to matching the home life, demographics, or SES that come into my classroom each day. It's the poverty stupid. I'm not failing  and you don't live in Finland. Let's come together and help OUR KIDS be the best that they can be.
  • Who think 'merit pay' is a good incentive to get teachers to work harder. It won't work, because most are already working just about as hard as they can.  (National Center on incentives - Vanderbilt University) If I spend much more time preparing lessons, analyzing gains, assessing, etc then I'm at risk of losing much more; I stand to lose my sense of self and even more precious time with my family.
"Change" Agents (Those with the money and desire to be a celebrity by using 'Education Reform' as their launching pad.)
  • Who believe that anyone can teach and that the momentum of experience is not a significant factor in teaching effectiveness. I can't think of another profession where expertise has been so devalued by the conversations by outsiders.Teachers add value to students lives. (The Long-Term Impacts of Teachers, Harvard University ) Experienced teachers, even more so. (http://educationnext.org/great-teaching/#)
  • Attacking, no other word for it in my opinion, the 'public' in public schools. I'm not against private institutions, but I do have a problem with privatizing what should remain public or placing public decisions in private hands because your wallet is bigger than mine.  Public schools are great for what they produce, not for they what they exclude.

But, I matter to:

My students
  • Who know that I try my best each day to create engaging lessons (minus maybe spelling) that feed a desire to learn and become a greater person.
  • Who despite my sometime craziness and inability to keep track of my coffee cup and glasses, realize that I'm on their side. They know that I  want to help them unlock themselves to find unique thing about them that will amaze the world. 
  • Who know that even though they may have passed through our door for the last time, I'm still rooting for them. 
My class' Home Partners
  • Who realize that Room 216 is a safe place for their kids to come and learn. Where they have a opportunity to express their learning in different ways. A place where, if they choose to, they can become an active partner in their child's education. Read their blogs. View their learning artifacts. Peek in on the fun.
My boy
  • Who sees his dad trying to impact other kid's lives in a positive way. Not just in his.
  • He knows that I could have very easily stayed in a job that pays me twice what I make now, but that I'm easily twice as happy. He's amazing and I matter to him.
My wife
  • She's made sacrifices to help me pursue something that's meaningful.
  • She sees former students run up to me when we're out, say hello, maybe give me a hug, and she knows that I'm making a difference.
  • She's been a Science Fair 'widow', a basketball coach 'widow', a volleyball booster 'widow', and professional development 'widow' to name just a few of my absences that she takes in stride.
  • We still like to hold hands, still make each other laugh, and she remains the best road trip partner I've ever had. (Even though she doesn't really believe in GPS and prefers maps. She once got me to the start line of a major bike race in whiteout conditions, by two-tracking through 8" of Northern Michigan freshly fallen snow, because the roads were too iced up and closed.)
  • She's amazing and I matter to her. 
I matter to them, and that's what matters to me.
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