BulgingButtons

Not bad for a fat girl


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Taxes and Testing and Teaching

Today is April 15, typically the day income taxes are due in the United States. Not this year, though, since it’s Sunday, and tomorrow is some sort of holiday in our nation’s capitol. That makes Tuesday this year’s deadline. My taxes, however, are done. It’s a relief to have that particular task out of the way. In fact, I was owed a refund and already received it. I’m thankful for that (but wondering if I need to change my I-9 at work…).

Here’s what I’m thinking about. Taxes. Why do we pay them and what do we expect as a result? We pay them because we’re contributing members of a civilized society. As such, we contribute our time, our talents, and our resources for the greater good. Not all of our time. Not all of our talents. Not all of our resources. But some.

Does everyone contribute? No. Not everyone is able. We don’t expect children to produce an income and pay taxes, for example. We, as a society, have a responsibility to look out for one another. That doesn’t mean that I work hard and my neighbor does nothing but sit back and enjoy life on my dime. It means that we all help pay for roads and schools and maintaining community services and supports. Just because I don’t use a particular park doesn’t mean that my tax dollars shouldn’t help maintain it.

Do I think the income tax structure in this nation is fair? No. Absolutely not. However, I don’t complain about paying my taxes, because I believe it’s my responsibility. I also believe that citizens have a responsibility to each other and we should speak up and speak out about how our tax money is used.

In my state, educators are finally standing together and speaking up about the way funds have been allocated (or NOT) for education over the past ten years. I want my taxes to support public education because I believe that our nation, and my state in particular, can do better when it comes to providing our children with the skills and tools they need to become productive citizens. Far too many of our kids come to school with deficits that we’re ill-equipped to help them overcome due to shortages of staff and resources.

The role of the schools has expanded greatly in the time I’ve been an educator. Elementary school (where I spend my days) is nothing like it was even ten years ago. The demands placed on kids and teachers are far greater than they ever have been, and there’s an expectation that we can, and must, do more with less.

Classes are larger, instructional assistants, where we have them at all, are stretched thin, and it seems that more and more kids with behavioral and emotional issues are being educated in general education classrooms.  Add in pressure for kids to do well on “the test,” and developmentally you have many kids who are being pushed in ways they aren’t quite ready for.

And what about ” the test?” The one kids sometimes get stomach aches about. The one they worry will keep them for advancing to the next grade. The one that takes hours to administer, under conditions that are more suited for university students than nine year olds. Why do we have that one, and several others that are similar? Yes, we need to monitor growth and achievement, and yes, we want to be on the lookout for signs of trouble, but really, I could tell you which of my students have those skills and which do not.

The test is for accountability, not for kids, but for teachers. The thinking is, if you work hard and do your job as a teacher then all of your students should be successful on the test. Sounds great, right? But of course it just doesn’t work that way. For every kid that’s a nervous wreck about getting everything right, there are several kids who really don’t particularly care.

They’re little kids, and the test in on a computer in front of them. They can click a few buttons, write down a couple of things on their scratch paper, and call it done. As far as many kids are concerned, it’s a waste of time. Maybe it’s too hard for them. Maybe it’s too long. Maybe it’s too boring. Maybe they just don’t feel like doing it, after all, there’s really nothing tangible for them to gain. They don’t get extra lives or digital coins in their game account or anything like that. Why even bother? Because the teacher tried to hype it up? Please.

I propose that we use some of the money that’s used for the insane amount of testing we do, and put in back into the classrooms. I propose that our governor find a way to reinstate funding for education in our state back to its 2008 level, and I propose that he actually meet with teacher leaders and hear them out. I think he has no idea about what really happens in classrooms, and I think many taxpayers are mislead too. Our state has a severe teacher shortage, primarily due to low wages. Many teachers (myself included) work multiple jobs, and others leave the profession or move out of state to earn a decent living.

The idea of “if you don’t like it, leave” doesn’t work here. Classrooms are already overcrowded, and we already have about 2,000 vacancies. Additionally, we have individuals “filling in” who aren’t professional educators. Don’t our kids deserve trained professional educators, not subs who are doing their best, but don’t have the knowledge or training of a professional educator? If all of us who are passionate about teaching leave, who will fill in? There are not enough new teachers to fill the vacancies.

So in short, no, teachers don’t work from 8 to 3:30. No, teachers don’t have three months off in the summer. No, teachers are not lazy. No, teachers do not have their pensions funded for them (it comes out of our pay).

The teachers I know and work with are hardworking people who love kids and love to teach. None of us entered the profession expecting to become wealthy, but we did expect to be paid fairly. We did expect to have the resources we need to best do our jobs. We did expect to be treated as professionals. We still have those expectations, in spite of years of evidence to the contrary. Why? Because we’re educators. We believe in possibilities and change.

Please support your education professionals, and if you’re in Arizona get behind #RedforEd . Arizona Educators United is a grassroots organization dedicated to improving conditions for educators and in turn for our students. Their future is worth it.

 


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The Power of Yet

As an educator, I have a drive to constantly improve my teaching skills. It is imperative that I never stop learning about HOW people learn, and how I can best help them along that road.

Dr. Carol Dweck’s research into the topic is fascinating and so important for educators, and really everyone to consider. We all have the capacity to learn, but what propels some while others hold back? Her answer is our mindset, whether we have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset.

This video is about ten minutes long, and very informative. I would love to hear your thoughts on it, and on fixed v. growth mindset in general.


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What Does it Mean to Be a Teacher?

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I’m a teacher. I know what that means. I know what’s required of me as a teacher, and I know how to achieve those demands. I know my responsibilities to my students, their families, my colleagues, and my supervisors. I know how to help kids understand complex ideas. I know how to challenge them to approach problems from multiple perspectives. I know how to encourage them to do their best and strive to do better.

I also know how to develop curriculum, design lessons, assess achievement, improve accountability, and instill excitement. I know how to calm fears, increase independence, and promote collaboration. I’m not bragging, most of my colleagues know these things too. It might be news to you that we do all of these things and more.

While visiting with a friend today, I learned that many people don’t realize teachers usually create our own curriculum and assessments. She sheepishly admitted that she thought teachers were simply handed a curriculum and materials at the beginning of the year and their job was to just follow along. She went on to tell me that volunteering in her son’s classroom opened her eyes to the reality of modern teaching. She now spreads the word to others when she comes across those misconceptions.

To clarify, yes, there are teacher’s manuals for many subject areas, but I don’t know any teachers who rely solely on those to teach their students. They simply don’t meet our students’ needs or properly align with our grade level standards. Some of them assume that we have far more time to teach particular concepts than we do. Others only skim the surface of topics, leaving students without the deep understanding necessary for further learning. At times, the text book publishers assume our students have more previous knowledge than they do, and other times they skip important concepts completely. And let’s face it, text books are often boring. Today’s students require more novelty and active engagement. The teacher’s guides don’t provide that, the teachers do.

Of course that’s not all it means to be a teacher. It also means you laugh with your students, you receive countless crayon pictures, and you know when a kid REALLY needs to go to the bathroom. It means you grade papers, complete report cards, identify and secure services for students with learning disabilities, conduct parent-teacher conferences, attend staff meetings, make copies, organize and chaperone field trips, participate in professional development, read professional journals, pin countless teaching ideas on Pinterest, scan hundreds of files on Teachers Pay Teachers, put up bulletin boards, pass out thousands of papers, and share tales with friends and families until they dread spending time with us.

Unfortunately there are some aspects to teaching that are far less pleasant. We have to cope with student misbehavior, we have to endure countless interruptions to instruction, we have to report suspected abuse or neglect, and we have to mediate conflicts between our students. We have to assist students coping with stressful situations, and we sometimes become targets. There are those who, in their attempts to advocate for their children, either intentionally or unintentionally undermine our efforts to educate those children. Adults who excuse bad behavior, don’t require effort, or bad-mouth teachers end up doing students a disservice. It is difficult for students to develop a sense of responsibility and respect when it isn’t required of them or modeled for them at home.

Recently I read an article about the suicide of an ivy league college student. On the outside it appeared that everything was going fine for her, but she was struggling. The article went on to state that suicide rates among college students are on the rise, and it speculated that one of the main causes was the lack of problem solving skills that many young people have as a result of parents micro-managing their lives. All too often parents are quick to fire off an irate e-mail if a child loses recess as a result of wasting time in class, or they demand make-up work for assignments that a child has chosen not to complete. They rush to school with forgotten lunches and library books and instruments rather than allowing their children to experience the natural consequences of those common oversights.

I submit that not allowing kids to fail once in a while is a huge mistake. We grow by learning from our mistakes, not by having others bail us out when we make them. It’s our duty to raise responsible, independent kids who are hard-working problem solvers, not dependent kids with a sense of entitlement. Those kids may be smart and funny and wonderful, but sadly they don’t tend to be very resilient, a quality that success in life demands. Let them have small failures in elementary school, when it doesn’t “count” so much, rather than allowing them to rely on adults to get them out of situations as they get older. Kids whose parents don’t hold them accountable have a difficult time learning accountability, and that makes them poor candidates for employment, not to mention people with whom you might not want to enter into a long-term relationship.

The good news is that those situations are the exception rather than the rule, but they happen often enough that teachers often feel as if they’re walking on eggshells. Rather than taking the time to find out what really happened, many parents simply take their child’s word as gospel when they have some complaint about school, and go on a tirade directed toward the teacher. Rarely are school situations as dire as parents make them out to be, and usually a calm conversation can clarify a situation and provide a satisfactory result. Jumping to conclusions and becoming hostile is simply not the way to go.

Parents, please remember, we have the same goal. We became teachers because we want to help students learn. We want to instill a sense of wonder at the world, as well as develop the skills necessary to make sense of it. Don’t forget, it is in the teacher’s best interest that your child is successful in our classroom. We want your child to be happy, engaged, and learning. We don’t want your child to feel stressed out, unsuccessful, or unappreciated. We want each student to feel safe, valued, and smart. Teachers aren’t out to “get” kids, they’re out to educate and empower them.

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