Bully Culture

Next year I will be returning part time to the classroom after a two-year hiatus as a new-teacher induction mentor (plus other duties as assigned). I will be returning with new strategies and ideas I’ve amassed from being able to observe and coach so many colleagues. More than that, I’ll be returning with a new mission, so to speak.

Many people have claimed that the election of President Donald Trump has given validation and permission for aggressive, disrespectful, and bullying language and behavior. Schools all over the nation have cited an increase in behavior where individuals in positions of real or perceived power have exercised this power to oppress, humiliate, intimidate, or undermine those over whom they felt somehow superior or powerful.

These power dynamics have a history far deeper than the 2016 election cycle. While Trump’s election took many in my own little echo chamber people by surprise, if we deconstruct the segments of the electorate who supported Trump, level headed thinkers of all political persuasions can acknowledge that a fundamental sense of powerlessness drove at least some proportion of the population to see Trump’s bravado as a means for reclaiming power. Powerlessness of one group or another is unfortunately woven into the very fabric of our history, and it just so happens that the current cohort feeling powerless actually turned out to be powerful enough to buoy someone into office who spoke directly to that void.

Through my years as a teacher and coach, in nearly every instance that I’ve responded to bullying language or behavior, as I’ve engaged with the “bully,” I’ve learned about their deep sense of powerlessness in some place of their life. Generalizing from real examples here, but the 9th grade bully always picking on the scrawny kid eventually reveals to me that he is frustrated by his own inability to succeed in school; the 10th grade girl known for vicious online peer-evisceration ends up revealing that she feels she has no sense of personal power because of what her parents say about her and do to her.

This is no profound new idea. It is Interpersonal Dynamics 101 and in each child psychology textbook. Bullying behavior is often an attempt to fill some personal power void.

As I look at how schools have attempted to deal with bullying over the years, much has been focused on the “don’t bully, be kind” approach. That’s great, but it is only part of the answer. I think we need to also talk more openly about power and powerlessness.

That’s the great thing about being a literature teacher: Literature lets us study humanity as a third point, and in doing so we can better understand ourselves and our society. Every work of fiction I’ve ever taught (and in fact even much of the poetry and nonfiction) has clearly visible in it dynamics rooted in a differential of real or perceived power.

I will say that the events of our presidential election have rekindled my sense of urgency in helping students consider deeply the inequality of power that is so entrenched in our society that. My mission is to help adolescents peel away a fundamentally flawed assumption that we often make about ourselves, bias and our society: As Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony G. Greenwald describe in the book Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People, we assume that inequality and power differentials are simply an inevitable and unalterable law of nature, and that these differentials exist because of some deep truth about those who occupy different stations of power.

Through my teaching of literature, now more than ever I believe it will be important to examine how power and powerlessness contribute to a story’s central conflict so that perhaps we can better understand how it also exists as the core of nearly all of our society’s central conflicts. I believe it will be more important than ever to help my adolescent students explore where in their own lives and in our broader culture they are bestowed or refused power, even if they don’t necessarily recognize or want to acknowledge it (the very blind spot at the core of the book linked above).

I hope to help my students consider those stations where they have power how they use it, as well as how their sense of powerlessness ripples inward or outward toward other moments of their lives. I do think we’ve always lived in a bully culture. Like any pattern of human interaction, it has ebbed and flowed. We in public education have the opportunity to arm young people with the knowledge and skills to turn the tide.


Image Source: Wikimedia commons

School Choice

I’m getting a new student tomorrow. I haven’t met him yet, but I’ve met his discipline record, and it’s staggering. He’s packed more misbehavior into his short life than most of us commit in a lifetime. Not only that, but academically he’s at least three years below the rest of my class.

Before school I’m going to meet with my new student, along with his mom, the principal, the assistant principal, the dean of students, the school counselor, the learning support team and the para-educator who will work with him one-on-one throughout the entire school day. We’ll review his IEP and work with the behavior plan established at his old school in a way that fits the resources and capacity of ours.

How do I feel about my new student?

It would be easy to resent his arrival and fret over the possibility that he’ll disrupt the carefully constructed learning community that I’ve established. I could easily wonder “Why me?” and look for every opportunity to kick him out of the classroom, perhaps for good.

But I’m optimistic. I sincerely want the best for this little guy, and I honestly believe that my classroom will be the best place for him.  I want to work with my team to make this situation successful. I want desperately for him to look back in ten years and see his fourth grade year as a turning point.

And trust me, he will.

Coincidentally, our next Secretary of Education will spend tomorrow explaining herself to the Senate Education Committee. She’ll tell them about the wonderful things she’s done as a billionaire philanthropist in her home state of Michigan.

Most of those things involve pushing the agenda of school choice. School choice advocates want to increase the number of charter schools and they want parents to use vouchers to enroll their children in private schools using tax money that would otherwise have been used for a public school education.

Charter schools and vouchers can be great for those families who take advantage of them. Although many don’t, some charter schools outperform non-charter public schools serving the same population. Some private schools do, as well.

But not everyone gets to go to those charter schools and private schools. And sometimes those schools decide that certain students “aren’t a good fit” for their school. And those students get to go back to the regular public school, a school that has no choice but to accept that student and goes out of its way to accommodate him or her. The kids who do stay at those schools stand to benefit when the “misfits” leave. Their classrooms are quieter and there’s nobody slowing them down.

And if that wasn’t unfair enough, the charter schools and private schools then get to brag about how their schools are outperforming the nearby public schools. Even when they aren’t.

I wish Betsy DeVos (and her boss) nothing but the best. She is, after all, about to be running the federal department that oversees my profession. And he’s going to be president. But I want both of them to remember that public schools are not just the default choice for those waiting to be rescued. Public schools are, and always have been, thriving communities that enthusiastically and effectively serve every kid who happens to live nearby.

Including my new student.

#ObserveMe II: We Need Perspective

Last August I discovered the #ObserveMe movement. Within a few days, several brave staff members took on the challenge at Lincoln High School. I wrote about this process in my post “Goals for a New School Year.” What I’ve learned the most from this experience (so far), is that others see my classroom very differently than I do and I need their perspective in order to grow professionally.

I like to think I have teacher hearing and eyes in the back of my head. But I know I miss things. Teachers are 1,500 or more tiny decisions each class period, trying to capitalize on each teachable moment and fix everything that is “wrong” in order to maximize the learning experience. I can simultaneously be thinking about how to redirect Mike, tell Josie to “sit like a scholar” and ask Gabe a question that prompts his reasoning. An outside perspective, shared through an #ObserveMe reflection form gives me a new point of view.

One of my goals this year states, “Consistently incorporates and values diverse multiple perspectives in the lesson and classroom discussions.” As I track who has/hasn’t spoken during a class period, I’m critically aware that Jonah has spoken 3x times already while Miriam hasn’t said a word. I sometimes finish a class period feeling guilty because although I told myself to bring in Marcus, I forgot to use cold calling—or any other tool in my tool bag—to bring him into the discussion. The feedback offered by outside observers provides snapshots of whether or not I’m actually meeting my professional goals. Here are the comments I received from four different observations of this particular goal.

  • Different ideas related to similar pieces of evidence.
  • Absolutely. Students were highly engaged in a discussion guided by the teacher regarding rhetoric. Students were able to provide varying perspectives that were acknowledged and validated.
  • Political cartoons relating to racial justice in the US. And political climate.
  • invites multiple students to contribute. Amplifies a comment from a para that provides insight into cultural traditions/insight.

The first comment tells me that I’m encouraging students to rationalize and explain their reasoning based on evidence. It also tells me that I’m trying to encourage students to see how the same piece of evidence can be used to support varying points of view. The second comment shows me that all the effort I’m making to help students feel safe to share opposing views is actually working. The third comment adds a new layer. It tells me that the observer noticed that I was including multiple perspectives in the texts we analyzed. Although I chose the cartoons intentionally, I hadn’t really thought about how choosing a text was helping me meet my #ObserveMe goal! The fourth piece of feedback reminded me that I am working to intentionally include my para educators (I have two) in the classroom as sources of knowledge and experience. Again, something I just do because it’s just what I do, right and natural to me but I’m learning–from conversations with my paraeducators– it is actually not that common. I know that I can be more intentional about using these women as resources to improves student learning. Are these reflections life changing? No. Do they help me see my practice in a new light and challenge me to be more intentional? Heck yes.

Early on I received feedback that I should use an online form in addition to my paper system. So I converted my observation chart into a MS form and added a QR code. Now half my data is in an easy-to-digest format online. If you are adept at using technology or want to grow in this way, I highly recommend providing an online survey option.

I personally feel that one of the greatest strength of this process is the openness and low-stakes nature of it. Since it’s non-evaluative I don’t care about how much feedback I get, how often I get it, or how it’s phrased. I’m not stressing about a pre/post observation conversations. I am not up late trying to craft a perfect lesson on my Graduate school lesson plan template that highlights my teaching strengths in 30 minutes. I can take or leave the advice I receive. Nobody cares–including me! For someone like me who struggles with a type-A personality and anxiety about living up to my students expectations, using #ObserveMe to improve my practice is perfect. And so far it’s a reminder that all the effort I’m putting into lesson design and instruction is working.

I don’t want to leave you with the impression that this kind of feedback loop works for everyone. When I asked my peers about their own results here are some of the replies:

  • Few people have given me feedback, but I’m still going to keep my sign up and see what happens the rest of the year.
  • I realize I need more consistent, on-going feedback from our instructional coach rather than drop-in feedback.
  • I love it. I hand a reflection sheet to anyone who walks in.

As you consider what to change or modify for second semester, I urge you to set up an #ObserveMe sign and recruit a couple other friends to try it with you. Not convinced yet?  Read Sherry Nesbitt’s impression or Nate Bowling’s experience and share your goals online with the #ObserveMe hashtag.

Inslee’s Budget: Making an Investment

I was at a meeting when news started to spread that Governor Jay Inslee had released his budget plan. Of course, the thing that grabbed most people’s attention was the significant bump in pay for teachers. I noted, however, the difficult reality of his budget that our state has not yet come to terms with: In order to achieve the services we expect from public schools, we need to secure new revenue either through additional taxes or closing of loopholes. Inslee’s proposal includes four billion new dollars to be invested in public schools. Simply put, Inslee realizes that fixing our system means we can’t just shuffle line items within the current revenue structure.

In the real world, fixing things pretty much always costs money. Sometimes it even costs money you don’t yet have.

A couple of years ago on a Sunday afternoon in March, I was sitting in my living room, grading student essays. Suddenly, a sound like a fighter jet landing in my front yard started to shake my house, and then BOOM. This:

A freak spring windstorm leveled a swath of trees and structures in our neighborhood, and took an otherwise healthy (according to the arborist) 50-ft blue spruce and crashed it diagonally across the whole structure of our home. We have homeowners insurance, but between the deductible and some of what insurance didn’t cover, we didn’t have the money to fix it completely. Significant structural damage, eventual water damage from a poor patch job from the lowest-cost emergency board-up contractor, plus our roofing options being limited to the two plastic tarps I already owned and the one that the fire department donated to us to attempt to minimize water damage all made it clear that this fix was going to require something else than just making do with what we had.

Thankfully, we were able to access additional revenue, so to speak. Friends and family chipped in. I took on (yet another) side job to bring in a little cash. We sold some stuff from the garage. In the end, our house was back to normal almost a year later thanks to these additional resources (and a kind hearted roofer and generous arborist who charged us far less than they should have for work insurance couldn’t cover). The reality is that we were doing fine financially before and certainly accept criticism that we “should have” had more cash socked away for this particular breed of rainy day. The reality was that in the face of a clearly broken structure, “doing the best with what we had” wasn’t going to cut it. We will forever appreciate the people who were willing to give services, muscle, or money to help us fix our home.

I for one greatly appreciate Inslee for aiming so high and being realistic about what it will take to make progress toward strengthening public schools. New tests won’t do it. New requirements won’t do it. Furthering our love affair with accountability won’t do it. Simply demanding teachers to “do better with what they have” is not going to do it either. Fixes, in the real world, often require an investment beyond what we think we can absorb, and sometimes that investment requires more resources being added to the system.

And as for that meeting where word of the Governor’s budget was making the rounds? The reaction of teachers was positive and it had far less to do with more pay than it did with what our Governor’s budget was communicating: He was saying, pure and simple, I am willing to invest in you. 

That’s a good feeling.

Why Unions Matter

If you happen to be a member of your local education association, chances are you’ve received some emails this year asking you to rescind your membership.

Like too many issues (such as presidential elections), we humans have the tendency to make decisions based on emotion rather than fact. Many people are on edge, and you don’t have to look far online to find people with strong anti-union sentiments. However, I rarely am able to uncover facts or actual events that serve well to make unions, teachers’ unions in particular, worthy of such tremendous hatred.

Sure, there are the cases where a union enforced a poorly worded contract and a crappy teacher got to keep their job. It happens. There are plenty of actions that unions have taken that I personally don’t agree with, and thus I am working “from the inside” to change as an active union member.

If we want to know why unions matter to teachers and to public education, Wisconsin has engaged in a deeply unfortunate experiment we can all learn from. The gist: The state government of Wisconsin passed what it called the “Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill” that included as one of its “repairs” the destruction of labor unions’ rights to collectively bargain. Here’s the whole article, but details worthy of noting:

  • Total teacher compensation has dropped 8% since the Bill.
  • There is no way for teachers to negotiate for pay increases or for better benefits; meanwhile costs of benefits have increased.
  • Certificated teachers are leaving in droves; the article includes examples of positions left unfilled or filled by unqualified, non-certificated staff. (I’m not clear how this could be filed under “In the best interests of students.”)

Unfortunately, the public face of the union has done us any favors: To people not familiar, picturing a union means picturing a bunch of people not working, but rather pacing, chanting, holding signs…acts that I understand in terms of labor relations but which I also believe are the worst possible public relations moments our organizations can ask for. This unfortunately masks the real work that unions do: advocating for the working and learning conditions of staff and students in all of our schools.

This year, my district recruited a handful of teachers from “right to work” states where the powers of unions are restricted. They tell me again and again how different everything is here in Washington: they as teachers feel valued, their students are safe, there is consistency and stability in policy. These create the conditions that enable students to succeed. It is easy to focus only on compensation as the primary focus of an education association, but the reality is far more complex: Yes, unions negotiate pay and benefits, which are about recruiting and retaining top quality educators. Unions also negotiate class sizes, special education caseloads, access to curriculum and resources, and programs from STEM to the arts to counseling to intervention. Unions are a powerful voice for teachers and the strongest voice for students.

When our legislature comes together in the new year, we need to be careful to watch for threats to public education from all angles (like this one), not the least of which being threats to educators’ powers to organize and advocate. We need to learn from Wisconsin.

Advocating for Your Vocation: The Washington Teachers Advisory Council

 

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“I’m not vanilla.  I’m like the weird flavor that no one orders.”  Meet Liz Loftus.  She’s one of the eight 2017 Regional Teachers of the Year (ToY) from Washington.  Liz, Carol, Tim, Kendra, Alisa, Jose, John, and Camille are far from vanilla.  They are spunky, brilliant, and authentic.  And the best news–they elevate teaching and learning for our students in our state.  

These eight teachers are members of the Washington Teacher Advisory Council (WATAC). Along with a few Teacher of the Year Alumni (serving on the leadership team), these eight teachers are tasked with the responsibility of advocating for our students and our colleagues at a state wide level.  WATAC was the brainchild of Lyon Terry, the 2015 Washington State Teacher of the Year.  Lyon subscribes to an idea he heard at the National Teacher of the Year meeting: “Teachers should be at the table. Otherwise we’re just on the menu.”  With financial assistance from the Gates Foundation and administrative support from OSPI (Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction) and CSTP, the goal of WATAC is to build advocacy and in doing so create additional partnerships with pro education organizations and extend opportunities for outreach.  

This work is important, meaningful, and necessary. In my conversations with pro education organizations I routinely hear that teacher voices are missing from education policy.  Lyon, as the  2016 State Teacher of the Year, asserts that this has been his experience, as well.  I don’t like to think of my work as taking place “in the trenches” but what I’ve learned is that those of us who work with kids are oftentimes left out of the policy decisions that impact those kids.  For two days the new Teachers of the Year and the alumni leadership team worked together to discuss messaging, initiatives, and advocacy.  We learned about how to craft a platform and how best to share it.  Jeff Wehr, a fellow WATAC leader, encouraged us to reach out to our legislators via email.  In a moment of inspiration, I emailed my local senator to invite her into my classroom and within minutes she responded.  I look forward to coordinating her visit soon.  Jeff’s presentation on how and when to reach out to legislators empowered me to make that contact.  My hope is that after my senator sees my students in action, she thinks of them and their needs when she’s drafting or passing the legislation that impacts them.

This is why advocacy matters.  Those in the classroom inherently know the direct impact of policies made by those at the state and federal level.  Yet, because the work is humbling, oftentimes all encompassing and consuming we are likely to rightfully prioritize our time with our kids instead of our legislators.  We must find time to learn the necessary skills and mechanisms so that we can advocate for our kids.  

These teachers are far from vanilla.  They will be advocating for causes that are near and dear to their heart and their work.  They will be lifting up the voices of students in their care and without a doubt their stewardship as a Teacher of the Year will long echo in the halls of the Capitol Building in Olympia. 

Keeping the Bonus

downloadLast month we had an incredible event. Nearly 100 NBCTs met to talk about how to preserve the National Board bonus in Washington State. My role was interesting; I got to monitor the conversations at seven different tables and glean the common, high-leverage ideas that emerged. What I learned was this:

National Board Certified Teachers feel that the certification process has made them into better teachers. Many, if not most of them, were motivated to complete the process because of the bonus. Most, if not all of them, are convinced that the bonus is an important part of our state’s overall education system because of the impact that National Board Certification has on student learning. And finally, there was a broad consensus that the state should integrate the bonus into the Salary Allocation Model.

Making that happen is going to be difficult. First of all, this is probably the year when the Legislature tackles the McCleary Funding Issue. Suffice to say it’s going to be expensive, which means everything the state spends on schools will be looked at closely, including the NB bonus.

Furthermore, no one in Olympia has made any indication that they’re looking at significantly increasing revenue. A lack of increased revenue matters because the number of NBCTs has remained level since 2014, when the National Board revised its assessment process. Next year, however, the number of NBCTs could nearly double, depending on the success of the candidates who’ve been working through the new process. Our state is already spending upward of $50 million on NBCT bonuses; increasing that amount by 50 to 100% will give our lawmakers pause.

And finally, the Legislature that meets next month is not the Legislature that approved the $5000 bonus and the additional $5000 for teachers in high-needs schools. On average, state legislatures have about a 20% turnover whenever there’s an election, and there have been four elections since 2009. Should they decide to dump the bonus, there aren’t many lawmakers who would be killing a program they helped initiate.

So how do we go about convincing a bunch of lawmakers to spend an incredible and growing amount of money that doesn’t exist on a bonus they probably didn’t vote for in the first place?

Simple. You show them the standards that we, as NBCTs, met when we certified. You show them the standards and you tell them you met those standards. You tell them that going through National Board Certification helped you rise to that level. And then you give them examples of what you do every day in your classroom that illustrates how you embody those standards. The nice thing about the National Board Standards is that they’re written in the form of a description of an accomplished teacher. I don’t see how anyone who reads and understands those standards could look at a teacher who met those standard and deny them a $5000 bonus. I really don’t.

The only hard part is logistics. Somehow we need to get an NBCT and a set of standards in front of every lawmaker in Olympia for about an hour. It sounds complicated. But it also sounds important. It sounds like another incredible event.

Who’s in?

NBCT Policy Summit: Building a Professional Continuum

If you walk into a doctor’s office and learn that your physician is board certified, this designation communicates something to you…even if at first blush you aren’t sure what it means. In the field of medicine, board certification is voluntary, is assessed against established industry standards (based on specialty as well), and is an widely accepted indicator of professional capacity. From the American Board of Medical Specialties website:

When you choose a doctor who is Board Certified by one of the ABMS Member Boards, you can be confident he or she meets nationally recognized standards for education, knowledge, experience and skills to provide high quality care in a specific medical specialty. Board Certification goes above and beyond basic medical licensure.

Sounds much like National Board Certification for educators.

There is ample research indicating that teachers who have achieved National Board Certification produce enhanced student learning equivalent to between one and two additional months of instruction, particularly with students who are typically underserved.

Education funding in Washington is certainly in dire need of improvement, and one aspect of this involves compensating teachers in a way which (1) draws high quality candidates into the profession and (2) recognizes and values the research-supported professional growth that NBPTS certification represents.

As a result, dozens of National Board Certified Teachers (NBCTs) convened in SeaTac this last Saturday at the 2016 NBCT Policy Summit. These educators were called together by WEA, CSTP and OSPI in order to do what Washington Ed legend Jeannie Harmon says is the best way to change education for the better: Get our best and brightest educators together, tell them the problem to be solved, then get out of their way.

Currently, teacher salaries are funded separately from the incentive program aimed at fostering NBPTS certified teachers: Our base salary allocation model (SAM) includes increases in compensation aligned with advanced degrees and acquisition of clock hours for learning, and but does not include NBPTS certification…which of the three (degrees, seat time, or NBPTS certification) is the one with the greatest body of research supporting an increased impact on student learning. The current incentives include a yearly bonus for being an NBCT, plus an additional bonus if you are an NBCT working in a “challenging school,” both of which are funded outside our SAM. The result? The funding is tenuous, and the incentive toward and recognition of NBPTS certification is likewise ever on the chopping block.

The recommendations will be presented in full soon (as of this writing it’s been barely 24 hours since the end of the summit), but on the policy issue related to NBPTS certification, the recommendation was loud, clear, and simple: Just as a Masters degree and a Doctorate represent lanes of professional growth on our salary schedule, so should National Board Certification. Parallel to this recommendation were a variety of policy recommendations around revenue generation for the state (in order to fully fund education and meet the legal requirements of the McCleary ruling). There was also significant talk about developing and compensating new and varied career paths for teachers who don’t aspire toward being a program director or principal, particularly since there is recent evidence of the positive impact of teacher leadership.

Hidden within all this is a quiet evolution of what the professional continuum for teachers might look like. In medicine the pursuit of board certification, while still voluntary, is much more integrated into the vision of how a professional physician learns, performs, and refines their craft over their career. National Board Certification is heavily studied and has proven to be a form of professional advancement that has a positive impact on students. It only makes sense that this step be codified into our compensation schedule alongside the other (still voluntary) professional steps such as advanced degrees.

Having a Voice

I didn’t want to get up at 6 am on Saturday.

I didn’t want to catch a 7:05 ferry.

I didn’t want to get turned around in the dark and rain and end up going north on I-5. Then spend 20 minutes wandering around downtown Seattle trying to find my way to south I-5.

Sputter, sputter, sputter.

But, oh, NBCT teachers, if you ever receive an email invitation to an NBCT Policy Summit and wonder if you should consider going, I am here to tell you—it was definitely worth it.

After we all went through check-in and ate breakfast and had a chance to mingle, the morning panel greeted us. There were five people on the panel but three in particular stuck out to me, probably because they represented the three organizations that sponsored the summit:

The general message? Speak up. Stand up. Be heard. Make an impact.

But the specific message that reverberated back and forth from one panel member to the next was that teachers need to find their passion and focus on that passion.

Policy Summit Mural by Taryl Hansen

Policy Summit Mural by Taryl Hansen

I immediately took that message to heart. As soon as we were dismissed to mid morning snack time, I introduced myself to Gil Mendoza. I gave told him I’m on the Executive Board for WAETAG (Washington Association of Educators of Talented and Gifted). He replied enthusiastically about what a great organization it is and how lucky we are to have it in our state. I gave him my card and said, “If you ever need someone with a background in gifted to serve on a committee please keep me in mind.” He grinned—he’d just talked about how OSPI looks for teachers willing to serve on committees. Now he had a volunteer! He handed me his card and asked me to contact him again by email.

I’ve been teaching gifted in this state since 1989, and I’ve been on the board of WAETAG since 2008. But being in the room at the Policy Summit gave me a different level of access than I’d ever experienced before.

Breakout sessions met before and after lunch. Participants met in groups of about eight to discuss one of two issues:

  • A—Second Tier Licensure (Professional Certificate) or
  • B—National Board Incentive Structure

At our table in one of the B groups we started with the fact that we love having a bonus and, for those who get it, love having the extra bonus for challenging schools. What we don’t like is that fact that any bonus is a line item. It’s too easy to delete from the budget. For a long time those were our biggest discussion points.

Then I spoke up. I’d come to the Policy Summit with a slightly different point to make. As I told my table, I’ve been teaching for 38 years, and I’m not ready to stop. I hit 16 years’ experience a long, long time ago. I earned my MA in 1982 and I hit my 90 units beyond an MA when I was in my 50s and a long way from retirement.

The ONLY way for me to get any additional money was to become National Board Certified. So I got my NBCT in 2012. I plan to keep teaching until my certificate expires in 2022.

Having a salary schedule plateau early means veteran teachers can’t keep up with the rising cost of living, especially health costs.

So I suggested it would be beneficial to have some kind of step system that allows for longevity. For example, what if we got a bonus for the initial NBCT and an additional bonus at each renewal?

That led to a long examination of my idea. People brought up snags I hadn’t foreseen. They improved the original suggestion by adding a requirement that teachers who get the extra bonus demonstrate leadership—which spawned another tangle of questions. Who defines leadership? How many hours a year? How would the extra work be documented? How would OSPI track the paperwork? We even tossed around ideas for how much of a bonus although finally most of the questions were labelled TBD.

Nevertheless, at the end of the day, we not only kept my idea on our list of five “high leverage” ideas to submit to the group at large.  In a surprise move, the members of my group voted my suggestion as the number one on the list because it

  • encouraged teachers to pursue NBCT sooner rather than later
  • encouraged teachers to take on leadership roles after completing their NBCT
  • encouraged professional growth, not just professional development

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Then came the mid afternoon snack. (Nasue warned me that her goal was to have each of us gain five pounds before the day was over!)

Our last keynote address came from Peggy Brookins, president of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. She spoke eloquently about those who surreptitiously do things for teachers but without teachers—for example, people who write education laws without bringing teachers to the table. Once again, she encouraged us to make our voices heard.

I came to the Policy Summit wanting to be heard. I hoped my peers would listen and understand and maybe empathize with the salary concerns of older teachers.

I left feeling empowered.

So think about coming yourself next time. And meanwhile, think about your passion and the difference you can make.

 

The Way We Work

At this particular moment in American history I am fiercely proud to be a teacher.

Why?

Because every single day in my classroom we actively practice cooperative and interpersonal skills as part of our regular routine.

This year we started with listing attributes of Teamwork and displaying them in the front of the room. Every day groups self-assessed their own efforts toward the effective use of teamwork skills; they gained points for good teamwork.

Now we are working on using Active Listening skills with group members. I picked this skill because after the last unit I had students fill out a reflection sheet to let me know where they thought they did well and where they needed to do better. Listening better was the clear winner in the “needs to improve” category!

Over the course of the year I will pick other skills to emphasize including, for example:

  • empathy
  • respect
  • compromise
  • focused attention
  • encouragement
  • cooperation
  • collaboration
  • having a positive attitude
  • being willing to “share the air”

Earlier this week my students built remote operated vehicles (ROVs) to use later at a field trip to the Keyport Undersea Museum. At one point I realized a student was in the hall by himself, sitting crumpled on a chair. I went out to talk to him and discovered he was crying. I couldn’t get him to tell me why. Suddenly one of his teammates appeared and enfolded him, comforting him. Another arrived almost immediately and started to explain, “Wait, don’t feel bad! We liked your design. It was just too big to go through the diamond [an obstacle the museum sets up as part of the problem]. But we still used your design. We just shrunk it up!”

The b20161110_140428oy was still crushed. He had every reason to be. He had toiled long and hard cutting all the PVC pipe pieces for the original design—and for a small kid, it was laborious work. Clearly, he felt like all his effort was for nothing.

By now his entire team was in the hall, all gathered around him, encouraging him. They talked about how great his design was. They talked about how they now needed a cool name for their ROV.

I left them alone, stepped back into the classroom, and watched them all still out in the hall.

They stayed with him for 15 minutes or more. They did not come back and work on their project until he was ready to come back and work with them.

That’s why I do what I do.

Yes, I teach reading and writing and math and science (obviously very cool science) and social studies (and cool social studies too). Art. Public speaking. The things that get grades on the report card.

But first of all, I teach civilization.

The reason public schools exist is so our country has an informed electorate. That’s why we teach history and civics and how to examine multiples sides of issues.

(That’s why one of my exit slips might be “Who—besides you—had the best idea in the discussion today? What was it?” or “Who changed your mind today? Why?”)

At a time when civilization—civil discourse, civility, civilized behavior—seems to be unraveling, when trash talk radio and “reality” television teach that the way to win is to be the loudest, the most obnoxious, the most aggressive and rude, I will stand in the doorway of my classroom and put my hand up and say, “No.” Not in my classroom.

In my classroom we give everyone a chance to speak.

In my classroom we listen to each other.

In my classroom compromise is not a dirty word.

In my classroom we do respect.

In my classroom we work together.