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I am growing tired of the call for the ouster of older teachers and the elevation of the younger. I am of the older generation (some might say very older) after a career in education spanning four decades. I was also a victim of budget cuts during that career losing my job at the end of every year for my first nine years in three school districts. After 34 years, I am no longer in Public education, but I am involved with Higher Education. My assignment is to train and observe Pre-service teachers, student teachers. In that role I get to travel from school to school and observe educators on all levels.

I teach and observe student teachers for a living. I know that my students have observed over 100 hours of lessons by teachers in the field prior to their becoming student teachers. Additionally, they must show mastery in a program of courses in both philosophy and methods in Education. This is all in addition to the courses required in their content area. By the time these students have an opportunity to stand as teachers in a classroom they will literally have hundreds of thousands of pieces of information floating through their heads, being arranged and rearranged depending on the situation in the classroom at any given point.

I remember reading an article in Time Magazine in the 60’s that rated the most stressful jobs in America based solely on the number of decisions that had to be made in the course of a day. I expected Air Traffic Controller, or Brain Surgeon to be at the top. I was pleasantly surprised to see my own occupation at the top of the list. It was very specific; an Eighth Grade English teacher was listed. That was me, and it was true.

Experience is the best teacher in life. When observing student teachers, I often note that the mistakes being made will be eliminated with teaching experience. So often these student teachers are pumping and processing so much information through their brains that it is amazing to me that they don’t crash at the end of every class. I guess that can be attributed to the energy of youth. As experience mounts up, the brain begins to file away and store those thousands of pieces of information which are repeated over and over each day, so that the teacher no longer needs to bounce that around in the brain. many things become an automatic response. This frees up the experienced teacher to focus more on more important decisions for motivating kids to learn. As a general rule, my personal measure is about ten years in teaching before I consider a teacher truly experienced. Of course any teacher with less than ten years experience will loudly disagree.

These experienced teachers are the foundation of each school’s culture. They become the mentors of the younger teachers. They are advisors to the administrators who often come and go in a never-ending cycle. They are connections to parents whose families have moved through the school over the years. They are the keepers of the keys. This is not how they are being portrayed by politicians and people with agendas for education. These experienced teachers are becoming targets. They are being demonized as the bad teachers, the burn-outs. The only hope, we are told, is the new youthful teachers entering the system. We are told that if cuts must be made, and they must, we need to base it on merit and cut the old, bad teachers, and keep the good, young teachers. We cannot consider any loyalty or obligation to any employee, even if they were loyal to the school district for years.

This has nothing to do with good or bad, young or old. It has everything to do with a political agenda. Older teachers are more experienced and better educated, making them more expensive. Younger teachers are eager to volunteer, less experienced, less credentialed and ultimately less expensive. You have to see where this is going. It is about the MONEY. Politicians want the ability to cut the least number of people with the most impact on the budget. There is little thought given to the educational impact. Having the ability to cut the older teachers is also the best way to push through other needed reforms like: Larger classes, elimination of collective bargaining, reduction of the arts, increasing the impact of high stakes testing, and fewer extracurricular activities. These may all be good for the budget, but not great for kids needing to be educated.

We should all be for maintaining good teachers and removing those who may not be making the mark. We have procedures in place to do this. (Please refer to an earlier post, Tenure’s Tenure ) What needs to be worked on is a program for Professional Development that enables every teacher the ability to stay relevant and knowledgeable about the tools and methods of their profession. It cannot be a voluntary or incentivized program, but an ongoing required program scheduled for all educators to participate. It must be a priority, if we are to improve the quality of education. This requires an investment in Education and not budget cuts and reductions in staff and services. We need an explanation as to why we give $40 billion in incentives to an Oil Industry that shows $100’s of Billions in profits every year while we are cutting back teachers and programs to educate the very people who we will need to call upon to lead us out of this mess.

 

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If you are not familiar with #Edchat, it is a Twitter discussion on specific topics held every Tuesday at Noon and 7 PM EST. A full explanation may be found at this Link: https://tomwhitby.wordpress.com/2010/06/23/edchat-revisited/. I am revealing in this post that I am the one who makes up a bulk of the #Edchat Topic choices. We do get some outside contributions, but each week I try to lift relevant topics from the Twitterstream and current Educational Blogs to explore further in an #Edchat discussion. It has been a successful formula thus far. My dilemma however, is always when is it a good time to revisit a topic. I recently received a comment from an educator that stated he always found the topic choices very interesting, but eventually we would need to discuss Standardized Testing or High Stakes Testing as a topic. Actually, #Edchat has discussed this topic in the past. The problem I have however is that in trying to keep the pulse of education concerns, Standardized Testing is the one topic that has an overwhelming majority of educators mentioning their opposition on a daily basis. Educators seem to be in agreement that Standardized Testing is a major roadblock to Education Reform. One growing opinion seems to be that the emphasis has become the tests and not the education.

Assessment has been and always will be part of education. A simple explanation: As educators we use Formative assessment to make sure we are succeeding with our students as we go. Do they get it? This allows for adjustments along the way. The Summative assessment tells educators how successful the complete endeavor was. After all is said and done, have the students gotten it?  Educators do this to determine the next step, so they may continue to build on this education. This is the teacher’s assessment of learning for the purpose of the determining of what comes next. The curriculum is the roadmap of where to go. The assessments tell the teacher if the students are there yet. Teachers can always take students beyond the original destination.

Now we should look at High stakes testing. Its purpose is to accumulate data on education. Data requires simple, objective answers that are easily converted to numbers for analysis. As a former English teacher, I often envied Math teachers whose test answers were either right or wrong. As an English teacher I was always trying to figure out shades of right or wrong with essays. That oversimplification of math testing is less true of Math today with the changes that have been made requiring more of an explanation of reasoning. I hope no math teachers were offended.

The purpose of High Stakes testing seems to be changing. If it was originally intended to assess where we were with student learning in order to offer directions for places to improve, we may have strayed from that goal. It is now used to: determine funding, determine remediation, determine school closings, determine careers, and as a stretch, determine elections. These reasons have little to do with what educators use testing for.

Of course there is a simple solution; Teach to the test. That would give everyone what was needed. A problem with this however is that it will not work. It will not work because it does not consider all of the other factors involved in a student’s education; poverty, environment, culture, and even family relationships. How do we ask questions for the purpose of converting these factors into data in order to take all of this into account? Of course a more obvious reason teaching to the test won’t work is that it is not educating any one. Teaching to the test is preparing kids for a Jeopardy round, not life.

Now here is where I begin to sound like a conspiracy theorist. I, along with almost everyone in America, recognize that we are in a dire economic period. I understand we need to cut costs and increase revenue, and we will all need to sacrifice. One of our greatest expenses is education. Education has been highlighted as a political concern. It is apparent to some of us that the call for education Reform is code for cut taxes. The high stakes tests are not being used to examine and address changes in methods and curriculum as much as to vilify teachers. This call for reform by some is not a call for education reform, but rather a call for labor reform. It is a call to do away with Unions and due process for teachers. These tests are not being used to free teachers to innovate, but rather to begin to dismantle public education for the purpose of privatization for profit.

How can so many educators on every level be so opposed to high stakes testing and still it thrives?  How can the mixed to dismal results of a Charter School movement still allow politicians to call for more Charter Schools? How can the influence on education by Poverty, Race, Environment, and Family go unrecognized as factors in need of reform?

We do need to reform education, but we need a better understanding of what changes will have a meaningful effect. There are many things that unions and teachers can do to affect change, but the greater changes however need to be made in methods and focus of curriculum. The emphasis of needed skills for a growing technology-driven society will be another game changer.

Assessment is needed and has a purpose in education. We need to focus assessments on the learning and not the Labor. The vast majority of educators are intelligent, dedicated, people-oriented, sharers. They may need to be given guidance and professional development in the latest methods and technologies, but they are the best source we have to support our education system. Firing teachers, closing schools, busting unions, and dismantling Public Education may be Reform to some, but to many others this is a destructive path. We need educational leaders to stand up and be heard on this. Voices of education need to be heard over those voices of business and politics and vocal disgruntled taxpayers. ( We are probably all disgruntled about taxes.)

Now I have to put up an #Edchat Topic dealing with High Stakes Testing. Your comments are welcomed here.

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I recently read how Bill Gates is pushing for video-taping teachers as part of an assessment process during the observation of lessons. His goal is to include videotaping of all teachers in the process of their evaluations. On the surface this sounds workable and even helpful; after all it does work for athletes. For many years now, coaches and recruiters alike all said, ”Let’s go to the Video Tape” it will show us the way.  Of course the media has changed and gone digital, so actual video tape is being replaced by other technologies, nevertheless we call it videotaping.

I have had myself videotaped at times during my career to objectively view what I looked like, and how I delivered a specific lesson to my students. It was my choice of class, my choice of lesson, and my choice to view and use. I knew what I was looking for in my lesson.  I did find it to be helpful, but it was my choice to use it as a tool, and I chose how to do it. I have used videotaping with students doing oral presentations. It enabled them to see what the audience saw as the presentation unfolded. I think under the right conditions videotaping can be a useful tool to improve presentation skills.

I have also seen videotaping used to record the lessons of perspective teachers as they applied for positions. The video tape was then played back before the hiring committee. This was far better than the alternative of having the entire hiring committee sitting in the back of the class during the lesson. All in all I am not averse to using videotaping as a tool for assessment.

One problem with videotaping all teachers for assessment is that all lessons do not lend themselves to the videotaping process. Direct instruction or a lecture may be the best forms of lessons to be videotaped. We all love TED Talks. However, there are other types of lessons that may be considered “controlled chaos” that would not play well on the big screen, but they do promote learning. The teacher is not always the focal point of the lesson. Talking is not necessarily teaching. Some lessons like simulations, group work, or projects extend several days before yielding results.  A single period videotape would not capture the results of the efforts of the teacher.

Another consideration is the introduction of the camera to the class. Once the discovery of the camera runs through the classroom, some students may exhibit different behavior. It also must be said, that not all teachers will be themselves when the camera starts rolling for the big production. With a room of thirty individuals in a classroom the introduction of a video camera must have an impact on behavior and performance of some. It has the potential of changing the dynamic of a class.

The idea to use this method for assessing all teachers may be well-intentioned, but that intention only works if it is to benefit the teacher. It is a great tool under the right conditions for specific lessons to assist the teacher in honing communication skills. However, here is the rub: some may see this video-taped observation not as an assessment tool to help the teacher, but a tool to remove the teacher from the class.  Even if that is not the case, it will be the view of many teachers. With that view, teachers will begin to give to the camera what the camera views best. Lessons will be tailored for the camera, “Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s”. Administrators will fill their video libraries with direct instruction lessons.

Teachers are not athletes who can adjust their physical skills to enhance performance. This is not to say that some things may not be improved by a videotaped intervention, as long as the teacher is open to it and the conditions are right. Their relationship with their classes is difficult to capture on a 40 minute video. How does the camera capture learning as it happens? It will certainly not be viewed on the face of the teacher.  The focus of the camera might be more telling, if it was trained on the faces of the students. Video-taping as a tool for improvement with everyone’s cooperation and willingness to use it for that goal can work. Using it as a tool to bludgeon a teacher in a year-end review should not be the intent.

My real problem in this is that it would seem that education is being guided by the vision of the likes of Bill Gates. His view of education is to have all teachers lecturing like TED-Talk lecturers in five years. I do not agree with his vision, but what do I know? I am but a lowly educator.

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It was only two days ago that I attended the Education Nation Town Hall meeting in New York City that was hosted by NBC and sponsored by a bunch of businesses. The entire event took place in what amounted to an elaborate Tent. There were several hundred educators there of all ages and from many schools, representing both Public and Charter School educators. I commented on the shortcomings of this meeting in my last post, so I will not cover that ground again. There was one striking comment however, from one young educator that sent chills down my spine, only to have them go up my spine by the applause that followed her statement. As an educator of 40 years, I was truly awed and upset. Her statement was that she did not need Tenure. She only wanted to be evaluated on her teaching and she was confident she would have a job the next year. She saw no need for Tenure (down the spine). TEACHERS then applauded (back up the spine).

The sound of fingernails on the blackboard for that statement ripped into me. What she was asking for is what Tenure IS. It is a guarantee of due process. It guarantees that the only thing you can be fired for is that which you are responsible for in your teaching duties. What you CAN be fired for under the Tenure law is: Misconduct, Incompetence, Insubordination, Physical or Mental Disability, Neglect of Duty, or a Lack of Teaching Certificate. Additionally, it cannot be a blind accusation, it must be documented. It is also presented at a hearing with all parties under oath. This guarantees fairness in firing people. Why would any teacher say they don’t need that? If the world were as this young teacher assumes it is, having all teachers judged on the merits of their teaching, it would be a wonderful world. History shows us that it has not always been so. Forty years of experience gives me a firsthand account of history.

If it were not for Tenure, I know I would not have survived 34 years in the Public School System. I would have been fired, not for a lack of teaching skills, but for being a vocal advocate for learning and fairness. I stood up publicly and confronted administrators, Superintendents and Board of Education members when I did not agree with policies they were mandating which were not in the best interest of kids. These administrators were not bad people, just misinformed. As Educators we deal with ideas and everyone has opinions about ideas. Some people are threatened by certain ideas. If we, as educators find truth in those ideas, we use our best skills and passion to teach them. If someone in power disagrees with those ideas, our effective teaching becomes a threat. As educators we work under people who are political by the nature of their positions. Sometimes administrators prefer dealing with the person pointing out a problem as an easier task than addressing the problem itself. In this era of economic despair budgets are being cut. Education Reform too many is code for cut my taxes. With senior, experienced teachers making the highest salaries, what better way to cut expenses? Teaching quality be damned. Tenure protects educators from these attacks. It insures our academic freedom as an educator. Again, it only guarantees due process; it does not guarantee a job for life.

Now let’s talk about why people attribute Tenure to “BAD TEACHERS”. It is the most convenient of excuses for administrators who fail to do the right thing. It is not always their fault, but nevertheless some people are not being held accountable. In order to get Tenure a new teacher is supposed to be observed by several administrators over a three-year period. If at any time during that period a non-tenured teacher does not meet the standard, he/she can be summarily dismissed without explanation. It is reasonable to assume that after three years of administrator observations that an accurate assessment of a new teacher can be made. It is after three years that the recommendation for tenure is made. If no decision is made by the administrator, it does become automatic. That only occurs if the administrator allows it to happen. A big problem in the process is the time administrator’s need to complete the observations that they are required to do. Administrators don’t always get to it. It is not intentional, but many things must be prioritized over the course of the year and observations do not head the list. This is further complicated by the administrator turnover rate. As administrators come and go a clear picture of observed teachers is not always there. There is no continuity for observations or personal conferences. If a teacher is brought up on charges of any kind to force a firing, administrators often do not have the documentation to prove the accusations. It is a quick step to say, I couldn’t fire him because of Tenure. A more truthful statement would be I couldn’t fire him because people did not do a follow-up for the process to prove incompetence. The biggest problem in my estimation however, is that not all administrators are cut out to be leaders who make tough decisions. They do not want to be a bad guy and say we have to let you go after your three years of service. This makes the capable leaders weakened in their attempt to do the right thing.

That being said we need to address the problem. It is not Tenure, but the lack of enforcement of the process that grants Tenure that has the most flaws. The observation process also needs to be addressed. Administrators as well as teachers are often upset when an incompetent teacher fails to be removed. Tenure allows incompetent teachers to be removed as long as it is done fairly. Bad teachers make it bad for all teachers. A union however, has a responsibility to defend all teachers to make sure the rules are equally applied to all.

I am most upset at the scab-picking and bickering by teachers. The ugliness of this reform movement is in the name calling of teachers by teachers: Public school teachers against Charter school teachers; Young teachers against experienced teachers; Non-Tenured Teachers against Tenured teachers. The common word in all of these pairing is teacher. We need to work together for positive change and work to build ourselves up, not tear each other down. Teachers are of the most educated people in our society. We can’t point fingers at folks who teach differently or have different educational philosophies and say they are incompetent, FIRE THEM! We need to push this reform to include teaching teachers and parents as well. We can’t hold people accountable unless we train them for what they are accountable for. Learning is ongoing. We need to professionally develop all of our teachers continually. It is not an expense, but an investment.

By the way, I became a teacher at a time of declining enrollment in New York. I was granted Tenure, but I was excessed (not rehired until September) every year for my first nine years of teaching. I knew I was a good teacher, but had to live with the fact that I had to leave while others, that I deemed not as good, remained in their positions. I still support Tenure and I still support seniority.

If we are moving forward with reform let’s do our best to identify the real problems as educators. We need to take a more prominent role in a discussion that is being hijacked by business people and politicians. I understand that this topic will draw on many emotions based on one’s perspective in the system. Please try to stick to the facts and not address the myths on this. Your comments are welcome.

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