BOE to teachers: beatings will continue until morale improves

True confession. I am not a teacher. I saw the writing on the wall before I walked into the classroom. I have an English degree that I got at an engineering university. Men there vocally proclaimed that women only study teaching to get that coveted “Mrs.” degree those charming male engineers have to offer. I grudgingly went through the education program to maximize the limited job opportunities available to lovers of the liberal arts. To no one’s surprise more than my own I discovered that I passionately loved being in the classroom. I am an introvert who likes to “hide behind my keyboard,” but being with students and sharing a passion for learning made all of that fade into the background.

In spite of that I learned more things as a student teacher that I knew couldn’t live with. It’s an inflexible job. You have copious amounts of tedium to attend to. Parent/teacher meetings. Staff meetings. Continuing education requirements. Individualized Education Programs to maintain. Meeting with specialists who help with IEPs. Documenting everything, everything, everything so that kids with behavior problems or learning disabilities are functioning to the highest extent possible (or to expedite their removal from your classroom, in certain cases, in order for the needs of everyone else to be met). Planning. Grading. Not a single one of these things can be done during the time you are working with your class. Thanks to email and smart phones the time demands have become more strenuous over time. Teachers are increasingly likely to be in constant contact with parents, many of whom are themselves disrespectful enough toward teachers to blame them for instances of student irresponsibility. Now there’s all the testing and teaching to the test. Volumes have been and will yet be written about this.

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First and foremost a teacher is a mentor and needs to have human moments with these young people. One of my students killed a pedestrian with a car, and we were asked to actively monitor that child’s psychological condition (not that we would not have been concerned without being told to be, for goodness sake). There were pregnant girls trying to make it through to graduation. One 18 year old had ADHD more extreme than I have seen before or since. He had no friends. He was a constant disruption to class; his immaturity was social suicide. The advantage of being young and new is coming in with fresh patience and empathy that students like this have exhausted in everyone else. There was the gang member who could have done better–and quite obviously wanted to. You work with such young people knowing there is no realistic way of getting them out of a toxic environment. Idealism fades fast. Then there were the other students–largely in the high achieving classes–who had a serious case of the “silver spoons in the mouths”. For them, many of those I just described existed only as abstract, troubled losers they almost never saw.

I arrived on this scene having already been told teachers are dumb. They suck. They work at this because they lack the necessary skills to do anything else, and will need to marry well to have a life. I didn’t want to cope with all of the above workload and emotional investment. On top of that I was up at 5 AM at the latest, after staying up late each night before to accomplish what I needed to for the next day. It is strenuous to plan out lessons for multiple classes and ability levels and maybe multiple ability levels in the same class, and grade piles of homework. In English, journalism, history, and theater classes this often involves a lot of reading and writing and nuanced response. In exchange for this brutal life I was unable to make a doctor’s appointment during the day, or have lunch at a restaurant with a friend who works elsewhere, or plan a vacation compatible with my husband’s work schedule.

Early teaching careers are extraordinarily stressful years because you don’t have an established body of lessons and plans and experience. You’re on your feet all day walking literally miles around your school building. Largely miles logged within the confines of your own classroom. Then piles of work await you when the classroom day is done. All over the country, and egregiously so in this county, people doing at least a job and a half worth of work are told to scrape by on paraprofessional pay. Here, most especially dumped on are the new hires.

Instead of heading into the classroom to make a difference as a semi volunteer (the first year teacher down the hall calculated her salary as hourly wages and said she made more working at Walmart), I took advantage of the late ’90’s dot com environment, even with my allegedly useless English degree. Just imagine how hard it is for someone who is drawn to math and science to be persuaded into the classroom. I walked into my first job interview, nailed it, got the offer, and accepted. I started writing software user manuals, which helps virtually no one. It provides none of the sense of purpose that teaching has. I was a 22 year old with a 26th floor window office with a gorgeous view, a ton of flexibility, and the panache of a tech world where sticking around leads to raises, bonuses, profit sharing, and stock options. Teachers get crapped on by everyone. It’s honestly amazing to me that anyone puts up with it. I have too well developed a sense of outrage to have sailed into that on moral fortitude alone. I remain ever angry on their behalf, and I urge you to stand up for what is right. None of us anywhere would have the jobs we have today, if it were not for the teachers who helped to get us here. Fight for them. We need these people.

You can contact the Frederick County BOE and urge them to reconsider their decision to cut funding from the salary pool at boe@fcps.org. We are beginning to bleed teachers. In the future please pressure Frederick County to continue to improve funding for FCPS so that essential people are not fighting over tiny slivers of the pie. It’s too late for this year. Community engagement is critical. School quality affects everyone’s property value and crime rates.

Hello from the other side: NOBODY is in favor of standardized testing

Do these people even listen to themselves? They are constantly railing against straw man positions other people don’t actually hold (see any discussion of the second amendment and you will learn that all people who want to see any sort of moderating influence on elementary school children wielding rocket propelled grenade launchers if they so desire, are in fact making a power play to grab up the weapons of Joey Deerhunter <insert eye roll here>).

Apparently Cindy Rose is running for BOE, highlighted in a post by Mr. “Some People Call Me Thor” (whut????).  And this nugget of what he says is true: you can talk to anyone across the political spectrum and they don’t think Ben should take standardized tests. We don’t. Largely people (including us) don’t actually think most typical kids should spend all their time on them, either. If you have never seen it, we urge you to watch John Oliver’s segment about the big business of standardized testing in America. Pretty sure all this testing and curriculum sales to ensure success on the tests they sold you is not designed to benefit teachers or kids. Sounds like crafty shenanigans.

Our bone to pick here would be that in order to be an effective advocate for special needs kids experiencing this–the kind of lady who gets stuff done instead of continuing to have a festering problem, and gets to sit on the couch at the Today’s Show and explain to Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie what is happening and why it has to stop (and gawk in person at those superfluous drunken dingbats on the last hour) you have to shine a light on this in a different way. The Frederick County BOE supported Dr. Alban’s decision, asking for clarification at the state level. It is possible to make contact with the state board of education and your representatives at every level of government. It is easier than ever to exert pressure through positive use of social media and the sharing of information.  Maybe we could all lend her a hand with regard to that, because we do actually care, and we can switch tone as needed to be polite and logical and respectful. Then she won’t have to run, and can spend all her free time saying crude things on Facebook.

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Her focus–while important, surely critically so to her child and family–does not give her the kind of experience with broad application to all students. Unfortunately her demeanor when dealing with others does not lend itself to being a constructive voice for the community. We know, we know. We’re snarky too. That’s why we write snarky blog posts, and won’t be running for public office. None of us are patient enough to be cooperative with people we think are infuriating. It’s why #kirbydelauter and Billy Shreve are crappy legislators. Running a county and ranting are not the same thing.

This certainly does not amount to a reason for Whatshisname (Tron, was it?) to vilify FCTA. Who ever hears teachers exalting the vitures of standardized testing? Lois Jarman has a fantastic and 100% snark free blog post just today about the weakness of using standardized testing to evaluate students. Everyone’s students.

Our public school teachers are highly educated and well-trained. We should value their understanding of student learning and performance in the classroom. It’s evident that their assessments bear more weight than anything standardized.