Monday, July 7, 2014

Jeff Johnson strengthens cynicism and weakens democracy

Two months ago,  I wrote a post that detailed 9 reasons why Education Minister Jeff Johnson has failed Albertans.

When I tweeted that post again today, a teacher asked, "You could only come up with 9?"

So here's one more:

1. In her Edmonton Journal column, Paula Simons quoted Johnson:
"School boards serve at the pleasure of the minister."
And here I thought school boards serve the public.

Silly me.

There's so much wrong with Johnson's take on school boards that it's hard to know where to start -- but here goes:

Albertans are suppose to live in a democracy where many different layers of elected government exist. Some of our government is more local than others. Municipal elections, which include school board trustees, are no less or no more important than provincial or federal elections.

There are lots of good reasons to have provincial and federally elected politicians -- enslaving or eliminating local government is not one of them.

One of my education heroes Deborah Meier once wrote that, "every time we respond to our distrust by wiping out institutions close to ordinary citizens in favour of more distant authorities, we strengthen cynicism and weaken democracy itself.”

Every politician has a legacy.

As Alberta's Education Minister, Jeff Johnson has strengthened cynicism and weakened democracy.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Prentice slams Johnson's Task Force

Jim Prentice is running for the Progressive Conservative leadership, but he sounded more like the opposition when he slammed Jeff Johnson's Task Force this morning.

Karen Kleiss with the Edmonton Journal writes:
In a bare-knuckled speech early Thursday morning, Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Jim Prentice said the shortage of schools in Alberta is “nearing crisis proportions” and pledged to build up to 50 more — in addition to the existing promise to build 50 and modernize 70 more. 
He pummeled the “so-called Task Force for Teaching Excellence,” saying he has spoken with hundreds of parents in the past month and he has “yet to meet even one who is preoccupied with changing how teachers are evaluated or disciplined.” 
He promised to work “in a respectful way” with teachers and their union, the Alberta Teachers’ Association, and said he will work with parents and educators to patiently determine what changes need to be made to Alberta’s curriculum.
In September 2013, I wrote a post that outlined 3 potential problems with Johnson's Task Force. Here is the first problem:
If I was Jeff Johnson and the Alberta Government, I may want to distract the public from funding cuts in public education by creating a task force that focuses on teacher quality. For this school year, the Alberta Government cut school board budgets by $14.5 million even though 11,000 new students entered Alberta's schools. This will lead to all sorts of problems for teachers' working conditions including larger class sizes.
Prentice's comments from this morning are pretty similar in theme:
“As an Albertan, as a grandparent, as a candidate for Premier — I am disappointed,” Prentice said. “I am disappointed that children are in our province are not receiving the very best education in Canada. 
“I am especially disappointed that so many of them spent the past school year in makeshift classrooms. This can’t be allowed to continue. And if I become leader, it won’t.”

It sure looks to me like Prentice sees Jeff Johnson's Task Force for what it truly is -- a giant distraction from predictable and sustainable funding.

To be clear, if the 2012 Progressive Conservatives couldn't make good on building 50 new schools before 2016, I have zero confidence that Prentice's 2016 Conservatives can build 100.

It's not that I think Prentice is lying -- I believe that he wants to build more schools, but I don't think the PC's will let him.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Teaching can be stressful -- children's lives are at stake

This was written by Jim Parsons who is a professor at the University of Alberta. This was written as the Forward for the Alberta Teachers' Association's research update Reflections on Teaching: Teacher Efficacy and the Professional Capital of Alberta Teachers.

by Jim Parsons

I have been a teacher my entire life. I am proud to be a teacher and have often written about the fundamental nobility of the profession. That teachers engage children in loco parentis—acting with agency in the classroom to protect and help children build futures—suggests the power that society has granted teachers. Society believes that teachers are crucial. I agree. But, more important, teachers agree. Most teachers take up their work as a calling.

My experience has shown me, over and over, that teaching is not an easy profession. Rewarding? Yes! Easy? Well, not so much. Sometimes teachers feel overwhelmed by the work and the pressures of the job. These pressures force almost daily choices: Work or rest? Students or family? Self or others? Making these choices would be easy if teachers didn’t care, but, fortunately for everyone, they do care. Teachers are acting parents of the children they teach. Most teachers believe that they make a difference and are willing to do whatever it takes to make that difference. Some days teachers feel that they are living through the 1998 Robin Williams movie What Dreams May Come in which the main character travels through hell to find and save his wife. It is probably not too over-the-top to suggest that teachers are willing to travel that same road with children. The research that follows makes that case clearly.

Yes, teaching can be that stressful. Children’s lives are at stake.

I am not making this up. Psychotherapist Carl Jung might well have had teachers in mind when he proposed the archetype of the wounded healer. Jung believed that, in relating to patients, an analyst can take on their pain, a phenomenon that can be both positive and negative. I know that this experience is part of the psyche of teachers. Teachers take on students’ wounds to gain the blessing: student learning. In his book The Wounded Healer, Catholic priest Henri Nouwen counselled men and women interested in serving their communities to begin by realizing that being wounded is a common human experience. Nouwen’s analysis—a suffering world, a suffering child and a suffering teacher—opens those who serve to being caring professionals. 

The research that follows offers a clear picture of how difficult teaching is and how radically the choices that teachers make can weigh on their bodies, minds and hearts. The following report is the collective story of almost 140 teachers: more than 90 from a large urban high school and just under 50 from all over Alberta. All volunteered to participate in this study, which asked them to identify high and low points in the year with respect to both their professional practice and their personal lives. Ultimately, data are the stories the research participants tell. 

Participants’ responses are stories about the work lives of teachers. These personal and professional stories highlight the collective difficulties and joys of their work—the highs and lows. They also help us understand the immensely difficult choices that teachers must make as they carry out their work. They are at once teaching their students and trying to survive. The data outline the shortcomings of their work, their own inabilities and their feelings about their successes and failures.

Teachers live in an environment that is constantly shifting: Will they have a job next year? Will the curriculum be redesigned or will their class size change just when they are becoming comfortable with the way things are? Will their colleagues be transferred? Will their school culture change? Knowing that they are not superheroes, will their energy wane? Will they receive support for their work? What might this support look like?

What follows is a report by teachers about what makes their job both difficult and rewarding. The findings from this study about the support that Alberta teachers need mirrors what researchers in
other places are reporting. Specifically, teachers in this study find great support in their colleagues and wish that they had more opportunities for collaboration. My own recent research on this topic (Exploring the Development of Teacher Efficacy Through Professional Learning Experiences, carried out with the assistance of Larry Beauchamp, Rob Klassen, Tracy Durksen and Leah Taylor) pointed to the same conclusion: teachers attain the highest level of professional growth by collaborating with colleagues.

Finally, this study offers a methodology for capturing teachers’ stories and insights. Any research study is more than data and findings; it is also about engaging with participants. In this study, teachers discuss their highs and lows and their ability to achieve a work–life balance. In this regard, the methodology is quite ingenious, for it encourages teachers to talk together about their own and their colleagues’ work lives. The study itself, in other words, is an instance of the kind of collaboration and community reflection that teachers find so powerful.

I have no doubt that the teachers and the school leaders who participated in this study know far more about themselves and their colleagues than they did when they began. I also believe that they have a clearer idea of what they might do to meet their own needs so that they have a better chance of fulfilling the needs of their students. I suggest that people interested in teachers’ work lives and in building the professional capital of teachers use the methodology described here as a year-end reflection activity.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Directory of Anti-Teacher Trolls

This was written by Peter Greene who is a long time high school English teacher from New Hampshire. Greene tweets here and blogs here. This post was originally found here

by Peter Greene

It may or may not be a good idea to attempt reading all the pieces responding to the Vergara decision, but it's definitely a mistake to read the comments section for any of them.

If there is any group that has been emboldened by the California court's fact-free finding against teacher job protections, it has been the legion of anti-teacher trolls. From mainstreamish media like Slate to the usual bloggy outposts, teacher bashing trollery is in high gear.

So this seems like the perfect time to provide a directory of the basic varieties of internet teacher-haters you may encounter. (And remember-- don't feed them.)

Childless Troll

I don't have any kids, so why should I be paying any kinds of taxes to pay teachers salary? Cut their salary back to where I don't have to pay any taxes ever. Mind you, I still expect my doctor, neighbors, fellow voters, and every employed person I ever deal with to be an educated adult. I just don't want there to be any schools. I don't know how that's going to work. You're so smart, you figure it out.

Public Service Troll

People should work with children for free because it's such important work (also, musicians and artists should never want to be paid). When teachers complain about salary and benefits, it's unseemly. If they really cared about the children, teachers would happily live in a cardboard box just for the warm glow of satisfaction that comes from teaching. When teachers complain about no raise for eight years or trying to support their family, it just pisses me off-- don't they care about the children??

"Those Damn Unions" Troll

It's the damn teachers union. Teachers all want to go sleep at their desks because the union will protect them. The union does nothing but protect bad teachers. In fact, the union actually goes out, recruits bad teachers, and then cleverly forces administrations to give these crappy teachers tenure. The union also elected Obama President, and they have the power to bend all elected officials to their will (except for Rand Paul). Union leaders have a giant pile of money that they like to swim in a la Scrooge McDuck; they use it to buy all the elections and all the power.

Teacher Hater Troll

Teachers are the single biggest obstacle to education today. They are only in it for the power and the glory. Well, no-- they also became teachers because they knew that would put them in the best position to interfere with the education of American students, which is every teacher's goal. Teachers hate children, and they hate learning, so they become teachers so they can devote their entire lives to destroying those things. It's perfectly logical.

Race To The Bottom Troll

The guy who cooks the fries at McDonalds does not have tenure or make any more than minimum wage or get vacations, so neither should teachers. The guy who dropped out of school in tenth grade and now works part-time at Mega-Mart doesn't have job security, and he barely makes enough to pay his cellphone bill, so why should teachers not have to struggle, too? There are employers in this country who force their workers to toil in unconscionable conditions; why should we fight to improve those conditions when we can fight to drag teachers down to that crappy level instead.

Sad Bitter Memories Troll

I hated high school. My teachers were mean to me. I remember a couple who picked on me all the time just because I didn't do my work and slept in class a lot. And boy, they did a crappy job of teaching me anything. I sat in their classroom like a houseplant at least three days a week, and I didn't learn a thing. Boy, did they suck! Crappy teachers like that ought to be fired immediately! And that principal who yelled at me for setting fire to the library? That guy never liked me. Fire 'em all.

Unlikely Anecdote Troll

There was this one teacher in the town just over from where I went to school, and one day he brought in a nine millimeter machine gun and mowed down every kid in his first three classes. The principal was going to fire him, but the union said he couldn't because of tenure, so that guy just kept working there. They even put kids in his class who were related to the ones he shot. Tenure has to be made illegal right away.

Just Plain Wrong Troll

Tenure actually guarantees teachers a job for life, and then for thirty years after they retire and fifty years after they die. It's true. Once you get hired as a teacher you are guaranteed a paycheck with benefits for the next 150 years.

Confused Baloney Troll

If you really care about children and educational excellence, then you want to see teachers slapped down. The only way to foster excellence in education is by beating teachers down so they know their place. Only by beating everyone in the bucket can we get the cream to rise to the top.

Like A Business Troll

You know, in every other job, you get judged on your performance and then rewarded or fired accordingly. Personally, I would have been a useless lazy bastard at my job except that my boss was always looking over my shoulder. People suck unless you threaten them. Nobody threatens teachers enough; that's why they all suck. All the best businesses like, you know, big investment banks like Lehman Brothers or energy companies like Enron-- those totally function on accountability.

Fake Statistic Troll

It's a known fact that 63% of teachers failed high school shop class, and 43% are unable to even dress themselves. If you have a bad teacher in Kindergarten, it's a proven fact that you will make $1 trillion dollars less in life; also, you'll be plagued with adolescent acne until you're 34, and your children will be ugly. 92% of high school graduates last year were unable to read, and 46% of those were unable to even identify the English language. Also, 143% of urban teachers are "highly ineffective" and 52% of those are "grossly ineffective" and 24% of those actually give off waves that cause metal surfaces to rust. I ask you, how can we continue to support public education under these conditions.

Tin Hat Troll

Teachers are part of the Agenda 21 agenda, and will be used as tools to turn students into mindless puppets who will smother their parents in their beds at night. You can read all about it in the Codexes of the Postuleminatti.

Charter School Troll

All of these bad things only apply to public school. In charter schools, all students develop a cure for cancer and build pink unicorns from ordinary materials you can find around the house.

Accountability Troll

There are still poor children in this country who are doing poorly in school. That must be a teacher's fault. Hunt that teacher down and fire him, repeatedly.

Incoherent Rage Troll

Teachers just all suck with the suckiness think they're so smarty pants with their fancy college edumacations and don't even work a whole year or a whole day even they just work an hour and then twelve months off every summer resting up from just babysitting which any moron could do so fire them all because, suck gaaaaahhh.

If I missed any, you can just sign on as a Hey You Made A Serious Omission troll in the comments below.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

This will be my last year teaching in the hospital -- here are 3 things I learned

This will be my last year teaching in a children's psychiatric assessment unit. Next school year, I will be moving to a middle school where I will be teaching grade 6 language arts, grade 6 social studies and grade 8 social studies.

I've spent almost four years teaching in the hospital, and I know that I am a better teacher for it -- I think I'm a better husband and father, too. Teaching in a children's psychiatric assessment unit has forever changed my perspective on what matters most.

Here are three things I have learned from teaching in the hospital:

1. Children who are loved at home, come to school to learn -- children who are not loved at home, come to school be loved. Too many of the children I taught over the last 4 years were suffering from a toxic combination of abuse and neglect. These children are not stupid or lazy, and they are not bad, but they are lost -- and our job is to help them find themselves.

These children are struggling with a wide range of problems from anger to depression to eating disorders to addictions, and yet there was a common denominator among almost everyone of the more than 500 children I taught in the last four years: Almost every single child I have worked with in the last four years thinks very little of themselves. Too many of these children hated themselves, wanted to hurt themselves and actively tried to kill themselves.

Over the last four years, we read a lot and we wrote a lot about topics that truly mattered to them, but not before I worked tirelessly to nurture a relationship with each of my students. This is why the best teachers understand that students will never care what you know until they know you care about them.

2. Children don't give adults a hard time -- they are just having a hard time. I can't tell you how many times I had to remind myself that the children who are the hardest to like, need us the most. When we understand that hurt people, hurt people, it's easier to see our students' struggles not as problems to be punished but as opportunities to be taught. This is why my teaching philosophy is defined by a purposeful shift away from doing things to students and a move towards working with them. This is why I proudly hang Thomas Gordon's words in my classroom:
The more you use power to try and control people, the less real influence you’ll have on their lives. 
3. Great teachers can do a lot -- overcoming poverty or inequity is not one of them. I've worked hard over my 15 years of teaching to become pretty darn good at it. I'm not great everyday, but I'm great more days than I'm not and I was humbled daily by factors that are completely out of my control such as poverty, abuse, neglect and mental health problems.

When I say that poverty and inequity matters, I am not making excuses, and I am not saying that poor children can't learn. What I am saying is that poverty and inequity stunts potential growth and explains why so many children struggle to learn and teachers struggle to teach.

Great teachers make great schools, but great teachers can’t do it alone – they require the support of an equitable society.
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