Wednesday, December 19, 2012

My Not-So-Grand Exit

Friday is my last day with the Wichita Public Schools after eleven years of service. (Notice the change in title for this blog...)

My path has been winding and often uncertain, but I love teaching and believe so strongly in the education of children that I've stayed in a district that has not always treated me well. As a para I was not generally treated as an equal because I didn't yet have a degree in education, but I continued on my path to complete my degree as I believed that teaching was the most important job I could do with my life. For my first year as a classroom teacher I was hired about a month into the school year and not given a mentor teacher to support me or even an updated copy of my school's policies and procedures to guide me. When schedules were built there were actually a few "veteran" teachers that were openly rude to me because I had taken all their "good kids." For my second year as a teacher I was told by the district that I would not be getting the annual raise that "all" teachers received because I technically hadn't taught a whole year since I was hired a month into the prior school year. But outside of that my second, third and fourth years of teaching went relatively well. I had an administrative staff that supported me as a teacher as well as a team of teachers that worked well together to help educate our children and I was able to teach in a problem-based environment and integrate almost all the technology I wanted into my instruction. Then I was given the opportunity to work at the district level as an instructional technology specialist. This was by far the best three years of my teaching career! I was completing my master's degree in educational technology and working with an amazing group of educators. Then the economy crashed and I lost my job. I was the last person hired by three days and after three years in this position, the district just cut my job without even trying to find a position for me that might have been open due to attrition. "Luckily," I was "allowed" to apply for jobs that were supposed to be listed as "in-district applicants only." They treated it like that was a really big deal - that  a person that had devoted themselves to the district for 8 years would be given such a privilege as to apply for jobs within the district before someone who had never worked a day within our district. But, I still felt that I could positively affect change in education, so I took a job as a data leader and site technology specialist at a middle school within our district. In this position I worked on a tightly-knit leadership team, collaborated with some really fantastic instructional coaches and really felt that I was helping to make some positive changes within the school structure. But at the end of that year the school was restructured due to not making 'Annual Yearly Progress' on the standardized tests (don't even get me started on this topic) and was told that my services were no longer desired at Jardine. At this point the district placed me at another school without interviewing me, without the principal meeting me and without asking me if I even wanted to teach there. But off to Truesdell I went, where I learned throughout the school year that after teaching adults for four years I just really no longer had the ability properly to teach 6th graders - they were just too young. So I was faced with a dilemma: stay at a school where I would likely not be happy or try to get a job at yet another school within the school district. I chose to apply for a job as a data leader at a high school and also as an educational technology specialist (again) as there were openings for my old position. Sadly, I was not even offered an interview for the technology specialist position because of my "instability within the district" and my "lack of recent classroom experience." But in the end, I was very excited to be offered the job as a data leader because not only would I be working with some amazing educational leaders that I had known from prior jobs within the district, but also because my last year of sixth graders from my first year teaching were to be seniors at this high school. It's been difficult adjusting to high school from dress code to procedures to general student behaviors. It has, however, been utterly wonderful seeing my little sixth graders approach adulthood! 

But now, I have been offered a job at Cargill doing IT work (in other words utilizing the master's degree which I worked so hard to obtain) and I can't turn it down. Why? In a word: stability. The education system seems to be moving in a direction that goes against my core beliefs as a teacher. We're emphasizing test scores rather than creative, critical thinking skills. We're de-emphasizing technology integration in a time where almost everyone seems to have a computer in their pocket at all times. We're pushing all of our students to the middle, stifling creativity and we're not graduating any more students that when I was high school. Oh, and did I mention that for the last four years I have made less money than the year prior and each Spring have had to worry if my job would be cut again?

So it is with highly mixed emotions that I leave the district in two days. One minute I'm excited for the new opportunity in my life and the next I feel like a complete sell-out for leaving education. Last week I had to leave a pep assembly twice to cry because I was watching "my kids" perform for the last time. I've worked with some really amazing and passionate people and even more importantly, I have been a part of some really great kids' lives. I know that this is the right move for me and my family and still hope to teach some adjunct college courses so that I can continue to impact students, but I am quite sure I'll shed more tears over the next few weeks as I come to the final realization that I will no longer be able to introduce myself as a "teacher." 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Professional Slap in the Face

As a data leader is it my job to pull down data from a number of sources, break that data into meaningful chunks and distribute said information to various groups and individuals throughout our building. At our last building in-service, my boss asked me for some assessment and discipline data for our school to be presented to the staff. At the end of our session a staff member came up to me very upset that I had presented "skewed data" because I had shown the number of discipline referrals by ethnicity but did not include the number of "repeat offenders." I discussed this with him and agreed that it would be interesting to look at that data and that I intended to do so and share it with the staff the next time I was given time to do so. After our discussion I shared the information with my boss and then went to investigate on my own. Come to find out, the data weren't skewed at all - the percentages were almost equal. About 1/2 of our discipline referrals are represented by one ethnic group and about half of the students with multiple offences come from that same ethnic group. In fact when I made pie charts I could almost literally lay one on top of the other and have the exact same portions. 

A couple of weeks after the session, my boss asked me to post the data slides I had ALREADY PRESENTED on my "Data Bulletin Board" in the staff lounge for the staff to review, which I did. This morning I noticed that someone had defaced my display. In ink, someone had written "This is skewed data. It misrepresents our student population" and so on... I was completely taken aback that another "professional" in my building would do something like that. Since I remembered the conversation after I had originally presented the information, I assumed that it was the same person that had defaced my work. So, being the outspoken person that I am, I walked right up to him and asked him if he had done it. At first he tried to say he hadn't, then he tried to say that he didn't know that it was mine and finally argued that he was justified in defacing my work because he felt it was skewed data. Throughout the conversation I told him: "Yes, a number of those slide could be misleading - we're on the same page with that" and "If you'll remember, I agreed with you at the time of our conversation but that's not the point. The point is you could tell that an adult in the building had put in work and posted it and you defaced it anyway. I would NEVER walk into your classroom and deface anything you had posted." He tried to justify his actions several times as he felt the data were skewed while I continued to state that I agreed with his point on the data but that I found it professionally insulting that he decided to deface my WORK. He finally said we'd have to "agree to disagree." 

I'm not crazy am I? This is clearly a display of unprofessional behavior, right??

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

GREAT WORK - You did the bare minimum!!

Somehow, somewhere along the line it has become a custom in our society to expect praise for simply following expectations. "Aren't you proud of me Miss? I have a pass to be in the hallway!" "Look at the medal I got because my mom signed me up for sports and took me to the games!" "You passed the assessment because you got 1/2 the questions right!" I mean we all like to be praised. Who doesn't like it when we're told how fantastic we are? Or that someone is proud of us? But at what point does it become pushing everyone to the middle? When I was a kid I was so proud of my medals and trophies that had a place value on them (1st, 2nd, etc) but I also distinctly remember throwing them out as I got older if they said something along the lines of "Certificate of Participation." Well I KNOW I participated - I was THERE! My daughter (whom I love and adore and have clearly somehow raised her to display the following behavior) said to me the other day "Hey I'm on time. Aren't you proud of me? Can I have a (fill in the blank with random teen-aged stuff) because I came home on time?" My reply of course was "Uh no, you CAN continue to have normal PRIVILEGES though because you were on time tonight. I love you!" Now don't get me wrong, when she does something that blows my mind, I let her know just how amazing she is. Such as when she made the talent show and sang so beautifully it made me cry, I told her that it was so beautiful I cried and that I think she's completely fantastic. Or when she lettered as a freshman at a 6A high school in Cross Country, I rushed out to buy the letter jacket and sewed the letter on it myself. But it seems that we (as a society) have come to expect things to be given to us simply because we show up. There are a number of professions where people actively petition against work evaluations or merit-based pay, yet many of these same people expect a yearly raise simply for coming to work on a regular basis. I just don't understand. 

I distinctly remember receiving a state reading assessment score in elementary school and asking my mom what the 90+ percentile meant. She smiled at me, told me she was proud of me and explained "That means if 100 people lined up in order of their scores, you'd be ahead of more than 90 of them in line." I remember that because I had worked really hard on that test and was incredibly proud of my achievement - not because I happen to just show up and do the minimum. On the opposite end of that spectrum, I remember coming in WAY past curfew one night and being told I would be "volunteering" with my sister's cheer squad at a fireworks stand the whole rest of the 4th of July weekend instead of hanging out with my friends like I had planned. My parents set very clear standards for my behavior and I knew that it was my responsibility to follow these standards. If I did something above and beyond the minimum, I was praised and I enjoyed that because it was heartfelt praise and I knew my parents were genuinely proud of me. If I failed to meet the minimum standard, I knew negative consequences were appropriately headed my way. Perhaps this type of upbringing is what has made me the matter-of-fact, outspoken person I am that can sometimes be "a bit too much" for some folks to handle. And I know it's made me the kind of person that would be a less-than-adequate preschool and elementary school teacher. But it's also this same upbringing that gave me the drive to finish high school even though I made the poor choice to become pregnant at 17, complete my bachelor's degree while working full-time to raise that young child, obtain a master's degree while working full-time and continue to work hard to further my career success.  I've learned through these life experiences that I enjoy a challenge and the feeling of personal accomplishment that comes with meeting a challenge head on and conquering it. Is that so bad? Do we not wish our children have better lives than we have? Do we not want our children to work hard so THEIR kids can have better lives than they have? If we continue to tell people "Great work!" simply for showing up, or "You're amazing!" because they've met the bare minimum, where will our society be when my kids are my age? Or my parents' age? I don't know the answers to these questions, but I don't really have a great feeling about it...

Image courtesy of

Friday, October 5, 2012

Perpetuating the Cycle

It's that time again, election time. Debates, campaigning, political ads...and people that normally don't care about politics at all spouting off about his/her chosen candidate at any given opportunity. I almost don't want to post to any social media sites because what I say could be interpreted as needing a comment or reply about how it's (so-and-so politician's)'s fault that I'm feeling what I'm feeling and that (so-and-so different politician's) will hopefully be able to begin fixing the almost irreparable damage caused by (first so-and-so politician's.) Now don't get me wrong, I'm all for people standing up for their beliefs and convictions, I'm all for freedom of speech but it makes me sad that people can get so hateful and belittling about it. The number of times I've seen posts on Facebook about how anyone who votes for a certain candidate is "a complete moron," "clearly doesn't have the ability to think," or the worst one: "doesn't deserve to live." These are posts from people that I have always considered good people and my friends. Even worse, it's leaked over to our children. My twelve year old nephew asked me the other day if I was voting for a certain candidate and when I said "no" he stated "Well you're just stupid then!" At first I was hurt but then I realized he's just parroting back what he's heard adults in his life say. I explained to him that I follow the campaigns, do my research on all the candidates (not just the two major parties' candidates) and then choose a candidate whose beliefs and values align most closely with my own. Of course being a smart kid who adores his Aunt Erin, he was pleased with this answer. 

But, all of this caused me to notice the same kind of behavior elsewhere in my life. I was listening to ESPN Radio yesterday (as I do every morning) and couldn't believe some of the messages sports fans were actually composing and then hitting send about sports. Some people were arguing about whether Trout or Cabrera should win the MVP this year in Major League Baseball. Clearly this is a subjective view but the downright nasty messages people were sending were appalling!  And then there is the famous "catch that wasn't a catch" in the Green Bay vs. Seattle football game in which a replacement official named Wayne Elliot made a very controversial call that caused Green Bay to lose the game. Mr. Elliot reported that his phone rang non-stop for 72 hours with hateful calls from the Wisconsin area. I know I personally read so many tweets, status updates and posts with equally nasty messages about the situation that it turned my stomach. I have also recently "un-friended" a few people on Facebook because they posted what was supposed to be a funny picture, but that I found to be incredibly racist. I had commented on the wall of one person that posted it that it's the posting of images such as that one that perpetuates hate and racism in our society. He stated that he isn't racist, he just thought it was funny. Then an onslaught of his friends, whom I have never met, attacked me personally by calling me ignorant, stupid, self-righteous and a large number of other things that I can't post here. It was truly disheartening. Most disturbing of all, I recently read and article about a Tabor College student being beaten to death by a McPherson College student over a football rivalry.

In all of these cases I'm describing behavior of ADULTS. Can you believe it? ADULTS! I'm used to children acting on impulse in heated situations and saying or doing hurtful things not realizing the impact of their actions, but adults? Everyday I walk through school hallways, malls and other public places and hear teenagers calling each other the most vulgar names and physically harming each other because of their differences. It's always been my goal at home and work to provide a safe environment of respect where other people's opinions, ideas and cultures are valued and appreciated, but lately I'm beginning to feel overwhelmed that one person isn't enough. I'm feeling like I can provide a safe, nurturing environment for my own students and children but that once they walk away from me they're just going to be bombarded with negative, hateful and threatening people. The fact that it's 2012 and we still have to worry about racism, sexism and general hate towards others who differ from "the norm" is incredibly heartbreaking. How can we possibly hope that our children will grow up to be happier, healthier and have better lives than us if we continue to raise them in a society that promotes and perpetuates hate? How can we hope to grow as a society if we continue to not learn from our past mistakes? 

Perhaps all this political fever is just getting tempers running high and leaving people on edge. Maybe once we get through elections next month people will start to calm down and begin acting more least I'll continue to hope that's what will happen...

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Online Research

I love that part of my job is to find online tools for others to use. I stumbled this online album creator today called imgur while reading my Twitter feed and decided I wanted to see how the albums look embedded online. Well I just HAPPEN to have this blog, so I thought I'd give it a quick try. I realize the images have nothing to do with education or teaching, but my kids are awfully darn cute! Imgur allows you to upload from your computer or online, it gives some pretty nice image editing options (crop, rotate, draw, annotate, blemish fix, whiten, brightness, contrast and a few others) as well as some really nice image effects. It's super easy to use and share. I'm a fan!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

"Those Schools"

I work at one of "those schools." You know "the ones" I mean. It's a school that when I tell people (teachers or not) where I work the response is usually "Oh, sorry to hear that" or "Man, I bet that's no fun" or some other sentiment along those lines. In fact, I've spent my entire teaching career in "those schools." My daughters have gone to "the best schools" in our district due to where we live and I'm telling you right now I am almost certain I wouldn't be able to work in any one of them day in and day out. I absolutely love working at "one of those schools!" Yes, many of my students' families fall below the poverty line. And yes, many of our students' parents didn't read to them much (if at all) when they were little. And yes, there is a large portion of our student population that struggle to read because not only is English not their first language, but they aren't literate in their native language either. Fights happen here (as in all schools), we fight the daily battle of sagging pants and too-short shorts (with students and their parents who don't think it's a big deal), students cuss at me because I ask them to wear their IDs or walk on the right side of the hallway and the list goes on and on. 

BUT, I also get to be part of a safe, consistent and caring part of our students' lives. Yes, they know I'm going to be there every day "bugging" them to follow the rules, but at the same when I'm gone they notice - if only because they were able to slip through my little section of the hallway without following expectations. At the beginning of the year there were a number of students that were excited that I remembered them from middle school, were soon grumpy that I remembered them and still held high expectations of them but we've now fallen back into the comfortable groove...they usually follow expectations but when they don't they don't get upset with me because they know I'm consistent. A number of my former middle school students have had babies in the years since I had them in class and but told me that they're working hard to finish school AND be a good parent because they remember that I showed them that it can be done by sharing with them my own personal experiences. 

So really what I'm trying to get at is that I feel sorry for those that don't see my job a desirable. I'm sad that not everyone gets to see kids overcome adversity the way I do. They'll never know the joy of having a student that is currently homeless walk into school every day to learn. A few weeks ago I was able to connect with a student that is currently in foster care herself whose infant had been taken away from her by SRS. She now comes to see me every day with updates not only on her family situation, but also how her classes are going. So many people will never be able to see the joy in all the things that I get to experience every day and I am so lucky to be able to do so.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Art or Profession?

While obtaining both my bachelor's and master's degree the question came up time and time again: "Is teaching an art or profession?" My initial thought is always "both" but even I realize that's a cop-out and non-committed answer. So let's think about this for a moment. 
  • Do teachers have to obtain a degree in order to gain employment? - Yes
  • Do teachers have to obtain certification in order to gain employment? - Yes
  • During their careers, are teachers expected to maintain their certification? - Yes
  • Do teachers have contractual obligations and expectations? - Yes
  • Are teachers expected to attend professional development and continue to grow as educators? - Yes
This is all looking like compelling evidence that teaching is a profession, right? Well lets keep going. Recently our BOE and teacher's union completed contract negotiations with some of the below highlights.
  • 1% increase in the overall pay-scale
  • Adjustment to salaries for additional education (taking classes beyond bachelor's degree)
  • Moving to appropriate place on longevity scale (years of tenure within district)
  • Professional dress
Why were all of these necessary? Well for starters, Wichita Public School teachers went four years without an increase in pay - all salaries were frozen. Teachers were expected continue coming to work everyday, continue taking professional development course in order to maintain their certification all without any additional compensation (not even to adjust for inflation.) I just can't see how teachers were being treated as professionals in this instance. Mandates kept coming for teachers to increase the rigor of their lessons yet were not being compensated, either monetarily or with extra time in the work day, to make the changes in their teaching. Morale has been at an all-time low among the teachers in our district. And can you blame teachers? Cost of living continues to increase yet we are not being compensated for what we do day in and day out - change the future of our country by educating today's children.

But, there is that last bullet point...the one about "professional dress." When I think about an artist (one who makes money for creating art) I think sloppy jeans, old tshirts, a disorganized work space and a very casual attitude toward work. And the fact that verbiage about professional dress has to be added to a teacher's contract makes me see some teachers as artists rather than professionals. I can walk down the hallways of any school in our district and see teachers in wind pants and tshirts (teachers other than P.E. teachers that is), "professionals" in jeans and tshirts and still others wearing cargo shorts and hoodies. Now, anyone that knows me knows that I own my fair share of band tshirts, cargo shorts, workout clothes and jeans but I don't wear them at work. I view myself as a professional so I wear slacks, khakis and blouses or sweaters to work (aside from specially designated "spirit day") so that when I encounter others they will immediately get the impression that I take myself and my job seriously. It just seems to me that if you want others to take you seriously as a professional, you need to present yourself that way. (If my high school self saw me today at work, she'd be so embarrassed!) 

So, this is a call to action to all teachers. It doesn't take any more money to purchase a couple of pairs of pants for work as it does to buy a couple of pairs of jeans. And yes, I fully support teachers wearing school shirts, but wear it with a pair of chinos. If we want the world to take us seriously as professionals, to listen to our cries that we're don't have the resources available to educate today's children they way we'd like and to throw us some support when it comes to getting those resources (monetary or otherwise) then it's time we start making sure the world actually sees us as professionals. 

Image courtesy of Eric Jusino and Creative Commons