Friday, February 13, 2015

Update: My Letter to the Governor

     Back in November I sent a letter to my governor's office. I anxiously awaited for a response from him and got one shortly after.

      Let me begin by saying that I haven't been avoiding an update, but rather, I've been considering how exactly to update.

     Governor Deal did send a reply via mail to me. He thanked me for writing him and acknowledged my work in education, but regretted that he would not be able to meet with me and said he would continue working with "forerunners in education".

     My consideration in responding has been difficult. I want to say so many things, but I also continue the conversation in a productive way. I should admit that I was disappointed in his response, but not surprised, especially with the state Congress' continued focus on incarceration (although more transparency is a good thing) and the proposal of continued cuts to teacher benefits.

     There have been a lot of posts on the work teachers do - the hours we work, the quantity of work we have, the amount of work we take home, the kind of work we do with students, etc. My arguments to Governor Deal remain the same. I hope he takes what I said seriously, especially with the recent protests in Atlanta from teachers and other school support staff.

     At the risk of "preaching to the choir", I'll use this post to, hopefully, dispel some of the of the commonly misunderstood things about teachers. These are based on things that have been said to me, or my friends/family, or things that I've recently read on other blogs and comments.

Teachers get paid a full year's salary for only doing 9-10 months of work.
- While the school year is 180 days, teachers do get (or have the option to get) a paycheck for each of the 12 months of the year. That being said, those summer paychecks are just money that was held back during the school year. Teachers may get a paycheck in June/July, but it is for work they did from August to May. Teachers also only get paid for the hours they are required to be at school (8 hours or so). However, many teachers arrive before they are required or stay after for clubs or tutoring. They do not get paid for this, but it is expected that they do these things. Teachers also don't get paid for advisement classes (roughly 20 minutes each day in some schools), lunch hour tutoring (or any other tutoring), duty stations (before school, during lunch, or after school). These are all considered part of the expected work. This doesn't include the extra time teachers spend at home grading papers, reading emails, making parent phone calls, or coming up with lesson plans.

     Rachel wrote about this in 2012 in detail. She totaled her hours spent working; you may be surprised.

But, after the first year, don't teachers have all the lesson plans written or downloaded? I mean, what do they really do during planning?
- Some teachers do, yes. You'll find, however, that teachers who love their job, and really care about their students are always updating and editing plans. The plans that worked in one class/last year, won't necessarily work the next year. Similarly, information that was good the previous year won't be good in the coming years. For example, while I know what a VHS is (along with a cassette tape, an 8-track, and a boom box), kids in my class have almost never seen a VHS. Any lessons that talk about VHS or cassettes or a floppy disk are all out of date. If I simply download lessons off the internet, or use my textbook, then I'll be teaching outdated information. Good teachers write their own lessons every year AND download lessons and materials AND refer to textbooks and print materials AND collaborate with teacher in their building, or in their discipline and outside. That is what we spend that planning hour doing. That... or grading...

Teacher salaries are competitive and they have tenure! Bad teachers can't be fired!
- The average starting salary  is about $39,000. The average starting teacher's salary is around $36,000. The Washington Post gives a nice little visual for what this might look like across the country. With years experience, and higher degrees, teachers can move up the pay scale. In Georgia, teacher salaries top out (with years experience and doctorates) around $100,000 a year. Payscale gives a nice little chart about various doctorate salaries in different professions. You can see that professorship and education are at the bottom of that chart. Teacher salaries can be and are in some places competitive, however we are not paid bonuses (hiring, or otherwise), are subject to raise freezes, and furlough days, and are limited on the amount we can claim on taxes for expenses.

   There is a process for firing a teacher, like in any organisation. Public school teachers do not really get tenure and contracts are year to year. In the state of Georgia tenure means that once you've taught for four contract years they get the expectation that they will get a new contract each year unless just cause is shown. It is not a permanent position with no chance of termination. When a teacher is presumed to be "bad" there are steps that are taken. Data must be gathered and a plan produced for how the teacher can improve. This happens in most professions whether through re-training or "probation". If the teacher doesn't improve according to the plan he/she can be let go. However, teachers can be fired immediately for all sorts of things, just like in any other job.

Teachers get every weekend off AND two months in the summer and they get done at 3:00 pm every day! 
- I want to answer this, not from the perspective of a teacher, but from the perspective of a daughter of two teachers. I know the things I do every year, but I think this question is better answered differently. My parents have been teachers as far back as I remember. My dad started out as a minister, but I was an infant then. My mother taught elementary school and my dad taught high school. Let me preface this by saying that I loved my childhood and my parents. While there are things that upset me as a child, I would not have had it any other way, knowing what it prepared me for as an adult.

   I spent a good majority of my weekends and summers at my parents' respective schools. At one point, I would ride with my dad to his school in the morning to carpool with someone else to my school. At another, I would carpool with a student to my mother's in the afternoon, and wait for her, and then go home. When my mother because a computer technology teacher, I spent even more time with her at her school, either helping, where I could, or staying out of her way, and most of the time failing. I remember following my dad around his school and spending time with other teachers or in administrators' offices when he had meetings. To me and my siblings, my parents' schools were like second homes to us. We mostly enjoyed "hanging out" there and I learned lots of skills that have become handy as an adult (like how to fix a broken copier).

     I also remember how often one or another parent was absent. My parents could never drive on school field trips or come to performances/class parties during the day. As a kid, I was upset by this, especially when other parents and kids couldn't understand why I couldn't bring in baked goods, or my parents couldn't volunteer to chaperone this or that. I remember weeks and weekends when my parents were at conferences or taking students abroad. I also remember my parents working very hard for many years towards higher degrees (they have their doctorates now) both for their own learning and to make our lives better.

   My parents brought home grading every night. I remember my dad grading essays and my mom figuring out how to make her walls useful to her students. Their jobs didn't end at 3:00 when the kids left. They were constantly working and making sacrifices for their students and it was difficult as a child sometimes. However, if it weren't for them, I wouldn't be a teacher today.


     Teaching is not an easy job, and there isn't a teacher out there who expects it to be. Good teachers become teachers despite all the difficulties and problems because they want to work with kids and help them become adults. My hope, through my letter to the governor, and through this post, is that the dialogue can continue. With transparency (on both sides) and discussion, maybe we can begin to fix the problems with education policy. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Quid dixisti? ¿Que dijiste? What did you say? 你说什么?

I love having a diverse class. I love when my room is full of different cultures and languages and, even though I teach Latin, I want to connect to them all.

There are a few things I've tried this year and I have some major plans for next year to make my classroom more diverse itself, more welcoming, and more useful. I want to honour and help my students and let them know that I not only acknowledge their backgrounds and cultures, but I want to celebrate them.

The Wall of Languages

This actually started by accident. A Chinese speaker of mine was showing me something on my board and I forgot to erase it. In the next class, a girl, who also speaks Chinese, came up to the board, read it, and wrote a response. The next day, two Korean students wanted to see if they'd get any hits and wrote a message in Korean. Soon after, Spanish speakers started their own thread. Before I knew it, my board was suddenly taken over by everything except Latin! I couldn't bring myself to end the conversation, so I got a large sheet of butcher paper and taped it to my back wall. I had students copy over messages from the whiteboard and the conversation continued. In roughly a week, the paper was filled and students started asking for more. At one point, over 15 languages appeared on the wall, Latin included. Students were able to connect with each through language, and across my classes. 

I will need to post a picture later, as our board is being replaced.

Making Connections
This year I also made a commitment to use my knowledge of Spanish to help my Spanish speakers make connections. A lot of them already do this, but, especially in the upper classes when we start looking at grammar explicitly, there was room for improvement. With the help of a Spanish teacher, I started reviewing my Spanish and, particularly, the grammar rules. Now, I can quickly point to a similar rule in Spanish to help my native speakers. It has made this year a lot easier grammar wise for both me and my students. We've been able to make a lot of connections, but I am also able to explain equivalents in English and Spanish, making the class a lot easier for all involved. 

Working with ESOL/ELL

One of my goals for next year is to make my room a place where any student can succeed, even if they don't speak English. I tell students, teachers, and parents that all a student needs to succeed is knowledge of how to speak at least one language. While using a Comprehensible Input style lends itself to students of all types, including ESOL/ELL students, I realised that my classroom does not. My safety net is posted, but in Latin and English, along with my question words.

Along with the help of some students, I've started a lofty project:

  • safety net words will be posted on a large poster board in English, Korean, Spanish, and Chinese (along with Latin)
  • helpful phrases (like can I go to the bathroom) will be posted with visuals to ensure understanding
  • basic vocabulary lists for Latin I (see this link for the first two weeks of Latin I) are being separated out so that ELL students can have one in their own language. 
  • a commitment from me to provide hand signals for each new word (and in the process my kids will learn some American Sign Language too!)
I've already begun working on this and I hope as I foster these relationships my resources will grow and I will learn somethings in the process. I'm posting my resources below and I have a request. If you see any mistakes or you know of something better, please let me know!