Monday, September 5, 2011

Labor Day

For so many Labor Day is just another day off from work, but do you know the history of the holiday?  Labor Day has not always been about barbecues and long weekends on the Cape.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Fingers Crossed

My daughter and I recently sat down to watch Waiting for Superman and The Lottery.  Waiting for Superman got a lot of hype last winter when it was released in theaters, complete with Oprah appearance and hoopla.  The Lottery is very much the same story, with guest appearances from Geoffrey Canada and a heart wrenching final school "lottery" scene.

In addition to putting the problems of public education in the spotlight for a couple months, these movies also brought increased attention to public charter schools. Both movies highlight all the obstacles facing traditional public schools and their efforts to improve educational programs, most notably the power of teacher's unions and the difficulty in firing bad teachers.  Public charter schools do not, for the most part, have to deal with a teacher's union and the limitation of a union contract.  This has in turn created both a nation-wide call for more charter schools and a backlash from teachers and groups advocating for alternative reforms in public education.

Those in favor of more charter schools and/or changes in the ways teachers are hired, fired and evaluated argue that administrators and parents are at the mercy of teacher tenure and the teacher contract.  Both movies highlight these problems, discussing in depth the "lemon dance"and district offices in which teachers get paid to sit for 6 hours a day for months waiting for disciplinary hearings.  Very rarely are teachers ever fired.

Charter schools, on the other hand, do not have to deal with teacher tenure or a contract.  They may fire teachers at will and are able to extend the school day, school year and/or time during which school staff may have to work.  These parameters are often clearly defined in the union contract in traditional public schools.  In response to this, parents and students are flocking to charter schools.  In many cases hundreds of students have to be turned away from these schools.  Thus the demand for more charter schools.

On the other side you have advocates for teachers, like Diane Ravitch, saying that the problem is not the unions, but rather poverty, limitations placed on teachers by No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top and an increased dependence on standardized testing.  I have discussed standardized testing and the stresses it places on schools before.  Unfortunately, I do not think testing is going away any time soon.  Too many resources have been expended on national and state standards and, as a result, assessment tools.  Pointing the finger at poverty is not new and it certainly contributes to the challenges faced by teachers.  On the other hand, charter schools draw from these same populations and yet appear to be getting better results.

This group also argues that charter schools are, in many cases, just an excuse for corporate education.  Many charter schools now clone themselves in cities across America.  Many new charters are given to familiar names like KIPP and Imagine and often tout incredible results -- that is until you look a little deeper.  Some charter schools have such rigid codes of conduct that students leave in large numbers after the first or second year.  Charter schools cannot pick and choose their students (students must be selected through a lottery), BUT they can set the rules for remaining in the school.  Additionally, some charter schools have been unwilling to open their books and therefore their accounting of public and private funds has been up for debate.

I do not hate charter schools.  In many ways I am a fan.  But on the other hand, I do think that teachers in traditional public schools are limited by all the demands placed on them by testing and poverty.  I also do not hate unions, but feel that there is room for negotiation.  Many school districts are now implementing tougher teacher evaluation systems directly tied into standardized testing.  We will have to wait and see if this is the answer.  I have a feeling it is not.

For me the jury is still out on large, corporate-like charter schools.  I love the idea of having a small charter school that works like a tight-knit family.  In fact, I dream of starting such a charter school.  The minute you put a corporate structure into that model, the appeal for me is gone.  Public schools should remain public and answer to their constituents, not a corporation or business.  On the other hand, I have not had schools in my neighborhood so terrible that I feel trapped.  I am not always happy with the schools in my district, but they are not bad schools.  In fact, my current schools are exemplary.  As I watched the movies I kept thinking "what would I do"?  If I could not move out of the neighborhood, afford a private school or did not have the knowledge to maneuver the system?  What are my options?  Wait for the school to improve?  Corporate or not, a KIPP school might look good at that point.....

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Back to School!

This summer I have felt a bit unfocused.  I thought I was on one path, searching for a teaching job for the start of the 2011-2012 school year, but given the state of the economy I have had to change direction.  After two years of haunting SchoolSpring and other sources for school job openings, revising my resume, writing cover letters and submitting job applications I have decided to redirect my energy.

I only recently got my teaching certification and felt pretty committed to the field.  For the last two years I have worked as a substitute teacher and special education teaching assistant.  I earned certification in both Middle School Humanities (Social Studies and English) AND English as a Second Language. I already had a master's degree in Education.  I participated in additional training and professional development.  I applied for a lot of teaching jobs, but so many teachers have lost their jobs during the economic downturn, jobs are hard to come by without knowing someone and/or years of teaching experience.  To add to this challenge, I did not come into teaching via the traditional route.  I took the Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensure (MTEL) rather then going through a college teacher preparation program.  Therefore, I have not participated in student teaching.  I could try to find a job as a teaching assistant again, but honestly it is a lot of work for not a lot of money and I have the credentials to work as a teacher.  For the past two years I have longed for my own classroom.  I know I am a good teacher.  The kids I have worked with love me.  My colleagues and supervisors have given me endless praise.  I have even been collecting books for my future classroom library.   

Rather than keep torturing myself looking for a teaching job, I am going back to school.  This is something I have toyed with on and off for several years. Regis College has a new program in Heritage Studies and after talking with the director of the program, I think it is a good fit for me.  Also, they contacted me and I enjoyed having someone court me.  I begin classes next week.  

To support my new life as a student I plan to substitute teach a couple days a week and teach yoga and Zumba®.  I have been teaching yoga for the last couple years.  I just finished my Zumba training have been working daily to prepare the choreography for my first classes.  I have added a link to my class calendar on the side bar and will update as I add classes this fall!  Life has thrown me a bit of a curve ball, but I am ready to shift focus and move ahead.

This blog originally started as an education blog, a topic that will still remain prevalent, but as my life shifts, so will the focus of my blog.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

School House Rock Wednesday #7

I believe this is the most famous of the School House/Grammar Rock videos.