Opine I will

I am an elementary school teacher just trying to do the right thing

Archive for the month “November, 2014”

Frustration to Motivation

I love teaching. I know I make a difference in my student’s lives and that my students leave my class ready to face sixth grade and high school beyond that. Every day, I look forward to the challenges my students throw my way. That is what keeps me motivated, focused and teaching. That is why I became a teacher. Unfortunately, new challenges have developed that have turned this year into one of the most frustrating years I have ever experienced as a teacher.

The new challenges I face every day affect my students, my colleagues, my community, my craft, and me. These new challenges are caused by the political agendas of a few wealthy ideologues who are hell bent to “save our nation by saving our schools”.  When in reality their aim is a power grab that will destroy our nation’s greatest asset and hand it over to the private sector to fuel their movement and fill their pocketbooks.

I became President of our local Teachers’ Association about a year and a half ago,  and now my days are filled with contract negotiations, grievances, budget cuts, unrealistic expectations, nonsensical teacher evaluations, tax caps, invalid data, and accusations that suddenly we have no idea how to teach.  We are now being told we all must now abandoned good teaching and follow a new paradigm .

We are in the midst of our third year without a new contract in our district. Thanks to New York’s Triborough Amendment, our old contract remains in effect until a new one is collectively bargained. But that is not guaranteed to continue, because there is new legislation being drafted that would end that protective amendment.  Approximately one third of our teachers have not received a raise in 3 years, our health insurance benefit is under attack as well as our future pensions. Our financial and professional futures have been put at risk.

New York Governor Cuomo, the self-proclaimed student advocate, is on a crusade that will rip apart the fabric of our neighborhoods. He is on his own “Sherman’s March”. His goal is to beat public sector unions into submission by destroying everything in his path, because he claims it is for the public good.

His Tax Cap, his continued use of a Gap Elimination Adjustment, his failure to fund schools beyond 2008 levels, his warped teacher’s evaluation plan, his appointed Education Commissioner, his charter school advocacy, his support for school vouchers and his hedge fund allies have waged total war against our public schools.

This has made it impossible to negotiate a new teachers’ contract and that has created situations where we must now grieve conditions of our current contract that are being challenged. We are being told that we must now teach a new way, and that our old ways may have been effective.We must never the less change due to new high stakes tests. Our special education teachers must now look for ways that help our most vulnerable students despite new restrictions that prevent them from offering needed services. Our days are filled with administrators with clipboards wandering our halls and entering our rooms to make sure our assembly lines (classrooms) are working efficiently.

Here’s the kicker.  Our district located in a strong middle class neighborhood, whose homes sell for $600K to over $1million.Their property values stayed strong despite the economic calamity of a few years ago because of our schools.  Our students excel and over 95% of them go to college. Our teacher salaries are near the bottom of all school district salaries in the region.  We have outperformed the state, the region and the county on state test scores ( It kills me to even use this). With outcomes like these would a private employer treat their employees the same way?

Cuomo’s total war on us will have profound effects on the region.  Our teachers are contributors to our region’s economy. They spend their paychecks in local businesses, pay their fair share of taxes, volunteer in their own communities, and contribute to local charities.  Our retirees pensions flow directly back into the local economy as well.

2015 is not going to be a good year for education in New York State. Cuomo’s reelection has set the stage for a bloodletting of sorts. He now has the votes needed in the legislature to accelerate his campaign of destruction. Now is not the time to sit back and hope. Hear the call to action! Get involved, attend rallies, write letters make calls, and visit your legislator. Join your civic association, wear your teacher label with pride, and let your local businesses know you are a teacher and that you support them.

It’s time to turn our frustration into motivation. If not you better start practicing saying, “welcome to Walmart”.

In the 3rd year without a contract

Our Teachers’ Association is the third year without a new contract. As president of our association I made the following comments at last evening’s School Board meeting.

I  would like to start off this evening by congratulating you on your successful resolution at the New York State School Board’s Associations convention to enhance school safety by bringing to the forefront our district’s concerns with having elections in our schools while school is in session.  I would also like to congratulate the NYSSBA for rejecting their own Board of Director’s resolution to support the continued use of student performance data in APPRs. Even though it was rejected by a slim margin, I am hoping that our Board also voted to reject that resolution.

We all agree that some sort of evaluation process needs to be in place that fairly measures teacher and district effectiveness. Unfortunately so called educational reformers have hijacked the conversation and have created a system that relies on high stakes tests that creates invalid data that we all are unfairly judged on.

Our students are subjected to hours upon hours of tests that are used for multiple purposes Effective Assessments are not supposed to be designed that way. Effective Assessments should be designed to help a child, not label them or label their teacher, school, or district.

At last month’s Board meeting we were presented with bar graph after bar graph that were designed to show how we did on last year’s state assessments. They showed that we excelled at all grade levels and that our teachers do extraordinary work.

Despite the fact that we lead most of the state with our scores we still heard we need to work to increase the ‘stamina’ of some of our students and  that more work needs to be done to raise these scores even higher. That may make logical sense because we all want to do better and better however,

 I must say that, I believe that our students and your children are much more than a test score.

The current APPR evaluation system measuring student growth using

standardized testing is a not a  valid assessment of an educator’s job performance.

These tests do not take into account that our students are more than a test score. They don’t measure a student who may have come to school hungry, or is simply suffering that day from hay fever, They don’t take into account if a child may be dealing with problems at home, or a problem with their best friend. It doesn’t take into account that the child may be just having a bad day, after all we all have them. There are thousands of issues that impact on student learning on any given day and to make believe some standardized test can measure that, ignores the fact that your children are much more than a test score.

My colleagues know that, that’s why when you visit our classrooms you witness first hand the caring and nurturing that our wonderful teachers do. You see our teachers teaching the whole child  going above and beyond any contract language or some made up rubric to ensure our students, your children, are prepared for the yet unknown future they face.

When we speak of stamina, it should not be in the context of student taking tests, it should be in the unbelievable stamina our teachers have. They often work well into the night and on weekends developing lessons and experiences for their students. They attend workshops and classes to improve their craft so that their students and this community benefit.  When you believe that students are much more than a test score you do those things regradless of what any contract says or whether or not your contract has been settled or not.

 Teachers are an extraordinary bunch, they need to be. You see we all depend on teachers. What we do here day in and day out effects the lives of the children and the families we teach, it effects the property values of all that live here whether you have children or not. It even affects the local businesses in the area. Without a strong schools and strong property values, local businesses would flounder and disappear.

Hopefully, one day, we won’t have to sit and look at bar graphs that attempt to label our students and our efforts and our schools. Hopefully our elected leaders will come to believe that our children are much more than a test score.

And hopefully one day soon, our teachers will be recognized for their extraordinary efforts with a fair contract that recognizes that today’s teachers and our future teachers are vital members of this community.

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