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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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Greek Mythology Like Never Before

67a1408b76d203375d97ad21f6a535a9.jpgMy fourth grade students have been studying Greek Mythology over the past few weeks, and it’s been so much fun. I’ve taught this content before, of course, but never quite this in depth, and never with some of the techniques we’ve been using. Boy, what a difference!

Some of the changes this time around:

  • more versions of the same myth (in particular Hercules’ Quest: when we view the Disney film it will be the fourth version we’ll examine)
  • more myths (Psyche & Eros, Arachne, Medusa, and others)
  • incorporating drama into our study (tableaux of various scenes, forcing students to deeply explore the characters’ feelings and actions)
  • incorporating more art into our study (resulting in some wonderful projects)
  • allowing students to not only choose various ways of expressing their learning, but letting them create the various choices (and they were so much more engaged in the activities they designed themselves)

Just spending more time in Ancient Greece has been so beneficial to the students. They’re seeing recurring themes including jealousy, vanity, bravery, and sacrifice. They’re drawing parallels between characters and stories and they’re becoming quite knowledgable.

As an added bonus, the Rick Riordan books (the Percy Jackson series) have been flying off the library shelves, as have the other mythology books. The students are excited!

I’m so pleased with their enthusiasm and their level of commitment to their work. I believe we’re building a strong foundation for future learning as they’re developing a love of these ancient tales. I don’t know if this work will show up in the form of growth on their end of year standardized tests, but I know it’s beneficial. For that reason, I’m feeling successful and yes, a little bit proud. I can’t help but feel a bit like Zeus on Mt. Olympus, looking down at the mortals with affection and feeling pleased with their successes.


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Throwback Thursday – State Testing Edition

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My little fourth graders are doing their state assessment this week. I don’t want to get into too much detail about it, but needless to say I have some strong opinions about what they’re being asked to do. Long story short, the munchkins are working hard and I’m proud of them. Enough said.

So, this week of standardized testing made me flashback to some of my own testing experiences over the years, stretching all the way back to the second grade. That one was a doozy. We were doing some inane multiple choice fill in the bubble test and it was a BIG DEAL. Such a big deal that our desks were scattered all over the room, I guess to prevent us from cheating. Anyway, I finished early (which would become a pattern) and was sitting quietly waiting for the time to be called. I happened to have a tissue, and I folded it neatly into the shape of an envelope on my desk. I was feeling pretty clever. Alas, the student teacher (I will never forget her name, she scarred me) swooped down and grabbed my precious tissue envelope and threw it away, giving me a mean look. What? Did I skew the results of the test with that tissue? Wow.

My next big test memory occurred in my freshman year of high school. In those days the freshmen were still in junior high, and we had to sit for some end of the year state test. We were all housed together in this weird room behind the stage. It was the first and last time I ever sat foot in that room. To this day I have no idea what it was used for other than that test. Continue reading