Thoughts of a (former?) Florida teacher   Leave a comment

So the social media sites are all atwiter (he he) with hateful messages about Florida Govenor Rick Scott.

I’m no different. I’m pretty much calling it now that he is making himself a one term Govenor. Even die hard republicans I know are no longer supportive of him.

It’s because anyone with half a rational brain understands the importance of teachers and what they do.

Here is what he’s done::

– he has eliminated tenure. Which means all teachers are on a year to year contract which means they can be let go for any reason: not getting along with the principal, budget cuts, being too vocal over political or union issue etc… no protection

-tied student test scores into pay.  At least half of an educator’s evaluation will be based on student learning gains for classroom teachers, 30 percent for non-classroom personnel and 40 percent for school administrators, instead of 100 percent of the evaluation being based on principal or peer review. 

-Teachers in hard-to-staff subject areas, like math and science, will earn more money, instead of paying all teachers – regardless of subject taught – using the same scale.

Two ironies that I immediately noticed is it’s call the Student Success Act when it will actually make it more difficult for students to be successful with the changes he’s made.

The other is his quote- “I am proud that the first bill I sign is this important legislation that will give Florida the best educated workforce to compete in the 21st century economy,” Governor Scott said.  “We must recruit and retain the best people to make sure every classroom in Florida has a highly effective teacher.” When what it will do is make qualified, educated people want to work anywhere else but in the classroom that he’s now made infinitely more hostile and difficult.

 Here is why it’s all sorts of messed up.

Tenure- Well, I can see why this seems like a good idea. It makes sense if you only look at the surface issue. Getting rid of tenure helps get rid of bad teachers. It removes their protection.

But there are several problems with that.

 Most “bad” teachers don’t make it through their first few years. Teaching is hard. Really hard. My husband who is a big, tough guy and used to be a bouncer always proclaims that he would never ever be able to do it. This is after visiting me in my classroom for maximum of an hour.

There are two groups of people who have been found to get battle fatigue- soldiers and teachers. At first it sounds ludicrious but think of it. As a teacher you are in charge of 30+ people (for one hour before they switch to another 30 you are supposed to know intimately as well…. and then another still… and another).  You need to know everything about them- strengths, weaknesses, proclivities, do they have a boyfriend or girlfriend in the room next door, learning disabilities, home problems, etc. Then you are supposed to teach them while they are trying to socialize. While being interrupted every few seconds. And it’s not just “Can I go to the bathroom?” When they ask if they can go you immediately have to remember how often they have gone, will they be missing something they need, is this the same time they go every day (because they are meeting someone in the hall), is someone else already out etc. All while you are teaching, scanning for cell phones, and other issues. It’s mentally exhausting. I can’t tell you how many times I came home and just crashed because I simply couldn’t process another thought.

Pretty much every year I have been in the classroom (10 years btw) I have seen a fresh faced teacher arrive straight from college. She has wanted to be a teacher her whole life. She has just graduated from college with an Education degree, completed her internship and she is SO excited to begin. Rarely have I seen this teacher complete their first month. Every year there is one to fall…. and it’s sad. But understandable. It’s really hard.

And that’s just to survive. To be a good teacher is even more difficult.

And it takes experience. It is why the college graduates often don’t do well. You need practice. You need trial and error. This is why the best teachers are the ones who have been doing it the longest.

This is why the more expeirenced teachers get paid more.

And THAT is why when budget cuts happen those teachers are targeted for dismissal.

Usually (and we haven’t received them in a long time) you get a teensy tiny pay upgrade for every year you are there. So teachers who have been there 20+ years are paid more than newbies… they are also significantly better than newbies.

When budget cuts come through it makes sense to buareucrats (and only to beaurcrats) to get rid of those fat cat experienced teachers and hire newbies instead.

THAT is what tenure is supposed to protect. It protects the experienced teachers from greedy politicians so that students can continue to be educated by quality tested professionals.

In the majority, these experienced teachers are better. There are exceptions. I can think of two or three experienced teachers who should have retired long before they did…. however, there are ways to get them from the classroom, even with tenure.

Should there be a way to remove ineffective teachers? Sure.

Should it be by removing one of the protections we have to keep qualified, experienced teachers (tenure)? No

Another topic I can’t even begin to discuss is how very, very political the school system is. As a student I never would have imagined that the teachers lounge and front office was as full of gossip and cliques as the school cafeteria. It seems in some ways immaturity rubs off on some. This means that teachers could be targeted for removal simply because of personality clashes…. I don’t think I have to explain how ridiculous this is.

Another issue of tenure and protection is protection from parents and students.

I know this sounds crazy… but students can be angry when they don’t get what they want. Shocking right? Take a student who is really smart and give him a tough teacher. He/she isn’t getting the grades he wants… is it his fault? Of cooooooooouuuursssssss not. It’s that mean old teacher who doesn’t know what she’s doing.

Said student will spend hours filling their parents head with examples of how mean this teacher is and how she doesn’t know what she’s doing. Doesn’t matter that half of it’s blatently untrue and the other half taken out of context. The majority of parents will believe it because they’d rather believe in the myth of the big bad teacher than their lazy, entitled child.

If this happens with enough students the teacher will be targeted. Now, do you think this happens to teachers who give easy assignments and don’t expect much? Or do you think this happens to tough teachers who expect the students to do work and makes them work for those grades? Exactly… it happens more often to the good, tough teachers….. Another group that tenure was meant to protect and now with Gov Scott is left unprotected.

Merit Pay- Ok, in theory I can understand this. Heck, in theory I even like it. As a teacher I would LOVE to be paid based on my quality and how hard I work. I’d make a whole lot more than I do. BUT, tying it into student test scores is just ludicrious.

As a teacher who tries, I have to say that you can lead a horse to water but you cannot make them drink. I have called parents, I have kept kids after school, I once even got down on my knees and begged and still not always had students respond. I asked a classroom of students what they thought of this idea and they laughed. Some of them explained that they have had really great teachers who did everything they were supposed to but they still didn’t want to or care to work so they didn’t.

Lucky teacher, their salary will now be tied to that sense of apathy.

And remember those revengeful students… you don’t think it will become a threat from kids who are too short sighted to realize they are truly hurting themselves the most.

To put it in perspective it’s like paying a dentist based on how many cavaties his patients get. He can do all he can and explain things but ultimately it’s the patient who has to take care of his mouth.

On top of all the of that everyone has gone on and on about how teachers teach tests and the quality of education drops…. teaching tests is only hurting our kids and this is just going to cause more of it.

Also, remember those ineffective teachers? Do you really think this will affect their pay? Do you really think that test scores will validly reflect what their students are learning? No… of course now. It’s like asking a criminal to tell you honestly how many cars he stole. There will be students passed by teachers simply to help their own salaries…. quality teachers won’t do this of course but the bad ones will and will look like the better teachers on paper. Thinking of giving a tough test? Well, if it was going to affect your pay would you think twice?

And then there are teachers like me. I teach English IV, Humanities, Creative Writing I, Creativing Writing II, Yearbook, Journalism and Newspaper. Besides English (which I teach to Seniors so they don’t test anymore) I don’t teach a core tested subject. So my pay will be based on test results for subjects I don’t even really directly work with.

And if I was support staff if it would be even worse. Obviously support staff helps the students overall but that’s like the receptionist being paid for how well the patients do with cavities in my previous dentist analogy.

Oh but wait, I’d already be getting paid less….. because under Scotts new plan English teachers aren’t as necessary as math or science teachers.  Yup reading and writing not as important so I’d get paid less…. and what is that going to do with the arts or electives or anything that allows students to expand their horizons?

Ok, this vent has gone on long enough. Let me say one more thing…. there are always people who talk about what a cushy job being a teacher is. The hours are great. You get summers and holidays off… blah blah blah…. If you know a teacher at all you know this is not true.

Hours? I had to be ready to teach a bunch of seniors Macbeth at 7 am. Really? I don’t even want to learn Macbeth at 7 am, but I have to motivate a group of 18 year olds who think Shakespeare is about as relevant as a condom is to a eunach. Sure, the kids leave at 1:50ish but then there is the grading and the conferences. I did two activities, yearbook and newspaper and three clubs- Ethics Bowl, Speak Club (animal rights) and Book Club. I rarely left before 4 or 5 and there were several nights I was there until 9 at night. Regularly I was there for work late Thursday, which was 7 at least. Good teachers work more hours than your average 9-5 job.

Plus, as a teacher you are never really “off.” I can’t wear PJ’s to the grocery store because my students work there. I couldn’t go to a popular “out” spot for my bachelorette party because students are often there. My life is not ever private… they are everywhere. And I don’t mind, I care about my students… but I am never as free of my job as say, well, a dentist.

Planning period… this long long break people refer to. It’s for calling parents, grading papers, planning what we will do. Just the math on grading…. 150 kids with grading being done in 50 minutes…. 3 papers a minute, really? And thats not taking planning, calls or emails into account.

Summer and holidays off… we aren’t paid for that time! In order to be paid across the summer teachers have their salaries artificially spread out. So we actually lose money in interest etc.

Steve once did the math on what I make… if you put in that I stayed until 4 (which was a conservative guess on my time)… I made 5.97 an hour. If you counted in my benefits I think I made 7.78 or something. Yup… I’m an overpaid and appreciated professional. (is this before or after taxes? I can’t remember… but either way it’s not great, especially when it’s spread out over a year)

If we care about our kids we’ll take care of our teachers. They hold the future of our country, everyones country, in their hands.

The bills that are being passed and the attitude towards teacher insures that more and more of the good ones will look elsewhere.

I love my kids. They are MY kids. I care, deeply. But things like this just give me more reason to try to stay home. I would miss it immensely but the pressure and stress and all doesn’t seem worth it when I couldn’t be with my family OR make money to justify it.

It’s really sad.

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Posted April 5, 2011 by etainl in Culture, Education

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