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

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

Common Core messy messy – a California rebellion and Apple tales

“Those that make test scores and grades the heart of education hit their targets while entirely missing the point.” – Joe Bower

More on the Common Core!

This last week the California legislature voted to suspend standardized testing for all public school students for the 2013-14 year.  (Here’s who voted for and against).  This was based on the idea that we are transitioning from the California state standards to the Common Core standards.  In this transitional year, many districts are spending their money on updating their technology, professional development and practice tests for the Common Core.  Teachers, administrators and districts do not want to test students on the old standards while they are preparing students using the new standards.  Testing kids on both would be a monumental task, stress students, teachers and schools, pull everyone in two directions at once, and stretch districts’ resources – all the while taking time away from actual teaching and learning.

Tom Torlakson, our state superintendent of education, along with the support of CA educators (and me), support the suspension of the CA tests while we ramp up for the Common Core, while Arne Duncan, the US Education Secretary, is threatening to withhold federal funding to California students and schools if we suspend the STAR tests.

Here is a link on the story.

And here is a link to a very succinct Valerie Strauss article on problems with the Common Core, as they are currently being rolled out.  For me, it is dismaying to hear that the new standards, which have the potential to give back more control to local teachers and local schools in creating critically engaging lessons and learning experiences, are much more likely to repeat the problems of the past – teachers teaching to multiple choice exams that are made by for-profit testing companies and the continuing misuse of exam results to blame teachers and students, rather than to allocate more resources to schools that serve poor and/or minority students.  What’s even more disturbing to me is the astonishing amount of money that will now go to tech companies to buy computers and other gadgets so that students can take the tests.  I am very confused by the educational purpose of having students take the tests on the computers (will computers grade the essays? Are 8 year olds required to have decent keyboarding skills?), and I have no idea how even my rich suburban school will be able to afford this, or schedule all the computer labs for such a purpose.

Which leads me to another compelling story on how some districts are attempting to get ready for the technology based tests.  Here are a couple of links on the LA Unified decision to use funds to buy iPads for every kid while class size goes up, art teachers and other “non-tested” subject teachers have been laid off.  As people have started to question the use of such a large amount of a 25 year bond for the gadgets that have, at best, three years of life, the Deputy Superintendant of LAUSD in charge of the iPad rollout, resigned this week.

And an open letter to Apple Computers from an LA teacher:

Of course, my favorite educator, Diane Ravitch, has an editorial in Scientific American about the dubious uses of technology in schools – well worth a read!

Meanwhile, I am so glad to have an amazing Stanford student teacher this year!  She is helping me deal with the 35 students in each of my classes – she works one on one with students who need it, and helps me keep sane with all the correcting of papers and projects.  A German mom of one of my students spoke out at Back to School Night a week and a half ago about the insanity of such class sizes.  I couldn’t agree more.  I think that funding smaller classes would definitely be better than giving each of my students an iPad.  Students really respond better to human interaction in learning language; I’m pretty sure it’s in our genetic code, the way babies respond to live people, but not recordings of live people.

Maestra Malinche

(married to an Apple programmer, and married to my Apple computer, by the way.)