When Connected Educators Break Connections

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“To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary.

To one without faith, no explanation is possible.”

-St. Thomas Aquinas

Yesterday an old blog post of mine: Someone to Carry you seemed to strike a rather exposed nerve with a Kindergarten teacher.  I went to lunch and returned to 30+ twitter notifications about the post from colleagues that I respect as well as from this individual who happened to take issue with the post.   I am a huge supporter of debate and discourse when it is intelligent, based on fact, and has a modicum of decorum which purports mutual respect between parties with dichotomous views.  Yet what I returned to (after my lunch) was blatant slanderous statements toward myself based on nothing more than conjecture.

Had this been any random internet troll, I could probably look the other way and move on, however this person is a teacher. Not only is she a teacher, but she is a “connected educator” and founder of a wonderful group of early childhood education teachers who get together and have their own #kinderchat.  Furthermore, she’s also a Catholic school teacher.   All of these facts regarding someone who is an educational leader means that my expectations for her digital footprint and behavior are high.

Perhaps that is my mistake, after all even the best person in the world is still just a person. I’m rather sad to say that my first experience with a connected educator of this caliber left much to be desired. Apparently Heidi Enderchat (@hechternacht) seems to have lost some of the very Catholic values I would expect from a Catholic school teacher.

When I returned from my very much needed lunch, I found that she had called my post condescending.  Okay, I can handle that. It wasn’t meant to be condescending but to each his or her own.  What troubled me more was that rather than modeling for other connected educators and students around the world what good practice would be, she jumped to wildly slanderous conclusions about me on a personal level.

The large cause of this being that the post I wrote was against teachers who leave the profession and write incendiary resignation letters on their way out.  These teachers basically douse the ship with gasoline light a match and drop it on the deck as the leave their colleagues to try to put out the fire they have caused while simultaneously working to fix the issues that were already present.  It adds little to the dialogue of helping to fix the problems in education.

Apparently, Heidi took issue with the fact that I am no longer a school administrator and therefore I embody the very thing I wrote about (in her minds eye).  What she failed to realize, even after repeated statements to inform her, is that I did not quit the profession.  Not only that, but I did not quit and write a letter about how bad the school system is and how good teachers are forced to leave the profession.  As a matter of fact, I left a position at my school (without writing hateful letters) and I went to work for a corporation (something that her comments indicate is distasteful).

But here is the reality… When I was a teacher, I could help roughly 30 students a year… after 10 years I will have helped approximately 300 students.  I have always wanted to help the most students I possibly can.  Therefore, I became an administrator.  As an administrator within 10 years I could help on average 3000 students or more per year.  In my current role at a startup company that believes in childhood education I can help tens of thousands of students worldwide in the course of ten years.   I’d like to be clear, I did not leave the profession of education, I didn’t quit, I didn’t write a letter saying how bad education was… I think education has a lot of work that needs to be done with it but its still pretty good compared to some other areas in the world.

The direct statements from Heidi levied at me with absolutely no proof or even asking me what happened were:

“Quitting yourself (me) out of ambition is pretty arrogant.”

I asked where I ever said I quit out of ambition and her rather snide response was:

“Maybe it was an inability then? I don’t know, I just know you quit.”

– Wow. Really, so without ever asking me about the situation or fully comprehending what I do now in the field of education I was called either arrogant and ambitious or I was labeled by her as having an inability to be a school administrator.  The only true statement she made was that she “didn’t know”.  I was a rather successful school administrator. I started and founded the Cathedral school at the heart of our diocese under the direct leadership of the Bishop.  It saddens me that Heidi, a Catholic school teacher at Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Heart (@StuartCDSchool),would treat another human (let alone another Catholic educator) with such disrespect, simply for having a difference of opinion.  I honestly worry for the students in her class who are just forming their views of the world. If they learn anything from modeling or watching what adults do around them, they may learn that if you disagree with someone… attack them personally. How sad.

It was then that I found out that this connected educator had a rather myopic and 19th-20th century view of what it means to be a teacher. She blatantly tweeted at me:

“Sorry, working for a corporation is not a teacher. You aren’t dealing w the stresses of kids day in, out.”

– Really? In order to be a teacher one must deal with the “stresses” of kids day in and out? Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had stressful days with my students but I would never define my role as a teacher as being based upon having stress with kids.  As a matter of fact, very few days were stressful when I was in the classroom.  I enjoyed my experiences.  In her interview for Connectededucators.org it becomes apparent that she may be feeling the stress of the kids and the weight of her profession. The interview is peppered with remarks, such as:

“by the end of the day my energy is generally running below zero!… I would say that teachers, as exhausted and stretched as we are… The frustrations, loneliness, and isolation of a teacher are real things.”

She may have called me arrogant, condescending, ambitious, possessing an inability to be a teacher, a quitter (all of these things untrue once facts are looked upon) But her own statements seem to highlight a teacher who is very much frustrated, lonely, isolated, tired, exhausted, etc. These conclusions I come to are based on her own words and not, as she unceremoniously used upon me, upon assumptions.  I have afforded her the courtesy of actually checking my facts and having evidence to support them.

When a noted education author refuted her statement that I quit by saying “He didn’t quit, you’re assuming.”  there was a rather childish response and need to be right when she said “Is he doing it now? No. That’s quitting, Leaving. Moving on. Doing something else. Not doing it. Stopped. QUIT.”

I personally think its a vocabulary issue on the definition of quitting and some connotative differences between quitting, resigning, and moving to a new position with the same field or profession. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to explain to her how moving to a new position where I develop lessons for tens of thousands of students in various methodologies and with an eye toward teacher assessment, parent use, and student engagement is still very much teaching.  In the 21st century Teaching is so much more than the old image of the schoolmarm in the classroom at the podium lecturing to students.  Teachers come in all shapes and sizes.  A very small informal survey I conducted returned 100% results that a teacher did not in fact have to have the stress of kids or a classroom to be considered a teacher.

Again, had this been an average user or teacher I would have probably paid this little attention. However this is a person who purports to be a connected educator, running international edchats for teachers… she is a leader who should be influencing educators for the positive.  We all get tired from time to time.  We all get frustrated and have stress with our students. But we shouldn’t let that overwhelm common sense and we certainly shouldn’t openly lay slanderous statements against others.

To state that I quit: False.

To state that I left for ambition: False.

To state that I a have an inability to be in the classroom: False.

To state that I am not a teacher: False.

For the record, I moved to a new position, one that has the potential to help tens of thousands of students on a global level.  I did not quit.  Also upon my change in position, I refused to write an incendiary letter and send it to Huffington post or any other public newspaper.  Why? Because I stand by my original post (Someone to Carry You)  I will not light a match and watch the ship burn as I move on to continue helping students.  I believe in education. We are doing great things. And it is true… I still have little respect for those who leave and write these letters to the paper.  I no longer consider them colleagues as they have truly left the profession and done so in a manner that is poor in taste and practice and actually does more harm to those who remain in education than it should.

Bullies exist in all ages and throughout all professions.  They exist in the classroom and they exist in cyberspace among our own peers.  There is a moral obligation as an educational leader and as a Catholic school teacher to make sure your statements are true before launching accusations without any proof. I hold these leaders to a higher standard than I probably should. However, if she is a connected educator(as she claims to be)… I think her connection might be a little broken.


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What can we take away from this encounter? That is the question I ask myself whenever something like this happens.  After all, great teachers are often lifelong learners.    For me, it would be, check your facts and don’t assume anything.  Take the time to get to know the person you disagree with.   I’m sure there are many more lessons throughout.

What strikes me most is the statement that in order to be a teacher you have to have the “stress” of kids day in and out.  I wholeheartedly disagree.  It seems some of my other professional colleagues also disagree with that statement.

I’m interested to know… what are your thoughts on this? Does one have to have the stress of kids to be considered a teacher? Is this just one person’s limited view of education and teaching? Please share your thoughts.

Also, if you decide to Quit (genuinely quit) teaching… please don’t set our ship on fire and write one of those letters saying how horrible education is…. we get it… you weren’t happy… but you left and did little to help solve the problem. I’m still working on the problems… Together we journey and together we will make wonderful things happen for our students and colleagues.

Deleting Diagrams

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“These walls that they put up to hold us back will fall down
It’s a revolution, the time will come
For us to finally win.” – Taylor Swift

As the title of this blog indicates my posts are about revolutionizing teaching and pedagogy. I’m still quite amazed to find that the practice of diagraming sentences is still very much in practice across the United States.  My family members teach in schools where it is taught. I’ve worked at schools where it is taught.  I also have a global network of educators with whom I speak that have indicated quite clearly to me that the practice is alive and well… even though research has clearly indicated its poor ability to actually teach grammar.  A recent article in The Atlantic: “The Wrong Way to Teach Grammar” highlights some of these research findings.

As early as 1985, the National Council of Teachers of English declared that “repetitive grammar drills and exercises” — like diagramming sentences — are “a deterrent to the improvement of students’ speaking and writing.”  Yet the practice persists in classrooms throughout the nation.  Furthermore a careful study of the Common Core State Standards makes no mention of Diagraming Sentences.  Why then is this antiquated practice allowed to continue? When research clearly indicates that it is ineffective at best why is it allowed to swallow valuable instructional minutes in an already cramped work day?  a recent NPR article also talks about the debate regarding diagraming sentences.

It seems that ancient practices are like vampires… hard to kill unless brought into the bright light of public scrutiny.  Yet that is difficult to do when teachers who cling to ancient pedagogical techniques continue to shroud the truth in a cloak of shadows.  The argument is usually “I learned this in school it was good we should still teach it”.  Wow, research be damned.  No wonder there is so little respect for the teaching profession as it continues to pick and choose those research articles that it likes and just ignore data if it goes against tradition.  One only need to look at the phenomenon of Homework… largely expected in every grade level yet the research findings are clear… In the elementary grades Homework has clearly been demonstrated to have no effect on student learning or even worse, a negative affect.  Positive gains do not appear in the research for elementary students… if they do they are the minority of articles, yet teachers continue to extol its merits…. simply because we’ve grown accustomed to its ineffectual presence.

If you’re a teacher, and administrator, a parent, a student, a human being somehow impacted by school and education I implore you…. start taking a critical look at what is being taught in our schools.  What practices take place.  Don’t take for granted that just because you experienced it as a child it has value today.  Remember there was a time when a person who had a headache would have his or her skull cracked open to let the bad spirits escape… I’m glad medical science actually uses data and grows in its practices or else we’d all have holes in our heads by now.

Take a step back, look at the data, make a good decision.  The future of our students depends upon you.

Money for Nothing and your Tuition for Free

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Image Credit: DrRandomFactor (Modified by John Wick ) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

“A thought, even a possibility, can shatter and transform us.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

Sprechen sie Deutsch?

I was already aware that Germany had one of the lowest tuition rates in the world for its students, however today I learned that they have abolished tuition for University students.  This includes foreign students from the United States as well as other countries.   As a product of the US University system and a member of Generation X, I am among the typical American who has gathered quite a substantial student loan debt in order to further my professional career.  Any news about alternatives that exist in other countries is always interesting.

What is most interesting to me is the philosophical outlook that Germany has taken with regard to university education.  According to CBS News a Hamburg Senator, Dorothee Staplefeldt, commented that tuition is “Unjust” and that the fees “… discourage young people who do not have a traditional academic family background from taking up study. It is a core task of politics to ensure that young women and men can study with a high quality standard free of charge in Germany.”

Did you catch that? It was an acknowledgment that the fees universities charge can put education out of the reach of students who need it the most.  It was a politician actually standing up and saying that one of the roles of politics is to serve the people!

Writer Lynn O’Shaugnessy (@CollegeBlogs) Brings up some excellent points.  She stated, “It’s too bad that politicians in the U.S. don’t feel that a college education is worth supporting appropriately.”  She also brought up the continued quarter century decline of state aid to public universities in the United States.

Fear of an Educated Planet

It seems that much of the discussion regarding education in the United States, currently, is centered around Common Core State Standards, Federal Funding to schools, Assessment, Value Added Evaluations, etc.  Some talk has come up, from time to time, about reducing student loan debt etc. However at the heart of the issue is a philosophical belief that we should charge (and charge heavily) for an education.  This fear of an educated planet only pushes us further into debt (students and government alike) and hinders our ability to compete in the global market.

It seems we (The United States) likes to compare our education systems to other education systems only when we are being self deprecating.  Its far easier to say that others are better than us and to find ourselves in the quagmire of political debate rather than attempting to solve the root of our issues.

Our system is not broken.  Our philosophy simply needs changing and we need people to take a stand so that we can offer education to all those who truly desire to be educated.  Instead of focusing on our cultural currency that demands “Money for Nothing and our Chicks for Free” (as Dire Straits once sang) why not focus on eliminating the need for student currency to attend university. Educated students entering our workforce will be better equipped to tackle the issues that face our nation on a daily basis.  If we want to compete in our own nation, let alone on a global scale, its time we demand Money for Nothing and our Tuition for Free.

 

 

#weirded is for Educators

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Photo Credit: liz west via Compfight

“You tell me to hold on, but innocence is gone and what was right is wrong.” – Imagine Dragons

Recently a well respected internet site: Engadget made a very poor decision.  I’d like to start by saying that I frequent Engadget and respect the work that they perform.  However, this recent decision has left a bad taste in my mouth.   Engadget has corrupted and essentially taken the intellectual property of one of my close friends and colleagues.  They have decided to create a web series and name it Weirded.  I’m fine with that, however the disappointing aspect of this is that they have decided to utilize a hashtag that has been in use for quite some time by the education community #weirded.

Engadget describes themselves as “The definitive guide to this connected life.”  Yet it failed to perform a simple search of a hashtag to determine if it is in use before launching their new project.  I’ve lost a bit of faith in Engadget to be the definitive guide, because being a guide means providing good advice in online ethics and responsibility (two things that did not take place in this decision).

My friend, colleague, and talented author Doug Robertson (@theweirdteacher) wrote a book for educators.  It is fun, relevant, and helps those of us who are in the classrooms every day to improve our teaching so that children can benefit from teachers who care about them.  Doug’s vision for education is one in which the magic of creativity and endless wonder infuse every aspect of the classroom so that children love to come to school and learn every day.

Doug’s Book, He’s the Weird Teacher is full of great ideas and wonderful advice (if you haven’t read it yet please buy a copy now you can get it here: http://www.amazon.com/Hes-Weird-Teacher-Doug-Robertson/dp/1492193836 ).

It has helped struggling teachers and those who have had doubts about their abilities to strengthen their resolve and become better teachers.  Yet, this book is limited by the medium in which it is written (the printed word).  Because Doug Robertson realizes that the book is a first step, he went beyond himself to create an online movement to continue the ideas and discussions that began in He’s the Weird Teacher.  Every week, educators from around the world come to his chat #weirded to share their love for education and to expand their love for teaching.  It became so popular that #weirdede even grew out of it so that those on the east coast ofthe US could have the same experience at a decent time of night.

I’m amazed that Engadget did not research this.  My name is John Wick and there is a movie called “John Wick” coming out next month. The movie studio did its homework and created @johnwickmovie for use… they did not just step in and start using @johnwick (my twitter name).  They did use the hashtag #johnwick but I cannot fault them for that and I support it because it was an unused hashtag.  Engadget could have performed a search that took less than a few seconds and failed in their responsibility.

I’m more than slightly disheartened that Engadget didn’t do their homework.  Yes, I’m a principal and, yes, Engadget is not only on my list but on the list of many educators for needing a call home to a parent to discuss the lack of homework on its part.

That is why I have written an email to the Editor in Chief of Engadget, Michael Gorman (michael.gorman@engadget.com) asking that this be corrected.  I ask that each of you reading this also write a letter to fix this poor decision.  Below is my letter to the Editor in Chief, Mr. Gorman. I ask that you please be courteous in your writings, but also be firm that this was completely bad form on their part.

I hope that those of you who read this blog and support #weirded reblog this post and get the message out to the world.


Letter to Editor in Chief: Michael Gorman,

Hello Mr. Gorman,

I am writing to you to voice my disappointment and shock that those working at Endgadget did not perform a simple search that would have taken only seconds to learn that a hashtag #weirded is an active hashtag used daily by educators internationally.  I Love Endgadget.  It is one of the places online that I visit frequently.  Yet the lack of any type of research into the take-over of a hashtag is very disheartening.  I can think that there are two scenarios.  1. someone did not do their homework (in which case I have lost some faith in the abilities of those who work for Endgadget).  2. The research was done and an unethical decision was made to move forward anyway.

Doug Robertson, @theweirdteacher, is an excellent author, colleague, and friend. He is well respected in the education community and has worked hard to have his book come alive on twitter so that the conversations and ideas that began in his book can grow and flourish for the betterment of children (students) worldwide. His book, He’s the Weird Teacher, is outstanding and I hate the idea that it is being shadowed by Endgadget’s poor decision.

I ask that you take a moment and give serious consideration  to changing the use of this hashtag and that Endgadget sets an example of Internet ethics and responsibility. Please respect the hard work of a colleague who has devoted his time and efforts to helping educators around the world improve their pedagogical practices and prove that Endgadget can be an example of ethical Internet business practices.

I thank you for your time.

John E. Wick, Cand. Ed.D.
Principal, Endgadget reader, and #weirded supporter

P.S. I also hope that the fact that I called the website “Endgadget” was not lost on you.  The reason why I chose this was because continuing practices like this… will help to ensure that those who follow Engadget lose faith and it just might bring an End to Engadget.

I hope that does not happen.

Evolution of the Digital Immigrant

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Photo Credit: Kevin Dooley 

“Sometimes when I take a peek outside of my little cage, everyone looks so asleep. Will they die before they wake?” – Oingo Boingo

It used to be said that there were (and I say this with much ire) Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants. For many years, those teachers and administrators who actively resisted technology were handed a Get Out of Jail Free card. They could, and often would; state “I’m a Digital Immigrant.” This passport to slow down integration of technology did more harm than good for the students that we are duty bound to educate.

Some people are simply uncomfortable using technology (yes even those that grew up with it).

Some are afraid of what may happen when the technology fails (yes at some point it will fail).

Some do not want to admit that students in their class might know more about how to use the technology than the teacher (yes quite often they will).

The reasons are many and varied. And the passport of the so-called “Digital Immigrant” offered over a decade ago by Prensky has allowed these educators to willingly retard the development of necessary skills, processes, and product creation that is necessary for today’s world and for the world in which the students will enter as adults.

Papers Please

Luckily, the terms Digital Native and Digital Immigrant are going out of fashion, though there are still some die-hard fans (and not the Bruce Willis, Yipee-Ki-Yay ones) who still have a rigor mortis death grip upon the terms. I’ve walked by a few presenters who still champion the term but the time is nigh for each of us ask for their papers and to tear up the passport that allows educators to effectively hinder student’s progress toward a successful adult life.

Develop an Excuse

I’ve also heard the argument made by these educators that they need more Professional Development. It is classic. “I can’t use these tools because I haven’t had enough PD.” On the surface, this seems like a logical argument. However, I’ve never heard a child say they couldn’t use a piece of technology in the classroom because they lack PD. They embrace their natural curiosity. They explore, they use their curiosity to learn and are not afraid of breaking a device or admitting that they don’t know how to do something. If only our colleagues who are gripping onto the sides of the ship would pull themselves up out of the icy water and start learning how to set sail with their students.

Basic Training

The new cry that I have heard coming from these Digital Divisives is that we need to get “Back to Basics.” I’ve actually heard a teacher say with all due sincerity “ We need to teach them (the students) the basics before we teach them with technology.” What a dangerous philosophy. This is worse than the PD or Immigrant argument, because it subversively indicates that technology is little more than a fad that will not be used later in life.

Long after these educators have retired their students will find themselves attempting to use new technologies of the future, having been deprived of the “Basic” foundation of the technology of the present. We know that decades ago Lev Vygotsky demonstrated the importance of scaffolding and helping students push through their Zones of Proximal Development. Many adhere to this tiered learning, but the Digital Divisive fails to implement this approach and expects the students to jump into an adult life without the benefit of having learned to productively use technology for learning.

Furthermore, the statement is erroneous. We do not have to teach children the basics before they use technology. Technology should be used to help teach children the basics. We are witnessing the evolution of the Digital Immigrant. As with all things in evolution, they’ve adapted and grown stronger in their methods of survival.

Extinction Level Event Required

Digital Immigrants claimed ignorance, as that became a weak means of survival, they evolved into Development Demanders, until finally we have their current form, the Digital Divisive. As with the dinosaurs, it will take an Extinction Level Event to halt the evolution of the Techno-phobes and Techno-odios that have brought our students one more minute closer to midnight on the digital clock of their futures.

This will take a concerted effort of parents, other teachers, and administrators to demand and ensure that our students no longer are hindered in their growth and development. We’ve listened to the excuses for decades and allowed ourselves to be dragged into the tar pits where only the adept Digital Divisives are flying over the morass of our dying initiatives. Its time we halt this evolution and bring forth, to the light, the real harm that is being done to the future of our students and our world by those who fail or choose not to understand the important role that technology plays in our present and most certainly will play in our future.

 Your DNA

So, what are your thoughts.  What Dynamic Nuanced Approaches do you have to offer in halting the evolution of a dangerous paradigm? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment and lets start an evolution debate that is actually worth having.

 

A guide through the dark forest

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“It used to be, everyone was entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. But that’s not the case anymore. Facts matter not at all. Perception is everything.” – Stephen Colbert

I’ve been reflecting on our modern western society lately.  What I’m about to write isn’t anything new; it isn’t anything we haven’t encountered before. However, I’ve faced some of these characteristics of our society and witnessed many friends and colleagues face these characteristics at great distress to their emotional and mental state.  Today I am writing about the tendency to ignore facts and instead to trust perception.   Colbert’s quote at the beginning of this post is right on the money. “Facts matter not at all. Perception is everything.”

In education, teachers and administrators are usually the type of people who live and die by facts.  After all, one of our main duties is to teach students facts and to help them use these facts to influence the world in which they live.  This is why it is difficult for those of us in education to face criticism from others that are based on nothing more than perception.  The educator inside of us wants to shout out with a thunderous cry: “But here are the facts!” Yet these cries are often perceived (yes, that ‘perception’ word is sneaking its way in with a different permutation) as defensive, dismissive, or they are completely disregarded.

I have had to help my fellow educators with this, when a parent perceives that the teacher is “mean” or that they are not teaching standards based lessons.  The reality/fact is that the teacher is not mean, and that they are doing their job in an exemplary manner. The teacher knows this, as the administrator I know this, however the parent perceives this to not be the case despite the facts that provide evidence.

Over the years I have had teachers in my office in near tears when I have to share with them what the perceptions are of some of the parents about them.  Its biting to have someone criticize you.  Its even more biting when that criticism comes about something you are deeply passionate about and to which you give your heart and devoted time.

They are not alone in this. I too have faced similar crisis of perception from time to time. It stings. Yet the fact that I have faced similar situations or situations that are much heavier often helps in our discussion.  I am able to share my experiences, my pain, my frustrations that no matter how much I give there will always be some who wish to see darkness in the forest rather than light and hope. I believe it helps the teacher understand that they are not alone. I try to bolster their self image and devise strategies to help improve the perception so that it more closely resembles reality.

One of the hardest things I have to say and explain is that while perception is not reality, the perception of the parent is the parent’s reality.  We have to address it and cannot ignore it hoping that they will change their mind.  We will not always be successful; some people have their mind set and they do not want to leave the darkness of the forest.  However, sometimes people are looking for a guide to help walk them through the darkness and to lead them to the sunny brooks and glens that warm the heart and mind. Its difficult to be the guide when you are perceived as something in the darkness. Yet, this is exactly what we must attempt to accomplish.

I do not write this post to complain.  Instead, I write it for my colleagues so that they know that they are not alone.  Hamlet said it best, “For there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”  We are in the profession of thinking.  As much as it pains us, lets work through our hurt feelings and help change the thinking so that all understand the good that we are constantly doing in our classrooms and schools.

I’m interested in your thoughts on this.  What strategies have you used to help change a misplaced negative perception? What advice do you have for those of us in the trenches pushing ever forward to help our students?

A Small Victory

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Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Fernando Herrera via Compfight

“Today we face the monsters that are at our door and bring the fight to them!” – Stacker Pentecost

Today heralded a landmark tentative ruling from Judge Rolf M. Treu in the case of Vegara et al. V. State of California. This case involves nine plaintiffs who are public school students that are bringing a complaint against the State of California. These students are challenging five components of the rather encyclopedic California Education Code (specifically 44929.21(b); 44934, 44938 (b) (1), 44944 (2), and 44955. Okay… those are a lot of numbers so what do they mean?

These California Ed Codes deal with three separate issues. 1. The “Permanent Employment Statutes”, 2. “Dismissal Statutes”, 3. “Last-In-First-Out [LIFO] Statute”. At the heart of this matter is the question of whether or not these statutes, which deal almost exclusively with tenure and teacher retention within the state of California, violate the state constitution. In the tentative ruling it was found that they do.

I’ll be the first to admit that I do not usually go out of my way to read a legal ruling, they tend to be bland and really hold little interest for me. However, it is clear that Judge Treu did not have any ineffective teachers when he was in school. His ruling is sound and the language he chooses to use throughout is engaging and quite dynamic. I do not often encounter a ruling in which words such as “paradigmatized”, “Gainsaid”, “Preponderance”, “über”, or “illusory” are used with eloquence and precision.

Judge Treu also manages to make very clear that his ruling is based solely upon the law and that it is not his place to enter into the realm of politics or legislation, he even goes so far as to quote Alexander Hamilton in the Federalist Paper 78! If you are an educator (even if you aren’t one from the state of California) I highly recommend you read the entire 16-page ruling. You will not be disappointed you can find it by clicking here.

As legal precedent Judge Treu cites Brown v. Board of Education, Serrano v. Priest, and Butt v. State of California. Where this ruling takes an interesting turn is that these cases all dealt with a “lack of equality of education based on the discrete facts raised therein.” Yet the court was faced, in this case with applying “… these constitutional principles to the quality of the educational experience.” It is a strong statement in that quality is finally being considered as a factor that has a very real impact upon the lives of students.

The plaintiffs clearly state that these three statutes directly result in the retention of “grossly ineffective teachers obtaining and retaining employment” which violates “their fundamental rights to equality of education by adversely affecting the quality of education they are afforded by the state.” Ultimately the judge found that the plaintiffs met their burden of proof on all issues presented and the state as well as the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers did not offer any evidence that the state has a compelling interest that justified the statues or that the “distinctions drawn by the law[s] are necessary to further [their] purpose.”

What is truly interesting is that repeatedly throughout the case and in the ruling we find that the plaintiffs and the defendants agree on key issues that stand in direct opposition to continuing the current statutes as they exist. Lets examine what both sides agree with:

  1. Competent teachers are critical and are the most important “component of success of a child’s in-school educational experience.”
  2. “grossly ineffective teachers undermine the ability of [a] child to succeed in school.”
  3. The current process for dismissal of a grossly ineffective teacher is “torturous” expensive, and time consuming almost to the point of impossibility of removal of the tenured teacher

I would like to only offer some highlights of this case because I really want you to read the entire ruling. What follows are some gems from the legal document.

The judge stated that the evidence of specific effects of grossly ineffective teachers upon students is compelling… and shocks the conscience (I am inclined to agree).

Some basic facts supported by research:

  1. “A single year in a classroom with a grossly ineffective teacher costs students $1.4 million in lifetime earnings per classroom.
  2. “Students taught in LAUSD by a teacher in the bottom 5% of competence lose 9.54 months of learning in a single year compared to students with average teachers.”
  3. “The extrapolated number of grossly ineffective teachers ranges from 2,750 to 8,250” within the state of California.
  4. LAUSD alone had approximately 350 grossly ineffective teachers it wished to dismiss at the time of trial but no dismissal process had been initiated.

Lets take a look at the three main statutes…

Round I: Permanent Employment Statute

It should be clear to anyone who even remotely glances at the Permanent Employment Statute [PES] that it is completely ridiculous. Reading Judge Treu’s ruling would be amusing if it weren’t for the seriousness of the impact the current Ed Code has upon thousands of student lives! Half the time you’re reading the decision you feel like he is specifically saying “USE COMMON SENSE HERE!.”  let us examine some of the problems with the PES statute.

PES is more commonly known by the informal phrase: “two year” statute. Basically, as it is understood promoting a teacher to tenured/permanent status takes place at the end of two years. Judge Treu is very clear that even this is “misnomer” because teachers need to be told on or before March 15 which is a full 2 – 3 months prior to a two year term if they will be reelected… which means that administrators must make that decision long before that time. Yet, and here is just one piece of ludicrous logic, the formal induction programs for a new teacher takes a full two years to complete (the FULL two years). Therefore, administrators are forced to make a decision to grant teacher tenure before an official evaluation of the teacher’s competence and ability through the induction program is complete! The insanity in this is mind-boggling! As judge Treu states, “a teacher reelected in March may not be recommended for credentialing after the close of the induction program in May, leaving the applicable district with a non-credentialed teacher with tenure.” On the flip side, to ensure that districts do not end up in this situation, many administrators are forced to deny approval for teachers if they have even the slightest doubt about their ability… despite the fact that they may have been found to be completely competent at the end of the induction program! Why would the state even attempt to defend this statute? Luckily judge Treu found this statute to be unconstitutional under the equal protection clause of the Constitution of California!

ROUND II: Dismissal Statutes

The plaintiffs argue that the process of removing a grossly ineffective teacher from the teaching profession is overly time consuming and expensive resulting in many teachers’ districts retaining these poorly performing teachers. How time consuming and expensive is this? Apparently the figures indicate that “It could take anywhere from two to almost ten years and cost $50,000 to $450,000 or more to bring these cases to conclusion under the current statutes.” This is nearly half a million dollars! For schools that are already facing sever budget constraints, one need not wonder why they haven’t pursued the removal of these teachers.

What I love most is that judge Treu does not state that teachers should be denied due process. He is very clear that they deserver a process. However the current state of affairs is what he terms “über due process.” I couldn’t agree more!

Judge Treu’s own words really bring home this issue: “There is no question that teachers should be afforded reasonable due process when their dismissals are sought. However… the current system… [is] so complex, time consuming and expensive as to make an effective, efficient yet fair dismissal of a grossly ineffective teacher illusory.” – I couldn’t have said this better myself.

Based on these common-sense facts the court found the Dismissal Statutes unconstitutional under the equal protection clause of the Constitution of California.

Round III: LIFO (Last-In-First-Out)

I would like to start this section by stating I’d love to meet the genius who came up with this to ask what they could have possibly been thinking when they wrote this statute? Apparently this had some traction (thankfully not a majority) as ten states currently require seniority to be the sole factor in determining who is let go. It is shocking to think that this is indeed the reality. Completely compelling, effective teachers may be let go simply because they are newer than some who may be grossly ineffective. Don’t get me wrong, I know there are also grossly ineffective new teachers, but the current California statute does not even allow for a teacher’s ability to be considered! This statute basically states that the last-hired teacher is the “first statutorily-mandated first-fired one when lay-offs occur.”

I’m not even sure why the State would want to try to defend this practice. To do so would mean that the State would have to prove that there is a good reason to remove students from the best teachers and leave them with those who are not capable of being effective! Judge Treu is very clear that “The logic of this position is unfathomable and therefore constitutionally unsupportable.”

In the Legislatures Hands

I applaud Judge Treu for being extremely explicit in the role of the court throughout his entire decision. He was clear from the beginning that the court’s only job is to measure the statutes against the constitution. He closes by making some excellent points. Here is Judge Treu in his own words:

“… it is not the function of this court to dictate or even to advise the legislature as to how to replace the challenged statutes. All this court may do is apply constitutional principles of law to the challenged statutes as it has done here, and trust the legislature to fulfill its mandated duty to enact legislation on the issues herein discussed that passes constitutional muster, thus providing each child in this state with a basically equal opportunity to achieve a quality education.”

It is in your hands now Legislature. Its my hope that the State would take this decision and use it as a wake up call to begin real reform in getting and retaining quality educators in the field and removing those who have proven ineffective or unwilling to make necessary changes to help children learn and be successful in life. However, I sense that this will find its way to an appeal and the process will be further drawn out. How many more children must suffer because the adults in charge are unwilling to look at the harm that is being done to children on a daily basis all in the name of protecting entrenched, ineffective educators at the cost of those who would actually help students thrive?

Your Thoughts

As you can probably tell, I am a huge fan of this ruling! I also love the restrained biting criticism that can be read between the lines of Judge Treu’s decision. Sign me up… I am a fan of making changes to the current statutes of the California Ed Code. However, I know I’m not the only one with an opinion. You may have an opposite opinion. You may think I’m crazy for holding my view. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Maybe you live in one of the majority of states where statutes such as these do not exist…. Please share your unique perspective.

I look forward to reading your responses and having a wonderful open dialogue on the topic. You may click here to leave a comment if you so desire.

 

Stand for the Impossible

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Buttercup: “We’ll never survive.”

Westley: “Nonsense. You’re only saying that because no one ever has.”

-The Princess Bride

It is now June.  Students, teachers, and administrators are all feeling the weight of a full year of intellectual, spiritual, and emotional growth.  The visceral experience is often one of fatigue and pessimism, which tends to cloud our judgment and make us long for the highly anticipated summer break.  This is a time when we are called upon to complete the heaviest of workloads (graduations, grades, test scores, cleaning classrooms, evaluations, annual reports, the usual day-to-day… ad nauseam).    It is easy to get lost in the morass of routine and drudgery; it is easy to forget how to take a moment to recharge your internal power core.

This is my moment of self-reflection, one I find necessary to undertake in order to help re-focus my attention on the mission at hand: supporting my teachers and helping all students grow so that they may be successful in life. I am sharing this reflection with you in the hopes that you may find some benefit from my thoughts.  Recent events have caused me to take a serious pause to examine who I am as a person, what my purpose is within education, and (on a grander scale) in life.

Let me be frank; in this pause I have come to no set conclusion for personal aspirations that have been, continue, and may always be out of reach.  However, I have never been one to settle for outright negativity.  The impossible is something that I strive for every day, because it is only through our attempts to achieve the impossible that it may come to pass. I do not believe we should pursue foolish goals.  However, when a goal is noble and desire outweighs logic and reason, then even the most daunting of obstacles should be challenged.   These juggernauts of jabberwockian jeopardy challenge the will and make us sometimes accept the current reality as all that will ever exist.  We cling to the comfort of our own self-imposed prisons of monotony and misery because the fear of facing the unknown, as Hamlet once said, “puzzles the will, and makes us rather bear those ills we have than fly to others that we know not of.”  This is where I find myself.

This respite of reflection culminates in my reaffirmation of my desire to seek out a world in which we are all better for taking on the challenges that face us on a daily basis. I will not stand idly by and wait for fate to dole out the meager parcels of paltry pratfalls that it believes is our destiny.  Instead, I am going to do the one thing, I have always done when faced with what seems to be an insurmountable obstacle; I am going to pick up these broken bones of mine and face the challenge of obtaining what I want with renewed vigor. It may take more than a lifetime, but that will not stop me, because the goal is noble, the cause worth sacrifice.  The realization of the goal leads us on a path toward a better life and prosperity for all.  It is time we face our fears and leave the comforts of a system that was not designed for us or for our century.

If you, like me, find yourself facing the doldrums either personally or professionally, I ask all of you who read this blog to take a moment during this tumultuous time of year and pause to power the core of your Jaeger so that in tandem we can face the kaijus that stand in the way of happiness (watch Pacific Rim if you do not get this reference). Remember, “Fortune favors the brave, dude.”

It is easy to feel like Buttercup in the opening quote of this post: “We’ll never survive.”   It is much more difficult to develop the overwhelming love and optimism that Westley espouses: “Nonsense.  You’re only saying that because no one ever has.”  Ladies and gentlemen, I’m going to try to be a little more like Westley. I know that, beginning today, I am going to do my best to develop his optimism. Just because everyone else has died before us, doesn’t mean that we will suffer the same fate.  It is our dedication and perseverance that will result in our obtaining that which we desire most.  It is our willingness to give everything that we are, that helps us to achieve the impossible.  And, as Captain Malcolm Reynolds once pointed out… doing the impossible “makes us mighty.”

So pick up your broken bones with me.  If you’re facing the challenge of pedagogical practices that are antiquated, you can change them.  If you are forced to give assessments that do not make sense, you can help those who take them feel better about their actual roles in life.  If you are reaching for anything that is beyond your grasp, you can eventually find it within your hand.  Let us make real change on the landscape of education.  Let us stand together and create an educational environment that reflects the needs of our future and not the realities of our past.

If we stand together, there may be hope after all.


Take a moment right now to reflect. What is that one impossible goal that is out of reach? What can you do to begin making it a reality? Can any of us here help you to stand and make that difference? I look forward to your comments.

Click here to leave a comment or on the comment bubble at the top of the page.

 

Someone to Carry You…

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We see the letters posted on the Internet from educators who are disgruntled or dissatisfied with their positions as teachers within our current education system (for example this letter from Huff Post Education).

However, I do wonder about the stories not being told about educators who make a difference every day and choose to continue in the profession.  The message I see, time and again in the media, from educators is that they are dissatisfied with the way education works, the system is broken, they don’t like the policies so their answer is to resign.

That’s a great lesson for our students<insert sarcasm here>… when things don’t work the way you want… just quit.   The more difficult challenge of working with the system and systemically striving for positive change is an act that almost never makes the papers.   For that reason, I’d like to share why I am in education and why I will continue to be in education without an incendiary resignation letter.

This is my open response, as an educator, to the above-mentioned letter:

Dear Administrators, Superintendents, Teachers, et al.,

This is my official letter declaring my dedication to the students and children that we serve every day in our classrooms and schools.

I am exceedingly happy to have the privilege to serve children who are just beginning to understand the very complex world in which we live.  There is nothing more rewarding than sharing a learning experience with a student and building a relationship of trust in which both the student and the teacher form new knowledge together.  We believe that the parents are the primary educators of their children and as such we form a partnership that always strives to provide children with the resources and learning experiences they need in life. We are an extension of the home family unit and that is a sacred honor that I hold close to my heart.

You see… there are very few professions as noble as that of educator.  We are tasked with helping a child grow their knowledge and mind so that they can be successful and happy in their adult lives while providing for the betterment of society.  Why wouldn’t someone want to be involved in a profession such as this?

I did not enter the field of education with grand notions that I would make a six-figure salary, be understood by parents who do not yet recognize the professional degrees and credentials I hold, face the reality that teachers tend to be looked down upon as failing by our society, or that I would have to face policies and practices that were designed for a factory-era society rather than one that should be looking to the 22nd century.

You may call me crazy… but those are among the chief reasons I entered this profession. So that I may change them.

So many teachers become disillusioned with the education system and I have to ask “why?”  Did they enter this profession blindly? Did they (sorry for the pun) not do their homework and learn all they could about teaching and what it entailed in our society? I have to wonder when I read resignation letters that complain about low wages, following policies they might not agree with, etc.  If someone is out there speaking untruths to our pre-service teachers, please let me know so that we can stop them.  I’m going to break this down to the lowest common denominator:

Teaching is hard; it will be an uphill battle; you will not be paid what you are worth; people will judge you based on tests you do not take; it is not fair.

This is the state of most school systems within the United States.  Enter the profession knowing that the above statements are true and that this is the reality in a large portion of the schools that exist today.

Are you ready for the challenge?

Enter this profession, knowing what you know and fight for change.  If you quit the profession knowing all of the above from the beginning, you only have yourself to blame. Do not blame the administrators, parents, colleagues, policies, practices, etc. Only you have the power to enter a system that is struggling and to make it better.  Our society is so set on instant gratification that we believe if we haven’t brought about immediate change, then we are failing.  Take a deep breath for this one:

Failure is okay.

We learn from it and we rework our strategies.  Quitting, for the true educator, is never an option.

So many educators complain about policies that make them uncomfortable.  The standards movement had its detractors, NCLB had its critics, Race to the Top has been torn apart, Common Core State Standards have been openly attacked… some people will never be happy with change and that is okay.  But realize that our profession is built upon change.

The very nature of education should be change.

We are not supposed to teach children the same way we have been teaching for the last 100 years.  Technology, society, and the world move ahead with or without us.  I’m sorry to break the news to you but that worksheet or standard that you really love may have to disappear.  A worksheet and a standard do not make you a good educator.  What makes you a good educator is the ability to take a learning goal, objective, standard, etc. and to make that come alive for your students. Don’t like the new standards? Well, get involved in the politics of creating those standards. Don’t like the new policy, work to change it.  Can you change everything or affect everything? No. But demonstrate to the world that we can fight for it.  Quitting only demonstrates that the issue really wasn’t that important to you in the first place.

Let’s be honest, the message quitting sends isn’t that the system is broken.  The message it sends is that you are not happy about the condition of education and you do not value students enough to continue to fight for them. I understand the fatigue of the fight; I’m in it myself. So quit if you must, but don’t bash the administrators, colleagues, or policies because you couldn’t continue the fight. All that serves to do is lower the morale of those of us in the trenches and discourage those who are considering taking up arms to make this a better world for our students.

The following statement was made: “We feel defeated and helpless: If we speak out, we are reprimanded for not being team players; if we do as we are told, we are supporting a broken system.”  I have a couple of problems with this. If you speak out you may be reprimanded, but perhaps it has to do with the way you are speaking out.  Is it constructive or is it complaining? If you do as you are told you are not necessarily supporting a broken system.  You have to have a system to work with in order to make changes in the first place.  Is it the best system? No. But to say you won’t do what you are contracted and have agreed to do when you accepted the position only highlights that you truly did not know what you were getting into. Instead, work with the system, and use the procedures and policies put in place to make positive changes. And be prepared, people will criticize you for this.  Any change is met with resistance.

Some ask and argue, “Can I stand by and watch this [failed education] happen to our precious children?” and the response is to quit and fight from outside the system.  I’m sorry, you did something worse than stand by and watch, you left the field of battle. Your colleagues are still there attempting to make things better and you abandoned us.  You abandoned your students. You didn’t stand by… you sat down.

In her resignation letter Mrs. Hawkins asks: “Can the district do a better job of advocating for our children and become leaders in this educational system rather than followers? With my resignation, I hope to inspire change in the district I have come to love.”

A follower quits following.  A leader guides his or her ship through turbulent waters and fights to make the voyage to the desired destination.

I profess that we have leaders and that they are fighting every day to make a difference in the educational landscape. Leaders like @sjsbates@theweirdteacher, @tritonkory, @btcostello05, among many others.  We fight to bring about change and find the value in the current changes that are taking place.  Are the changes enough? No. But we all have to start somewhere.   I do not know how the resignation of an individual is supposed to inspire change.   Perhaps the resignation is a good thing, because we’ve lost someone who has given up the ghost in the battle for education reform.

I say to you teachers, educators, colleagues, brothers and sisters in arms… do not give up the fight. Become a leader.  Chart these tumultuous waters, brave the maelstrom of doubt and dissent, and stand with us as we make this a better world for our students. You are the good news in education and you are the stories that should be told to the world.  Let’s stop perpetuating incendiary resignation letters from teachers and, instead, support the great work educators perform every day to make a difference in the lives of their students and for the betterment of the education community in our great United States of America.  The best way to teach students that they matter and can make a difference is to show them that we matter and that we can make a difference.  That is hard to do if we simply quit and hope that it will somehow inspire change.

We are in this together. Do not let the fatigue get to you. Lean on each other.  Remember this great quote from Firefly:

“When you can’t run, you crawl, and when you can’t crawl – when you can’t do that- you find someone to carry you.”

Let’s carry each other and make this a better world for every child out there.

I invite your comments and I ask that you consider writing your own letter to continue our fight.  Let’s stop quitting and let’s start making a difference.

This is Captain Wick… ending transmission and awaiting your reply.

#revogogychat
#browncoateducators
#shinyedchat
#bcedchat
#revogogy

You can’t put students first if the teachers are pushing them out of the way to get to the front of the line.

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One of the recent images that perpetually floats around Twitter is the “You can’t put students first if you put teachers last.”  I have to say that on the surface this seems like a logical statement; it seems as if there is little wrong with this statement. However, something about it began bother me like a Ceti Eel larva going for my ear.  Now, I will be the first to say that teachers are important, without teachers the students wouldn’t have a chance of learning as much as they do on a daily basis.  However, for too long now we have put the teachers first.

sos37bs

Seriously… What does this mean?

This means that I have sat in meetings where teachers have complained about not wanting to do more work (regardless that the outcome would mean helping a child learn).  I have witnessed administrators afraid to make a change that they know will benefit the students because they fear a negative reaction from the faculty.  I’ve read the articles and positions where teachers state that they are underpaid, undervalued, overworked, etc.  But this is nothing new.  I’ve yet to meet a US teacher who went into the profession thinking they’d make millions of dollars and become a superstar that the whole nation wants to meet. Its time we put on our reality caps.  Teachers are vital, but for too long teachers have been fighting to put teachers first. We have all paid the price.

I mean no disrespect to my colleagues, but when we start talking about making changes and the majority of the responses we receive are “its too much work”, “I don’t have enough time”, “I’ve been teaching this for 20 years and I’m not going to change”, “This is just another version of XYZ that we did in the 80s, 90s, etc.” I’m sorry but I must honestly ask… why are you in this profession if those are your responses?

I will readily admit that I will always put students first.  I’m sorry teachers, but you’ve had your turn at the front of the line and now its time to step aside and let the students take their turn.  Teachers, for the most part, have large unions, organizations, etc. that protect their interests… what do students have?

I will put the students first, and I’m sorry to say it but… teachers, you may even come in 2nd or 3rd.  I will always support you.  I will always do everything I can to make your job easier, however it will never be at the cost of helping a child learn. I recall one meeting where a teacher responded to a new initiative stating, “Its just one more thing we have to do”.  I responded with, “I don’t care if you have to do 1,000 more things, if it helps one child learn you’re going to do it.”  The truth is, you have a choice to work in the environment that puts students first or teachers first and if it is my school, it will always be the students.

It is time we realize that our job is one of sacrifice, of service, and that we stop complaining about it.

Remember, you can’t put students first if the teachers are pushing them out of the way to get to the front of the line.

I’m interested in your thoughts on this topic.  I know I’m in the minority here as I’ve seen tons of these images on the Internet and not one comment to challenge it, but I’d like to know that I’m not necessarily alone in this. Dig deep my friends and I think you’ll see that we have had our time at the front of the line… lets actually give that place to those who don’t have a choice in attending school for 8 hours a day.  For a change, lets give the utmost priority to the students and stop fighting change that is designed to help them only because it makes us uncomfortable.

Please click here to leave a comment or on the comment bubble at the top of this post.