Summative Rating: UNSAT

After one year of unsatisfactory ratings on his or her job performance, a teacher may be placed on a directed plan of improvement. If that plan is not satisfied, that teacher may be terminated and replaced with someone else who can do the job.

This is what the legislature codified into law with our new teacher evaluation model, and I’m all for it.

And the premise ought to apply to the legislature as well.

The Supreme Court put them on a plan of improvement long ago. They have failed to meet the terms of that plan.

They were granted an extended special session, during which time non-policymakers spent more time in Olympia talking ed policy than the elected officials did. Still, no performance.

In the evaluation framework that judges my work as a teacher, action…nearly any kind of action…is enough to get me rated “Basic.” To be rated “Unsatisfactory,” my performance must demonstrate “no action when action is called for.”

There is no better phrase to describe our legislature right now than that.

I’m with the Seattle Times Editorial Board. No more special sessions. No more probationary periods to turn it around. Let the Supreme Court make the decisions if the Legislature won’t.

Let’s Talk About Tax

I just spent the day at Occupy Olympia. I carpooled down with three other teachers from North Kitsap, and we joined a group of teachers from around the state.

Before I left home, I read articles about Washington’s regressive tax system from newspapers in Seattle and Everett and Spokane. The key point they all make is that the top one percent of Washington wage earners pay only 2.4% of their income in taxes. In stark contrast, the poorest residents of the state pay 16.8%.

Honestly, there is a discrepancy between wealthy and poor across the nation, and it’s time to shine a spotlight on that fact nationwide. Meanwhile, though, the discrepancy in Washington is the worst. Washington has the most regressive tax system in the entire United States. (Not only is it a regressive tax system, it is also an oppressive tax system, especially to society’s most vulnerable.)

According to the Washington Department of Revenue website, Washington makes more than half its income from sales tax of one kind or another, which makes the state income especially vulnerable to fluctuations in the market. If the economy is tight, people don’t buy as much.

Face it, our sales taxes are high. Our gas taxes are high. Our B&O taxes are high.

No wonder whenever anyone raises the idea of any new tax—income tax, anyone?—people in Washington freak out. They panic.

I totally understand. If I had to continue paying the taxes I have to pay now AND I had to pay income taxes on top of that, my husband and I couldn’t afford to live in our three bedroom two bath house with our one car and a motorcycle and no pets. (Who can afford a dog anymore???)

It’s time to get creative.

So in Olympia I looked for people to talk to. I talked to the aide for one of my representatives. I spoke with representatives from other districts.

I said we needed more revenue in order to fully fund schools. But we couldn’t just add a new tax. In our state, that’s a non-starter.

What we need is a complete tax overhaul from the ground up.

We need the legislature to come to the taxpayers and say, “Look, you will have lower sales taxes. Lower gas taxes. Lower B&O taxes. Lower taxes in general.

“At the same time we are going to implement an income tax for the most wealthy in the state.

“We are going to make taxes more equitable.

“And we will fully fund high-quality education throughout the state.”

One representative cheered. Another waved me off with “we can’t talk about that!”

One person asked how I would ever get the legislature to agree. I said it might take putting them all in seclusion—locking the doors and taking away their electronic devices until they had reached an agreement. Preferably unanimity. I said they could model the process on the US Constitutional Convention of 1787.

I also suggested watching the movie Separate But Equal to see how a sharply divided Supreme Court gradually moved to a unanimous decision on Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka in 1954.

So what happens if the legislature does it? What if they actually come up with a restructured tax plan that not only fully funds education but is equitable too?

I said obviously they would need to sell it to the public. We should go out in teams, legislators and teachers side by side, to educate and explain to the rest of the voters why this new plan makes sense.

My New Superheroes

 

Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending the first Washington Teacher’s Advisory Council (WATAC) Conference.  80 award winning teachers, principals, and classified staff attended the event.  Featured speakers included Washington State Superintendent Chris Reykdal and a panel comprised of Camille Jones, Teacher of the Year, Melanie Green, Classified Employee of the Year, Mia Williams, Principal of the Year, Noel Frame, Legislator from the 36th District, and Deb Merle, Senior Policy Advisor in the Office of the Governor.  It was an incredible opportunity to listen to a committed and passionate group of educational stakeholders who hold an encouraging vision for the future of our students.

But my biggest takeaway didn’t come from a specific message or a session.  Instead, my inspiration came from the 80 superheroes in the room. These outstanding educators gave up their weekend, set aside their papers, lesson planning, and data tracking to improve their advocacy skills.  Fellow CSTP blogger, Mark Gardner, and I led a session on how to increase your voice at the local level.  In our session we worked one on one with teachers to define, develop and practice their pitch to decision makers.  For example, one teacher felt a new intervention program targeting students with high rates of absenteeism was necessary at her school.  She worked on her pitch, mapped out her strategy, practiced her elevator speech, and worked on determining the concerns/needs of decision makers.  In another session, educators learned how to get involved in the work of the State Board of Education.  Still another session taught educators how to connect with their local legislators.  Watching these award winning teachers and classified staff working on these skills caused me such pride in my profession.  Knowing that colleagues from across our state wanted to elevate their voice in helping shape local, district, and statewide policy means that our children have champions in every corner of the Evergreen State.

All week, in honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, I’ve been shouting out on social media my student teachers, colleagues, and friends who work in education.  As I reflect on the week and the educators that have shaped my career, it’s equally important to recognize those whose work is often unseen and yet so often felt.  These superheroes advance our work in a way that creates more support and capacity for the profession.  Frankly, our schools need allies who will lift up our cause to legislators who make the decisions that directly impact our kids.  So, here’s my shout out to those teachers for taking the time to become active participants in local and state policymaking.  The rest of us are incredibly grateful.   #ThankATeacher

How to Appreciate a Teacher

For some reason, we had Teachers’ Appreciation Day last week instead of this week. More proof, apparently, that Lynnwood, Washington is ahead of the curve. It was a low-key affair, with a free lunch provided by the Parent Club and a few gifts from some of my students.

But for me, the appreciation came a week earlier. That’s when we had our district-wide STEM Expo. A STEM Expo is essentially a science fair open to fourth through twelfth graders, and it’s completely voluntary on the part of teachers and students. I decided to have my students participate, mostly because I like teaching science, technology, engineering and math.

We did a project involving angles. The students built stomp rockets and found out which angle was best in terms of sending a rocket the greatest distance. (45 degrees won in a decisive victory over 30 degrees and 60 degrees, in case you’re interested.)

The kids had fun building and flying their rockets. They also enjoyed creating their display boards, especially the group that smuggled glitter into my classroom and didn’t quite get all of it onto their project. Grr. They learned a lot about angles, predictions, writing, teamwork, and how scientists control variables during experiments.

And then came the STEM Expo. For context, you need to know that my school serves a fairly high-needs population. Our parents work hard, many in the service industries, and many in multiple jobs. They’re busy. We usually get about 30-40% turnout for evening events, including Curriculum Night. Curriculum Night, the night when you first meet the person with whom your child will spend 35 hours per week for the next ten months.

For STEM Expo, I had 24 of my 26 students show up. It was unprecedented. I put in a lot of extra effort for STEM Expo and almost every family responded by taking their kid to an evening event to share and celebrate their learning.

They didn’t do it for me, of course; they did it for their child. Nonetheless, they were supporting what I do for their kids in the classroom, so I took it personally.

I felt appreciated.

Thank a Woman of Color in Education

Note: this blog was originally posted on hope.teague.com under the title “Women of Color In Education Should Be the Norm”

Ate Josie (pronounced a-taay, meaning “big sister” in Tagalog) had a stern face. She was no-nonsense when it came to Children’s Church at TayTay New Life Christian Fellowship. It was 1987 and we were going to learn about Jesus, come hell or high water. It didn’t matter that we were sweating buckets because the ceiling fan had stopped working.

Ann Chau spent every Saturday night at Harvesters Youth Group actively listening to awkward and dramatic teenagers, her eyes simultaneously empathetic and judging. She always listened.  Trustworthy and loyal, she taught us that compassion for others was more important than popularity. She encouraged our crew of misfit, tri-culture kids from around the world. Ann made me feel valued and through our relationship I realized I wanted to do that for other teens.

Christina Tsu was my youth pastor and the “boss” of my senior year internship at a local church (I was still living in Hong Kong). She counseled me as I decided who my closest friends were and what college I would attend. It was under her leadership that I became self-disciplined, learning how to passionately serve others, and how to listen to God through prayer. She shaped my notions of self-worth and my belief in God. This is the year I realized I wanted to teach high school and not become a nurse (plus body fluids are nasty!).

These women left a fingerprint on my life. While my exposure to women of color in leadership and education roles is a little nontraditional (I didn’t attend school in the United States),  it has shaped how I viewed women in power. I grew up thinking that women of all colors could be in positions of power and authority while leading their respective communities. This was my norm.

My experience is not the case for many students of color in the United States today. There are systemic reasons for this exclusion that are embedded in our history of institutional racism. Often, educators of color serve in auxiliary roles such as paraeducators, office personnel, or career counselors.  While this is important and without a doubt these educators change lives, only 18% of certificated teachers are of color. With such a low percentage, it is likely that most students will never encounter a teacher of color in their K-12 career.

Disclaimer: I want to acknowledge that women–particularly women of color–have always been marginalized teachers in society. As mothers, grandmothers, aunties, and sisters, they instill the most important life lessons about the world in their children, grandchildren, and siblings.

Just a couple of weeks ago I lurked in the background of an #EduColor chat titled “Her Struggle, Her Power: Women of Color as Educators.” I felt this chat was one of the most important conversations I’ve joined–not because I actually had anything to say, but because I had everything to learn. A few things stood out to me:

Women in teaching deal with a lot of the same crap from a system that doesn’t value them enough. Teaching was one of the first professions open to women in a society that didn’t view us as intelligent or capable (ironic considering we’re the ones educating future generations *Kanye shrug). So now we’ve “proven” ourselves, but we’ve also proven that we will tolerate poor working conditions and mediocre compensation packages.

Women of color have it even worse than white women. In addition to being poorly paid, teachers of color aren’t treated the same way their white counterparts are. Often they are disproportionately subject to working with “hard” cases and seen only as disciplinarians rather than instructional experts. Furthermore, in addition to gender discrimination, they face straight up racism from students, parents, colleagues, and the system as a whole!

Women of color in education reach students in a way that interchangeable white ladies need to learn from. I’d argue this is probably my most important takeaway from that Twitter chat. But it’s also the most challenging. I’m still grappling with what this looks like. I don’t think this means you awkwardly pretend you understand the WOC experience or say anything weird about how their race must help them connect with all kids from ____ racial background. Maybe start by reading this article by Christina Torres Under Pressure: Being a Woman of Color in Education. Then, go read the transcript of that Twitter chat and comment here with your own reflection.

I am the white woman I am today because of women of color.

To Appreciate a Teacher…

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the cookies.

Those intricately decorated, apple-shaped cookies: I do appreciate those.

And the bacon. That pound of pepper-bacon a group of students gave me after I used a few too many example sentences including bacon in our practice with diagramming sentences.

Then there are notes: Brief or lengthy, the notes from parents, students, former students from over a decade ago whose teenaged face immediately appears the moment I see the name on the return address. Those keep me going and make me feel appreciated, for sure, and are among my most cherished items.

I’ve been lucky that those kinds of little surprises haven’t been relegated to just one week in the year when websites offer discounts or coupons and businesses encourage patrons to “thank a teacher.”

This year for Teacher Appreciation Week, what will really make teachers feel appreciated? Maybe a cookie or a pound of bacon, but most definitely a specific kind of little note will do. A phone call, maybe. A visit to an office. More specifically: notes, phone calls, emails, office visits to our legislative policymakers. That’s how teachers will feel appreciated. Call for a budget that fully funds Washington public schools, not to “throw money at the problem,” but to invest in a system that for the last forty years has been perpetually under-invested in. Call for policies that make sense for kids, parents, communities, and schools. The voices of teachers in this battle are too often discounted as shrill, complainy, or as base union thuggery. The voices of parents, students, and community members are what policymakers have a harder time ignoring.

Teachers know that we are appreciated at the immediate, local level, with our kids and parents. We are thankful for that, for sure. We love the cookies, the treats, and the notes: Those put the wind back in our sails without a doubt.

But this year, consider one phone call, one note, or one office visit to your elected officials who are struggling to get their work done. Little by little those small gestures of appreciation will add up and make a huge difference not just to “appreciate teachers,” but to transform the lives of kids.


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Things You Should Know About: The Washington Teacher Advisory Council

Back in 2008 I was honored to be a regional “Teacher of the Year” for ESD 112. I had the chance to sit in a room with “TOYs” from each ESD, and it was humbling, astonishing, and inspiring to hear all the great work we each were championing in our section of the state.

Then, after the interviews and celebrations and receptions, we sped back to our respective classrooms and put our respective noses back to our respective grindstones.

Lyon Terry, 2015 Washington State Teacher of the Year, likely had a similar experience. The difference was what he chose to do next. He saw highly accomplished educators be selected and celebrated each year, and in that he saw an opportunity: While you might teach down the hall from a TOY and never know it (we teachers are often reticent to share our accolades), titles such as “Teacher of the Year” carry potentially powerful ethos when we enter into policy conversations with non-educators.

Lyon formed WATAC, the Washington Teacher Advisory Council, aimed at pulling together the expertise and ethos of alumni regional teachers of the year. Each year, the number of regional TOYs grows by nine (one for each ESD), so though the group may be small, it is certainly mighty.

This last weekend at Cedarbrook was the 2017 WATAC Spring Conference, where alumni of the TOY program gathered to learn about policy, advocacy, and the importance of teachers telling their stories. It was a powerful and inspiring experience, and I now feel like I am part of an even deeper network of teachers likewise committed to improving public education in Washington.

A big take-away and a good reminder: Everything we do as teachers is somehow impacted by a policy that someone, somewhere has written. Whether it is law from the legislature or rules put forth by a state-level group like the Board of Ed, Standards Board, or innumerable others, people are making decisions that directly impact every move we make as a teacher. Simply put: the people making those decisions ought to be teachers themselves. That’s one mission of WATAC (and CSTP, for that matter), that teachers are not just present at the policy table, but that they are the ones whose hands, hearts, and minds are creating the policy.

For more information about WATAC, here is the website and here is the overview of the program on OSPI’s homepage.

Stepping Off the Career Ladder

Back in 2009 or so when I started writing for this site, I was what I referred to as an “untitled” teacher leader. I taught all day, didn’t hold any specific positions, yet I still saw myself as a teacher leader charged with advocating for kids, systems, and our profession. I was less than a decade into my career.

Then, in the standard “nose goes” way, I found myself with the title of Department Chair for the English Department. While not “leadership” as I envisioned it (since managing P.O.s and counting books in the book room wasn’t my vision of leadership) it served an important systemic role.

Over time, the titles started to pile on and I began to drift further and further away from the classroom. This year and last, my desk isn’t even in a school, but at central office two doors down from HR. The only time I get to teach real, live, children is when I do model lessons for my first-year-mentees or snag an unfilled sub job here or there to keep myself sane.

This spring has been one of relative upheaval at the high school level in my district. Two administrators at our large compressive high school (my former building) are moving to different roles, leaving unprecedented administrative vacancies. Both of the English teaching positions at our smaller alternative high school opened up, leaving a whole discipline unstaffed.

There is a tremendous amount of pressure on many people who find themselves with teacher leadership titles. I started feeling it a few years ago as TOSA when the social studies department started (half-) jokingly referring to me as “Junior Admin.” When I think about what has made some of the administrators in my district so successful, I often find myself saying “they still think like a teacher.” We should want good educators to be the administrative leaders of our buildings.

And we should also want good educators to be standing in front of kids.

I don’t know if it is the same for women in education, but as a man in education I started feeling the assumptions about “ascending the career ladder” to an administrative position as soon as I took a hybrid role teaching half-time and being on special assignment half-time. After each of the administrator roles at my former building were posted, I was inundated with texts and emails: “Are you going for that job?” Never mind that I have no administrative coursework let alone credential. For reasons woven into the fabric of our idea of what it means to be “professional” in our culture, climbing the career ladder is the assumed goal. To not keep climbing is to lower oneself down, to go “backward.”

Next year, I will be in a hybrid role: I applied for, interviewed for, and was offered one of the English teaching positions at our smaller high school. I’ll still be serving part of my time on release as our local EA President. The year after that, I’ll be full time teaching, untitled.

I’ve worked hard to avoid two phrases as I talk about this move. I’m not “going back.” I’m not “returning.”

Rather, I’m trying to redefine what the career ladder might look like for teachers who want to lead and teach.


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Are We Doing Testing Wrong?

If your school is anything like mine, you’re about to enter Testing Season. We come back from Spring Break, get reorganized and start gearing up for the SBAs. We review important material and have our students take practice tests on their computers. We teach test-taking strategies and emphasize the importance of sleep, diet and attendance.

Then it’s on to May, when the actual testing takes place. We rearrange the schedules, organize the technology and the tech support team and review proctoring guidelines. And we generally freak out as if our reputation is on the line. Because it sort of is.

When June arrives we relax. Maybe too much. The kids get the sense that the main event is over and they act like it. The teachers loosen up a little and roll out the “Fun Projects.” Or they start teaching stuff like science, social studies and art. I’ve actually seen School Improvement Plans that specify holding off on the science units until after the tests. Seriously.

But what if we didn’t have to go through all this? What if we could teach all the way through June and not have to go through all this nonsense?

Here’s what we do: We test in the fall. Early; like the second week of school.

First of all, we could actually use the data throughout the year. As it is now, we give our students a bunch of pretests in the fall so we know who we’re dealing with. Why not use the SBA instead? After all, with the CCSS, our assessments and curriculum are aligned (or should be) and the results come quickly enough that we could access the most useful data possible at the time when it’s most useful.

Furthermore, the testing would be more accurate. Teachers are human. We want our kids to do well, for their sake as well as ours, and sometimes we help more than we should. Or we prepare them for what we think they’re going to need right when they need it, without a thought for the long-term. But with fall testing, we’re testing only the students, not ourselves. Plus, it comes at a time when we haven’t bonded with our students, which would make it easier for us to be more objective, and ultimately, more fair.

And finally, our school year would be effectively longer. We would teach the standards all the way through the last day. There would be no “Garbage Time.” Not only that, we would focus on long-term retention; teaching our students as if we wanted them to remember it forever. Which is actually what we do want.

So yeah; I think we’re doing testing wrong. We should be doing it in the fall when we could use the data, produce more accurate data, and use the rest of the year – all of it – to focus on deep learning.

Title II and “Failed” PD

Title II, which funds (among other things) opportunities for teacher leadership, learning, and professional development, is on the federal chopping block. One argument, supported by research, is that teacher professional development has little to no impact in student performance.

Despite half of my job being teacher professional development, it is hard for me to disagree. In fact, I concede that you cannot always draw a solid line between teacher PD and dramatic changes in student performance on the standardized tests that serve as the go-to barometer of “impact on student learning.”

There are many other lines I can draw, though. I can cite examples where PD around inquiry processes in science resulted in more student-centered lessons. I can cite examples where PD around trauma-informed practices resulted in students spending more time in the classroom and less time in the principal’s office. I can cite examples where PD around helping students track their own performance resulted in faster gains on classroom assessments. The keys to all of these solid lines: (1) The teacher was provided time and space to try new practices, even if success required a few attempts, (2) the teacher was provided access to peer-collaboration or peer-coaching to help support implementation, and (3) there wasn’t some sort of oppressive accountability system demanding immediate and unequivocal success.

I can see why Title II is an easy candidate for a cut. The impact is difficult to ascertain using the measures we have in place. I’m sure that people can also cite instances where Title II funds have been misused or misdirected. But if people are looking for solid lines of causality between X and increased student test scores, there is nothing yet that can produce a solid line, like the proverbial silver bullet’s path through the air.

Teaching and learning is a complex dynamic influenced by seemingly infinite factors. That is not an attempt to seek absolution from responsibility…rather it is a call to acknowledge the complexity of the system and the many ways we ought to monitor system reactions. If my learning about adolescent trauma means my student spends more time in my classroom learning, rather than in the office receiving discipline, is that not a positive change? If my students take greater ownership of their own progress and are more metacognitive about their learning processes, those immeasurable dispositions will serve them as well (if not better) than their ability to guess the right bubble on a test…is that not a positive change?

Every one of us has had to endure crappy PD that wasted our time, so let’s set that aside for a moment and imagine a world of better-designed, well-implemented, and relevant PD that meets a need in our practice (such PD would also need to be adequately funded in order to achieve those standards). Professional learning, in whatever form it might take, is the only way to spur professional practice toward improvement. If we don’t improve our professional practice, how can we expect improved results?