Thank you to our teachers, nurses, paraprofessionals, support staff, and public service employees

In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, National Nurses Week and Public
Service Recognition week, I want to thank the thousands of members who
dedicate their lives to improving the lives of others. One day, or even one
week, is not enough time to express our sincere gratitude for all that you
do on a daily basis for the people you serve, their families and our
communities.

My life has been personally touched by people in these professions. Mrs.
Reichardt was my reading teacher in both third and fourth grades. I
worshipped the ground she walked on, not only because she taught me a love
for reading, but also because she was such a kind person who always had an
encouraging word to say – that support and encouragement is especially life-
shaping for young children.

I remember fondly Donna Hawkins who was not only the school secretary while
I was a young student but also continued in that capacity when I began
working as an educator at Georgetown Jr.-Sr. High School. I brought to this
profession a strong passion to help children and open their eyes to the
wonderfulness of this world. Donna taught me everything I needed to know
about how to navigate the school system so that I would not be overwhelmed
by any bureaucracy associated with my job. She took me under her wing and
made sure that I had the support and advice to be successful in anything
that I attempted to do. And she kept that school running efficiently through
countless different administrative changes. She left this world far sooner
than we were ready to let her go. Fortunately for us, she shared her
knowledge and her goodness of heart with her daughter Christy who continues
to serve the school community in ways that go far beyond her job description
as so many educators and public servants do every day.

On a very personal level, I will always remember the nurses at Cincinnati
Children’s Hospital who made my son Tom as comfortable as possible when he
was undergoing chemotherapy. I’ll never forget when Tom left the hospital
following his last treatment: Nurses who had cared for him through a very
difficult time for our family lined the hallway and sang a celebratory song
as he left the hospital to send him back to the rest of his life on a
positive and happy note. That was such a touching moment that went far
beyond what those nurses were required to do. It came from a place of love
for their work and for the people they serve, just as you put extra time and
effort into being the best you can be for those you serve in your jobs.

I have been blessed to meet hundreds of incredible people across the state
who glow when they talk about the work they do to help others – people such
as Jaye Hayes, a paraprofessional offering additional help to students in
Toledo; Cheryll Harris who helps children and families during difficult
times through her work at Franklin County Children Services; Dar Borradaile
who sparks a love of aircraft maintenance in students at Miami Valley; Pat
Forrai-Gunter, who tends to and cares for her school community as a school
nurse in Cleveland; Bev Lucas, an engaging and passionate high school
teacher in New Lexington; Allan Bobincheck, a bus driver whose
responsibility in Beachwood is to deliver our children to their destinations
safe and sound; Mike Smithback, a professor drawing out students’ passions
at Terra Community College. These people, and countless others like them,
restore my faith in what our future can and should be.

Unfortunately, their voices are too often excluded from conversations where
decisions are made about our work. Worse yet, they are often treated as
second-class citizens, attacked, demeaned, dismissed.

Take, for example, what has happened in Cleveland this past week. Teachers
who dedicated their lives to educating children are being improperly
portrayed as lazy, slovenly employees who do not work toward student
success. This is a political attack. It is unfair and incredibly false. Just
read the newspaper articles. Read the quote from Michelle Pierre-Farid. I
won’t dignify it by actually quoting it in my blog. Let’s just say that it
completely disrespects the thousands of educators who show up on a daily
basis to make sure that the children in Cleveland have opportunities for a
decent future. What the newspaper articles are not telling you is that
teachers in these investment schools in Cleveland are fully invested in
student success. That is why they chose to be assigned to these schools. And
they have ideas that will actually help drive that success – ideas that will
have much greater impact on student outcomes than the administration’s push
for an unnecessary dress code. The best ideas the administration can put into an academic
improvement plan are dress codes and weekly lesson plans, indicating that the
teachers there do not dress professionally and they do not do lesson plans –
false characterizations on both pieces that only feed into the current false
media portrayal of teachers. What benefit is there in painting these false
pictures of teachers? Politically motivated attacks on educators fail to
raise student outcomes. Perpetrating falsehoods decreases public trust in
our schools. It is a disservice to children, their families and our
communities to dismiss the wisdom and expertise of the teachers who daily
give their all.

At Terra Community College, six individuals were recently dismissed with no
indication of having done anything wrong or having failed to meet work
obligations. These are faculty members who serve as content experts on
panels assembled by the Ohio Board of Regents, including one who achieved a
rare accomplishment for a community college by securing a National Science
Foundation grant for a robotics program. Yet these people are dismissed
without any prior warning or explanation.

Teachers in our career tech centers were asked to participate in writing
WebExams for their fields, but when they saw the final product it fails to
reflect their input. Why bother with the pretense of engaging a teacher’s
expertise if the advice is going to be overlooked? That is the ultimate
disrespect.

In spite of all the negativity in the media though, in spite of an
accountability system that was designed to put blame on educators rather
than looking at the deeper root societal problems that need to be solved,
the latest PDK poll shows that 64 percent of the public still has trust and
confidence in the men and women who are teaching in our public schools – a
number much higher than the approval rating of the people who create the
policies that tie the hands of our professionals.

It is time to give some respect to the people who are closest to the work in
our schools, in our hospitals, in our public service system. And not just
lip-service, but the kind of respect that is shown by truly listening to the
people doing the work and using their expertise to make the changes that
make a difference. This is the way, beyond simply having an appreciation week, to show that we truly value and respect the professionals who make our lives so much better.

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An open letter to legislators

Recently, the OFT Educational Issues Standing Committee wrote a position paper on testing in Ohio. The paper was designed in a question/answer format for legislators and other stakeholders who might not be familiar with all the terminology that is being used in discussions and focuses on providing our professional perspective on how assessments can drive student learning, our views on the current system, and our recommendations for further action.

Below is the letter that prefaces the document. Please read the letter and then link to the full report.

In addition to writing the report, we have actively been gathering information about your experiences with the testing process this year. If you have not yet taken our survey, please do so now.

The Senate Advisory Committee on Testing also has a website that allows for feedback on the test. Click here to leave input on that site.

An open letter to legislators

It’s time to end the testing mania. There is a better solution to ensure that our children are learning and thriving.

America’s fixation on high-stakes testing is denying our children the rich, meaningful education they deserve. Across our country and here in Ohio, test-driven education policies are hijacking public education. The testing fixation is taking time and money from key educational priorities. It is narrowing the curriculum, forcing teachers to “teach to the test.” It is causing unnecessary and cruel stress on children and their families. It is driving excellent teachers out of the profession and undermining school climate.

The thousands of teachers, paraprofessionals and school support staff represented by the Ohio Federation of Teachers have witnessed firsthand the destructive effects of the testing mania. Today, we are seeing the joy of learning disappear as districts cut art, music, sports, social studies and science to focus strictly on math and reading tests. Our students, sadly, are missing out on learning experiences that promote innovation, creativity, problem solving, communication, critical thinking and deep subject-matter knowledge—the skills that will allow our children and Ohio to thrive in the global economy in the coming decades. Meanwhile, an ever-growing body of research has established that standardized testing is woefully inadequate as the central mechanism for capturing student learning. We are devastating our public schools to no end.

To your credit, our Legislature is now attempting to respond to parent and educator outrage about overtesting and to better understand the testing crisis. Unfortunately, recent bills and reports have focused far too much on quick fixes that create even more frustration and confusion, and policy debates have become entangled in the mechanics—which tests to use, how many tests should be given, and how much time should be spent on testing and test preparation. Instead, we need to look at the bigger picture of what we want to accomplish with testing and whether our current system accomplishes it—or needs to be replaced with a proven, comprehensive assessment system, such as those used in high-performing education systems around the world.

Ohio is to be commended for embarking on the first step in taking the debate about testing beyond mechanics. The Senate Advisory Committee on Testing is composed of practitioners in the field who can lend their experience and expertise to making thoughtful decisions to ensure Ohio has an assessment system that supports meaningful learning and student success.

We should not give up on assessment and accountability, but there are far better options than yet more standardized testing. There are assessment systems that truly capture what is happening in the classroom and give students, parents and teachers a clear sense of how well students are learning and achieving.

We cannot reach the right answers if we are asking the wrong questions. To devise a workable solution to overtesting, we need time to take a step back. We urge you, at this time, to put a hold on decisions attached to high-stakes testing for three years while you take the time to convene educators, evaluate the current system and develop a long-term strategy for how to provide a high-quality education for our children.

The attached issue paper on testing is our first step in helping with that process. It offers our professional perspective on how assessments drive student learning, our views on the current system, and our recommendations for further actions. We also offer you experience and expertise from the people in the classroom and in our schools every day. Our members are eager to engage in deep conversations with policymakers on how to improve the current system. Also, the Ohio Federation of Teachers is currently working on a series of issue papers that will clearly and succinctly address the issues involved in testing and accountability. We hope that you’ll read these policy briefs and contact us in order to hear more from our members firsthand.

We can work together to reclaim the promise of public education and bring our schools the true support they need. Ohio needs a rational system of assessment that will benefit the most important people in this discussion: our students. Their future depends on getting this right. Thank you for your time and attention.

Sincerely,
Melissa Cropper President
Ohio Federation of Teachers

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Below is our list of recommendations for moving forward in our current system. For more detail about each recommendation, please read the report.

1. Pause stakes for three years.
2. Increase transparency and end gag orders.
3. Examine current tests and testing practices.
4. Develop a new approach to testing.
5. Allow local control on determining growth measures.
6. Require that classroom teachers be involved in determining the formative/diagnostic assessment system at the local level.

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Happy New Year! Add this resolution to your list

Happy New Year! Though many of you have already made your resolutions for the new year, I am going to ask you to make just one more. Resolve to make 2015 the Year of Accountability.

Okay, I could feel you cringe as you read that. I can imagine what you might be muttering under your breath right now. Year of Accountability? Haven’t we been living in that age for several years now? Have we not for quite some time been held hostage to high-stakes testing, convoluted value-added ratings, unproductive busywork, comparisons to other countries, unfair media attacks, and both the threatened and actual privatization of all of the wonderful, varied and necessary work our members do for children, their families and communities? Where have you been, Melissa? We are being held accountable for everything imaginable, and even more egregiously for those myriad things that are out of our control.

I hear you, and you are absolutely right. Accountability in recent years has become a dirty, ugly, emotionally-charged word that makes even the best educators and public employees cringe, not because of any desire to escape accountability, but rather because the focus is all wrong and the measures and methods being used do not give accurate representations of what our members are doing and accomplishing. In fact, the current education system is forcing good educators to waste valuable instructional time on activities they know add no value at the expense of quality instructional practices.

So why do I call on you to make this the Year of Accountability?

Because the time has come, in fact has long been here, for us to hold legislators accountable for the decisions they make that impact education and the future of our children and our communities.

We are the professionals in the field. We are the experts in the classrooms working directly with the children. We live the impact of the decisions that are being made by policymakers and lawmakers. We see the consequences that bad laws have on children. When we raise our voices together though and take collective action, we get results.

Just look at what our members were able to accomplish this past year. In the spring, more than 7,000 members engaged in a postcard campaign urging legislators to reject harmful changes the House was attempting to make to the evaluation process. Those postcards worked. In the fall, members testified against a bill that would have required three different sets of standards in four years. Those voices stopped the crazy legislation. In December, members met with State Superintendent Richard Ross to give input on the report he will give to the legislature about reducing testing in Ohio. That input makes a difference. Although many members have voiced concerns to their legislators though, the number of members who remain silent still far outnumber those who are actively engaged in having a positive impact on education policy.

Imagine what we could do if we all resolved to be activists – if each and every one of us committed to reclaiming the promise of public education by pushing back on bad reforms and advocating for what we know our children need in order to succeed.

We know the challenges our students are facing. We see the struggles they bring to the classroom. We understand that our children need more from us now than they ever have before. As educators, we have a strong desire to bring out the best in each and every child. We want them to learn how to think critically, work collaboratively, and grow in knowledge and skills. We want them to have exposure to the arts, physical education, libraries, and a wide variety of elective classes that will help them discover who they are and how they can build a life that will not only make them financially stable but happy. We want them to be healthy – physically and mentally. We want to be the best educators we can be so that our students can become whatever they want to be. We know, from experience, what works and doesn’t work. We know what we need to help us do our work and to help children reach success. We have a vision for what a high quality education system looks like. We need to share that vision with the governor, state senators and representatives, the state superintendent, and members of the state board of education, and hold them accountable for building an education system that respects us as professionals and includes us in making sound decisions about education.

But we can’t wait for those decision-makers to ask us for our input. We must push our way in the door and demand that our voices be heard, our experience be respected, and our expertise be honored.

Our legislators are reconvening now to set their agendas on critical issues they will deal with over the next few months – testing, charter school reform, school funding, standards, working conditions, collective bargaining, just to name a few. Are you willing to let them make decisions about these issues based on their own experiences and biases? Do you want them to listen to reformers who are not in the classrooms dealing with the realities?
If not, then you need to make a commitment to tell your story this year. Talk about what is happening in your classroom. Discuss the impact of past decisions. Share your ideas on reaching our common goal of giving children the best education possible. Talk with them about what you know children need in order to be able to learn and thrive.

I know you are busy, but I promise you, this will not take a lot of your time. In fact, you might even find it cathartic. Instead of internalizing the stress, mumbling under your breath, and venting your frustration on social media, commit to having a constructive conversation with a legislator.

You don’t have to travel to Columbus. There are lots of other ways to share your experiences. Invite a legislator to visit your classroom. Set up a local meeting with your legislator in your town. Send an email. Write a letter. Make a phone call.

Even more powerful, invite parents and other community members into the conversation. Share with them what is happening in your classroom. Let them know what is in your control and what is being controlled at a higher level outside of your reach as well as theirs. Invite them to join you in conversations with legislators about what we want and need for children.

Refuse to let anyone else control the education conversation. Write to your local newspaper. Respond to news stories you see. Share positive stories through social media. Correct posts that tell the wrong story.

As your statewide union, OFT is here to help. We can help set up meetings. We can help get your letters to the editor published. We can provide you with research on current topics, or any other way that you want help. We speak for you and work for you every day, but your voices are the voices that are respected in your communities, and to the legislators in your area, your voices represent votes. Our collective voices across the state can make a difference. We can reclaim the promise of public education instead of allowing others to take our children down the wrong path.

Resolve today to be an activist. Click here to see all the ways that you can be involved. Start small if you wish, but pledge to hold our legislators accountable in some way today. Join us in making a difference.

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Happy Teacher Appreciation Day!

To all teachers,

Today is your day.  If I had the power to do so, I would grant you the day off.  You have certainly earned it.  But I also know you, and I know that you would not really take the day off.  You would grade papers or prepare a lesson or analyze data or develop an assessment or think of an intervention for a struggling student or worry about a disadvantaged child.  So maybe it is only appropriate that Teacher Appreciation Day happens on a school day when you can spend time with those who need you and appreciate you the most.  I know that there are many days when you do not feel appreciated, and I could write on and on about the reasons you would be justified in feeling that way. Today should be a positive day though so I will simply share with you some quotes that I think explain why you continue to do this job day in and day out.

A good teacher is like a candle:  it consumes itself to light the way for others. (Anonymous)

Teachers teach because they care.  Teaching young people is what they do best.  It requires long hours, patience, and care. (Horace Mann)

The mediocre teacher tells.  The good teacher explains.  The superior teacher demonstrates.  The great teacher inspires. (William Ward)

Every child should have a caring adult in their lives.  And that’s not always a biological parent or family member.  It may be a friend or neighbor.  Oftentimes it is a teacher. (Sen. Joe Manchin)

You teach because you care.  You teach because you want to inspire.  You teach because you want to light the way for others.  You teach because children need you to care for them.  

We can never thank you enough or show enough appreciation for all that you do – both seen and unseen.  While you may not hear it often enough, you make a difference every day.

So on this Teacher Appreciation Day, I will leave you with a quote from Andy Rooney.

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.

Happy Teacher Appreciation Day!

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What we want to hear in Governor Kasich’s State of the State address

This week leaders from all areas of the state will convene for the 76th Ohio Federation of Teachers State Convention. We have a long and proud history of being a solution-driven union that represents the professional voice of people working in the field to educate our children and provide other services that prepare our children to learn. We know that the strength of Ohio lies in having strong communities and that the promise of strong communities is found in our neighborhood schools. More and more though, this promise is being stolen from the families who live in these neighborhoods and from the professionals who have dedicated their lives to giving children paths to success. This promise is being stolen by those who wish to privatize education, building a competitive system that dilutes resources and creates winners and losers instead of focusing resources on meeting the needs of every child even in our most troubled neighborhoods. Even more problematic is the overemphasis on testing as a reliable measure of accountability and the continued narrative that tears down and wears down educators instead of respecting their voices and using their expertise to shape a system that meets the changing needs of our students. With the creation of policy that focuses on rankings and ratings instead of on listening, learning and growing, Ohio is losing the promise of what an education system can be – a path for every learner to meet his or her potential. We, at the Ohio Federation of Teachers, are determined to Reclaim the Promise of Ohio by working with students, parents, community groups, organizations and policymakers in reclaiming the promise of public education, early childhood care and education, higher education, and quality public services.

On Monday Feb. 24, Gov. Kasich will give his State of the State address. In this speech, he will have the opportunity to share his vision for children in Ohio, their opportunities for education and assistance that will help them thrive and grow. Will he allow Ohio to continue to go down the road of corporate reform policies that lead to the privatization of education or will he make a commitment to work with us on Reclaiming the Promise of Public Education by making sure that every child has a safe neighborhood public school with well-prepared and supported teachers, a full engaging curriculum, and access to wraparound services?

He will have an opportunity to tell us on Monday.  Here are some thoughts we would like to see  him express as well as some actions we want to hear him say he will do:

  • Education is a public good not a competition. All children deserve to have neighborhood public schools that are safe, welcoming places for teaching and learning. Competition dilutes resources and creates winners and losers. Instead, Ohio should be ensuring that schools are responsive to the needs of their neighborhoods and are including teacher, parent, student and community voices in providing a quality education system for all learners.

What we want Governor Kasich to say he will do: 

Stop the expansion of vouchers programs in Ohio. For schools that must choose a turnaround model, require a model that must include parents, teachers, students and community members in the design of the school.

  • All schools should be expected to provide a quality education for all learners and should be held to the same standards of academic accountability, fiscal accountability, and transparency. Education should be about helping children learn, not about making a profit. 

What we want Governor Kasich to say he will do:

Reform charter school laws.  Eliminate the statutory exemptions for charter schools in the areas of academic accountability and fiscal accountability. Require transparency in record keeping and public records. Permanently shut down for-profit schools and set stricter requirements for the sponsors of charters.

  • Poverty matters. While it must never be used as an excuse for children not succeeding, it also must never be ignored. Our students living in poverty often have greater needs with fewer resources to meet those needs. Children with greater needs require more supports to meet those needs such as smaller class sizes and targeted intervention help. In addition, all children deserve to have access to a full, engaging curriculum that focuses on teaching and learning , not testing, and one that includes art, music and the sciences. While educators are being held accountable for closing existing achievement gaps, the governor and the legislature must be held responsible for closing existing opportunity gaps.                                                                                                                      What we want Governor Kasich to say he will do:

Work with schools across the state to identify the needs of students in different areas and develop a funding system that allows those needs to be met.  Fully fund traditional public schools and stop diluting resources by funding vouchers and poor-performing charters. 

  • The needs of the child are best met when education is viewed as more than a test score. In order for children to be prepared to learn, they need to have their basic needs met. These needs include social, emotional, physical and mental needs. Ohio must look at ways to efficiently and effectively use public and private resources to meet all these needs of students so they are able to achieve at their highest potential. Student cannot be expected to read at grade level if they are not given all the supports they need to help them learn. This is NOT just a teacher or school responsibility. This is a state responsibility.

What we want Governor Kasich to say he will do:

Study and replicate effective Community Learning Centers programs such as the Cincinnati Public Schools model.  Keep parents, teachers and students involved in determining the needs of the students and how best to meet those needs.

  • Teachers are professionals. Their voices need and should be heard in shaping policy. Educators should be respected for the work they do. Instead of continuing to focus on an accountability structure that forces teachers to defend their work and hope for perfect testing conditions in order to justify their employment, Ohio should be pouring resources into supporting continued professional growth, creating good teaching and learning environments (including structuring the day so that teachers have time to plan engaging lessons, build relationships with students, and collaborate with peers), and sharing and celebrating best practices.                                                   What we want Governor Kasich to say he will do:

Eliminate requirements that only add work to the day without adding value to the learning experience. Work with teacher unions and other educator groups in setting policy that focuses on developing quality teaching and learning environments that allow for more time for teachers to prepare high-quality, engaging lessons and for students to engage in meaningful learning experiences and less time on testing.

  • Ohio teachers do an extraordinary job of educating our students. Over the years, the state has set higher standards for success. Our educators continue to rise to the challenge. We know that education must constantly evolve to reflect the changing needs of learners and of our society. We are now entering into a new era of the Common Core Standards. These standards allow us to teach content in a much deeper way but require shifts in how teachers teach and learners learn. In order to get the results that are intended by the Common Core, students, educators and schools need time to adjust to new methods of teaching and learning. In addition, schools need time and resources to make sure they have the proper learning tools and technology. Caution and an emphasis on implementation are required so that the desired results can be achieved.

What we want Governor Kasich to say he will do:

Delay high stakes decisions attached to testing.  Put emphasis on teaching and learning. Make sure teachers have proper professional development and schools have sufficient resources. 

  • Quality early childhood education is critical to getting children started on a successful learning path. All young children should have opportunities to engage in developmentally appropriate programs that foster their social and emotional development. Early childhood care providers and educators should be well-prepared and supported.                                                                                                                           What we want Governor Kasich to say he will do:

Ensure that all preschool age children have access to high-quality early childhood education programs. 

  • Higher education should be affordable and accessible to all. The faculty and staff within these institutions should be professionally supported and have a voice in academic decisions.

What we want Governor Kasich to say he will do:

Make higher education affordable. Respect the voice of the professionals in setting policy that affects higher education.

  • Our state is only as strong as the sum of our communities. Each community in every corner of Ohio is only as strong and vital as the families and individuals who reside in them. In order to build and foster strong communities, Ohio must preserve state revenue to fund needed services and supports for families. In strengthening our communities, Ohio must maintain and expand high-quality public services that support and keep communities safe, healthy and vibrant. Tax changes since 2005 are already costing Ohio $3.5 billion per year – this is money that should be invested in the programs and services that make our communities stronger. These changes have been made with promises of more jobs and more economic growth that quite simply have not materialized. The governor continues to state his desire to eliminate the income tax entirely, and right now slowly but surely we’re draining the state of needed revenue and making our system more regressive in the process. Policies such as these weaken Ohio.

What we want Governor Kasich to say he will do:

Preserve state revenue. Focus on job creation. Invest in communities.

  • The voice of Ohio’s workers must be preserved. Collective bargaining states have higher wages which lead to more money to put into the economy – everyone benefits from a strong labor voice in Ohio. On the other hand, six of the 10 states with the highest unemployment rates are right-to-work states, proving that right to work is wrong. States with right-to-work laws also have lower rates of health insurance coverage, higher rates of poverty and infant mortality and lower spending per student on basic education with worse scores on reading and math tests. Right to work is wrong. These laws create problems for states, communities and families.

What we want Governor Kasich to say he will do:

Declare opposition to these laws (or any other efforts to diminish labor voice) because right to work is wrong. 

The Ohio Federation of Teachers will continue to be a solution-driven union that champions the social and economic well-being of our members, children, families, and communities. We welcome your voice in calling upon the governor to help us Reclaim the Promise of Ohio by reclaiming the promise of public education, early childhood education, higher education, and quality public services for strong communities. These are just some of our many ideas for strengthening Ohio. We welcome your input to this conversation.  Comment below, visit our Facebook page at Facebook.com/OhioFedofTeachers and Tweet with the hashtag #RealOhio.

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And now a few words from our members…

I wanted to write a blog this week about what has gone wrong with OTES (the
Ohio Teacher Evaluation System).  I’ve read hundreds of comments that OFT
leaders have received from members and realized that there is nothing I can
say that speaks more powerfully than the voices of those who are
experiencing it.  So I’m sharing comments from members so that you can see
our education system through the eyes of these professionals.  Although this
list is long, it’s just a sampling of what members have to say on the
subject.  See the consistent themes.  Feel the anguish these teachers are
feeling.  Then ask yourself, “Is this really what we want for our children?”

“I have a strong work ethic and take pride in my job and care a lot about my students.  However, I feel more and more that my job is more about testing and compliance paperwork than actual teaching. I am so overwhelmed with completing all the “extra” that I no longer have the time or desire to create engaging and enriching lessons for my students.  Despite my best efforts, I increasingly feel like a mediocre teacher.  I’m working harder than ever before and seeing less results…it’s a defeating feeling.”

“We spend more time as teachers making sure our lesson plans follow a certain format that we no longer have the time to design creative lessons.  We are becoming the kind of teacher no one wants to be!  Someone who teaches from prewritten lessons from a textbook and only what is on the test.  No time for anything else!”

“I feel I do what I do, so I don’t mind being observed anytime.  I simply don’t like the extra paperwork/evidence that is being required for me to create and try to “defend” myself.  I much rather would spend all that time bettering the students and creating more individualized, fun, meaningful lessons to engage students rather than spending so much time on doing paperwork to defend myself and my work.”

“It is unfortunate that teachers are spending more time worrying about the appropriate way to write an SLO or having evidence of what and why something is being taught in the classroom than actually spending all that time on what is important – developing lessons and content to teach the students appropriately.  We have now been bombarded with other things we need to worry about.  If the focus of education is teaching our students effectively, why can’t we be given more time to plan for our classes and work with our students rather than jumping through the required hoops for this evaluation system?”

“I think that making teacher evaluations better is a great thought but this system is very flawed and turns teachers into secretaries.  I am spending a great deal of time collecting data and not building rapport and relationships with my students which is what makes me an effective teacher.”

“The current OTES system is taking away from my time to teach my students.  The time spent preparing for evaluations, preparing for, administering, and grading pre-assessments and eventually post-assessments has taken and will take a significant amount of time away from actually interacting with and teaching my students. Significant changes need to be made to the system for the benefit of our students.”

“It is a distraction from learning and implementing the Common Core.  I am very discouraged by the amount of work we are expected to do which takes away from other important obligations.”

“We are all just playing this “game” called education.  All it is doing is taking time away from the teacher to be doing what he/she got into this profession to do in the first place – help with ways/ideas to motivate kids to want to learn things they don’t care about.”

“This new system adds more to those already loaded with work and extra tests students don’t need.  They are so tested out, it’s not funny.  And we are losing valuable time to teach real life applications that matter.”

“I feel like with so many new mandates, I’m not getting anything done completely.  Also that my time to develop quality, appropriate and responsive lessons and interventions has disappeared.”

“Thinking of a career change…the amount of paperwork by both state and district combined has little to do with helping children succeed in the classroom.  This is not why I became a teacher.”

“The morale of our building is extremely low and thus the stress level is overly high across the board.”

“I do not know how teachers who have children at home can do their jobs with all the demands this year and be a good parent.  I am taking much more home this year, and I can’t seem to keep my head above water.  Teacher’s comments are that they need to find another profession.  It is not about the students anymore.”

“Teaching has become one of the most stressful jobs in the nation.”

“I feel as though I am playing catch up every day.”

“The expectations at this time are totally unreasonable.”

“There is extreme high stress in our jobs and it is not improving.  There is not enough time in our day to complete everything and do it well.  I don’t know about other people, but I’m tired of working through lunch and at home!!!  Stop the madness!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

“I no longer have a social life, and I am seriously considering a career change.”

“I haven’t felt prepared to teach a day yet.”

“We are stressed because gone are the days when we actually build relationships and get to know each child as a learner and human being since we feel compelled to meet so many deadlines and close achievement although we have too many initiatives in order to do anything successfully.”

“While I have spent huge amounts of time preparing, this preparation is in no way enhancing my teaching.  In fact, the preparation, designed to show the principal the minutia of my thought process as I present a lesson, detracts from the time I can spend planning presentations/discovery that should haapen while students are learning.”

“So much time is spent on district and state mandated assessments and data collection that really has very little to do with instructing students.  I feel cheated out of valuable time to plan effective lessons that have real impact on student progress.”

“What ultimately happens is that papers get graded and more time is spent on items that are not directly related to the ongoing achievement of my students.”

“The stress is having complete accountability without any authority.  I am concerned with the loss of instructional time and planning time.  If I am to be held solely accountable for student growth, then I need to be able to teach and plan for teaching.  Our instructional time with students is shrinking and yet our accountability grows.  With the decrease in planning time and increase of workload done at home, most teachers are working through every evening and weekend…I know I am. I don’t know of one single teacher who is not trying to get out of teaching.”

“I find myself planning, creating, and buying more than in other years.  I spend about eight hours on Saturday and Sunday preparing for the week.”

“Need more time. Time. Time. Working through lunch every day.”

The amount of assessments combined with the paperwork is significantly impacting time to prepare rigorous, relevant, and creative lesson plans.”

“This year is one of the most stressful work years of my 16-year career.”

“Testing demands are the most stressful and time consuming.  It takes away from real learning.”

“I have been teaching and testing for 13 years and this year is by far the hardest and most stressful.  The amount of paperwork, forms, assessments, and procedures is overwhelming.  Most of the things I am being required to do are not about my students and their education but rather about completing forms for a process for someone to review.”

“I use to love being a teacher!  I don’t feel like I get to do it much anymore.”

“My entire evenings, weekends, and breaks are consumed with work.  There is no end to all the work!”

“Here’s how I feel, ‘Please take something off the plate for every three things that are added!!!’ “

“I feel like I have the paperwork demands of a corporate job on top of being a teacher.  Time to prep the material and supplies is lost to meetings and paperwork.”

“I work a 12-14 hour day Mon-Fri and work 8 hours on Saturday and Sunday.”

“High stress leads to lower productivity and low morale.  Each year, more and more is being asked to accomplish with little to no time provided to complete what is being asked.  It is impossible to keep taking from an individual professionally with an expectation they also sacrifice themselves personally. “

The themes are consistent:

  1. Increased paperwork is taking away from time to plan quality lessons.
  2. Increased testing is taking away from quality instructional time.
  3. Increased mandates are creating stressful working environments that are causing low morale.
  4. Increased workload is preventing teachers from building the types of relationships with students that lead better learning.

This blog does not even address all the other concerns around OTES – too much emphasis on student growth measures, using Value-Added to evaluate teachers rather than to inform instruction, not enough capacity to do the evaluations in a meaningful way, lack of time leading to evaluations being done at compliance level instead of at a level that shapes professional growth, evaluators not being proctored when taking credentialing exam, and the list goes on.

But the most concerning part to me is that I am confident that the teachers who made these comments are the teachers we want and need in the system.  They care.  They want to teach children.  They strive for success.  They do everything they are asked to do at a top-notch level.  But the system is beating them down and keeping them from doing what they do best – teach.  And when we beat these teachers down, when we burden them with so much extraneous work that does nothing to help the students, then it is the students who lose.

Isn’t it time we listen to these professionals?

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Welcome to Ms. Popa’s Moodle Page…This is going to be a fun-filled year.

 

 

This is the message I saw displayed on the screen as I walked into Ms. Popa’s sixth-grade classroom at Clear Fork Middle School. I made a brief visit to Clear Fork last year and heard that they were just beginning to do blended learning in their middle school grades, but had not been back yet to see how it was going. Ms. Popa graciously allowed me to visit her classroom last week to see blended learning in action.

June Popa is a 20-year veteran teacher. From watching her interaction with the students that day, I suspect that she has always been a top-of-the-line teacher. Her enthusiasm for teaching shines vividly in both the rapport she has with her students and the way she talks about teaching. For 19 years, she very successfully taught her students without the aid of computers. That all started to change about a year ago when Clear Fork got a grant to do blended learning in grades six through eight.

Ms. Popa will readily admit that she was not thrilled with the idea of changing her teaching methods. She claims that she did not even know how to turn on an iPad a year ago when she was informed that all her students would be receiving iPads, and she would be expected to use them in her instruction.

With some training to help her understand how this particular technology functions and the possibilities for enhancing both teaching and learning she now wholeheartedly embraces blended learning. In fact, if someone were to tell her that the iPads were going away and that she could no longer do blended learning, she would strongly protest.

The class was amazing to watch. On the board were both the learning objectives and the outline of activities for the period. During my visit the class finished a unit on world religions. The objective, as written on the board, was,” I can describe cultural practices and characteristics of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism.” The students first did a self-assessment activity. Then they moved on to some review work to help them prepare for a test the following day.

The review was filled with graphics and links to information that kept the students engaged. Instead of writing down factual information to answer questions, students were expected to look for visual clues to distinguish which religion was being represented by a picture. Students were also expected to be able to give reasons or evidence for their answers. Embedded in this review were skills that extended beyond the content knowledge. For example, students downloaded and saved information to an app so that they would be able to access information from home even without Internet access. They were able to flip between visuals and questions which will be a needed test taking skill once all state assessments go online. They were taught study skills such as highlighting answers they were unsure of so they would know which information to review for the test. They were taught self-sufficiency by being directed to use online resources for checking how to spell or define words instead of just expecting the teacher to give them the information.

What was really cool though was when two students showed Ms. Popa a review test that they had designed and developed on their own. Just for fun. Without being assigned to do it. Their test was designed much like a game with hyperlinks connected to each multiple choice answer to indicate if the answers were right or wrong. The computer skills involved in doing this were not ones that Ms. Popa had taught, but she quickly gave the responsibility to those two students to teach the rest of the class how to create such a fun self-assessment.

While the students were doing their review, Ms. Popa quickly reviewed the scores on the self-assessment. Since the online quiz site she uses grades the assessment, she is able to quickly compare this day’s scores to their scores earlier in the week to see how prepared the students are for the test. All but one student had improved from earlier tests, demonstrating that the students had gained knowledge throughout the course of the week and were ready for the final test. Ms. Popa was then able to focus her attention on that one student to target his needs and give the extra support that was needed before the final test.

I asked Ms. Popa how teaching had changed for her since switching to blended learning. Though she mentioned numerous ways, I will highlight four.

  1. She spends much more time planning because she loves how the new technology supports her planning time. Ms. Popa loves her online page to be filled with rich content from the Internet. She constantly scours the Internet, even throughout the evening at home, to find video clips or age appropriate websites that will engage her students in the content. She has even been known to preview video clips while washing dishes. She loves this method of planning because she can see the results instantly in the way the content comes alive for students.
  2. Instead of being a deliverer of content, Ms. Popa now spends more time being a facilitator of learning. She still provides the content through all the planning that she does, but instead of delivering it lecture style, she helps the students navigate through the information and teaches them critical skills such as evaluating sources, paraphrasing for understanding, analyzing content, communicating through presentations, synthesizing information, and a host of other skills in addition to all the study skills and technology skills mentioned previously. The computer is a great tool for finding information and engaging the students, but it takes a skilled teacher to help the students interact with that information in meaningful ways.
  3. She can much more quickly assess student readiness for a test. Though she uses many other forms of formative assessment, the online quizzing site with scoring allows her to quickly see who is still struggling and with which areas. She can pull these students aside for additional instruction, targeting their specific needs.
  4. Students are much more engaged in the work. Not only are they more engaged while in the classroom, but when given a homework assignment on the computer, they are much more likely to complete it electronically than when they were given a standard paper and pencil assignment.

The important takeaway from her answer is that a computer  is simply  a tool, and a tool alone cannot fully teach a child.  That tool in the hands of a skilled teacher though can open exciting new pathways to learning and enrich the teaching and learning experience.

This shift in teaching and learning has been a great success. It was a big step on Ms. Popa’s part to learn about the opportunities that would benefit her students and make every change necessary for success. This was a big leap of faith for Ms. Popa and a step toward reclaiming the promise of public education. She stepped up and outside of the norm to embrace something that has created a cultural shift in the students’ learning and appreciation for school and their own education.

Ms. Popa, her students and parents have seen what an investment in education can do. But since the investment was provided by a grant, Ms. Popa’s greatest fear is that once the grant money runs dry the blended learning will end. This is something we cannot allow to happen. In Reclaiming the Promise of Public Education, we work to ensure that our students have access to a rich full curriculum that engages them in learning. We must, at all levels – local, state and national – push for equitable funding that will both give our students access to technology and our teachers access to quality professional development.  We have to continue to fight for the resources it takes to fulfill the promise of public education.

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