Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Me and my soapbox.

Today I'm teaching two-step equations and multi-step equations.

The problem:
-4(x + 1.25) = -8
-4x - 5 = -8
+ 5 + 5
-4x = -3
/-4 /-4
x = .75 or 3/4

C'mon. I just gave you flashbacks, didn't I? Didn't I? Did your math PTSD kick in?

One of the hard parts of teaching Algebra, is trying to explain to a teenager and sometimes their parent (Why are we learning this?) that everything you're teaching them helps their brain form new connections that will help them learn other things faster in the future.
This to a group of people who, for the most part, can barely conceptualize next week, much less a few years from now.

Of course, look who I'm talking to. I've noticed a huge proportion of triathletes have degrees in engineering. So I guess another answer to the question, Why are we learning this? might be so that someday you can obsess about yours or other people's statistics and enter formulas into Excel that will aid in your obsessing.

But anyway.

Today I'm going to rant, and it's not about triathlon, so I won't at all be hurt if you choose not to read.

So I was at the gas station and CNN was on and they were reading letters from people who were responding to a story about merit pay for teachers. Something that, for the record, I am against.

The general consensus of the folks that wrote in: I'm sick and tired of these teachers and their unions asking for more money. All my taxes go to support these teachers and their schools!

My favorite: If teachers want more money, they should teach summer school!

My second favorite: Why should my taxes be raised? I don't even have children!

I also noticed that some teachers wrote in, and talked about "these parents". As in, These parents need to raise kids that actually care about learning.


I've been a teacher for 8 years. I've been a parent for 23 years. I also have a master's degree in educational psychology and research.

My take: We live in a culture that does not really care about kids. Oh, we say we do, but we have companies in the private sector that penalize people for having families. Our, "culture of life" consistently passes legislation that underfunds things for children such as education, healthcare, and social services.

As a result, kids are warehoused into crowded schools while their parents try to make a decent living for employers who penalize them if they take a day off to volunteer at school or take their kid to the doctor.

The tax system in this country does not take into account that fact that kids spend much of their waking time in schools - there's so much more we could be doing than just testing the crap out of them. We could be working with whole families instead of just being tangentally in touch with them and having this whole "us" and "them" thing going.

And I think that politicians like that. As long as we have this "us versus them" thing going we play the blame game and don't get organized to make them pass the legislation that will protect our children and our families.
For instance, we (schools) want ot be partners with you in raising good, happy kids. But, it's hard to transfer qualitative variables such as "stable home" and "happy, well-adjusted child" into the hard data that is demanded by No Child Left Behind. They don't want creativity, they don't want well-adjusted. They want proficiency scores.

Did you know: By 2014, every school in the US is required to have 100% of all students pass the proficiency tests.
I'm not making this up. 100%. Of all students. Regardless of mental ability. Or else.

I live in a state that has fairly decent pay for teachers, but I didn't ask for it. If I had my druthers, I'd have smaller classes. In fact, according to research, the school-related variable that is most closely associated with school achievement is class size.

Nobody who pays for four years to major in education is in it for the money. Some are in it for the coaching, but all are in it because they want to work with kids. Unfortunately, plenty of teachers are driven out because they become demoralized by how stingy communities can be, and how skewed the priorities have become.

Instead of raising my salary, I'd like to NOT have a limit on how many photocopies I can make in a year. I'd like my class size to be capped at 25, and to have an unlimited supply of markers for my white board, kleenex, and hand sanitizer. I'd like to get a new bulb ($16) for my overhead projector without waiting 3 weeks.

If I had a class size that small, I could have parents come in more often. As it is, I don't have room. Right now, two of my classes have 32 kids and one has 34. If they give me any more kids, they'll have to sit at the teacher's desk.

And they will. Give me more kids. And they'll sit at the teacher's desk, and share table space with other kids. My administrators will ask for permission to hire more teachers, but they will be turned down, because there isn't enough money.

Smaller class sizes will never be funded, because it's not "efficient." Most school models are mandated, actually, by law to be modeled after business models. Because, you know, when you think about children, you think about products, outcome, and efficiency. Riiiiiighttt.

I care about your kid. Not just because your child is a human being and all human beings have worth, but because s/he will be a future citizen in the world in which we live, and I want him/her to be a happy and productive citizen. I want to help empower you, as well, because I know you also want what's best for your child.

For now, I have him or her for 90 minutes a day. Me and the teacher's union are not your enemy. We are trying to protect the profession of teaching, and we really want the best for your child, and we want to be your partner and to make the job of being a parent easier.

Next year is an election year.

Pay attention to the candidates.

Ignore their speeches; instead, pay attention to their works.

The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.

What legislation have they voted for? Against? That speaks volumes.

Thanks for letting me rant.



  1. I have a friend who teaches high school English who has one class with 41 kids in it. The classroom was built to hold no more than 36. Some of them sit in folding chairs. She has 4 or 5 other classes as well for a total of over 200 students.

    In my district (not the one she teaches in), because we have some money and because parents passed bond measures and parcel taxes we fund having no more than 20 kids in English in 9th and 10th grades.

    There is no equity no matter the tax structure.

    That's a different problem but one I thought I'd toss on top of your other very valid points. They are all well taken.

    Our culture doesn't value people - we are purely margin driven. And everyone likes to blame working mothers. As if.

  2. Holy cow, 41 kids? Wow! I can't imagine trying to hold the attention of that many students. I feel lucky for my 33/34.
    Sometimes I'll make deals with the counselors, e.g., "I'll take this problem kid that's been kicked out of his other class, but I need you to cap my class because it's too full" However, the counselors are under the gun as well.

  3. An employee who's worked in higher education for the past 10 years; a returning college student; a husband of an elementary school teacher; and the father of two children...allow me to say AMEN!

  4. Ah, class size is why my kiddos are in private schools. My 8 son has 10 kids in his class, and by daughter has 15 in her class. I walk into the school and know all the teachers, principle, admin staff, janitor and a bunch of the other parents. There are some of us that take our kids education seriously.

  5. How funny that you would post this today!

    I taught pre-K to 6th grade ESL in a rural Costa Rican public school for a couple of years after college as part of a national program aimed at developing a bilingual workforce for the ecotourism industry.

    I don't think I had a single class with more than 20 kids. 15 was more the norm, maybe just because it was such a small village, but still. The kids were engaged, learned a LOT and it was awesome.
    Several years later, I did long-term subbing for a year in a relatively impoverished Texas school district. I typically had 30 to 35 kids in a class when subbing. This was elementary school, not even junior high. I can tell you, when you have that many kids, it's all about crowd control. As it happens, I'm good at crowd control, but it wasn't how I would have preferred to spend my time and energy, and I don't think the kids were having a very rich learning experience.

    So anyway, a couple of days ago I was listening to an NPR: Talk Of The Nation podcast of a program that aired a couple of weeks ago. Rudy Crew, superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools and author of a new book called Only Connect: The Way to Save Our Schools was on and was saying that in order to fix our schools, we need to raise salaries high enough that the talented people who currently come to teaching as a second career after a first career in business will consider teaching as a first career instead.

    And I thought, you know, that's a nice thought, but when you have 35 kids in a class, I'm not sure it matters much who you are, that's too many kids.

    Also, as the granddaughter of principal and an English teacher, the daughter of a school librarian and the sister of a history teacher, I kind of resent the subtext that in education, you get what you pay for when it comes to teacher pay. Of course teachers need to be able to make a living, but beyond that, the people you want in teaching are the ones who are in it for the kids, not the money. There are some really sharp, caring people working in our school districts now, but they're overburdened and, as you point out, under-supplied.

  6. OK. So as a teacher this was one of my favorite rants you've written. It's "refreshing" to know that other parts of the country have the same idiosyncracies with their educational structure...

    Here are some of my hopes.. to go along with yours!

    *to not be questionned everytime I ask for another roll of masking tape or two more Expo markers.

    *to not have to stockpile an extra roll or two of Scotch tape for fear that the supply in the office might run out before the end of the school year.

    *to never have to use that blue inked ditto copier again.. you know the one they banned from the elementary schools because of the risks of cancer or whatever... the same one that's still good enough for those of us at the high school to use...

    *for more administrators to get off their duff and actually wander around and SEE what's happening in the classrooms and offer to help.

    *for administrators to not cave to every parent's complaint.

    *for teachers to be treated like the true professionals they are. The profession shouldn't be the lowest rung on the "totem pole" they call education.

    *for dress codes to be enforced: for boys to wear their pants around their waists tightened by a belt and for girls to cover their ENTIRE bra and belly.

    *for cell phones to be banned for students from school premises

    *for textbooks to be updated every three to five years. Really. "Czechoslovokia" doesn't exist anymore. Neither does the "Soviet Union."

    *for the reinstatement of mandatory physical education classes. With teachers who don't just coach team sports.

    *for more money directed towards the arts, professional-technical education and other elective opportunities for students.

    *to give a stronger consideration to portfolio-style assessment. Sometimes those standardized tests are inaccurate themselves and are not a true indicator of a child's worth! (AMEN).

  7. Anonymous9:55 AM

    My dad was a teacher, coach, principal and administrator, and he warned me before getting my education degree. I was lucky to teach at a private preschool and coach (VB) at a private school. Just keeping up with our two boys keeps me busy now.

    I appreciate the teachers who work so hard for our kids every day. Your students are lucky to be in your class.

  8. Great post! I am in the middle of getting my SEI endorsement (shorter version of an ESL endorsement our state requires now) and it all looks so pretty on paper but the reality is we have kids dumped in our class that need so much more then we can give them. I agree hands down on smaller class sizes. I sometimes topped out at close to 40. That is just wrong. No one can get to know and help 40 kids in 90 minutes.

  9. NCLB is going to be the end of public education as we know it...
    Keep forging ahead and know that you are appreciated by a few kids and will be remembered by many when they are adults...you may never hear about it....but...

  10. I think most of us (parents) are pretty serious about our kids' education. I just think it takes a partnership to do that, and politicians have us blaming each other.

  11. I am all for educating our kids well, decreasing class sizes, and having time to CARE about my kid and everyone elses.
    I would love to see other parents that care as much about their childs performance as I do about mine, and held them accountable for behaving in a way that doesn't detract from my sons' experiece.
    I would love it if all this could be done affordably by trimming administrative fat instead of increasing tax dollars. I am not averse to spending money on education don't get me wrong. It just seems like there never is the bang for the buck that we are looking for, which shortchanges the kids ultimately.
    I agree testing kids to death to quantify performance is not the way to go. Pay-for-performance tactics just don't work when you are dealing with PEOPLE and not widgets.
    I am not sure what the answer is other than a complete overhaul fo the educational system as we know it.

  12. I like your rant, but I kind of wonder if you're in the minority in the profession. I remember after leaving private school in 4th grade, I had MAYBE one decent teacher until I hit college. And it always bothered me that classes were taught to the lowest common denominator...probably 30% of the students (including me) were bored stiff and learned the same thing year after year. Math, excepted.

    Thank god I'm not a parent, but if I was, my kiddos would never see the inside of a public school. And I pay a darn lot of $$$ in property taxes...

  13. My thought has always been this....My grandparents sacrificed higher taxes and more money so my parents could get an education, My parents sacrificed higher taxes and more money so I could get an education...So therefore, I am more than willing to pay more taxes and sacrifice so my kids can get a good education. You can not put a price tag on a good education.

  14. So, why should my taxes be raised if I don't have kids. I live in an area where we're drowning in illegal immigrants....I have a lot of heartburn over the tax situation, when I don't have a kid in school.

  15. Thanks for putting this in very clear terms. It is important to remember that we are not just keeping small minds busy, we are educating - it's an insurance policy for our future survival. There's a serious big picture at stake here.

    Today's brats will be cleaning my bedsores when I'm in my nursing home 50 years from now.

  16. As someone about to have their first kid and isn't too far from entering the scary, scary political mess that is our educational system... I concur. I wish people who thought more like you were in charge of things.

  17. The schools and teachers are what they have always been... safe places for children to learn with hard-working (over-worked!) teachers. As far as I can see none of that is "broken" ! But families and whole communities are - And schools are being held responsible for this! Really!
    What I want to know is that if our public school systems are failing kids, then why are so many going to and graduating from college? And why is it every other country wants their kids to go to school in the US?
    Take away public education and you take away some pretty big chances for equality in this country....we just MAY be going back to a 2 class system if the people with $$$ keep sending their kids to private institutions.
    Another thought...your kid's whole school experience, from age five to 18 is only 7% of that part of their life. SEVEN PERCENT!
    Amazing we can do so much with so little time isn't it?
    (It's about the only time since college, except for figuring out my retirement $, that I actually did the math!) :-)

  18. Terri, because our society is one in which we have a social compact. We take care of those people who do not take care of themselves: the elderly and our children, among them. As well, our society benefits a great deal by having an educated workforce: most of the people who take care of you are publicly educated, such as nurses, doctors, lawyers, architects, as well as the the people who build the cars and roads on which you drive, do your hair, and prepare your food, just to name a few. A poorly educated population affects all of us.

  19. I went to a huge high school with average class size of 25. I graduated with a class of almost 700.

    Teachers tend to get the short end of the stick. Chesapeake's budget the Schools get 52% off the top but thats total, it goes to everything and not just salarie.

    Now give me geometry, trig or calculus anyday.

  20. Anonymous8:06 AM

    Our teenagers have been in public school since kindergarten and have had some wonderful teachers! There have been some that they didn't like so much, but I told them it's part of life. There will be people you like and dislike that you have to work with. For the most part, it has been positive, and their schools/teachers have been open to communication and opportunites to help in the classroom or school.

  21. And problem with those stupid proficiency tests is that teachers then frantically focus on getting their students to pass THAT test, rather than learning how to think. That's what is ends up being - student who know how to take exams rather than be independent thinkers.

    Parents should stop spending money on xboxes and cable TV and instead give their kids lessons and stuff and helping with homework instead of complaining about the school systems.

  22. I wish I had some answers on this. Our state budget is a mess, and they constantly hold over our heads as a threat to raise our income taxes that they will cut funding for schools. My letters to the politicians said schools are our first priority; stop promising money for things we don't need. Start paying attention to education first; police & fire protection second; and family recreational and educational things next, and do away with the pork and glut. We all know how every politician makes promises to get where they are; it is imperative we DO pay attention to what their promises have been in the past to be able to decide who is best for the future. Sadly, people are uninformed and uninterested in the issues, and tend to vote for who they like best, regardless of their record.

  23. P.S. My parents sent us to parochial schools. We had 32-35 kids in each classroom, every year. We learned. The comparison I'm making is only in the fact that most likely the majority of parents disciplined their kids back then, so that is one of the big problems today. You can't manage 35 unruly kids that come to you that way in the first place. If you spend all your time disciplining, you don't have time to teach.

  24. 100% have to pass? Really?

  25. As a child psychologist in a family of teachers, I can say that you hit the nail on the head. Everyday, my sister come home with new stories on the crap they have to deal with, lack of resources, and the subsequent disservice it does for the kids. I've said it a million times - teachers have probably the toughest job out there, made even tough by the lack of support from parents and politicians alike. Thanks for putting it out there.


Comments containing links to commercial websites from people with invisible profiles are deleted immediately. Chinese spammers are immediately deleted.

I'm sitting here, looking out the window.  I did 3 miles this morning.  Big whoop.  After recovering from CDiff last month, I got a cold...