Reality Check: Teacher Appreciation Day

“Most of us end up with no more than five or six people who remember us. Teachers have thousands of people who remember them for the rest of their lives.”

~ Andy Rooney

Rules for Students Fall 2009-1

The other day, I called in to my friend Christopher Gabriel’s radio show to talk about education. He was discussing class size and some of the other issues and challenges facing teachers in this economy, and it got me thinking. Actually, I’ve been thinking a lot about teachers since the football season started.

That’s right –  football makes me think of education, or rather, it makes me think about the skewed value system we have here in America. Now, I know we are not alone in this regard, but that doesn’t make it any less ridiculous — and I really do think it’s ridiculous. We glorify athletes, but think nothing about complaining about teachers or bemoaning the state of our education system without doing anything about it. And putting kids in private or charter schools is not doing anything to improve our education system, but rather offering band-aids for individual kids/parents.

Consider this: according to ESPN, the average salary for teachers in one Texas school district was $42,400, while the average salary for football coaches in the same district was $73,804. Seems fair, right?!

The average public school teacher in the US makes $46,752. This is obscene. Not only have they gone to college and often graduate school, but they have gotten certificates and kept-up their mandatory continuing education requirements, which more often than not are courses they have to take on top of their incredible workloads during the school year.

Contrary to popular belief, teachers work very long hours, often staying after school for several hours for mandatory meetings, after-school activities, and to do more work. In the evenings they grade papers, work on lesson plans, and go out and buy supplies with their own money. That’s right — they buy their own supplies. Staplers, classroom decorations, and very often, whatever they might need to do a particular lesson they have planned. All of that comes out of their own pockets. Can you imagine if your boss required you to buy your own office supplies to do your job?

So, you are saying, “But they knew what they were getting into when they signed up for this.” Perhaps, but somehow I doubt it.

The reality of teaching in the No Child Left Behind era and in today’s society is very different that anything a soon-to-be teacher could fathom. A bit of student teaching can’t prepare them for the reality, and their love of children and desire to do good will only help keep the blinders in place for so long. But those blinders will fall away and we will continue to lose teachers and make it more difficult to get college students to pursue a degree in education. And who could blame them?

The question is: what can we do about it? If you are a parent with school-aged children, how can you support the teachers in your school district and work with your child’s teacher? These folks are up against so many hurdles and are not being given the tools, support, or resources to overcome them, so why would they stay? Would you?

Oh yeah, and if you are reading this, thank a teacher, not a football player. Just sayin’.

See ya outside! ~ The Grass Stain Guru

Creative Commons License photo credit: mick62

Take the Pledge: Stand Up for Childhood

Kids: they dance before they learn there is anything

that isn’t music.  ~William Stafford

VBS Get Down_2252

New backpacks are ready to go — filled to the the rim with pencils, paper, and folders adorned with puppies, Hello Kitty, or the latest teen idol. It’s back to school time here in the US, and kids are resuming their breakneck schedules. Commuting, long days in the classroom, adult-led after-school activities, and an ever-increasing homework load. Many of them have lost recess, or in the process of doing so. Simply put, they must be exhausted.

I don’t know about you, but if I had a typical American kid’s schedule, I would revolt. Or act out in class or at home, be depressed or anxious…oh, wait….that is exactly what we are seeing happen in today’s society. And it’s not just the kids that are struggling, it’s the parents and educators, too.

So, I am asking all the adults in children’s worlds to take a pledge this school year. It doesn’t matter if you are a parent, educator, after-school provider, or simply a caring adult: this school year, take a stand for childhood.

As a parent: Sign your child up for fewer after-school activities. Make sure they have ample free time to play and spend time outdoors. Talk to your child’s teacher and/or the administrator about the homework policy. If you haven’t read The Case Against Homework, please do. If there is no recess in your child’s school, fight for it to be reinstated.

As an educator: Make room for play and creativity in the classroom. Work with a team to create a school garden/outdoor classroom, and make learning come alive! Appreciate different learning styles and work with students to better meet their needs. Establish a realistic homework policy that allows students and families to have time to spend together, and gives kids ample time to relax and play so they will be ready for learning the next day.

As an after-school provider: Make sure to give kids time to blow-off steam and have fun when they walk through the door, instead of launching into homework time or a structured activity. Let them have choices and direct their own play, versus always scheduling every minute. Provide ample time for outdoor play.

As a caring adult: No kids, no problem. If you are a blogger, write a post about the need for kids to play and spend time in nature. If you are an aunt/uncle or grandparent, offer to take the kids hiking, camping, or to go shoot hoops. Consider talking to the parents about the benefits of play. Keep up-to-date on education reform issues. Concerned citizen? Assess the parks and green spaces in your neighborhood. Are there ample places to play in your community? If not, speak out!

There is something we can each do this school year to make a better version of childhood a reality. I love the quote at the top of this post. Let’s keep the kids dancing as long as we can. They have a whole lifetime to be grown-ups. Let’s not require it of them too soon.

Here are a few additional resources you might find helpful when speaking or writing about the need for play and time outdoors:

Please join me. Stand up!

See ya outside! ~ The Grass Stain Guru

Creative Commons License photo credit: hoyasmeg

Standardized Testing: A Teacher Weighs-In

play is good

Today’s Washington Post Education Section features a great letter from a veteran teacher on standardized testing, which you will find reprinted below. The letter refers to a piece in the Washington Post (link provided), that states that “significant gains” have been made with this approach, but no research is cited. In the recent Alliance for Childhood’s report on Kindergarten, the research does not point to lasting benefits of testing at this age, and questions the validity of standardized test scores prior to the age of eight.

The letter below joins many voices calling for education reform, and eloquently illustrates the impact of “teaching to the test” on the ability of teachers to do exactly what they went in to the profession to do — TEACH. To work with students and share their love of learning. To help children learn to love to learn and how to think critically — not tell them what to think. Veteran educator Glenn Fay discussed active learning in yesterday’s post. It is hard to imagine teachers having the time to dedicate to this student-centered, one size does not fit all approach when standardized testing rules the schools and the learning lives of today’s children.

Without a doubt, there is a lot of work to be done to improve the education system at every level. Again, it must take place at the curriculum, pedagogy, and evaluation levels  — not simply one or the other. It must target pre-service teachers, as well. Quality education reform must address the needs of the whole child — including character development and physical, mental, and emotional health. There are not really any higher stakes than that.

See ya outside! – The Grass Stain Guru

High-Stakes Testing Really the Answer?

Dear Extra Credit:

You said that introducing high-stakes testing in kindergarten “appears to have produced significant gains in reading and math achievement for students in this age group.” ["The Pressure Is On, and the Kids Suffer in Kindergarten," March 19].

As a 33-year veteran of an urban school district, I think it is necessary to point out that high-stakes testing, translated into real-world practice, has completely taken over the instructional methods used by public schools. Passing a quantitative test requires that facts be given precedence over reflection, analysis and creativity, because facts are easier to measure.

Teachers and schools have become so test-driven that even though we know what type of teaching methods foster creative skills, we have no time to strengthen these practices because we are racing through a state curriculum guide that dictates the content that will be on the test.

Many of today’s students are not interested in knowing what is not on the test. Teachers who have been in this business a while know what can go wrong with this notion of using high-stakes tests to determine success. Virginia has had the Standard of Learning tests since 1998, and so we have seen the long-term effects of a “good idea” that focuses on only part of the story in a child’s overall education.

Tests have always existed, and they are valid and necessary, but many of our children are not able to read, write or compute. We need more than just high-stakes testing. We also need time — time to collaborate with other teachers who are role models and who can share their successful real-world practices; time to develop instruction that encourages and demands more than just choosing a, b, c or d and helps strengthen curiosity, reflection and flexibility; and, of course, the time to develop relationships with our students, communities and parents or guardians.

Patricia J. Lewis — Alexandria, VA

Note: Letter reprinted from the Extra Credit Column, Washington Post.

Creative Commons License photo credit: woodleywonderworks

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