I’m supposed to be paying bills. I used to harass the MoH about not paying them on time and isn’t it amazing that I’m doing the exact same thing. It’s nice to know after so many years of bliss that I can learn about yet another of our common proclivities: procrastination. Misery does love company, doesn’t it?
I should also be cleaning my kitchen, but I don’t feel like it. If I really rolled up my sleeves and did what needed to be done (reorganize ALL the cupboards) I’d be in there all weekend, and I’d rather clean toilets. Well, not really, but it sounded good when my fingers typed it.
I really need to schedule our flights for our summer vacation, but I purchased a couple of travel books last week and after plowing through them with stickies and hi-glow yellow marker in hand, made a decision to sort of re-route the vacation, which of course, changes what we need to do with flights to and from there. So do I hop to it, and take care of the plans? No.
I have problems staying on track just writing from one day to the next. Can you imagine all the bright and sparkly things my brain is diverted by when making travel plans? It’s shameful and I’m completely entertained by it all.
And to confirm that all I really am is a total nerd, what I was derailed by today was this article. It’s Friday, for gawdsakes. I should be out basking in the loveliness of the day, doing some spring cleaning which I actually enjoy and go figure that reorganizing the kitchen doesn’t fit into that category…
I should be not sitting here. But I am.
And I have much to say about that article. You may not want to listen, but we’ve all gone to school, sent our kids to school, and some of us, taught school, or run schools. It is the one thing that everyone can say they know something about from personal experience beyond being born, paying taxes, and eating. Okay, and breathing. We all have that in common too, so take a really big cleansing breath right now. It’s good for you.
Where was I?
The article…and I really want you to bear with me here, because maybe, just maybe I have a bit of insight that’s worth a few cents. Actually, it’s important because beyond our own personal experience with education, it is one of the biggest issues in politics beyond engaging in wars (let’s toss a coin and see which is more constructive…), so when we vote for a particular individual to take this office or that one, education is usually somewhere on their platform.
So back to the article — in a nutshell, Zeke M. Vandehoek has created a charter school which will be opening next year and offering teachers a record level of pay: $125,000 per year plus bonuses for positive gains in student achievement. His philosophy is simple:
“I would much rather put a phenomenal, great teacher in a field with 30 kids and nothing else than take the mediocre teacher and give them half the number of students and give them all the technology in the world.”
In many states, $125,000 plus bonuses is quite a bit different than what most teachers make, so you can imagine it’s causing quite the stir. And it will most likely be something that many will closely watch, as we often hear that if only teachers made more money, children would do better in school. The theory being that the quality of the individual attracted to the profession would improve — read “smarter” into that, and then conclude that since the teacher is smarter, the students will be smarter. Sounds so simple, doesn’t it?
I’m not arguing about any of this yet, but I have seen experienced professionals (engineers, doctors, military officers…) and newly credentialed brainiacs from top notch colleges reduced to tears — yes, mature men too– and wanting to quit not more than a couple of weeks into the school year because they couldn’t handle the pressure. It’s so sad. They apologize because they wanted to be able to teach so badly. Teaching had always appealed to them, and they gave up their previous career to do it. They just didn’t realize it would be so difficult. Excellent teachers make it look easy.
With respect to Mr. Vendehoek‘s philosophy, I agree, but not completely. One of the greatest frustrations of really excellent teachers is a lack of resources — especially those which are technologically based. It sounds great to say that an excellent teacher can just pull instruction out of thin air — and it’s amazing, because they do make it look effortless. In reality, it’s an illusion no different than one you may see on a stage in Vegas. For every resource one doesn’t have, it is purchased, and with personal funds. At least the higher salary will compensate them for that.
Truly excellent teachers work quite a few hours. They can be on site 8 to 10 hours a day, and then spend a few more at home planning and grading. This is not to say that those choosing other professions where the pay is very high don’t work lengthy days, the difference is that teachers are not compensated for that effort. They are not given an allowance to further their education as other professionals are, and their pay is dependent on advanced degrees. If they want a raise, they get a Master’s Degree or decide to get a PhD, but most often, further study is pursued because of a particular interest or desire to specialize — like any other professional. The additional pay, which doesn’t amount to a lot, is a welcome bonus. Time off during the summer can often be spent taking classes, participating in school-related projects and planning for the upcoming school year.
So here’s a comparison: A doctor (a general practitioner) running his or her own practice sees one patient at a time. We know the routine, right? We’ve all been sick or in need of medical attention and know that we sit in the little room until the doctor comes in to give us attention. How much time are we given? Aren’t there others waiting in rooms just like the one we’re sitting in? How much time does that doctor really have to spend with us? They’re busy people.
Okay, now picture one of the classrooms you spent time in. And for a huge dose of reality (and to keep this comparison in line with the charter school Mr. Vendehoek is opening) let’s say it’s your 7th grade English class. *I’m picturing mine — which was a combo English-History class for 90 minutes with Mr. Lawrence* Are you picturing? Okay. That English teacher has 30 or more students (closer to 40 in CA) in each class and has 5 classes a day. That’s 150 (200 in CA) students every single day.
One-hundred fifty adolescents with hormonal changes wreaking havoc on their unsuspecting bodies who are expected to sit in a chair for at least 50 minutes and read and write what the person in the front of the room is telling them to read and write — which is not necessarily the best way to approach instruction, but I’m not passing opinions yet…
Can you picture it? If you’re really, really a great teacher, most of your students will love you. They’ll push themselves, and thrive, working very hard and amaze you with how much they can grow in less than a year’s time. In the same amount of time, however, the teacher has paid quite the price.
Do you have any idea how long it really takes to read 150 writing journals and comment in them? It’s impossible. You have to have a system so that you get to know each of your students’ writing needs, and if you don’t do this, it becomes impossible to plan exceptional instruction because exceptional instruction DOES NOT COME OUT OF A TEXT BOOK. It comes out of a teacher. One who rarely watches television, or does anything that requires lots of time or money, because they simply don’t have it. Ever. And if they do, they’ve automated their curriculum, have figured out how to sell it somewhere, and are applying it to their students because it’s easier. You don’t have to plan as much. And after all, 7th graders are 7th graders, right? Clones of one another? Of course each human being is exactly like the next when the only thing they may have in common is their age. Give me a break. It makes me so angry…
Back to the charter school — the students will be selected by lottery and will be considered “underperforming.” There will be two social workers, no assistant principals, and one principal (Vendehoek) who will earn less than the teachers.
- The lottery is an easy way to get around lots and lots of political issues that I won’t go into.
- “Underperforming” is often synonymous with “underprivledged.”
- Two social workers for what will eventually be 450 students won’t come close to what could be needed. When you serve an underprivledged population, lots comes with it beyond the need to teach reading and math, and most of it has to do with survival and mental health.
- Assistant principals deal with discipline, bureaucratic red tape, discipline, paperwork, and discipline. The discipline can be tough in schools where underperforming students represent a majority of the student body, but NOT if the instruction is top notch and there is a network in place where the students know that the staff actually knows and cares, and makes routine parent contact. Imagine planning exemplary instruction designed to push a student whose skills in Math and English can be 4 to 5 years behind for 150 students AND making routine parent contact (instead of waiting for parents to contact you) and organizing required state and national testing, and counseling (because you have to) and…
- Principals deal with quite a bit of crap. I thought a while about which word would be the best to describe it, and crap is it. In other words, it’s anything that should be flushed down the toilet because it only takes time away from what matters. Kids & Teachers. It’s quite different than what a teacher contends with. The smaller the school, the more crap a principal has to deal with. Nobody really understands, because everyone’s image of a school principal is that of someone who smiles at kids in the lunch line or who stands in front of a microphone at Open House once a year to greet parents. Or, if you’re really fortunate, someone who promises to shave his head, or sleep on the school roof if everyone reads 100 books. Really excellent principals were really excellent teachers and understand what their teachers and students need in the way of support. Their strength is important when teachers are just about ready to implode because they have a class that is beyond difficult and have tried everything but the kitchen sink and still are struggling to make it work and blaming themselves. If there isn’t a principal, it’s possible for teachers to run a school, but what happens is, they have to take on the business side of things, and that takes time away from the kids and the academics. And isn’t that what they decided to teach for? Hmmm…?
The business world doesn’t work this way. It’s always amused me that the world of school does.
I could keep going, but I won’t. I’m sort of cranky right now, because I rarely open up these issues. They just remind me of quite a bit that I’d rather not think about most of the time.
I do wish Mr. Vendehoek well, however, and hope that the “highly qualified” teachers he’s expecting to interview who have been working at private schools most of their career, understand that this is a completely different type of work from that to which they’ve been accustomed.
Sometimes, more money doesn’t mean a thing.
Has this made any sense at all?