Veteran teacher gives an eye-opening history of her 35 years in teaching

This is an amazing post on dailykos.com  by a veteran teacher who gives the reader an eye-opening history of her 35 years in teaching. She writes about the many cutbacks, additional responsibilities piled on her, and monetary losses she has incurred as a public school teacher. Most people don’t realize the sacrifices that teachers make. They don’t hear the stories like this one that tell what truly goes on behind the scenes in public education and the sacrifices teachers make to do what they love.

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by thalli1 

I’ve always been a teacher.  Even before I received my teaching credentials 34 years ago, I was the one who Mr. Wells asked to help Kim Hull learn how to do his story problems.  I always knew I’d become a real teacher some day because Kim told me I was the first one who ever  explained it to him in a way he could actually understand.  
    Now, I wasn’t ever one of “those who can’t, who teach,” and I always knew it.  My high-school guidance counselors had advised me not to go into education because I would be “wasting my brain.”  They suggested that due to my 98th percentile math scores, I should go into engineering.  But I was undaunted, because I knew that in reality I already was a teacher.  I just needed to go to school to get a piece of paper to make it official so I could get paid for it.  I was very clearly told that I wasn’t making the best financial choice that I could, but that didn’t matter in the least—I was out to change the world—one student at a time.
    I finished college in three years, and began teaching third grade in 1976 at the age of 21, and I’ve never looked back.  I found what all who become teachers know, that being a teacher is so much more than a job.  It’s always been my passion, my mission, even my identity.
    Being a great teacher came naturally to me.  Now that doesn’t mean it’s ever been an easy job.  I’ve always found it exhausting, challenging, frustrating, and very rewarding—in other words, a perfect job for somebody who needs their brain to be challenged in ways they could never imagine.  I went from being able to focus on only one or two things at a time, to being able to easily manage twenty or thirty on-going projects or ideas.  Over the years I’ve improved my creativity, flexibility, problem solving skills, and sense of humor.
    I’ve taught grades three through six, and felt very lucky that I never felt I was in a rut. I knew people who got burned out, but it honestly never happened to me.  I knew I was very blessed to find the perfect occupation.  I’ve changed how I do things in my classroom many times, incorporating new ideas, trying new things, always learning, always changing, and loving every minute of it.  I’ve always been told in every way that I’m a great teacher, but I honestly didn’t need to be told, because I could feel it. That is, until recently.
 

           Things started to change in education in Oregon about ten or fifteen years ago with a number of tax measures that created huge budget cuts.  I noticed programs such a band, art, and drug-abuse prevention being cut for lack of funds along with enrichment programs, swimming class, and all kinds of little things that we used to offer that could no longer be afforded.  Class sizes began to grow, and my class size averages went from the low to high twenties and then eventually into the thirties.
    All these things were sad and annoying, but they didn’t change how I felt about my job in the least.  I just worked harder to make my lessons even more creative, and added in as much enrichment as I possibly could on my own to make up for the cuts.  I spent thousands of dollars out of my own pocket to buy materials my school could no longer afford to buy.  I wasn’t about to let a little thing like budget cuts stop me from my mission.  The first time we cut school days in Oregon, and I had to take a several thousand dollar pay cut in the middle of a school year, it was a definite setback, but I never really thought it would become the norm.
    As my class sizes increased, so did the needs of my students.  Normally when I would teach something, I would have a handful of students who didn’t get it.  I rarely had kids I couldn’t get to make progress.  But as the classes got bigger, that began to change.  More students with special needs were being mainstreamed into my classroom.  I was getting kids in class who had been in America less than six months who spoke no English, with very little help or support.  I crazily began to take all kinds of classes, do research on how to reach kids with autism, ADD, emotional disturbances, limited English proficiency—you name it, I studied the best ways to overcome disadvantages.  I’ve always had a never-say-die attitude, so I worked my butt off to reach everyone in this increasingly diverse classroom with fewer and fewer resources.
    I also began to notice that lots of things that never had been my job before were suddenly added to my list of responsibilities.  A silly example, but very time consuming, was janitorial work.  Due to limited resources and constant budget cuts, I now had to devote my time to things like cleaning my own classroom, doing clerical work that used to be done for me by the front office, planning my curriculum instead of just my lessons, so many things I began to have trouble keeping up.  One year I started a list I called “Jobs Other People Gave Me,” but after adding 57 things to my list in less than a single year, I decided that it wasn’t really healthy for me to continue the list.
    Now mind you, that through all of this I still actually loved closing my door and teaching.  I continued telling myself that I had wanted a challenge, although at times I privately admitted to myself that maybe I would have liked a little less of a challenge.  But I still loved my job, I still got glowing reports from principals, parents, and especially kids.  That was what sustained me as things began to change.
    When No Child Left Behind came into effect, it didn’t affect me that much at first.  My class averages were always above where they needed to be, and I was still having good results, so I didn’t really worry about it much.  Philosophically, I knew I didn’t agree with focusing so much on test scores, but I could still keep my students’ scores where they needed to be by focusing on what my experience as a teacher had taught me was best.  I pretty much just worked on reaching each kid, pushing, encouraging, helping, inspiring, prodding, and let the test scores take care of themselves. I believed that great teaching overcame the over-emphasis on test scores, so I concentrated on great teaching instead.
    One thing that did bother me during that time was that it became acceptable to bash teachers, schools, and education in the media.  I wasn’t hearing it personally, but I didn’t like the way people were so ready to berate my passion.  Maybe because I was hearing good things on a personal level, I didn’t worry too much about it.  I just closed my door and taught my kids.
    Then the past few years a few of the buildings in our district didn’t meet their AYP (adequate yearly progress.)  The district began to look for ways to help these building to succeed.  The focus on test scores escalated to a crazy level.  The teachers in one of the elementary buildings in my district were told they could no longer teach anything besides reading, math, and science because those were the subjects that were tested.  Our building wasn’t ever told that specifically, but it was understood that we were to focus on practices that would improve our students’ test-taking skills.
    The district decided to implement required core instructional materials that were mandated to everyone.  Suddenly, the creativity of the job was being removed.  They wanted everybody to teach the same materials, the same way.  I’ve never been one to buck the system, so I began to wrack my brain for how to use these new materials and still keep the lessons interesting for my students.  
    At the same time, class sizes and special needs were growing.  The behavior classroom was closed and its students were mainstreamed into the regular classroom.  I tried to become an expert on dealing with anger issues.  I tried to learn how to help fifth graders with severe disabilities, limited mobility, and cognitive levels of very young children, all in my regular classroom now filled with 30-35 students.  My job became an even greater challenge than it had always been before, but still my attitude was to think “bring it on!”  I just couldn’t fathom the idea that my natural teaching ability wasn’t exactly what was needed to solve any and all challenges that came my way.
    Never once in the past 34 years of teaching did I ever want to quit.  I even told my husband that if we won the lottery, I’d keep teaching.  My students would just have all their own computers, art supplies galore, and any book we wanted to read as a class.
    So now I’m into my 35th year of teaching.  Last July my district had offered a $20,000 bonus to any teacher who could retire, in order to save money.  It struck me as odd that they’d want to get rid of experienced teachers.  I didn’t take it because I felt I’m not ready to retire.  It’s been such a big part of me forever, and I’m not ready to give it up yet.  Besides I’m only 55, and even though I’ve been teaching so long, I’m just barely old enough to retire.
            But then one Thursday, on the eighth day of my 35th year of teaching, I suddenly thought for the very first time ever, “I don’t want to be a teacher anymore.”  It’s so weird how it just came over me like that.  I don’t know if it’s like the challenges in Survivor where they keep adding water until the bucket finally tips over and the slow leak of problems finally made my bucket tip over.  Or maybe this is how it happens for all older teachers.  
    It wasn’t a single thing that gave me this feeling.  I’m hoping it doesn’t last.  Maybe it was the severely autistic boy who showed up at my door the first day with no notice, but I don’t really think so.  Maybe it was the rigid schedule the principal passed out for everybody to be doing the same subject at the same time of day, or the new basal reader we have to use that we aren’t allowed to call a basal reader.  Maybe it’s the look in my student’s eyes when we’re reading the newly required dry textbook when I’m used to wild and crazy discussions about amazing novels.  
Maybe it’s that for the first time, our school didn’t meet AYP because two few English Language Developing students in the entire school didn’t pass their reading benchmarks.  
             When I heard this, I instantly thought of the two English Language Learners in my class who hadn’t passed their reading tests last year and how unfair I thought it was that they even counted on our test scores when they came to our school in January and were absent at least twice a week from that point on.  I was wondering how I could possibly have gotten them to benchmark level in three days a week for three months. I was thinking how if only those two students hadn’t counted on our scores, we would’ve met AYP as a school.  When I mentioned it to my principal, she just said there are no excuses.  We aren’t allowed to have any excuses.  We have to get kids to the level they need to be no matter what the circumstances.  I thought of the little boy I had with an IQ of 87 who could barely read.  I thought of the little girl in a wheelchair who’d had 23 operations on tumors on her body in her eleven years, and the girl who moved from Mexico straight into my class and learned to speak English before my eyes, but couldn’t pass the state test.  Somehow it doesn’t feel like making excuses to acknowledge that they had good reason not to pass their benchmarks.
            Maybe it was the e-mail I got saying that the department of education in Oregon has raised the cut scores again this year by six or seven points per grade level, even though they just raised them a couple of years ago.  I found out that if they would have used these new cut scores last year, over half of the students in grades 3-8 who passed their benchmarks wouldn’t have passed.  That led to a realization that as a school we have very little chance of meeting our adequate yearly progress this year, but of course I’m not allowed to say that because there are no excuses. It’s hard not to feel discouraged.
            Maybe it was one of the two parents who contacted me in the first few days of school to tell me that their child doesn’t particularly love my program this year.   I’m so not used to that.  I’ve always had kids achieving highly and loving my class.  I’m just not sure how I can use the mandated materials in the required time periods, focusing on the required skills and still get kids to really love it.
            Maybe it’s the fact that I lost a third of my retirement when they reformed our Public Employee Retirement System a few years back and now I keep reading about how they want to slash it even more because of the greedy teacher unions and how this is the main reason for the budget problems in our state.
Maybe it’s that I haven’t gotten a real raise in a really really long time, or that we had to cut eight days again this year to solve our state’s budget problems.  So I’m taking a big hit again, and nobody seems to notice or care.
            Anyway, whatever the reason, for the first time in 34 years it hit me, I don’t want to be a teacher any more.  I want to sit on a rocking chair on my porch and drink tea instead.  Maybe if they offer $20,000 for me to retire next year, I’ll take it.  It’s so weird because never in my wildest imagination did I think I’d feel this way. I wonder if I’ll still feel this way when I close my classroom door tomorrow.  I sure hope not because it makes me really sad.

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Interested in donating supplies to #wiunion protesters?

Here’s a comment I found on Huffington Post that asks for help with supplies at the protests in Wisconsin. Thought I’d post it here in case anyone wants to help out…
Totto (9:48 AM)
Please help out: http://www­­.defendwi­s­consin.o­rg­/2011/0­2/2­4/loca­l-bu­sines­s-sen­d-su­pplies­/
Interested in donating supplies? Send supplies to room 300NE. We especially need:

* Tupperware (medium size)
* Serving bowls and serving spoons
* Disposable bowls, plates, and cups
* Hand sanitizer
* Sleeping mats
* Gas-X
* Daytime cold medicine

Food and Beverage

* Fresh Vegetables (we love variety!)
* Fresh Fruits (Bananas, apples, oranges…an­­d after variety, we love even more variety!)
* Pop (regular, caffeinate­­d and caffeine free)
* Fruit Juice (no red juices)
* Rice Milk /Soy Milk / Almond Milk
* Sugar (packets)
* Granola bars
* Emergen-C

If you do not have time to bring these items to the Capitol directly, the following businesses are willing to make deliveries to us:

Grocery:

* Centre Market, 608-255-26­­16
* Willy St. Co-op, 608-251-67­­76
* Regent Market Co-op, 608-233-43­­29

Food and Beverage

* EVP Coffee, 608-294-68­­68
* Indie Coffee, 608-259-96­­21
* Just Coffee, 608-204-90­­11
* Mermaid Coffee, 608-249-97­­19
* Mother Fool’s Coffeehous­­e, 608-259-13­­01
* Nature’s Bakery, 608-257-36­­49
* Ian’s Pizza, 608-257-92­­48
* Silver Mine Subs, 608-286-10­­00
* Steep N Brew, 608-256-29­­02
* Straight To Your Door (coupon: killthebil­­l)
* Undergroun­­d Kitchen, 608-514-15­­16
* Community Pharmacy, 608-251-32­­42”

“Hubris” -the likely downfall of Gov. Walker?

Marc Seals. a former public school teacher and current WI college professor, wrote this next piece.  So much of what he wrote expresses the true realities of what is going on…a great read!

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Here is an op-ed piece that I wrote that the paper would not run (because of length)….  Share or repost at will, but I ask that my name remains as author. – Marc Seals

After nearly two decades of being a Republican, I must face the reality that my party has abandoned me.

In the early 1990s, I became a registered Republican.  I was a public school English teacher in Georgia who felt betrayed by the leftward shift of the Democratic Party; it seemed that there was no longer room for moderate or conservative Democrats.  I took call for the Republican Party to be a “big tent” at face value and jumped ship.

I was strongly opposed to the idea of teachers being unionized.  Unions were for blue-collar workers, I thought.  Unions create an antagonistic relationship between employees and management, I thought.  In fact, I was the campus representative for two non-union teachers associations– the Professional Association of Georgia Educators and the Professional Educators’ Network (in Florida).  These organization existed to provide an alternative to the teachers’ unions; even so, I never heard anyone within those organizations say that the unions did not have a fundamental right to exist.

Even when I returned to graduate school, I stuck by my conservative principles.  This was rather lonely at times, I will confess, but I believe that education should not be a partisan issue.  I have never voted straight party line, because I agree with the Clinton-era Republican mantra that “character counts.”  Nevertheless, I have voted for far more Republicans than Democrats over the last two decades. 

I finally earned my PhD in 2004 (after ten years of college), and I moved to Wisconsin to take a position on the faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Baraboo/Sauk County.  The pay here was quite a bit lower than in other Midwestern states, but the benefits package helped make up for that.  We were paid less because the benefits were more generous.  I fell in love with Wisconsin and the Baraboo community.  I have become a die-hard Packers fan.  I root for the Badgers (unless they are playing my alma mater).  I have endured the coldest weather in decades (2006) and the snowiest winter on record (2007) with my smile intact.  In short, I have made this my home.

Every year that I have lived here, we have not received even a cost of living increase; we accepted this because we were told that it was the only way that we could keep our benefits package.  When the economy sunk into recession, we had a legislatively approved raise taken away and replaced by furloughs that amounted to a 3% cut in pay.   We have endured this pay cut for each of the last two years.  When people ask what I make as a professor, I ask them what they think I make– they usually guess a sum that is at least twice my salary.  In addition, we accepted larger class sizes (and thus a larger grading burden) to help the state balance the budget.

Now the governor says that it is time that state employees pay their share.  After years of flat salaries and even pay cuts, to hear that we have not sacrificed is insulting and disingenuous.  I teach 100 students a semester in classes in American literature, film, and composition.  I am the faculty sponsor of the Navigators Christian Fellowship, the faculty sponsor of the UW-BSC Disc Golf Club, and the Director of the Honors Program.  I work about sixty hours a week (because that is how long it takes to do my job well).  In short, I work hard and (I think) do a good job (as may be evidenced by the fact that three times in four years, the students have selected me as “faculty member of the year”). 

The so-called Budget Repair Bill will represent a reduction in my take-home pay of somewhere between 8 and 13 percent, depending upon whose figures you believe.  A cut like this will be devastating to my family.  I fear that we will need to sell our home.  We may even need to seek employment elsewhere.  This prospect would break my heart, because I really do love it here.  Governor Walker has said that we are the “haves.”  A comment to a recent Baraboo News Republic letter to the editor suggested that all the professors drove Jaguars and Mercedes.  No one on our campus drives anything like that.  (I, for the record, drive a 2003 Honda with a check-engine light that has been on for six years, a broken door lock, and a malfunctioning interior light.) 

Even so, I find it most distressing that the bill takes away the right of workers to have collective bargaining.  Wisconsin was the pioneer of workers’ rights 75 years ago; it is disheartening to watch this reversed.  The United Nations’ “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” (to which the United States is a signatory)  asserts “that recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”; this declaration lists as one of its articles “Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his [or her] interests.”  The faculty at UW-BSC are not unionized.  In fact, very few of the 26 institutions within the University of Wisconsin system have voted to unionize.  This may very well be because we wanted to avoid an antagonistic stance toward administration and the legislature.  That antagonism is, sadly, now a foregone conclusion. 

I will not revisit in any detail the arguments that show the absurdity of Governor Walker’s arguments.  It has been well-documented that Governor Walker is misrepresenting the fiscal crisis for political gain; regardless, he has clearly overplayed his hand.  A poll released this week shows that the majority of Wisconsinites agree.  Governor Walker does not seem concerned, insisting that he is backed by a “quiet majority.”  If he valued education enough to listen, I could teach him about the Greek concept of hubris—excessive pride or self-confidence to the point of dismissive arrogance.  Hubris was the downfall of many Greek heroes, and it will likely prove to be Governor Walker’s downfall as well. 

The recording of the prank phone call released Wednesday demonstrates that the governor is willing to engage in dirty political tricks, duping Democratic senators into returning to Madison.  Even more damaging was the confession that he considered planting troublemakers in amongst the peaceful demonstrators.  Finally, he agreed to accept an illegal trip to California.  If this administration is what the Republican Party has become, then I must wonder where that leaves me.  I know where it leaves Walker– poised to hand the state back to the Democrats in the next election cycle and become a footnote in state history.

Personally, I pray that Governor Walker listens to the voters and sits down with the opposition to negotiate.  Regardless, I want him to know one thing—I want my party back.

Here’s a troubling email I received today from the anti-union, League of American Voters…

Thought I’d share with you an email I received today from The League of American Voters who claims there were “threats of violence from union thugs.”  In this email, employee organizations were called, “bloated unions” that are gouging the taxpayers and need to give up their outrageous pay demands, lavish benefits and fat pensions.

As a teacher with a Master’s degree and 10 years of experience, I make about $44,000.00 a year. Is that now considered “outrageous pay” in America? Under my health plan with the school district, it would cost me over $1000.00 a month to insure my 3 children. Many union teachers end up having to buy subpar health plans for their children because they cannot afford their own health provider’s family plans. Some teachers just don’t insure their kids because they simply cannot afford to.  Are these the “lavish benefits” that The League of American Voters is complaining about?

As for my pension, by the time I retire, I will probably make between $15,000 – $20,000 a year.  Is this the “fat pension” that The League of Voters feels is too much for a highly educated person who has worked hard (often times, in fear) for 25-30 years in below standard working conditions earning lower pay compared to equally educated professionals in the private sector?

When I signed up to teach, I was under the impression that my pension was in the form of deferred pay, which I agreed to sign on to because I wanted to secure my future when I retired. I also accepted lower pay than what I would have made in the private sector.  There was a trade off made. Now, Gov. Walker and his posse want to renege on that and paint me as greedy.

I sure hope the American people wake up to what’s really going on.

Here is the email I received….

From: League of American Voters

Dear Reader,

Bill O’Reilly was absolutely right last night.

As he said on his Fox News show the other night, the Democrats know that if they lose in Wisconsin and that if Gov. Scott Walker wins, it means that all across the country the public employee unions will finally have to give up their outrageous pay demands, lavish benefits and fat pensions.

And, as Bill O’Reilly said, this will be bad news for the Democratic party which depends on these unions.

Worse, he said, it is bad news for President Obama and his 2012 election plans, because he desperately needs these liberal unions to win re-election.

This is why team Obama continues to throw everything but the kitchen sink at Governor Scott Walker.

This is why the work of the League of American Voters campaign to support Gov. Scott Walker is critical.

Despite raging protests and even threats of violence by union thugs, Governor Scott Walker is standing firm.

But already there are demands by some that he “cave”.

Frankly, according to my sources in Wisconsin, the pressure on Gov. Walker and the legislature is extraordinary.

You have to remember, this is not a local Wisconsin fight. It’s a national one.

That’s why Obama has brought to Wisconsin the full weight of every radical activist group in America.

That’s why the Obama allied unions are pouring millions into TV and radio ads in Wisconsin.

He’s dispatched his allies from the Democrat National Committee, Norman Lear’s leftwing People for the American Way, and even Obama’s own group “Organizing for America.”;

Another Obama crony liberal group, Moveon.org is mobilizing an “emergency call for rallies in every state capital this Saturday… demand that the rich and powerful pay their fair share.”

Governor Scott Walker needs every single ounce of our support. We can’t leave him alone in the arena to fight. You and the League must join him.

We urgently need help for our radio ad blitz to support Gov. Walker – PLEASE GO HERE NOW

This is why the League of American Voters is urgently launching a national effort to help Gov. Walker and to stop these bloated unions.

The League has prepared a powerful new radio ad to air throughout Wisconsin in support of Gov. Walker.

With your help we plan on exposing the Obama-Labor machine in ads across the nation.

The League of American Voters is at the forefront of the battle in Wisconsin defending Scott Walker.

Dick Morris, the famous Fox News analyst, says “The League is the most effective grassroots organization in America.” Dick credits the League for having stopped Obama’s “public option” healthcare takeover. The public option would have destroyed private health insurance, and we stopped them.

The League also led the fight to force Pres. Obama to renew the Bush tax cuts. Our national TV effort with Sen. Fred Thompson worked. Obama caved.

Now, the League has prepared a powerful new radio ad to air throughout Wisconsin in support of Gov. Walker.

With your help we plan on exposing the Obama-Labor machine in ads across the nation.

Our ad encourages Gov. Walker to stay strong and exposes how public employee unions are gouging the taxpayers.

We urgently need you to help the League in the vital effort to support Gov. Walker and expose the unions – Go Here Now

Help the League to end Big Labor’s ability to hold taxpayers, school students, and emergency services hostage to the lavish demands of public unions.

Governor Walker is under intense pressure. Team Obama wants to break him.

One Congressman who backs Obama even suggested violence is OK: “Every once and awhile you need to get out on the streets and get a little bloody when necessary.”

This is disgusting and this Congressman ought to be held accountable!

But it underscores the truth, Obama and his public union cronies are desperate.

They’ll do whatever it takes to keep power.

That’s why Obama says “Punish our enemies… Reward our friends”

But together, you and I can help Scott Walker do what’s right for Wisconsin — what’s right for America.

Help the League to support Gov. Scott Walker. Go Here Now

Yours for Freedom,

Bob Adams
Executive Director

P.S. -Moveon.org is organizing an “emergency rally” in all fifty states for Saturday. Millions of dollars from far left groups are pouring into Wisconsin. The League of American Voters urgently needs your help. Dick Morris, the famous TV analyst, says “The League is the most effective grassroots organization in America.” We stopped Obama’s “public option”healthcare takeover. We forced Obama to continue the Bush tax cuts. And we can save Gov. Scott Walker. But we need YOUR HELP today. Time is critical. Please DONATE HERE NOW.

Why I LOVE Public Education

Four days before Valentines Day, I witnessed a wonderful example of community, learning and joy all rolled up into one heart-warming event.  I had the joy of watching my child and her teammates compete in a color guard competition with other local high school teams.  The competition took place in a packed auditorium of kids, teachers, and families and was an absolute pleasure to watch…so full of life and creativity.  The high school teams, made up of kids from many backgrounds, all beautifully demonstrated what they had put their heart and souls into and worked hard together to develop. Their “end product” was a culmination of sweat, tears, creativity, knowledge, a few bruises, and individual expression that showed their families and community what they had created and learned together. It was a really great scene to watch unfold and it reminded me of why I love public education.  I love the learning, the community, the contributions of the children, parents, and educators -everything that goes into passing the baton of knowledge and bringing up our next generation of citizens.
 
Witnessing that community event made me realize how important it is to give our kids a well-rounded education.  My daughter has blossomed through her participation in the arts.  My 14 year old son has turned into a passionate lover of all things sports and weight training, and is now taking more interest in health and nutrition.  My oldest daughter loves that she can express herself through technology, photography and art.  All of these interests were sparked at school where they have had many learning opportunities to choose from when signing up for classes and after-school activities and clubs. Their interests have spilled over into their learning of other subjects like, Language Arts, Science and History, where their teachers often give them opportunities to complete projects using their own talents, rather than just typing up a typical research paper.  I am thankful that the public education system where we live offers kids so many opportunities to learn. Without the opportunity to develop and use one’s talents, I know that my kids would have a more limited view of their world and not be exposed to a variety of activities (that I could not offer them without the help of public schools) in which to experiment, grow, and learn.
 
In the auditorium at the color guard competition, students had created and displayed numerous huge pink and and white hearts, in honor of Valentine’s Day, that showed their “love” and support of their teams.  During intermission, we witnessed a little 4 year-old go out onto the floor by himself, holding a mini-flag, and attempt to copy what he saw the color guard teams do with their various spins, jumps and tumbling. The crowd went wild when they saw that little guy express himself and pretend he was a color guard, just like the big kids were.  He waved his flag, did many somersaults, and spun around and around.  The audience was captivated to see such an innocent little one, unaware of people watching him, so full of expression and joy.  He had learned something and he couldn’t wait to try it out.  After several minutes of copying the big kids, he decided he would return back to the bleachers where his parents were sitting. The audience roared with delight and clapped their hands in appreciation.  I just sat there teary-eyed, yet thankful that we had witnessed what education often does – brings people together in unity to transfer and discover knowledge, nurture and hold up our children, and create a joy for learning and community. 
 
On this Valentines Day,  I wish to express my love for public education and the communities that are brought together through its purpose. American public schools are a central part of many communities and an “epicenter” where dreams, ideas and aspirations incubate and develop. As a parent and a public school teacher, I am glad to be a part of the process, and I hold our public schools in high regard…a national treasure to be protected and supported by all.

Great story from a retired teacher & mother who raised a very innovative son…

Below is a comment by a retired teacher/mother who responded to Diane Ravitch’s piece, The President’s Speech,  in Ed Week. It’s a testimony as to why America has done so well in innovation, and that the current ed reform push is a major threat to our creativity. If this woman’s son, Michael, had been educated in today’s NCLB/RTTT era, would he have been as innovative?  Makes me wonder how many “Michaels” we will lose to this new ed reform push that rewards rote memorization and test taking “effectiveness”, while suffocating creativity and exploration.  

1:04 PM on February 1, 2011

I’d like to know how many of our great American innovators are like my older son Michael.

When Michael was five years old, he had a little friend from Japan. The Japanese child seemed miles ahead of my son in academics as he could read and write fluently even though he was only in kindergarten. All Michael wanted to do was play and soon the Japanese child tired of him. My husband and I became concerned and attempted to get our “baby” caught up. I hurried to Teachers Supplies to buy workbooks. But Michael pleaded with me, “Please Mommy, I just want to play.” We quickly gave in.

So Michael played throughout his childhood. He “played ” mostly with construction toys, computers, telescopes and ham radio. He enjoyed summer science workshops at the museum, which were strictly hands-on. Both his school grades and test scores were mediocre.

Things began to change during Michael’s senior year in high school, but by then it was too late for him to be admitted to a first-tier university (or any university for that matter). Instead he went to the local community college where he enrolled in science and math classes. The first sign that I got that my son’s academic life had changed was when he came home with an A in “Differential Equations.”

“Gosh, these junior colleges really ARE easy,” I commented to my husband when I saw all the A’s.

“You don’t get an A in Differential Equations unless you know what you’re doing” responded my husband, who knew what it was.

From that point on, Michael received all A’s and was admitted to the University of California. He was awarded a full fellowship to Stanford University where he earned a Ph.D. in electrical engineering. Today he is the “principal scientist” for a company that develops protective devices for our servicemen. My son has a number of patents for his inventions.

Just last year I asked my son why he never liked school before college and here are his exact words: “It was all about rote and that’s not my strength.”

Indeed. Is my son unusual or are there many Americans with similar school stories?

I wrote to Professor Zhao a few years ago and he responded that he intended to raise his children the American way; the way that has afforded us the number one spot in the world in terms of creativity and innovation. Let’s all hope we aren’t in the process of destroying it at this time. We’ll have to depend on the wisdom of parents like Tgoble to let the school know how they feel. Only parents can really put a stop to all the testing madness.

Linda/RetiredTeacher

America’s “Vaporeducation”

When I think about all of the hype going on in education, I often connect it to the time I worked in sales and marketing in the business software-systems industry.  To compete in that industry, I quickly learned that the name of the game was about how a business portrayed itself in the marketplace.  So, often times, the company who had the slickest marketing, sales and PR machines in place were able to position themselves as the “biggest gun” worthy of the millions of dollars in contracts.  My job was to help my clients reach the decision makers who controlled the million-dollar budgets and who had a problem that they needed to solve.  All I had to do was find out who the decision makers were, what the problem was, how much budget was available, and then turn the potential client over to the sales rep for a meeting.  This process is one that happens in business, everyday. Problems are defined, meetings are set up, and business deals are made. 

In the industry that I worked in, sometimes the business deals that were set up were not made with the most honest or truthful intentions. In fact, it was well known in those “circles” that many heavy-hitter sales pros landed their companies millions of dollars in sales for software that their companies hadn’t even made yet.  A really great “super-star sales rep” could sell anything, even if it didn’t exist. In those sales and marketing circles, when a person sold software solutions that didn’t exist, it was called “vaporware”, and many companies hocked their software made of vapor to keep their competitors at bay and to ensure their foothold in the marketplace.  All that the unsuspecting customer had to know was that their existing software problem would be fixed and that systems-expert consultants would work side-by-side with them to solve their complex problems. It was quite a game that created a heavy burden for the unsuspecting company who needed its software problem solved quickly in order to streamline efficiencies and get product out the door.  Vaporware became a bragging point for some of these super-star sales reps. They were proud that they could sell anyone on anything, and much damage and frustration came out of those deals. There were many businesses negatively impacted by the lies that were sold. Eventually, I found that industry to be a hollow, cutthroat way to make a living and I didn’t want to be around it anymore. A few years later, I decided that chasing money didn’t make me happy and I made the jump into teaching, where hopefully, I could be a part of shaping and molding our world into a less selfish, money-making, cutthroat society.

Once I left the software industry behind to become a teacher, I didn’t realize that I was entering an industry somewhat similar to the one I had just worked in. When I first started out, I didn’t view education as a business. I didn’t think in terms of competitiveness. I just want to maximize the learning and well being of my students, and make a difference in their lives. There were elements of business that I supported being present in the education environment. Common business words like, teamwork, efficiencies, productivity, and customer service, were terms I embraced in the education arena and believed in their usefulness in helping our education system improve. However, I didn’t see a need for competitiveness within a school, and I have seen how that business concept has done more harm than good in education.

My first three years of teaching, which were in a Title I middle school in San Diego, were an eye opener for me. I saw how business infiltrates education like a seedy underbelly that secretly drives just about everything. I saw millions of dollars spent on textbooks that we were asked not to use. I saw tech purchases made without teacher input or need, and over-paid people in high positions serve as agitators to purposely prompt teacher turnover. I realized that the American education system wasn’t necessarily about truly educating our young people; it was just another arena in which to do business and rake in a lot of dough.  It was a heart-wrenching lesson to learn.

I’m now a teacher in Florida and I see the same thing happening, except this time, business has a stronghold on our education system throughout America, not just in certain school districts. Our nation’s economy has taken a hit recently, and businesses and government are scrambling to come up with ideas to create jobs, cut costs, and make money. The education industry is a prime target and has actually been so, for many years. I just didn’t realize it. I wasn’t close enough to the “circles” of decision making to realize that the name of the game isn’t truly about improving the knowledge of children; it’s more about profits, creating efficiencies at any cost, political platforms, the stroking of egos, and future workforce training. From the results we are seeing in many of our schools, we can tell that the education of our future workforce doesn’t call for many deep thinking, creative individuals – just compliant test takers who can point and click.

 I often see the learning and well being of students negatively impacted by business. There’s nothing wrong with selling a product or service that fills a need, but when I see super-star sales reps sell district decision makers and federal government figureheads on the latest solution to address a problem in education, I think back to my time in the software-systems industry and ask myself, “Ok, who’s going to profit from this?” 

The education industry is becoming no different than the software industry; it’s a place to make some lucrative deals and fluff the feathers of some super star sales people. Unfortunately, the unsuspecting stakeholders in this game who are being negatively impacted are children, their teachers, principals, parents and society. We are being sold a bill of goods, or “vaporeducation”, much akin to the vaporware sold in the software-systems industry.

The superstar sales people who are selling us on the new vaporeducation/ed reform solution are Bill Gates (who, interestingly, received a Golden Vaporware award for his “late release” of his company’s version of Windows in 1985), Eli Broad, Rupert Murdoch, and the Walton family – all folks who’ve made billions on selling things to people. Only now, they conduct their brilliant public relations and marketing tactics under the guise of “philanthropy”, which is the new way to make money while creating a favorable impression upon society. These “venture philanthropists” use their existing PR and marketing expertise to sell the public on their ed reform ideas, all the while they are setting up profit centers to bring in a lot of money and garner tax breaks. It’s all a game and the only ones who win are the business people who go after the money, while ignoring the true needs of the children who they propose to better educate. This whole ed reform push is not to better educate kids; but rather, it is “vaporeducation” (or “vapored”), which is a promise of better education. In my opinion, it’s nothing more than pure vapor.

My comment/response to post by @ValerieStrauss

Here is my comment/response to the article in the Washington Post by Valerie Strauss (When will our nation’s leaders get it through their thick heads that we have a serious poverty problem in America?)….

As our nation’s poverty level rises, so does the teacher bashing. As a teacher in the trenches of a public school in Florida, I am tired of hearing that I do not work hard or smart enough; that I’m lazy; that I’m for the “status quo”; that I’m ineffective;…and so on.

We have a problem in America and it is neglect. Pointing the finger at teachers will NOT fix the problems. As a teacher, I see hungry, tired children; children who have been traumatized, children with parents in prison, and children who are homeless or on the verge of being homeless. At my little public school, we now have over 100 kids who are homeless or “in transition”. Our kids need help: psychological, behavioral, housing, proper nutrition, jobs for their parents, etc.

Our government has demontrated its disdain for its children by ignoring the needs of the hurting child while pointing a finger at his teacher. Valerie Strauss is spot-on with this article. For those of you throwing punches, I haven’t seen you in my Title I school helping out. But, I have seen numerous teachers, staff, and principals open up their wallets to help out poor students with clothing, books, food, and other necessities. Public school educators are in the trenches everyday trying to battle the neglect…and the battle keeps getting worse. We need to address poverty issues (and all the ills that go along with it, including jobs) in this country. Quality pre-K is a definite need, but we need to start even earlier with education during pregnancy. We’ve got to slow this “Race to the Top” down and address the barriers to learning or we will continue to see our poverty levels climb to third world status.