Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Best Three Reasons to Be a Teacher?

I recently heard the phrase "There are three good reasons to be a teacher: June, July, and August." I've heard the sentiment, if not the exact words, before, and I still get just as angry.

Most school divisions around here will end in mid- to late June with teachers reporting back in early August. So, I guess that just leaves us with July.

Some teachers quantify their "earned" summer vacation by pointing out that we work an average of fifty-three hours of week. If you're contracted for thirty-five hours as many teachers are, that's 576 hours we're working past our contracts a year. Those hours equal over eighty-two additional teaching days.

But I think we're not acknowledging something important when we talk about teachers' summer vacations.  I think of a vacation as something I can take or do while still getting paid. As a teacher, however, during summer break, I've essentially been laid off and have chosen to split my paychecks from the academic year up into small enough chunks that I can continue to eat and pay my student loans.

What's the answer to this problem of de-professionalization? Year-round schools (and if that's the case, when do we have the chance to recharge, plan, and attend classes)? Contracts that reflect the time most teachers put into their classrooms? Summer work relating to policy and curriculum?

I haven't found the answer yet, but I know that I'm a teacher no matter the season. 

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Why We Don't Need Teacher Appreciation Week

While the PTO breakfast, the Facebook posts, and the e-mails lauding teachers are sincere and heartfelt this week, they all ring a little hollow as I look at my stressed-out students and our overworked school psychologist who bounces between three buildings trying to meet the mental health needs of over 1400 students -- needs that must be met if kids are to thrive in the classroom.

For fifty-one weeks a year, I hear a lot about how teachers are the problem, the school I spent tens of thousands of dollars to go to is garbage (for the record, I felt well-prepared by my program), and tests designed by people who have never worked in the classroom are the best way to monitor student progress and teacher quality. 

We don't need Teacher Appreciation Day. We don't need Teacher Appreciation Week. If we valued the teaching profession the way our kids and country need us to, people would be aware and appreciative of the teachers working to build knowledge and our economy throughout the year.

Here's my teacher appreciation wish list:

  • some type of entrance exam into education school designed by practicing classroom teachers
  • a rigorous two-year course of study that includes one thousand hours in the classroom and also courses in classroom organization to help teachers develop the systems necessary for a smoothly-running classroom
  • a wage commiserate with the value we add to the economy 
  • a national teacher licensing exam, also designed by practicing teachers, that includes plenty of emphasis on using understandings of cognitive development in the classroom
  • smaller caseloads so teachers can make meaningful impacts in kids' lives by building relationships
  • a decreased emphasis on statistically noisy, poorly-designed standardized tests and an increased emphasis on project-based learning designed and evaluated by master teachers
  • room to grow professionally without permanently leaving the classroom. 
I have a lot of other wishes for making meaningful changes to public education. In fact, I keep a running list. But during this teacher appreciation week, I think the list above wouldn't be a bad start.