"They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel."
~Carl W. Buechner
My little place on the web usually has about 40 readers, but yesterday's blog is up to 400 readers so far. Interesting. We sometimes discount feelings and passion, but a perusal through history will find feelings and passion have sustained great warriors and stoic leaders to press forward even in the face of terror. What pulls at our beliefs and our hearts often motivates us. We crave security, happiness, and acceptance. We tend to avoid fear, pure meanness, and isolation. Maybe the blog spoke to your feelings.
Great teachers have this way about them of making us all feel we are loved or we can be more than we dreamed we could be. Our memorable teachers are those who made us love ourselves almost as much as they loved us. Effective teachers see us through eyes that shine with possibility and we want to grasp it and run.
Covington (1998) suggests expert teachers understand self-worth theory and use the knowledge to maintain student engagement in instruction. People are naturally inclined to behave in ways that enhance their feelings of personal value and worth. If anything threatens these perceptions, the resultant face-saving behavior may manifest itself in many unique ways. A proactive and supportive classroom culture is obvious from the focus on learning and the willingness of students to take intellectual risks.
I wrote about Ms. Brown yesterday and I can tell you of all her fine qualities the relationship she has with children is her most powerful asset. For example, she greets each child at the door by saying things like, "I am so happy to see you today." "I can't wait to see what great things you will do today." She attends their ballgames and writes them little notes of encouragement. She really cares about the students. This trait is found in all of the wonderful teachers I have ever know. Some are boisterous and loud. Some are soft spoken and calm. All really love children and share that love through high expectations and kind words.
I predict most of people can still remember the feeling your favorite teacher gave you. I have had so many wonderful teachers, but I remember Ms. Donahue at Anson Jones School in Bryan, Texas. She was a very stern and very traditional math teachers. She worked us so hard, but would read to us the last five minutes of class if we worked especially hard. I was a good student, but math did not come instantly easy like my other subjects, so I thought I was dumb. Ms. Donahue kept me after class one day and said to me, "Amanda, you are a very smart young lady. I suspect from talking to your other teachers that everything is really easy for you. So, when you struggle a little in here, you think you aren't too smart. Well, let me tell you something, you are smart, however, math must be mastered. You will never be devoured by it, if you master it." I did. She encouraged my mistakes and my questions, because she understood the importance of a classroom being a safe place to try new things. Good and Brophy (2008) explain effective teachers create a positive learning culture by placing the focus on learning rather than right or wrong answers. Ms. Donahue had a positive learning culture.
When I became a middle school math teacher, I wanted to make kids feel what I had felt in Ms. Donahue's class, a sense of possibility and a sense of power. My teaching style was completely different as I am kind of loud and silly at times, but I loved to hear students question and think. My notes from students encouraged me to keep believing anything was possible.
As the powers that be begin to seek ways to recognize teachers through the use of test scores and evaluations, remember there are huge pieces of an effective classroom which cannot be quantified unless someone would like to count the notes of admiration and pure devotion teachers like Ms. Brown receive from students. While I believe teachers who bring out this type of emotion in children also have students who perform to their optimum, I hope we account for the whole child, not just the assessment scores.
"I had no idea education was so political!" ~a friend this past week
YEP! Welcome to the real world where most decisions are based on politics, power, greed, and ignorance. Few decisions are based upon results or on the experts in the classrooms, because few even acknowledge there are such a thing.
I live in the lovely state of Louisiana. I am proud to be a from a state with a rich history and diverse people. We are often found at the bottom of lists for everything from wealth to education, however we have much to offer the nation and the world. We are a grand experiment in the making in the realm of education. I hope the nation is watching.
I have been an educator in this state for 20 years. I have worked in a rural school, a school serving a military base, two rural but high poverty schools, a urban inner-city charter, and a traditional suburban school with a wide-range of students. I have taught and been an administrator. When I think about what I have seen and what I know from actually being in a school for two decades, I have to arrogantly admit I have the answer. Here it is. All we need for our education system to be number one in the world is for every child to have a HIGHLY EFFECTIVE TEACHER! Surprise! I hate to disappoint the unions, but this does not require throwing more money into education (The Baton Rouge Advocate, January 28, 2012). I hate to exploit Governor Jindal's generalizations, but there are some very highly effective teachers out in this state.
The problem is between the highly effective teachers and the machine that makes it all run is a ton of red tape, people desiring power, and companies making millions from selling everything from mistake-riddled textbooks to apps promising grand results.
According to the Louisiana Department of Education, average teacher in Louisiana was paid $ 47,970 in 2009-2010. We will round this number off to $50,000 for inflation and add an additional $30,000 for a nice benefits package. A teacher costs $80,000 for 182 days of work. Class sizes vary, but we will settle on a class size of 25 students, which means the teacher is being paid about $3,200 per child. According to a study by Tulane University, Louisiana spent on average $9,787 per pupil in 2008-2009. Now you are pondering what the additional $6,000 per pupil supplied. There are utility costs, transportation costs, administration costs at the school level, the district level, and the state level. Material costs such as the latest program or the "magic bullet" also cost. K-CHING!
Teacher quality has the greatest impact on student achievement (Rivkin, Hanushek, & Kain, 2005; Rockoff, 2004;Sanders & Rivers, 1996). The research indicates high teacher quality impacts gains in learning across classrooms, even when compared within the same school. Some teachers consistently demonstrate larger student achievement gains than other teachers. The difference demonstrated is a one and a half years of gain in achievement in an academic year, while others with equivalent students have been found to have a half year of gain (Sanders & Rivers, 1996). In other words, two students starting at the same level of achievement can know vastly different amounts at the end of a single academic year. If a low achievement year comes early in schooling or if a low achievement year is compounded by other low achievement years, it may not be possible for the student to recover (Sanders & Rivers, 1996). Understanding the impact an effective teacher has upon a child and creating a system where every child has an effective teacher are two very different scenarios.
The following is an actual example. The name of the teacher has been changed to protect her. During her first six weeks of the year, Ms. Brown, a first year teacher in a 100% poverty and 100% minority school, frequently considered running away from school. One day in late September, she decided to seek assistance and persist in her pursuit of learning the skills and techniques of an effective teacher. Her dedication to overcome obstacles was decidedly demonstrated in her students’ test scores and their notes of love to her at the end of the year. She taught in a room with a projector and her own laptop. Her board was so scratched and stained, it was useless. She made every activity the students did as she had little to no resources. The group had scored 11% proficient during their previous year on the state-wide assessment, but after attending Ms. Brown’s class, the proficiency rate jumped to 67% for the same group of children on the state assessment. On her state teacher value-added report card, Ms. Brown was in the 99% of teachers in the state for value-added gains of student achievement. The notes included "No one has ever believed in me like you do."
Do you know how many people have asked this second year teacher how she accomplished such a feat? No one. You would think there would be people begging her to come work for their school. She is not the only person at the school who had great results. Yet, the story is the same for all. No one asks!
What is her value to you? What would you pay for this woman to teach your child? Does anyone want to know her secrets? Anyone?
There are numerous teachers like her in this state. If the governor would like to change education, go pull the records and begin talking to these experts from the classroom. Ask them what they need to do a job where kids move from 11% to 67% in a single year. Don't talk to their supervisors or their representative, talk to them! Most, I predict, will not say more technology or even higher pay. Many will say, "Just let me do my job."
If the unions want to speak for teachers, stop speaking for the masses and talk to effective teachers. Find out why all members aren't effective. Effective teaching can be learned and it can be translated into student gains. Ms. Brown is a second year teacher with the impact of a very experienced teacher, because she never stops asking questions, reading, thinking, and seeking collaboration with others.
There is a solution to our education woes. Hire great teachers and get everything and everyone who gets in their way, out of their way. Cut the red tape. Stop listening to all the mush in between and go to the source. We can change our education system. The people with the answers are right here. It really is that simple.
_ I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think.
Yesterday after I finished working out and collapsed on the floor, I distracted myself by looking in my note bag. This bag is a gallon plastic bag I have had for a long time. The bag includes all of the notes and cards students, parents, and fellow teachers have given me in the past 20 years. The earliest one is from a student I taught during my student teaching class. She asked me to come visit the following year. I hope her life has worked out. I love to read these notes every now and again to remind myself I have not wasted my time or my life. I have made a difference to someone somewhere.
Teaching garners little respect outside of the walls of school and sometimes even within the walls of a school, teachers feel pushed down. I am an overachiever and the hardest part of this profession has been people not respecting what I do for a living and feeling free to commit I must have been unable to do anything else. Believe it or not, I actually love being an educator.
My favorite stupid quote made by people in response to me saying I am a teacher is “So, I bet you love getting paid for that summer holiday.” Being paid for the summer would be really great, however teacher do not officially work at school during the summer and therefore do not receive pay for those days. Teachers are only paid for 180 or so days we actually work. Most districts divide the salary over 12 months so a teacher will have a check over the summer, but the salary was earned during the school year.
My second favorite quote made by people about me being a teacher is, “I bet it is great to be done by 3 o’clock.” Again, it would be amazing if I could be done by 3 o’clock, however, I have yet to see that happen. I may leave school a few minutes after dismissal, but I have always taken quite a bit of work home with me. I have graded papers at my daughters’ dance practices, during long drives during my holidays, the hour before my kids get up on Easter morning, and all kinds of times in between. I don’t grade papers during church. I have thought about it.
I have never minded working an additional three or four hours a night on schoolwork. My family minds it, I think. What I do mind is when people assume teaching is easy and requires little to no effort. When my sweet friend shared a comment her husband made about how much time teaching takes, I began to formulate this blog in my mind. Teaching, or rather excellent teaching requires substantial time.
I admit there are plenty of teachers in the world who work from the first bell to the last bell and do little else, but I do not concern myself with these people. We, as a profession, should stop accepting these people as equal peers. Rather all of my interest and my research are focused on those teachers who engage in the pursuit of expertise.
When I was in the classroom I spent much of my summer planning for the next year, creating materials, meeting with my teammates, reading professional literature, and attending trainings. In twenty years of teaching I have taken one summer off. I had a baby instead.
I don’t mind all the extra hours I put in, because these hours have lead to my competence as a professional. I knew when I entered the profession I would work about 70 hours a week between the hours at school, planning, grading, and extra responsibilities from clubs to professional development. I also knew I would not receive any additional pay for my extra work. I also knew I could give a test with ten questions, which would take me an hour to grade or I could give a test with 50 questions, which takes me 10 hours to grade. Regardless, the pay is the same. I, however, made my exams based on student need, which means I spent quite a bit of time doing more. The best part is the work paid off for me in the success of my students.
When I began teaming with Monique Wild and Larry Chambless, we planned all summer prior to our first year together. What a difference that made! Our parent meetings were planned, our lessons were aligned, and we had procedures ready to go. No planning in the summers would have lead to a lack of organization throughout the whole year. The students and the teachers would have suffered. We continued planning every summer thereafter.
When I moved into leadership I thought life would become easier. I can honestly say I do take less paperwork home, but I also spend multiple hours at school doing official duties. I answer the phone late at night when a teacher needs to talk and the responsibility stress is at an entirely different level.
Now I see precious young educators both at my school and in other schools. My heart hurts for the young teachers when they tell me they can’t imagine having a family and teaching, because there is no way they can keep up the work load and have time to raise children. I recently asked a few young teachers to track the time they spent working on schoolwork outside of school for one week. The highest count was 32 hours and the lowest count was 15 hours for an average week. This was not a week when reports cards were due or special testing was happening. I know they actually work this hard, because I can see the efforts and the results.
How do we raise a generation of teachers when the realities of life are most people want a family and a personal life? Other countries have found solutions, but much of the research also includes the respect the private sector as a whole has for educators. In our own profession we have work to do to change the respect factor. I know tenure is a hot button and I have lived without it and with it. I have my opinions for a later blog. We must police our profession so everyone does the job they were hired to do and then figure out how to make the job of teaching not only more effective, but also more manageable.
One of my favorite books about teaching is Among School Children by Tracy Kidder. I read this book as a young teacher. If you want a glimpse into the life of a teacher who works hard and reaches children, read this book. Then when someone tells you they are a teacher, your response can be, “Wow, what a hard job. I appreciate your efforts.” Honestly, I could work with someone to reform the profession, if I believed there was some respect for what I do. I am “just” a teacher.
_ “Do you want a spanking?” Jacque Shuford, my mother.
Um, no… One of the issues I had to deal with at Pickering Elementary was no child could be sent to the office unless the teacher had first handled the issue by following the prescribed course of disciplinary action which included 1) a warning, 2) a call home, 3) a parent meeting, and 4) paddling by the teacher. Steps 1-3 were really easy for me after a few rounds, but when the child hit the fourth level I was done and they knew it. I would go back through the first three steps again trying to avoid the dreaded paddle. I did not want to paddle the kids. My heart was hurting.
The day finally came when I had called home for the same child for the fifth time. The dad said, “You just need to paddle him.” I cried all the way to the office. The assistant principal said, “Either learn to follow procedures or be miserable.” I signed the paddle out. I walked back to my room. I asked a teacher to be my witness and I called the darling into the hallway. He saw I had been crying. He started laughing. He bent over and I gave him the first of three licks. He turned around and said, “Is that all ya got?”
Now I have red hair and I know there are those who equate my temper with my hair. My temper is a bit embarrassing at times and I really have learned to control it. However that day I simply gritted my teeth together and told him, “Bend over.” I popped him pretty hard and I was then not the only one crying. He looked at me and with absolutely no kindness in my heart I said, “Oh, you have one more coming.”
He went back into the class with tears flowing. I opened the door, slammed the paddle on the door and told the whole bugged-eyed class, “This is a new day. I am in charge and you will be do your best every day whether you like it or not, because I don’t plan on needing this again. Understand?” I marched back to the office and returned the paddle. I told the assistant principal I would not need it again. He said, “I know.”
There was a definite change in my class. I have never paddled another student nor do I wish to ever paddle a student again. There are those who think the paddling is what made the difference. The paddling had nothing to do with it. What changed was the way I saw my role. I became consistent and learned how to have a firm, but kind tone. I know how to use “the look”. I also learned about building a relationship.
Thirty minutes after that paddling I had calmed down, but the child was still crying a little bit. I called him to my desk and told him, “You know my mom used to tell me disciplining me hurt her more than me. I did not believe it, but I do now. I know that hurt, but you know what hurts more? My heart, because I love you so very much and I think you are just about the coolest kid I know. I think you can do great things and when you misbehave I see all of those great things slipping away. The other thing is you are hurting other people’s chances too. So how about we forgive each other today and I keep working you hard and you keep trying to behave. When you need a little break let me know. How would that be?”
He gave me the biggest hug and from then on I had little notes and pictures from him several times a week. We would go to the cafeteria and he would put his hand in mine and smile at me so sweetly. He still had his moments, but a little chat in the hall fixed the problem.
Effective teachers love kids. Being firm, being consistent, and disciplining is critical, but reinstating and forgiving is even more important. I pray for grace every morning to see past all of their issues and offer them a clean slate. I try to not remember the things a child may have done and I don’t bring it back up at a later date. Instead I have found if you speak what you want over a child, you usually find the child begins to believe it.
At the end of the year he brought me a homemade cross-stitched wall hanger that said, “World’s Best Teacher”. I told him to thank his mom for me and he replied with a sweet smile, “I learned to cross-stitch so I could make if for you.” I still have it in my office at home. You know, he spoke something over me and I have tried very hard to live up to that sign. I am thankful he saw past my temper and believed in me again.
_ “You have to stop the Q-Tip when there's resistance.” Chandler Bing of Friends- AKA Matthew Perry
Allison Grindle saved my life. Really…. I would have walked out of Pickering Elementary in October 1992 if she had not walked across the hall along with Mrs. Richard and invited me to cry in her room. I was at the end of my rope. Teaching was so much harder than I thought it would be. I was making a little over $700 a month and my rent was $300. I had $5.00 in my bank account and was not sure if I had enough peanut butter to make the week, let alone gas.
I knew I could not possibly take on another job when teaching required my efforts until 11 p.m. most nights and my weekends were shot with grading and planning. I taught every subject to my fifth graders including reading, language, spelling, math, science, social studies, art, music, some health and PE plus I helped with the DARE program and sometimes had them during foreign language. I had a thirty-minute planning period two or three times a week, ate lunch with them, we all went to potty together and I had duty every day morning, recess, and after school.
The time and money issues aside my class was in chaos. These precious 10 year olds were eating my lunch every day. They rolled their eyes at me. They laughed at every mistake I made. No one loved me like I loved my teachers. Law school was looking pretty darn good. However, there were a few magical moments when all the students came together in a beautiful learning experience and I was in total bliss. I just could not figure out how to be in bliss more than I was in mess.
Mrs. Richard and Mrs. Grindle taught me about resistance. I pushed the Q-Tip, so to speak, when I needed to pull back. My lack of understanding about how things worked was causing everyone pain! I was so excited I rushed at things and I rushed at students without thinking things through. These ladies told me a few specific things bluntly and then began to question me into figuring the rest out.
I learned I needed order and a consistent schedule. Effective teachers post and teach expectations consistently. They came to my room and pointed out how chaotic it was. They talked to me about my centers and how to find a place for every item and every person. They both helped me figure out a seating chart and a conduct system that would work for me. They helped me figure out I was allergic to chalk dust! They introduced me to an overhead projector!
Most of all when one of my angels broke the rules I had to actually follow through with the consequences instead of being a push over. I could not loose my temper. I could not let my hurt feelings show. I had to be stoic and unruffled all at the same time. WOW! Where were those lessons in college? Over the next few weeks I started doing whatever these two ladies told me to do and I began thriving and my kids began thriving.
The lesson I learned that fall was you have to have peer supporters in the work place. Supporters are not those who lord over you or tell you everything to do and trust me there were those also. Supporters are those who see your strengths and question you until you find your way. Mrs. Grindle and Mrs. Richard saved my life by telling me some blunt statements, by asking me some great questions, and by just cheering me on. I stayed in the profession because of these two women and I have taught over 2,000 students using those early guiding principles. Find people you can trust. Build your support team. Excellent teaching is hard work. You can’t do it alone. Sometimes those supporters become your friends also. Allison Grindle became my friend socially that year and was one of my first friends on Facebook. She is miles away, but she is so close to my heart. I thank her for helping me find my bliss.
__"I believe that being successful means having a balance of success stories across the many areas of your life. You can't truly be considered successful in your business life if your home life is in shambles." ~Zig Zigler
I am in the midst of year 20 and have found myself being extremely reflective about all of the experiences I have had in various schools over the past two decades. I thought I would jot some of these down over the next few months as I take a walk down Memory Lane.
My first principal taught me a tremendous lesson in her first hour of the yearly staff development before school began. Dr. Cynthia Gillespie, my principal at Pickering Elementary, was jovial and smiled all the time. I was a very nervous young teacher who was not quite ready to face those scary 5th graders. She basically told us, "This is hard work. You can literally put yourself in an early grave doing this job. I better not see you taking work home every single day. I better not see you working late every single day. I better see you working hard, but smart. If you burn out, you will not be able to serve kids."
I thought to myself, "Um....what does she know? Of course I am going to work late every day and every night. I want to be awesome."
She was right. I learned there is a difference between working hard but aimlessly and working hard with a determination to help kids. Teaching, done well, is hard. I started blood pressure medication at age 31. I had to step back and think if the 24 hours a day I thought about teaching was worth 156/120 blood pressure. No! I went back to what Dr. Gillespie said and made some changes in my life.
There has to be a balance. You can't work 15 hours every day grading papers, creating materials, worrying about the darling who cried, and thinking about how you are going to get those very cool materials for the lab you want to do without telling your husband you need to spend yet another $50 out of your pocket this month. Finding ways to help kids achieve more without killing myself became my goal. I learned a few tricks I will share in the next few blogs.
Balance means you find time for your family, for your spirit, for your health, for your friends, and for your own interests. Balanced teachers are what Dr. Gillespie was explaining to me that day. She knew if I never found some downtime I would burn out. She knew if I did not renew myself, I would crash faster. I have to say I work pretty hard, but the speech a principal ever gave me echos daily for me.
I turned off my computer this past weekend. I did NO work for school. I just enjoyed my kids. I read a few novels. I exercised. I played with friends. I went to school this morning with a clear mind and a renewed spirit.
If you are struggling this winter season, consider balance. I challenge you to inventory your life in five areas: family, friends, health, spirit, and mind. Are your balanced? (No eye rolling....I promise I have areas i
_ “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” Luke 2:14
So this blog is about two weeks late in connecting with the season, but I have been enjoying a much needed little rest. I was sitting in church at my precious home church of Wallace Baptist Church Christmas morning and listening to the service when I had a very simple thought and made a note to blog about it. Then, I was caught up in the day and the week that followed and did not write. This morning in church at Healing Place, Pastor Dino asked what we were praying for in 2012 and Joey, my husband, said, "Peace on earth." I suddenly remembered my little note.
Isaiah 9:6 refers to Christ as the Prince of Peace. The angels declared peace on earth to those on whom his favor rests...The Greek word is "eirene" which is defined as "Prosperity, peace, quietness, rest, set at one again". The word can be found throughout the New Testament often spoken by Christ as a gift, "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you, not as the world gives, I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid." John 14: 27. My little thought was "There is already peace on earth!"
So here is my prayer for peace....I am thankful for the peace on earth in the hearts of those following their callings, resting in the promises of God, relying not on the world, but on faith. In 2012 I pray for more peace on earth, for less seeking of things and more seeking of kindness and love for others. I pray my own heart can return to the simple desires I once knew as I sought only God's purpose for my life rather than others' ideas of what I should do. I pray for our children to find their purpose and not hear the world's desires to destroy their future. I pray Joey and I both remember we are public servants and are blessed to be allowed to live our lives in such a manner. I pray we seek health not for appearances but for spiritual discipline. Finally, I pray I continue to be just a teacher who passes through lives in order to offer a nugget of wisdom to someone so they can become seekers of their own knowledge, make their own discoveries, and therefore teach a nugget to someone else. What a blessing to live a life of peace!
Peace to you and yours,
I am a teacher, which in a single word, sums up my passions and my belief in the future.