Be Brave, education, Parenting, Snow Days, Teacher

And the Survey Says… Teachers: Speak Up, Speak Out

brene brownThe teachers have spoken and it appears they are a little bit stressed.

A few months ago, I asked teachers to share their feelings in an on-line poll.  I received 172 responses from teachers, mostly from Canada, with a few from the US, and one solitary soul from South America.

They weren’t shy about sharing their feelings about the stress that teachers are under in today’s world. It was obvious to me that they all shared the common goal of wanting to give the very best they could to the children in their classrooms.

I have shared with you the numbers and the stats, but more importantly, I have shared many of the comments I received. Some of them were heart-warming, while others were heart-breaking.

Not every comment appears here but I tried to include examples from teachers of different grades, from different areas, with varying degrees of experience.

Thank you to everyone who took the time to complete the survey. Here’s who they were:

1. What grade level do you teach? (169 answers, 3 skips)

Early Elementary (K-3): 56 – 33%

Late Elementary (4-6): 30 – 18%

Junior High (7-9): 38 – 22%

High school (10-12): 31 – 18%

Other: 13 – 8% (includes: resource, learning centre, administration, combined class, substitute, music)

College/University: 1 – 1%

2. Where do you teach? (171 answers, 1 skip)

Canada: 156 – 95%

United States: 7 – 4%

South America: 1 – 1%

3. How many years have you been teaching? (147 answers, 25 skips)

10 – 15 years: 53 – 36%

5-10 years: 45 – 31%

15-20 years: 25 – 17%

20+ years:18 – 12%

3-5 years: 5 – 3%

0-2 years:1 – 1%

survey pic #5
4. Organize in order of importance: what is your greatest source of stress right now? (172 answers, 0 skips)

Teachers were asked rank the following items in order from 1 – 7 in terms of their greatest source of stress.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Inclusion/Differentiation 31 (18.0%) 43 (25.0%) 38 (22.1%) 40 (23.3%) 11 (6.4%) 2 (1.2%) 3 (1.7%)
Negative Public Opinion 27 (15.7%) 29 (16.9%) 29 (16.9%) 32 (18.6%) 39 (22.7%) 8 (4.7%) 1 (0.6%)
Classroom Size 27 (15.7%) 37 (21.5%) 28 (16.3%) 25 (14.5%) 41 (23.8%) 10 (5.8%) 3 (1.7%)
Administration/Employer 35 (20.3%) 19 (11.0%) 25 (14.5%) 34 (19.8%) 36 (20.9%) 16 (9.3%)
Personal/Family/Work Balance 33 (19.2%) 29 (16.9%) 24 (14.0%) 29 (16.9%) 22 (12.8%) 16 (9.3%) 15 (8.7%)
Other 6 (3.5%) 13 (7.6%) 11 (6.4%) 5 (2.9%) 11 (6.4%) 87 (50.6%) 29 (16.9%)
I don’t feel stressed 13 (7.6%) 2 (1.2%) 17 (9.9%) 7 (4.1%) 7 (4.1%) 24 (14.0%) 97 (56.4%)

(Results tabulated by Polldaddy.com)

5. Please elaborate on your response to the previous question. If you wrote in an answer different from those listed, please explain. (79 answers, 93 skips)

Inclusion/Differentiation

Inclusion happened and things were fine until all the supports were quietly removed, one by one. Educational Program Assistants were cut so deep that now they are reserved almost exclusively for “fight” or “flight” children. Learning centre teachers have become coordinators of EPAs and rarely work with students in-depth. Resource teachers are so overloaded that they are seeing more kids, less often. We need more in-classroom supports. (Canada, Early Elementary, 10-15 years)

It is simply impossible to meet the needs of every child in your class. We have children with special needs, children who are on individual program plans, behaviour problems, children with anxiety, along with the “regular” children. (South America, Early Elementary)

With less money going to pay for supports in the classroom, it is difficult to differentiate learning. For example, if you have a student who has Autism (all day) but only have an Educational Assistant for 30 min/day. (Canada, Early Elementary, 10-15 years)

Differentiation is nearly impossible in an everyday classroom. (Canada, Junior High, 10-15 years)

I have 28 students in Grade 5. They range from globally delayed (working at the grade 1 level) to autistic (prone to screaming fits daily) to gifted. Planning takes about 4 hours per day to ensure all lessons have been differentiated. (Canada, Late Elementary, 15-20 years)

With so little prep time, how am I supposed to look after/prepare/plan/respect all the individualised plan for all the students that have one? (Canada, Junior High)

Class sizes are too large and there is such a diverse group of learners that it feels impossible to meet the needs of all students on a daily basis. Children with special needs and leaning challenges suffer because of the large class sizes. (Canada, Early Elementary, 10-15 years)

survey pic #4Negative Public Opinion

Every time we turn around, something negative is being discussed in the news and it is never accurate. The media presents it with a biased bent and the so-called experts are not experts. The union does not reply. (Canada, Late Elementary)

I find it demoralizing to hear all the negative opinions on teachers, snow days, summer vacation, etc. I feel like the public forgets that teachers also have families who count on us. Sometimes I feel like they expect my family to come second to their wants and desires for their children. (Canada, Junior High, 5-10 years)

There’s been a great deal of teacher-bashing due to a recent education report and several snow days. (Canada, High School, 15-20 years)

People speak so badly of teachers and disrespect the job we do. They feel it is babysitting and so easy anyone could do it. People also say we are just in it for the holidays. Teachers need to get the respect they deserve! (Canada, Late Elementary, 5-10)

Classroom Size

Too many students per class and too many with too many needs. Also, students are not held accountable and everybody passes. (Canada, Junior High, 20+ years)

I have 27 first graders in my class. I’m expected to differentiate and meet each of their needs. It’s hard. Too many kids, too many expectations that aren’t necessarily developmentally appropriate, and just one me. (USA, Early Elementary, 10-15 years)

My cap is 35 and I hit it yearly. (Canada, High School, 5-10 years)

We have to differentiate and at the same time control what is going on with 30 or more kids in the classroom. Kids are not the same as the where a long time ago. We teachers are supposed to be entertainers and if the kids are not having fun it is ok for them not to participate. (Canada, Junior High, 15-20 years)

Administration/Employer

If I were to try to capture the essence of the problems in education right now, I would say that having a government (hence my identification of employer) that feels it must respond to every social problem by downloading it to already over-worked teachers, who are then held accountable for the fact that the problems persist. Instead of expecting parents to parent, such as making good choices for their children instead of allowing kids to run the show, teachers have become the scapegoats. (Canada, Late Elementary, 10-15 years)

I am always watching over my shoulder as I am unsure of my administration. Admin is always right and our voice is not welcome, especially if we don’t agree. If we don’t agree, we are shut out. We have no voice! Just last week I said to my peers, why don’t they ask us what is working/not working in the classroom with new curriculums? (Canada, Early Elementary, 20+ years)

My main source of stress right is now is cell phones in the classroom. My administration believes that students should be allowed to have their cell phones with them at all times. This means I am constantly policing proper use. In middle school, this does not come naturally to students, so it is a constant battle that interrupts valuable learning time. (Canada, Junior High, 20+ years)

Administration will favour helicopter parents and change teacher’s marks accordingly. (Canada, High school, 20+ years)

 The Department coming up with more paperwork all the time and using all of our in-service days to justify their existence to the public. (Canada, Junior High, 10-15 years)

School politics / favouritism/ ineffective leadership (Canada, High School, 10-15 years)

Personal/Family/Work Balance

Fortunately, I feel very little stress from classroom size, negative public opinion, and my employers. My greatest struggle is with balancing work and personal life; I always feel that I could be doing something better if only I had more time and energy. (Canada, High School, 5-10 years)

I often stay late at work and still end up taking things home. My family feels that I don’t give them enough time. I feel that I make a difference in children’s lives, but public opinion is very demoralizing. (Canada, Early Elementary, 10-15 years)

I feel as though I cannot possibly give my students AND my family my best. Somebody always gets the short end of the stick. I bring my students home in my head every night. Sometimes I am rocking my own babies to sleep while crying because I’m thinking about my students putting themselves and their siblings to bed alone. (Canada, Early Elementary, 3-5 years)

Other

How can you be an educator and not be stressed??????? (USA, Junior High, 20+ years)

For other, issues around resources and having to create your own materials/spend your own money to teach the curriculum in the way that is expected. (Canada, Early Elementary)

Administrative tasks i.e. paperwork, non-teaching related tasks. (Canada, Administration/Resource, 10-15 years)

Teaching has become very stressful. (Canada, Junior High, 20+ years)

Another stressful factor, which is not on the list, is social promotion. This feeds the stress and frustration I experience when differentiating lessons. (Canada, High School, 5-10 years)

Admins additional paperwork and no prep time. (Canada, Late Elementary, 3-5 years)

Paperwork!!! So much Paperwork!!!! And only being able to mark students on skills rather than efforts. (Canada, Music, 3-5 years)

Cutbacks and the lack of jobs are a major stressor right now. (Canada, Junior High, 5-10 years)

Paperwork – attendance , exam exemptions , documenting parent contact , adaptations; pseudo-parenting- responsibility, independence, career planning, social skills, gender sexuality issues, cyber bullying, mental health. (Canada, High School, 5-10)

Education is subject to an impossible standard: that all students will achieve standardized excellence. Anything short of this goal is failure, despite the reality that not every human being has the same academic capacity. Students should be held to improve relative to their own abilities. This is not how the system is measured, and thus, we can never met the impossible expectations placed on the system. The apparent lack of support from increasing numbers of parents/families amplifies this. (Canada, Late Elementary, 15-20 years)

Teachers are being passed the buck to raise children, educate them, treat mental health, solve behavior problems, manage their exercise and food intake, and most recently prevent them from joining ISIS ( yeah, couldn’t believe that one either). (Canada, Early Elementary, 5-10 years)

We are expected to be a jack of all trades. Teacher demands are increasing, curriculum is changing constantly, lack of funds mean we pour our own into our classroom, and we get little thanks from the parent. Parents seem to lack responsibility for student success…students have more rights and fewer consequences for inappropriate behaviour. (Canada, Early Elementary, 15-20 years)

I don’t feel stressed

There were a few teachers (8%) who picked “I don’t feel stressed” as their number one answer. We need to find these people and figure out how they did it. One of these respondents said:

I really don’t feel stressed – only at particular times of the year when there is time pressure. e.g. Report card writing and parent-teacher. (Canada, Early Elementary, 20+ years)

6. Do you feel you receive enough support from other professionals at your school, such as teaching assistants, school psychologists, administrators, resource and learning centre teachers, SLPs, guidance, others? (156 answers, 16 skips)

No: 101 – 65%

Yes: 55 – 35%

7. If you feel you are lacking in support, where do you need additional support in order to better meet the needs of your students? (98 answers, 74 skips)

(Note: The responses to this questions make it clear that teachers need more – more support from all of the other professionals in the school system. Teachers are frustrated that they can’t meet the wide and varied needs of the children in their classroom and they are looking for help. It is generally acknowledged that there just aren’t enough staff to provide the supports needed.)survey pic #3

The support we require as teachers must come from outside of the school through a recognition that we cannot be all things to all people. Realistic expectations of the role of the teacher, coupled with a stand on our behalf by those at the board and department level. (Canada, Late Elementary, 10-15 years)

More mental health support, more EPAs in schools, more learning centre teachers, resource, school psychologists, guidance….Teachers are doing a fine job teaching [and they could do more] if they could dedicate their days to teaching and not solving the world’s problems. (Canada, Early Elementary, 5-10 years)

Many of those people are so bogged down with paperwork that they have little to no time to actually do the job they’re supposed to be doing, which is working with students. (Canada, High School, 10-15 years)

 The other professionals can only provide the amount of help they are assigned. They try to help everyone but there are not enough of them. We need many more TAs, more resource teachers and in most schools there are NO Guidance counsellors, which are  desperately needed. (Canada, Early Elementary)

More planning time with other teachers. (Canada, Junior High, 5-10 years)

Someone needs to make administration accountable! Right now they are not proactive at all, the students and parents are running the school and there is no one to tell or no one that steps in to see how principals are doing. (Canada, Junior High, 10-15 years)

The school psychologists are so overworked that they hardly have a second to breathe. The admin are so busy putting out fires and pleasing parents that they have no time to be present in our rooms. (Canada, Early Elementary, 3-5 years)

More – there is not enough of this support so it is spread too thin. (Canada, Early Elementary, 10-15 years)

I believe that more supports need to be in place for students with weak reading, spelling, and comprehension skills. More supports need to be in place to assist a teacher when implementing individualized programs. I feel that the classroom teacher should be instrumental in providing expertise and challenge in the subject area; educational assistants or resource support should ALWAYS be available to students on individualized programs. (Canada, High School, 5-10 years)

Mental health issues. (Canada, Elementary 4-6, 10-15 years)

8. If your school is cancelled due to inclement weather, what do you think should be done? (150 answers, 22 skips)

1. Nothing should be done. Storm days are a normal part of the school experience: 105 – 70%

2. Other*: 30 – 20%

3. Teachers should prepare on-line lessons for students to complete while they are out of school: 5 – 3%

4. Teachers should prepare packages of storm lessons for students to complete at home: 4 – 3%

5. Teachers should report to school regardless of the weather, even when it is cancelled for students: 4 – 3%

6. School should never be cancelled. Parents should be given the choice to send their child to school or keep them home: 2 – 1%

*Some of the other responses are listed below:

This is a levelled question. High school students who are in semesters would benefit from online lessons or support. Elementary students are fine. They need to read more and stay off the computers. Go outside and play in the snow. (Canada, Early Elementary, 10-15 years)

I feel the need to say that I STRONGLY disagree with every listed option except “storm days are a normal part of the school experience”. (Canada, High School, 5-10 years)

I think teachers could make a reasonable effort to get to their work site; however, if the roads are dangerous then their judgment should be respected. (Canada, Early Elementary, 15-20 years)

After the second day, on-line instructions should be made available to students missing school for winter weather. I live in the South….our Snow Days are a local celebration. One play day is okay and then back to studies!!! (USA, Junior High, 20+ years)

My board remains open always. It is sometimes dangerous to travel, and yet the doors are open to students and the expectation is to get to work. (Canada, Music, 10-15 years)

Expecting all kids to work at home is not realistic. Not all homes and parents are equipped to sit down and do “schooling” with their children all day. (Canada, High School, 10-15 years)

The additional days have already been added to the school year in Nova Scotia. Because of the extension of the school year to 195 days, we already have 10 snow days built in, in addition to those that historically occurred. (Canada, Late Elementary, 10-15 years)

Teachers should make a reasonable attempt to get to their school; however, if the roads are too bad they can work from home. I live close to my school (5 mins) so I would love to be able to work in my classroom on storm days if the roads are clear enough to drive and the school is plowed out.  (Canada, Early Elementary)

We are in Canada, for crying out loud! We have had snow days since the 1800’s…why are snow days such a big issue this year? (Canada, Junior High)

9. What would you like the general public to know about you as a teacher or teachers in general? (121 answers, 51 skips)

We work hard for your kids every day. The system is not designed to “meet the needs of all kids”, yet you have to trust we are doing our damn best to try and do this as best as we can. (Canada, High School, 10-15 years)

We are personally invested in your child. We care about them and truly want what’s best for them. (USA, Early Elementary, 10-15 years)

That if you think it is such an easy job to be a teacher and that we have it so easy that you should come into a classroom for a day or for an hour for that matter and see just how easy we have it!!! I love my job and love being a teacher and wouldn’t want to do anything else but it is not an easy job. (Canada, Early Elementary, 5-10 years)

Teachers are professionals, trained in pedagogy. Just as other professionals are trained in their area of expertise. (Canada, Late Elementary, 10-15 years)

That I live this job. I never leave it in the building. I am constantly thinking of/ working on how to improve my performance to help my students succeed. (Canada, Early Elementary, 5-10 years)

We care, we work hard, we appreciate support and do our best. (Canada, Junior High, 10-15 years)

In order to initiate change in the system, you must share your thoughts and opinions. You must not, however, assume you understand the system better than those who work within the system. Do not gripe about the school system to your children- allow them to form their own opinions, not simply echo yours. Teachers are not the only educators – parents and guardians are the first and often most influential educators in a child’s life. Lastly, please read to your little ones. They need it. (Canada, High School, 5-10 years)

I am a hard-working teacher who takes time and consideration to prepare lessons and assignments to help your child. Please support me in doing this. (Canada, High School, 10-15 years)

We can care about your child and at the same time stand up for our rights. (Canada, 20+ years)

I work a minimum of seventy-five hours a week. Four snow days a year does not make me lazy. Besides, I work on those days too. (Canada, High School, 10-15 years)

 We love the kids, but we can’t be their parents or therapists. (Canada, Early Elementary, 5-10 years)

 That most teachers (not all) spend a great deal of their own time and money to help ensure that your children get the best education possible! We really do love our students, as if they were our own! When we talk about our students to other people we refer to them as ‘my kids’. We love what we do and that is why we are teachers, we are not just in this profession for the summer vacation and snow days. That is a great misconception! Your support would go a long way in boosting our morale! (Canada, Junior High, 5-10 years)

I love my students. Beyond measure. And I want my own kids to have teachers who truly love them. (Canada, Early Elementary, 3-5 years)

I am exhausted. Ask any teacher from 20 years ago and they will tell you that the profession has changed drastically. 20 yrs ago there was no inclusion, no 4-year-olds in primary, and no technology and social media. Teachers weren’t competing with iPads and video games. You were allowed to relax and have fun in the classroom. Holiday parties weren’t banned and there was not as much, if any, of this ‘ data collection’ nonsense. Teachers could teach! They weren’t meeting’ed to death! (Canada, Early Elementary, 5-10 years)

Our hours are not 9 to 3. The majority of teachers spend a couple of hours both before and after school preparing lessons, gathering materials, meeting with other staff to discuss student needs, marking, clubs and the list goes on. (Canada, Late Elementary, 10-15 years)

survey pic 110. Do you feel teachers are fairly portrayed in the media? (146 answers, 26 skips)

 No: 129 – 88%

Yes: 17 – 12%

I am so tired of my heart breaking, it’s to the point that I am almost afraid to tell people I am a teacher. The generalized assumptions about our lives and jobs are so hurtful. And so inaccurate. For example, I have children too. I have to do something with them on PD days as well! So when people take to Facebook blasting us for taking time to collaborate I want to lose my mind. In what other job do employees NOT have time to meet and discuss their work with colleagues? We are often lumped together as a bunch of selfish over-paid, under-working lazy bums who put in time to hang out on ski hills and beaches on our vacations. See us for who we really are, not a negative stereotype. (Canada, High School, 10-15 years)

We need someone to follow us around for a week and report on that. The media doesn’t talk about all of the extra things we do, they just try to create controversy. They focus on strikes and snow days. Rarely do they report on “good news” stories. (Canada, Admin/Resource, 10-15 years)

Teachers fear repercussions for speaking out. Because of this, unless other informed members of society speak out, our voices are not heard.(Canada, Elementary, 10-15 years)

Teachers are often called lazy and accused of having it easy. The media seems to show us through a lens of the public opinion that we work till 3 and have weekends long holidays March Break and summers off. No one seems to realize that we don’t just show up and follow a script. We plan everything we do, correct students work , deal with parents, organize our student things, supervise students , plan field trips, wipe noses do zippers and laces, wipe tears and cuts, help foster independence, friendship and social skills, work evenings and weekends , read professional books to improve teaching , engage in learning activities and professor all development on our own time use our money to buy things to help provide essentials for our lessons attend curriculum nights, concerts, etc. and we only get paid for 195 days. We don’t even get paid holidays like most professionals do. I am just skimming the surface of all teachers do that the media forgets. (Canada, Early Elementary, 10-15 years)

We’re a very modest lot. We do incredible, amazing things EVERY SINGLE DAY. We’re performers, counselors, mediators, models, and teachers. We don’t always flaunt our accomplishments (we often don’t have time and don’t usually feel the need). However, I don’t feel that we are negatively portrayed in the news media (social media is a whole other ballgame, though). (Canada, High School, 5-10 years)

My answer is sometimes. Some teachers are treated like royalty and can do no wrong and are rewarded with wonderful media coverage; however, equally excellent educators are often perceived to be lesser because they are less popular with parents and administrators and these teachers find that almost everything they propose is met with forceful argument and parental resistance (even if it is the same information given to students by the better received staff). These teachers often receive negative press and are seen to be hard to work with and embarrassing to the school system. (USA, Junior High, 20+ years)

Teachers are the scapegoats for all that ails the public education system. The government pushes the idea that if students aren’t performing well on standardized tests, then it must be the teachers’ fault. The general public jumps on the bandwagon with the government. Instead of complaining about trivial matters like teachers getting storm days off it would be more constructive to talk about things like how poorly funded the education system is, how many students do not receive the support they need because there aren’t enough teachers, teaching assistants, guidance counselors, etc. in the system. How about a discussion on how difficult it is for teachers to teach a class in which a quarter of the class shows up high on drugs? Or a discussion on the impact higher poverty rates are having on students’ success in school? Or a discussion on how current discipline practices in schools are simply not working for those students who repeatedly act out and negatively impact upon the learning of others? The media could highlight the real problems with the system, as well as the successes of the system, but it chooses to focus on whatever it thinks will sell newspapers, gets viewers to tune in, etc. Unfortunately those things don’t help anyone at all. (Canada, High School, 10-15 years)

The media makes me feel as though I have it “so good” that I have no right to complain. How about the day I got slapped by a student? Or the day that a student accused me of hitting them? How about the day a parent wandered into my room full of students and proceeded to berate me? Or the time a parent said (within earshot) that I was worth nothing because I was pregnant and not going to be teaching for the year? We get treated like crap, and yet since we have summers off, we’re supposed to suck it up. (Canada, Early Elementary, 3-5 years)

We are SO much more than snow days and summers off! (Canada, Early Elementary,  5-10 years)

Teachers are not portrayed fairly because they are underrepresented. Teachers do not typically represent themselves in the media and our unions and boards do a poor job, since most of those individuals spend little time in today’s classrooms, or speaking with teacher and students. (Canada, Junior High, 5-10 years)

There are bad people in any profession. Teachers are no different. By and large teachers are professionals trying to make a difference for children. The media and “edu-experts” often latch onto incorrect or exaggerated issues to sell their product, and as the old saying goes, “If it bleeds, it leads”. Sensationalism draws viewers, which sells advertising minutes, and simplistic, short news bursts are easier than thoughtful and carefully considered opinions on problems (and positives) in education. (Canada, Late Elementary, 5-10 years)

 Teachers are silenced by our collective agreements and our adherence to a professional code of conduct. We are not permitted to speak out or about our employer’s competencies if we wish to continue to teach. (Canada, High School, 5-10 years)

The media slants their stories to rile the general public. Look at all those days those teachers had off because of snow or the average teacher earns X amount and only works 10 months of the year with every weekend off, all holidays and 2 months in the summer. The media is very quick to criticize and blame, but rarely praises or apologizes when proven wrong or unfair. (Canada, Late Elementary, 20+ years)

Tired, and have frankly given up, having to justify my career choice. I still find it difficult to understand why people feel they can tell us how to do our jobs when they have never done our jobs. I am speaking about the public in general, and the self-declared experts who seek out and receive airplay. I must say at the same time that some teachers who are flippantly announcing their storm day plans which involve trips to the mall, etc. are not helping. (Canada, 20+ years)

 We are one of the only professions where it is okay, even enjoyed to bash openly. I realize that this is probably the minority, but the others who support us rarely speak out. Media outlets (CBC ,CTV) in particular seem to have a hate on for teachers. Their inability to be creative journalists, means they report on the same things year after year. Snow days are one of these tired news stories. (Canada, Early Elementary, 15-20 years)

The “media” looks for sensationalism therefore what causes the greatest outcry (just or not) is what is followed and encouraged – the needs/best interests of the students are not considered. (Canada, Late Elementary, 20+ years)

I would love for any person who loves to complain about teachers to come spend a day with a teacher so they will have an informed opinion about what we do every day. We don’t just teach reading and writing, we wear many hats throughout the day. (Canada, Late Elementary, 5-10 years)

 

The Last Word

People will always have an opinion – positive or negative. As professionals, you just need to keep doing your best, every day. (Canada, High School, 10-15 years)

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education, Rants

Getting Rid of the D (and the A,B,Cs)

In a recent article in The Atlantic, the author argues that schools should consider getting rid of the D.

“Unfortunately, when students know that Ds will earn a diploma as readily as As will, some game the system. If pride, intellectual curiosity, social pressure, and vigilant parents do not compel them to do otherwise, some students only work to avoid getting Fs. “

The basic facts surrounding this argument are true.

Some students will do the minimum to pass. Some teachers will pass students who do the bare minimum because they know they are not permitted to fail them. And some school boards will crack down on schools that have higher fail rates because they know this will affect their funding in future years.

All of that is true.

But, in my never to be humble opinion, getting rid of Ds will only result in Cs becoming the new Ds. The students who originally worked for Ds will very quickly figure out what they need to do to get the bare minimum and adjust their work accordingly.

Remember, the argument is that these kids are choosing to do the minimum, so getting rid of Ds doesn’t get to the root of the problem: disengaged students who have no personal stake in their own learning. If a student is only working so they don’t fail and does not intrinsically, deep in their own heart and soul, want to learn, then we have already failed as educators.

On the opposite side of the coin, expecting all students to be good at all things and then punishing them when they aren’t, doesn’t do anyone any good.

So what’s the answer?

What if…just a thought…we got rid of traditional “grade levels” all together?

What if, instead, we implemented multi-age classrooms where students went to class with other students of like-abilities and interests? If you are a strong math student, you are in a math class that moves at your pace. If at the same time, you struggle with writing, work at your own pace in a different class with others at your same level. If teachers are not required to differentiate their instruction for multiple ability levels within one room, there will be more time for specific, focused support and instruction and students will progress at a faster rate. Add in more industrial arts, classical arts, and physical education, so students can explore areas outside of the regular 3R’s. Teach the whole child. Help our young people understand that we are all good at some things and we all struggle with others. No shame, no guilt.

When a student graduates (some may be ready at 16, others might need to stay until they’re 20), they come out with an honest “report card” that details their strengths and challenges. By this point, they will already know what they’re good at and what they might want to pursue as a future career. Colleges and employers could read the final report and have a clear picture of the student’s abilities.

I realize this idea would require the powers-that-be to think outside the box (and the next election), so I know that it will most likely be implemented when we are all given our own unicorn to ride to school; however, doing the same thing over and over hasn’t worked yet. And getting rid of the letter D, isn’t going to change that.

unicorn

Be Brave, education, Parenting, Rants, Teacher

Let Teachers Teach

The following letter appeared in the Chronicle Herald on-line edition:

albino-moose-bIn Scott Cote’s recent letter to the editor, he says that teachers in our province “lack the intestinal fortitude to stand up for kids”. He also says that a currently employed teacher who openly comments on these issues would be as rare as an albino moose.

Well, allow me to introduce myself: I am the rare albino moose.

I would be more offended by Mr. Cote’s insulting and condescending comments if I weren’t already shell-shocked from the overwhelming amount of negative press that has been hurled at teachers like snowballs these past few months.

That said, it bothers me when Mr. Cote says, with great conviction, that teachers, such as myself, my friends, and my colleagues, lack intestinal fortitude. The teachers (and all of the other people it takes to run a school, such as administrators, school psychologists, speech pathologists, EPAs, secretaries and others) I have known and worked with over the past 20 years have more intestinal fortitude than you could ever know, Mr. Cote.

I have seen them fight battles behind the scenes that have benefitted children in their classes, their schools and their province. I have seen teachers dig deep into their intestinal fortitude to help children who are learning disabled, sick, abused, homeless, and mentally ill. I have seen teachers dig into their own pockets to buy food, supplies, and special treats for their students because if they didn’t those students would go wanting.

Teachers are well-trained professionals. They are generally not loud-mouth blowhards who run from one media outlet to the next spouting their great ideas on how to improve our “crumbling” system (usually without ever stepping foot in an actual classroom).

Instead teachers are in the classroom doing the work of educating our young people. Not just in math and English and science, but in areas as diverse as the environment to bullying to nutrition and computer programming. They are teaching children how to be kind to each other and deal with disappointment and discover their gifts. They are making sure that their students get some exercise and fresh air. For some, it might be the only fresh air and exercise they experience all day.

As a parent, Mr. Cote, what did YOU do to improve the system from the outside? Parents and other concerned individuals can do so much to help children without ever stepping into a classroom or telling a teacher what he or she should be doing.

You could start by addressing the real issue of child poverty, so we don’t have hungry, tired children in our classrooms. Push the government to address and fund youth mental health, so we don’t have mentally ill children suffering in our classrooms.

Model respect and understanding of people of other races, religions and sexual orientations.

Promote positive attitudes about school and teachers at home and in the media, so students don’t come to class with a preconceived negative notion about teachers, who they’ve been told, only work for snow days and summers off.

As a society, take some responsibility for the mental, physical, and social health of our children so that when they come to school they are ready and able to learn.

In response to your request that currently employed teachers speak out publicly against their employer or their union, I would guess that you are either being naïve or obtuse. Teachers sign contracts, like most professionals, and these contracts require them to act, well, for lack of a better word, professionally.

Teachers are not unique in this regard. Have you ever seen a linesman from the power corporation write a letter to the editor blasting his employer about a recent power outage? How about a cashier at Wal-Mart publicly trashing their manager for not having enough cash registers open on a busy Saturday?

Of course not. It’s not professional.

But don’t kid yourself. Teachers make themselves heard. They have the intestinal fortitude to put themselves out there every day for the good of their students and their communities.

And for you to state otherwise is just plain wrong.

Heather Hollis, Currently Employed Teacher and (apparently) Albino Moose

“The strongest people are not those who show strength in front of us, but those who win battles we know nothing about.” Anon.

education, Girl Shaming, Humour, Rants, School Dress Code, Teacher

Newsflash: Girls Are Not Distractions

The school dress code issue has reared its ugly head once again and everyone is acting like this is a brand-new problem.

Seriously? Every generation of adults since the beginning of time has felt that the younger generation dresses inappropriately.

Those kids are too sexual! Too sloppy! Just plain disrespectful!

(Photo: US magazine)
(Madonna – the queen of wearing underwear as outerwear. Photo: US magazine)

The problem now is that we are supposed to have evolved. As a society, we are supposed to understand that girls are not objects and boys are not weak-willed lust-machines controlled by their hormones.

We need to give our children some credit.

Saying that girls need to watch the way they dress because they could distract the boys is insulting to both boys and girls. And it’s sexist. Honestly, I spent most of my school years distracted by boys. And they weren’t scantily dressed boys. Just boys. Cute boys. Funny boys. Bad boys. It’s a wonder I graduated.

In the midst of the debate surrounding “appropriate” dress for students, we have forgotten one important factor – the students themselves.

Feeling like you belong somewhere is a basic human need. Children and teens spend most of their waking hours in school, so it makes sense that they would want to feel like they belonged to their peer group.

Quick. What’s an easy way to feel like you belong to a group?

Dress like the group.

You may not the smartest or the best athlete or the most talented musician, but when you are dressed like your peers, at least you belong to the group in one way.

Some of our dress code rules are so outdated that they were in place when I was in high school.

For example, take the finger-tip rule (please…take it.)

I did some research (ie. I went shopping at the mall) and discovered that it is damn near impossible to find shorts that meet the “fingertip rule”. Most of my shorts (and keep in mind that I am OLD) don’t meet the fingertip rule.

TAYLOR SWIFT in Short Shorts

Yes, school is for learning all about math and reading and writing, but it’s also for learning how to maneuver social situations and for figuring out where you fit in the world. Middle-school kids tend to want to blend in with each other. If you have to wear shorts that are so long your mini-van driving mom wouldn’t wear them, then you are probably not going to feel good about yourself. Unless every other girl in the school is wearing the same dowdy looking shorts, you will probably feel like you are out of the loop.

Another part of the problem is that the rules are generally not enforced equally across the board. What ends up happening instead is that some girls are targeted and told that their outfits are inappropriate, while others sashay by without nary a word said. One day, I watched as a 12-year-old girl had her skirt inspected by a teacher and the principal, in the middle of the hall during the lunch hour.

While she stood there, mortified, a half-dozen girls walked by in similar outfits and none of them were called to task for breaking the dress code. This girl just happened to have a teacher who felt that since the rule was in place, it was her job to enforce it. The girl being called out for her short skirt was also pretty. (And we all know pretty girls distract the boys…so, stop it…stop being so pretty, pretty girls.) I don’t blame her teacher. She was damned if she did and damned if she didn’t. (And don’t even get me started on the male teachers. If they say something, they can be accused of leering at the young girls and if they don’t, they are accused of ignoring the “problem”.)

Girls who develop more quickly than their peers often get dinged with the dress code, too. They may be wearing the same the shirt and skirt set as their peers and yet because they look like curvy young women, they are told their outfit is inappropriate.

I am (generally) a rule follower. If the rule of the school is that your shorts should be a certain length and your belly button shouldn’t show and your underwear should stay under your clothes, then I think the rules should be enforced  for everyone OR the rules should be changed.

In this case, the rules need to be changed.

We are trying to implement 80’s rules in the 21st century and our 21st century kids want nothing of it. They know fashion trends before they hit the newstand and they want to try them out.

Parents can decide if their child’s outfit is appropriate. And yes, some kids will rebel and change their clothes without their parents knowing. That’s part of growing up.  (True story: At my high school, there was a group of Pentecostal girls who would come to school every day in their long jean skirts and their buttoned-up blouses and immediately go into the bathroom and change into skin-tight jeans and t-shirts. Teens will rebel and the sun will set in the west.)

I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know a few things for sure:

1. As the mother of two teenage boys, I have never had one of them say, “Geez Mom, I could have made an A in math if it wasn’t for that girl in my class wearing those short shorts.” Both have managed to learn and succeed in school, despite the occasional distraction of a girl in short shorts.

2. As a teacher, I have never said to a parent, “Well, Billy would have passed if it wasn’t for that Jessica and that visible bra strap of hers. There goes his chance of getting into law school.”

3. Making girls feel ashamed of their bodies and telling them that they are “distractions” is wrong.  Let’s stop doing that, shall we?

Girls are people too logo 4

education, Humour, Pop Culture, Rants, Suburban, Teacher

Because I’m tired of businessmen telling me how to teach

Money and fame do not automatically make you brilliant and all-knowing. One would think this would go without saying. And yet… Why, as a society, are we so quick to follow the “teachings” of the rich and famous?! Take for example, the idiots people who followed the advice of former Playboy model, now-turned talk show host, Jenny McCarthy and stopped vaccinating their kids. Jenny, going on the advice of a doctor who later turned out to be a liar, said a vaccination caused her son to “catch” autism.  Amazingly, millions of people listened to her. When the doctor was later called out as being a fraud and even Jenny admitted she might have been a little bit wrong, it was too late for all of those little munchkins who missed their annual shots. jenny Now, personally, I think if you follow medical advice dished out by blondes who strip for money, then you deserve what you get. Unfortunately, these people didn’t get what they deserved…their children did.  And now we have an outbreak of measles sweeping the country. What’s next? Smallpox? Polio? (Oh crap…seriously?) But I digress. I’m so tired of people who know nothing about education telling me how I should do my job and how I should be compensated for it.  I mean, really, who knows more about educating children than somebody who has spent their life making money? Someone who probably hasn’t laid eyes on a child he isn’t related to since he went to school. (And yes, I say “he”, because it’s usually the business’men’ who feel they could save public education if people would just listen to all of the great insight and wisdom they have gained while making their money.) My humble opinion is that these businessmen want schools to pump out good little workers who will keep the economy churning. Whenever you hear one of these successful businessmen slamming education, they always finish with, “If we don’t change things now, we will never be able to compete with those Asian countries who keep beating us on the math assessments!” None of them ever says, “I hope the children in my country get a well-rounded education that prepares them to be good citizens in their families, their communities and the world.” Nope. It’s all about keeping the worker-factory churning. A few months ago, there was an interview in the Atlantic Business Magazine with John Risley, a man who made his fortune in the seafood industry. He’s obviously a brilliant businessman (he’s a self-made billionaire), but it seems his vast wealth has also made him an expert in other areas. In the article, he gave his opinions on everything from politics to education. And he didn’t hold back. {We} have the worst P-12 education system in the country. That’s not subjective. We have the worst goddamn math scores in the country!”  (Uh, actually…that IS subjective. It’s the definition of subjective. You can’t call us the “worst” without presenting facts to back it up.) He goes on to talk about how education could be improved in the province, if the government would just listen to him. Another businessman with a lot of money thinks everyone should be listening to him as well.  Bill Black, who now has a regular column in the newspaper, made his fortune in the insurance industry.  And despite having no background or training whatsoever in education, he frequently takes to the pages of our local paper to talk about how the education system, and teachers in particular, are completely off track. Of course, he knows how to fix things. I think everyone is entitled to their opinion, but when it’s presented as expert advice, that’s when I have a problem. I don’t tend go around shooting my mouth off about how to run an insurance company because I am not an expert on running insurance companies. So, why are these men being given mountains of white space in our local papers to talk about things they know nothing about? Just because someone is an expert in one area doesn’t given them knowledge or expertise in another.

wisconsindailyindependent
wisconsindailyindependent

The leader of this movement of businessmen who think they can fix the world is Bill Gates. I get it. He’s a genius in the field of technology and an expert in marketing and money-making. But does he have a background in education? Nope. And yet there he is, leading the way for educational reform in the United States. And things aren’t going well. I leave you with the words of the wise Barb from the Trailer Park Boys telling the dim, shirtless Randy not to interfere in matters he knows nothing about: “Randy, you know, when I want advice on cheeseburgers or not wearing a shirt, you’re the person I’ll come to.”(Season 2, Episode 7) So, fellows, if I want advice on how to catch a lobster or run an insurance company or build a multi-billion dollar empire, I’ll call you. But if I want advice on how to teach? I think I’ll put my money on teachers.

Be Brave, education, Humour, Rants, Raves

Children should memorize their times tables (and other duh! moments in teaching)

duh

The Globe and Mail’s editorial this weekend praised the governments of Ontario and Alberta for making the memorization of the multiplication tables part of the school curriculum.

And well they should.

As I have mentioned many times in this old blog of mine, I am not a fan of  “homework”; however, when I taught grades 4 and 5, I always sent the kids home with multiplication tables at the beginning of the year. I told them that if they could memorize their facts (up to 9×9) their lives would be sooooo much easier and happier that it would more than make up for the time they spent playing flash cards with mom or being quizzed by dad in the car. Once you know your multiplication facts, you know your division facts. Some kids need to spend extra time committing their addition and subtraction facts to memory (especially subtraction…this is often difficult for kids), but it’s worth it.

Students who don’t have their facts down by late elementary often struggle with all the other math concepts. You may know how to find the area of rectangle, but if you can’t multiply the two numbers that make up length by width quickly and accurately, you aren’t going to be able to solve the problem.

Once you have your basic facts locked away in the big file cabinet in your mind, you can move on to doing actual fun math things, like making graphs about who likes baseball vs. hockey (kids love that stuff) .  If you are still using your fingers to subtract seven from 15, it is going to take you a long time to figure out any multi-step math problems.

Of course I think it’s important for kids to understand what it means to multiply and divide and add and subtract. And, as teachers, we teach that. We start teaching that in pre-school and kindergarten with pictures and songs and hands on materials. Parents teach it every time they give their child an allowence or let them count the change in mom’s change purse.

But for pete’s sake.

6×7 = 42. It did when I was a kid. It did when you were a kid. It does now and it will continue to do so in the future.

No one needs to discover that or figure that out. Thank you. That’s been done. No need to reinvent the wheel.

Now…what is 8×4? 6×3? 5+2?

Go!

math 2Important exception to the rule: Everyone learns differently. With lots of practice and repetition, most kids will be able to memorize their facts. BUT some kids can’t memorize their facts due to problems with their working memory or a learning disability or the fact that they just learn differently. If you have tried and tried and tried to help your child memorize their facts but to no avail and now everyone is miserable and dissolves into tears every time the term ‘math’ is mentioned, invest in a nice slim calculator and teach your child how to work it quickly and accurately. Remediate until remediation has been proven ineffective and then compensate.

einstein

 

 

 

 

education, Humour, Teacher

Get scared, then be brave – Why teachers need to step outside their comfort zones.

Last weekend I went skiing.

ski_fall

I always have a romanticized view of what my ski day will look like. I see myself gliding down the hill, smiling as I whoosh by the other skiers. Then lounging in the lodge with a cold drink looking wind-swept, yet healthy and robust.

Instead, my ski day often looks like it did this past weekend: stand in line for rentals while people cut in line in front of me, making me irritated and annoyed before I’ve even put on my boots.

Then, wait in line for what seems like forever before getting on the chair lift to take me to the top of the mountain, which suddenly seems humongous.

I start to panic the closer to the top I get and I’m terrified to get off the chair lift for fear that my poles will get stuck or that I’ll fall on my face or god forbid, get dragged back down the hill by my belt-loops.

My fear only escalates when I realize I have to go down the hill wearing these stupid toboggans on my feet. The entire time I am skiing, I am talking to myself, “You can do it. You can do it. Not going to die today. Nope. Not today.”

I am terrified probably 90% of the day when I am skiing.

I can only liken it to giving birth – it’s a horrible,messy,  terrifying experience, only made bearable by the exhilaration you feel when you finish successfully.

But despite my fears, I keep pushing myself to do it.

Why?do-one-thing-every-day

As adults, we rarely do things of our own free will that terrify us. We work very hard to build lives that are comfortable, that allow us to do things that we are good at, and we generally avoid those things that have not proven to be our strong suits.

Kids don’t have that option in school.

They are forced to take all subjects…whether they have an aptitude for them or not.

Reading is hard for you? Oh well! You better buckle down and just do it.

Math makes you break out into a cold sweat? Too bad! Everybody has to do math. Get a move on!

I think sometimes we, as teachers, forget that it’s hard to do things that are…well…hard.

When we force ourselves to do something outside of our comfort zone, I think it gives us a little more empathy and understanding for the child who is terrified of presenting in front of the class or the teen who refuses to read aloud because it’s just too embarrassing.

One time, when I was teaching English as a Second Language to university students who were almost unilingually French, I decided to take a French course.

Now, my French is…autrocious. It really is. It’s awful. But I took the course once a week at night and then during the day, I taught my French students English.

Understandably they did not want to speak aloud because they were afraid that others would make fun of their poor English.

So, one day, I stepped outside of my English-immersion-only philosophy, and I asked the students if they would help me with the oral presentation I had to do in French that night.

They all watched as I struggled to make it through my presentation. Some of them laughed (not maliciously, they just couldn’t help it…I was that bad), most winced, and some smiled encouragingly. When I was all done, they jumped on the opportunity to help me with my grammar and pronunciation.

The mood of the class changed after that day. My students saw that it was OK to make mistakes. They saw that I wasn’t perfect and that I certainly didn’t expect them to be either.

If we want our students to take risks, then we need to be prepared to do so ourselves.

So, take a Spanish class, ski down a hill, jump of a cliff (into the water, of course…don’t be an idiot). Take a chance. Risk looking silly.

Remember what it feels like to be scared

and then

be

brave.