Reasons that I support teacher tenure (and how you should vote and lots of links!)

And here, at last, is my list of:

Reasons that I support teacher tenure:

(gathered from my own and close colleagues’ personal professional experiences)

I can advocate for students when I stand up and talk to my administration and make a complaint when they are not giving recent newcomer refugee students access to qualified teachers and curriculum. I can take this complaint to others and make my administration change course.

I can advocate for students when I write a letter to the PTO and complain about an administrator not managing students well at a dance, and thus allowing sexual harassment to occur.

I can advocate for students when I complain that it is 15 degrees hotter in my room than it is outside and that learning isn’t happening and the students need a fan.

I can advocate for students when I demand that a qualified substitute teacher get paid a full professional salary during an extended leave of absence because that substitute teacher is creating lesson plans, grading and communicating with parents and doing due diligence in her role as mandated reporter and noticing when a student is self-harming.

I can advocate for students when I consistently ask for lower class sizes so that I can give more individual attention to students and give their papers more attention.

I can advocate for students when I can take time off when I am sick and go to a doctor so that I make myself well again in order to teach.

I can advocate for students when I demand that a student be suspended from my class for a day because her behavior has disrupted other students’ learning.

I can advocate for students when students must earn the grades that they receive and I am not persuaded by political pressures to inflate the grade.

I can advocate for students when I push for authentic assessments that other teachers and I create, can use easily, have time to grade, and are not multiple choice.

I can advocate for students when I complain to my students’ parents and my principal that we do not have a librarian and that the district should pay for a full time qualified librarian.

I can advocate for students when I gather teachers’ signatures in a letter to the district requesting more transparency about the handling of discipline issues.

I can advocate for students when I ask for compensation for the extra work that teachers as club advisors, writing letters of recommendation, and otherwise supporting our students and our communities outside of class.

I can advocate for students when I sometimes simply have to say no to one more responsibility so that I don’t burn out and stop teaching.

I can advocate for students when I receive a professional salary commensurate with my Masters in Education degree, a professional salary that honors my years of experience in the classroom, and a salary that recognizes the efforts that I have made to better my practice through Professional Development workshops and participating as a leader in my school, district and professional community.

Teacher tenure has granted me and many other teachers like me to advocate continuously for students by giving us protection when we question, complain, and respond to actions and policies that affect students’ rights.

Teacher tenure has granted us the right to advocate continuously for students by giving us protection when we ask for better working conditions and compensation to do our jobs better for the benefit of our students.

However . . .

Should teacher tenure in California be modified? Yes. It should take longer for a teacher to receive tenure.

Are there bad teachers who should leave the profession? Yes. There are bad workers in every profession.

Are there good teachers who stayed in teaching because they had job protection rights? Yes. When the salary and the workload isn’t ideal, the benefit of knowing where you are going to work next year keeps a lot of great teachers in the classroom.

Are good teachers sometimes let go before they get tenure because the administrator just doesn’t like them? Yes. Oh, sadly, yes.

Do administrators have tenure? No, not in my district. In some they do. In some countries, I hear that administrators and teachers both have tenure in the same union and work together to advocate for smart educational policies. (Hint, hint, Finland?)

Are there bad administrators? Yes. And a bad administrator can break the culture and climate of an entire school.

Are there administrators that should be fired but aren’t? Yes. Oh, sadly, yes. Sometimes they are good politicians. Sometimes, they are just paid so poorly and their job is so tough that it’s just hard to attract a good one.

If California gets rid of teacher tenure, as the Vergara trial is doing, will things be better for California students? NO, NO, and NO.

The problem in California is our pitifully small amount of public funding for education. We are all arguing over who gets what and how much, with the problems of poverty laid at our door. We simply do not do enough to attract and retain the best teachers, particularly in poorer areas. The places where the quality of the teachers “seems” to be a problem is in poor urban districts. The Vergara trial happened in Los Angeles (and, I should add, the students in question did not have “bad” teachers, or even tenured teachers). In the context of LA schools, one can imagine that it is difficult to attract great competent and experienced professionals. However, I never hear parents trying to get rid of tenure in richer suburban districts like mine. It seems that the higher salaries and better working conditions are enough to attract great talent. Here, south of San Francisco, we rob San Francisco public school students of highly qualified teachers because our pay is astronomically superior (and our working conditions. I have copy machines that work. Do SF teachers all have copy machines that work? Probably not.)

Teachers in the United States work longer hours and are asked to do more than teachers in any other country with this much wealth. And we get tired. And we get sick. And we burn out. And sometimes we just have to say no. We cannot solve all of our society’s problems. But we try. We accept all kids that walk and roll through our public school doors – special ed kids, traumatized refugee kids, English language learner kids, well-fed kids, hungry kids, abused kids, entitled kids, happy and well-adjusted kids, high-pressured kids, suicidal kids – you got it – we take them all and we love them and we try to teach them.

If we, as a society, also love each of the kids born into our society, wouldn’t we decide to fund public education more equitably? Make the job more desirable? Keep job protections in place so that our teachers can use their expertise and their experience to advocate for our kids and their learning?

Please consider all of these points when thinking and talking about teacher tenure. Remember that great schools in well-educated and wealthy communities in the U.S. have teacher tenure. Remember that great schools in other countries have teacher (and administrator) tenure.

Here are some interesting articles about teacher tenure and movement to get rid of it (yes, I read too much!):

And, if you are still reading, please vote for Tom Torlakson, our current state superintendant of public education in California, who fought for our kids last year by standing up to Arne Duncan and federal policies calling for the over-testing of our students. And, please don’t vote the other guy (I call him the corporate shill) who doesn’t like teacher tenure, loves his charter schools that don’t have improved outcomes for students, and who is financed by corporate Wall Street money bent on taking over public education.

From a nice little article about the two of them:

“What qualifies Tuck to run the state education department? Well, he was an investment banker. The rich and powerful like him. He has friends in Hollywood. He thinks no teacher should have tenure. He failed as leader of Green Dot. He failed running the mayor’s takeover schools. That means he is an expert on reform.”

Thank you for reading,

Maestra Malinche

“Next time someone rails against the unions, remember that teachers’ working conditions are children’s learning conditions.”   Diane Ravitch

teacher pay / teacher tenure

It’s been a long time since I posted to you all. I am going to try to distill my on-going emotional and professional thoughts on teacher tenure, teacher pay and teacher greatness over the next few postings.
I had a great deal of sadness when the Vergara trial won in California to eliminate teacher tenure. And yet, there are some bad teachers out there. We’ve all had them, and our kids have had them. But, in spite of this, most teachers are fairly good, and most just want more support, better working conditions for themselves and their students, and hey, many of them want better pay.
The on-going rhetoric about teacher tenure doesn’t mention that you can eliminate the problem of many bad teachers if you just make the profession one that people want to have. Like better pay, valuing subject matter expertise, providing adequate lesson planning time and work materials such as functional computers and copy machines. And, how about valuing the ability of the teacher to create classroom community and getting to know all of their students well through the use of something called “smaller class sizes”?
Imagine that for every teacher position you had to sift through 30 or more amazing resumes! What a difference it would make if we had lots of professional people walking through the door.
Here is a nice little op-ed I read today articulating these nice little thoughts. Of course it’s written by a teacher.
Have a beautiful day and new year!
Maestra Malinche
“Teaching is not a lost art, but the regard for it is a lost tradition.”
― Jacques Barzun

Evolve – and support Public Education with taxes! (And no free ads for Facebook on my kid’s public school!)

I am so blissed out to be done with final exam grading – and off to Spanish language environmental science/inquiry/play/non-standardized test summer camp with five kids out on the beach tomorrow and a brilliant Colombian teacher!  Okay, I’m only partially excited about that – in reality, I am really looking forward to my massage at Kabuki Hot Springs on Wednesday. I love the children. I am sick of the children. And teacher mama needs a massage.
So on with my message (not massage)! This past semester I met some people with a Bay Area organization called Evolve, who are trying to build support to repeal aspects of Prop 13 and get corporations to pay more taxes to support public education. They recently worked on saving San Francisco City College, and on Tuesday we are showing up at City Hall to support the supervisors vote on “Closing the Corporate Loophole.” Please let me know if you want to show up with me and others at 3:00pm Tuesday, June 3. We will be outside the Legislative Chamber – Room 250. Yes, I’m bringing my kid.
On another note, I know that we are all voting this Tuesday – and I am asking you all to think about the intense moneyed interests of what I like to call the “education deformers”.
Public education in California is not alone in suffering the onslaught of billionaires who want to shut down public schools and teacher tenure, get rid of publicly elected school boards (no, seriously, this is for real – get rid of publicly elected school boards and the semblance of democracy in all aspects of education – read this!), replace public schools with charter schools that take the “best” students out of the public education pool and skimp out on special education students, privatize education with vouchers, crappy computerized learning environments, and young inexperienced teachers with little training. Please, please, please vote to keep Tom Torlakson as our State Superintendent of Public Instruction. He is the reason that our kids didn’t have to spend more than a week or two on standardized testing this year – seriously, Arne Duncan, the U.S Secretary of Education, threatened to withhold federal money if California didn’t double test this year with both Common Core field tests and the huge battery of STAR tests that we teachers are grateful to get rid of. Thank you, Tom Torlakson, for fighting for the rights of students and teachers in this state to have more time to learn and teach!
Torlakson’s competition is a business guy who has run some Charter schools in L.A., has never been a teacher, and who supports the Vergara trial to strip teachers of their tenure rights. (He probably supports getting rid of publicly elected school boards too). For those of you that are interested in understanding more about the problems with charter schools, why teachers should have tenure rights, please write me back, I have many well-researched articles that I can share with you, and 12 years of teaching experience in CA public schools. There are no easy and cheap solutions to education. Period.
One particularly relevant article on the issue of billionaires trying to “fix” the schools is the story of what happened in Newark, New Jersey – an alliance between Democrat mayor Cory Booker, Republican Governor Chris Christie and millions of dollars donated by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and friends. This article appeared in the New Yorker a few weeks ago and is a fairly good example of how such “top-down” approaches fail to deliver (and can make the situation much worse). These guys favored un-democratic reform measures that closed neighborhood schools, opened charter schools, and refused to listen to the communities, parents and teachers  they worked for. The article also details all the money that went to side businesses outside the classroom that told schools what to do, yet did not actually deliver more money to the students and classrooms. “Schooled” – it’s a great read.
If I could only laugh at Mark Zuckerberg and his idealistic dream of reforming without knowing. But instead, he and others like him just churn my stomach. And, now, from personal experience, Facebook is way high on my list of egregious acts of billionaire self-aggrandizing at the expense of my kid’s education. Seeing an opportunity to “do good” in the community where Facebook employees live and drink beer, Facebook selflessly volunteered to paint part of my son’s school – the portable public school library that sits on the tiny public school playground. Thank you, Facebook! It is hard to whip up parent volunteers for every shocking need that a poorly funded urban California public school deals with. I should know since I have volunteered for years at two public elementary schools squeezing volunteer hours out of exhausted overworked parents and teachers. But Facebook came to save the day!  In all seriousness, Facebook came, but before their small crew of volunteers came, we were told that the school PTA had to go out and buy all the painting supplies (with a so-far unfulfilled promise to reimburse us later) and made us prep the portable building with a base coat. When they came, they ordered the underpaid gardening coordinator around, took their cheerful media photos, then painted the Facebook logo on the public elementary school portable building to help indoctrinate their future clients – the guileless 5th grade and under set. Yes, a Facebook ad on a public elementary school. (Okay, our gardening coordinator painted over it as soon as they left). I am shocked at the hubris of corporations that wave their community involvement flag. Why would we let public institutions be at the mercy of these businesses posing as “people”?
Ugh, I just get angry, over and over again.
Peace, please, just go vote!
Maestra Malinche
“American Education has a long history of infatuation with fads and ill-considered ideas. The current obsession with making our schools work like a business may be the worst of them, for it threatens to destroy public education. Who will Stand up to the tycoons and politicians and tell them so?”
― Diane RavitchThe Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education

Great interview with Linda Darling-Hammond on teacher tenure

I wish I weren’t still reading about education on our spring break trip to Venice, Rome and Pompeii, but I can’t be stopped!

We had a wonderful guided tour today of Pompeii and Herculaneum with a historian named Francesca. Of course I asked her about Italian education, as I do every parent I talk to from another state or country. She bemoaned the lack of history and geography lessons in her elementary school aged children’s schooling. I commiserated with her on the issue- what can I say? This seems to be a common theme for us as well.

Vergara vs. California.

This is the case that will make or break teacher tenure in California, and possibly the rest of the country.

Is it because teachers get tenure that poor kids in poor districts have bad teachers? Or is it bad administrators and bad teacher working conditions that cause underfunded schools that serve poor kids to have more than their fair share of bad teachers? There are so many issues here, and the court’s decision next week may, in fact, get rid of teacher tenure in California. This is hugely important to me, to my son enrolled in an underfunded school district, and to all of our kids throughout CA.

For the record, I support teacher tenure as it stands. A principal may get rid of a teacher for any reason at all during the first two years, and the principal does not need to explain or justify the decision. Tenure protects teachers after the probationary period, which may last much longer than two years, from being fired arbitrarily. This is a good thing, because teachers can use their educational background and expertise to question educational decisions without fear of politically motivated reprisals. Tenure does not protect us from getting fired; it just makes sure that we don’t get fired unjustly. And many of us have to work very hard to get that tenure, both professionally and politically.

Have I seen bad teachers receive tenure? Yes. Have I seen great teachers not get tenure and fired unnecessarily? Yes. Have I seen teachers get support and make improvements over time? Yes. Have I seen administrators not do their job and let a weak teacher continue and cause harm to children? Yes. Have I seen schools in poorer districts serving poor children hire and keep under qualified teachers? Yes. I have seen it all, and I support tenure as the best way to create a supportive environment for teacher professionals to reach their potential (in addition to equitable funding, dammit!). As a parent, I want schools to be able to pay good professional salaries with benefits and supports in place to make teaching a desirable job. I want my kid to have long term experienced educators who reflect and refine their practice over the years.

And here is a great interview on the case for tenure with Linda Darling Hammond, my former professor whose research focuses on how to recruit, train and develop teachers.

Maestra Malinche (in Rome and high on gelato and ancient history)

“Nescire autem quid antequam natus sis acciderit, id est semper esse puerum.”
“To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child.”

A Call for Congressional Hearings on the Misuse of Standardized Testing

This is a great article on the excesses and misuses of Standardized Testing in the United States. Please read and pass it along!
Maestra Malinche
Partial text of article:

“Are tests harmful to students with disabilities? Over the past few years, there have been numerous instances in which children with significant health situations, even undergoing life-saving procedures, were pressured to complete required tests – even from their hospital beds. Children with severe brain disorders have been compelled to take a state test. Recently in Florida, an eleven-your-old boy who was dying in hospice was expected to take a test. Such behavior defies common sense and common decency.

How has the frequency and quantity of testing increased? Testing is taking significant time away from instructional learning time. In Chicago, elementary school students take the REACH, the TRC, the MAP, the EXPLORE, the ISAT, and DIBELS every year. In North Carolina, third-grade students are tested in reading 36 times throughout the year – in addition to other standardized tests. Middle schools students in Pennsylvania may take over 20 standardized tests in a single school year. High school students in Florida can have their instruction disrupted 65 times out of 180 school days by testing. In New York, the time taken by state exams has increased by 128%. When so much time is devoted to testing instead of teaching, students have less time to learn.

Does testing harm teaching? Now that test scores are linked to principal and teacher evaluations in many states, teachers engage in more test prep because they are pressured and afraid, not because they think the assessments are educationally sound. Principals are nervous about their school’s scores. Many educators have admitted they are fearful of taking students on field trips, engaging them in independent projects, or spending time on untested subjects like science or history, art or music because it might take time away from test prep. As a result, the curriculum has narrowed and students have lost their opportunity for a well-rounded education.

How much money does it cost? It is difficult to calculate the entire costs of standardized testing – including the many classroom hours spent on test prep. But it is well known that nearly every state is spending hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to develop more high-stakes tests for students, and requiring local districts to spend hundreds of millions more to get their students ready to take them. In addition to the cost of the tests and the interim tests, there are added costs of new curriculum, textbooks, hardware, software, and bandwidth that new tests require. There are also opportunity costs when money allocated for testing supersedes other education expenditures, such as libraries, art and music programs, social workers and guidance counselors, and extra-curricular activities.”

March Fourth

It’s March Fourth.

March Forth for Education. Four years ago I participated in a March Fourth Walk with children and parents from Max’s public school to the Civic Center in San Francisco, where students, parents and teachers gathered to demand (ask?) the state to give money back to the public schools. It felt brilliant to be part of such a large group of public school participants and advocates making noise to stop the cuts to public education. We brought signs, noisemakers, water bottles and strollers. We got off work early, we yelled, walked, and chanted. We took pictures and we marched.

Every year that I have been a public school parent in California, I have worked my butt off raising money, trying to figure out what my son’s school needs, what the teachers need, what books need to be purchased, and figuring out how we parents can best put in our time, skills and resources to help schools.

2014 marks the first year that Governor Brown’s education budget will penetrate the poorer districts and start the process of mending the many years of cuts and neglect. However, it is very little, and it is very late, and now we have new computers to buy. And this is the catch. Schools must now outfit every child with a computer for the purpose of testing during the testing period. Every district must make sure that there is sufficient broadband for hundreds of students to be tested at the same time on multiple computers. Every district and school in California and in the 46 states that adopted the Common Core must now direct their funds and energy to hire computer technicians, buy computers and higher bandwidth, update software, arrange testing schedules, train teachers, etc., etc., etc. Most districts have been given a grace period of a year or two in order to transition to the computerized test. In the meantime, some schools will test students using scantrons and test booklets and some schools will test students using the Smarter Balanced computerized test.

The high school in which I work got chosen to do the computerized test. This means that our two computer labs, our library and our computer carts will be monopolized for the purpose of testing for several weeks. During this time, students and teachers will not be able to use the computers for projects, presentations, research, or writing papers. Our school has one of the highest numbers of low income kids in the district. Our school is the one in which students have the least access to computers in the home. And perhaps, these same parents of our low income kids will be the least likely to complain if their kids don’t have to do a research paper now. Perhaps because they don’t know that this used to be part of high school. Perhaps because they are working two or more jobs. Perhaps because they don’t know that they have a right to ask for more than the low standardized test score that their kid will bring home instead.

Our educational money is instead going to pay for upgrading computers, not for the purposes of computerized instruction and research, not for the purpose of teaching technological skills, not in order to give access for students with no computers in the home, but rather, for the purpose of a very questionable test that will give me very little specific information about my students, or, put another way, a questionable test that will tell me exactly how much wealth and education the student’s family possesses, because the one thing that is known from standardized testing is the information that is conveyed about the family of the child that is tested – family income, highest level of education attained in family, and number of books in the home. Thank you, standardized test! I see that Victoria and Samuel are English language learners! I see that Rodrick has a learning disability! I see that Mounish and Haley have parents who read a lot!

Standardized tests = demographics.

Why aren’t the teachers complaining?!?!?! Am I the only one who sees the irony? the hypocrisy? the waste of time and resources? There is so much good that can happen with computers! But, not another standardized test, this time complete with bugs and a bad user interface and a lack of teacher input!

Okay, I am not the only one who wrote a list of everything wrong with the Smarter Balanced Test (see my last post). I found this article out of a town in New England, whose teachers are also concerned about this test and noticed the same inadequacies as I did:

“The FMS staff collectively believe that the Smarter Balance Test is inappropriate for our students at this time and that the results from this test will not measure the academic achievement of our students; but will be a test of computer skills and students’ abilities to endure through a cumbersome task.”  (emphasis mine)

Why are we teachers, parents and administrators in California not affronted by this? Why are we not asking the hard questions about the usefulness of this test? My good friend who has worked as an ELD teacher for more than 20 years gave me the answer.

We have undergone over ten years of No Child Left Behind which mandated standardized testing every year in every grade from 3rd through 12th in every public school in the nation. (And 2014 marks the year that all students should now be proficient – every single one – but just to let you know, this has not happened, not by a long shot, but teachers and schools are still getting punished for it.)

Teachers and parents don’t remember that there was a time that yearly standardized testing didn’t eat up a month of instructional time. People in poorer urban districs don’t remember that students used to get art, P.E., social studies, music and library time (and even field trips) instead of standardized test preparation. We just don’t remember. And we are demoralized, deflated and flattened. We have come to believe that this is education. That the purpose of education is how our kids do on a standardized test. We are the ones who have “endured through a cumbersome task.” And we have given up the fight.

It’s March Forth.

Maestra Malinche

“Schooling, instead of encouraging the asking of questions, too often discourages it.”- Madeleine L’Engle

The California Story

Okay, a “misunderstood teacher” story, and then a great article in defense of the Common Core in California, and why our state is implementing it better than New York and other states have (and are).
Today, my fabulous student teacher and I (and yes, she must be called fabulous), wore our pjs on top of our clothes, brought in toothbrushes, shampoo, mirrors, hair dryers, towels, pantuflas (slippers), bathrobes, soap, nail polish, brushes, combs, an alarm clock, and other accoutrement to act out the morning routine (with reflexive verbs) for our 2nd year Spanish students.  And, yes, yours truly brought a blow up mattress with blanket and pillows and pretended to be sleeping as the sleepy high school children entered the classroom when her rude alarm clock awoke her to 2014 – a totally perfect set-up for the kids’ first day back from winter break.
My fabulous student teacher performed it (and got videotaped) at 9:00 am; and I performed it again later in the afternoon.
Cut to an email received at 5:30 pm sent by the principal, after I walked to my car after my 11 hour day of teaching and an after school district curriculum meeting: “It was brought to my attention that you brought in a queen sized inflatable mattress and have set it up in the front of your classroom. What educational purpose does it serve?”
I feel like I’m in trouble. This is why principals should be in the same union with their teachers – we all need to be on the same team, fighting together for a better education and better resources and more fun for all of the students! Why would it be assumed that the quirky Spanish teacher was doing anything other than an interesting lesson? I’m sure I will be able to smooth it all over tomorrow . . .
Anyway, below is a link to a great article that came out on Diane Ravitch’s blog today on why California teachers are excited and not afraid of Common Core. The essence is, that if the standards are decoupled from bad testing policies and reform measures that punish teachers, principals, students and schools, the standards are really profound and interesting to aspire to (I agree mostly). Recently, I called up one of my old mama friends who is now an education professor in Milwaukee (she was a bilingual elementary school teacher who did her PhD on immersion schools in San Francisco). We discussed the Common Core at the elementary school level, and since I am a high school teacher with an elementary school kid, I am largely clueless about the appropriateness of the standards. She concurred with how “cool” and interesting the standards are, especially in math.  They are about helping you get your students thinking like a mathematician, to attend to the “bigger picture,” of mathematical thinking, so to speak.

The California Story.

This article is a plea not to let legitimate hostility to pervasive high-stakes testing, rewards and punishments based on junk science, and privatization measures aimed at delegitimizing public education, which too often accompany the adoption of Common Core Standards, blind you to the value of the standards themselves. In California, there is strong opposition to such “reform” efforts, yet widespread, enthusiastic support for the standards. The standards are seen both to embody the kind of education we have long desired for our students, as well as providing a tremendous opportunity to stimulate much-needed discussions on how best to improve practice at each school and district and develop the collaborative capacity to support such efforts.

Maestra Malinche

“Teaching is the greatest act of optimism”- Colleen Wilcox