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This guest post was written by Michelle Hamlyn, a fellow teacher here in Hillsborough County Public Schools and member of Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association.

I’m Angry

In the past, I’ve been heartbroken at the lives lost, the upheaval after, the despair of the families. This time I’m angry.

I’m angry that mass shootings keep happening in one of the richest, most civilized countries in the world. A country that should be able to figure this out.

I’m angry that schools need to be secured. How do you secure a playground, a PE field, a campus with multiple buildings? And do we want our schools to look like fortresses and prisons?

I’m angry that legislators are bought by special interest groups, leaving rational conversation and problem-solving in the dust. I’m angry that any conversation about gun control results in “You can’t take my guns.” I don’t want your damn guns. I want to have a conversation where you and I can find a solution to the current madness. But that would require us to both come from a stand of compassion and understanding, not defensiveness and posturing.

I’m angry that those same legislators have decimated mental health programs, even though the number of mentally ill people hasn’t diminished. I’m angry that the NRA doesn’t include lobbying for better mental health programs while they’re lobbying for gun rights. I’m angry that time and again, the controls in place have “missed something” about the shooter, thus rendering the controls pointless and dangerous. I’m angry that the government continues to tell us how safe we are, when anyone can see that we’re not.

I’m angry that legislators have also decimated public education and currently see it as a money-maker for billionaires. I’m angry that those decisions have led to public school policies that are conducive to school shootings, like not having enough mental health professionals on hand to adequately deal with students’ issues in a timely, meaningful manner. And stressing testing so much that students actually believe the test defines them. Which makes them even more stressed and more likely to lash out at others.

I’m angry that everyone thinks the solution to this is having more school resource officers. Or, even worse, in arming teachers, a ghastly idea that would probably result in so much more harm than good. Or that it’s somehow a child’s responsibility to “See something. Say something.” I’m angry that in districts across the country, there are teachers who have done just that and it has resulted in nothing being done.

I’m angry that districts are more concerned with their public images than with what’s really best for students. I’m angry that in some schools, teachers are told not to write referrals for bad behavior or to pass students who haven’t done any work just so the district can tout its data.
I’m angry that district spokespeople are busy reassuring parents their children are safe, when I know they’re not. How could they be if students keep getting shot at school?

I’m angry that helicopter and bulldozer parents coddle and enable their children to the degree they don’t understand right from wrong, or that actions have consequences, or that dealing with negative emotions is a part of life, thereby creating a child crippled by fear and anxiety, with no coping skills to deal with the reality of life. And then expect schools to fix it.

I’m angry that every time I try to get people to listen to all these things, I’m told I’m being too negative, that I’m on my soapbox again, that my passion for my students is really an excuse for my own unwillingness to change. I’m angry that I’m not looked at as an authority on the reality of today’s public schools. I’m angry that the people who are in charge never invite me or any other teacher to the table.

I’m angry that in addition to the never-ending responsibilities foisted upon teachers, one of those responsibilities includes keeping students safe in conditions I have no control over and in which I’m a hero if I die while saving students. It seems a lot to ask or expect. I became a teacher, not a soldier or a police officer or a firefighter.

Mostly, though, I’m angry that a human being decided to kill other human beings.

I’m angry that students who may have changed the world will never have that opportunity.

I’m angry that school personnel had to choose to irrevocably harm their own families to try and save other families.

I’m angry that families are broken and battered, and will never feel whole again.

And I’m angry that my students have to live in this world.

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A new day dawns in the aftermath of a terrible tragedy

After yesterday’s senseless and tragic act of violence at Majory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, teachers all across the Sunshine State returned to work today ready to help their students and colleagues process what had happened the previous afternoon. In most of my classes throughout the day, I spoke of the active shooter training all teachers received at our school, shared some of the information we learned, but most importantly gave the students time to process these events—some students chose to ask questions and open up a dialogue, others wanted to chat with their shoulder partners, and a few remained dumbstruck by the gravity of a situation that struck so close to home.

As the day wore on, more and more students were willing to open up about their thoughts and feelings on the matter, and many of those who did opt to share had many insightful and poignant words on the matter. One student spoke of how she had lost an uncle to gun violence in a local neighborhood that has always seemed safe, and how her father, never originally a proponent of gun ownership, purchased and learned how to use a gun fearing his family’s safety after the loss of his brother. Another student spoke of the anxiety that all of these mass shootings have created, and that just last week when we had a fire drill he thought about how he and his friends would be easy targets for someone who wanted to harm them.

The most common theme that emerged from the students, though, was that something must be done to eliminate—or at least significantly reduce—gun violence here in our country and culture. Many of them debated ideas in an open and honest way, discussing how it must be a multi-pronged approach that includes better screening, raising age limits to purchase rifles of any kind, mental health resources, and most agreed that banning any and all types of assault rifles would be the prudent course of action. I sat back most of the time and listened, amazed that so much wisdom could come from high school juniors.

The lone interjection I made in much of these discussions was talking about the difference between Columbine, an event that happened nearly 20 years ago now, and what happened yesterday in Broward County. I told the students that when the Columbine shooting happened, the nation came to a standstill and was in utter shock that something like that could happen in the United States. Now, however, these mass shootings have happened so frequently, I was worried that we were becoming desensitized to them as a nation. In the last 18 months alone, we have had terrible shootings such as the Pulse nightclub, Vegas, the church in Texas, the Ft. Lauderdale airport, and now this. Though there may be more, these are the ones that immediately came to mind. All of us spoke of how much the normalization of these shootings have changed the ways in which we react to them. One student lamented the fact that as she drove her younger brother home yesterday he quipped “that’s it?” when they announced the final death toll on the radio, almost as if, in her words, “he was expecting more or that it wasn’t enough.”

At the end of each class, all the students were grateful to have had the opportunity to talk about yesterday’s events and to process their feelings. While it may have cost us a day of curriculum, a great deal of non-traditional learning transpired. It was an open, engaging dialogue to hold with the next generation, and especially interesting to hear their views, hopes, and fears for what the future may bring. We all agreed that something must be done about the frequency and scope of the gun violence that has become so rampant lately, and sooner rather than later.

Our collective hearts and minds go out to all of the victims and their families, their communities, and the rest of the people who were in any way touched by this tragedy. But today’s discussions and the ones that are surely to follow are only the beginning of the healing that is necessary the day after a senseless act of violence such as this. It will take time for all of us—especially our children—to recover from it, but we can help each other through this ordeal by lending to one another a listening ear and compassionate heart.

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President Negron and Honorable Senators:

My name is Ryan Haczynski and I am a veteran high school teacher living and working in Hillsborough County. I am writing to all of you today to respectfully request that you flatly reject HB7055. There are numerous problems with this bill, many of which were recently outlined in this editorial from the Tampa Bay Times.

The most troubling aspect to me, personally, is the subversion of our Florida Constitution. One would surmise that true conservatives would be outraged by these attempts to legislate around our most cherished legal document in the Sunshine State, but it would appear that is not the case. Last year, for instance, the Senate narrowly passed HB7069, which clearly goes against Article III, Section 6 that states: “Every law shall embrace but one subject and matter properly connected therewith, and the subject shall be briefly expressed in the title.” Last year, during the floor debate on HB7069, Senator Simmons presciently warned of an impending legal battle over this very matter. This year is no different. Not only does HB7055 have multiple subjects, the subject introduction(s) carry on for 11 pages; therefore, it should be struck down on constitutional grounds alone.

There is also the constitutional attack on workers’ rights to collectively bargain. Realizing that HB25 would not receive any traction in your chamber (much like last year’s HB11), the House has decided to package it into this train bill. Ostensibly, members of the House have stated that it only seeks to decertify teachers’ unions because it is an education bill, but the vast majority of the public, especially the nearly 200,000 teachers working in the state of Florida, believe it is an attack on our unions because we have been decrying the slow and steady starvation of public education funding that has left the entire state in financial dire straights. Again, how is this constitutional when Article I, Section 6 clearly guarantees “the right of employees, by and through a labor organization, to bargain collectively”? The very same section states that this right shall not be abridged or denied, but by attempting to decertify unions this legislation does exactly that.

Finally, in Article IX, Section 1 of our Florida Constitution, it calls for “adequate provision” of “uniform…high quality schools.” While the Legislature continues to be woefully behind on providing funding to keep up with rising costs across the last decade, HB7055, in a sudden show of largesse, will alter the PECO funding structure so that well over 3,000 traditional schools must split $50 million dollars while 650 charter schools, many of which are managed by for-profit companies such as Academica, Charter Schools USA, and Charter School Associates, will receive over $120 million and in future years will be chained to CPI (why has not all education funding handled this way?). How is this uniform? More critically, how is this not corporate welfare?

Senator Bradley has already taken a stand against the connection of funding attached to HB7055. Now I am encouraging the rest of the chamber to join him. At a minimum the above mentioned provisions must be removed, but my ultimate hope is that HB7055 will be completely rejected so that the House must go back to the drawing board, begin anew, and serve the will of the citizens of Florida rather than their political campaign contributors and other special interest groups who are clearly the only ones clamoring for such bad legislation.

Thank you for your time and attention in this matter.

Respectfully,

– Ryan Haczynski

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But before I say why I’m voting for Val, a confession: I never was a “union” person for the first decade of my career.

In the podcast in which I interviewed both Rob and Val (listen here), I talked about this at the end. I joined for two basic reasons: 1) out of gratitude for the new payscale that economically changed our lives for the better; 2) out of concern for what was happening to public education in Tallahasse, which began to make me sit up and take notice eight years ago in 2010. In fact, this op-ed that landed on the front page of the Opinion section of the Sunday edition of the Tampa Tribute was the first time I publicly waded into the waters of education policy here in the Sunshine State.

Thank you, Tallahassee, for making me realize why I needed to become part of a union.

As a member for the last four and half years, as well as a building rep for the last two years, and now executive board member for the last seven months, I am proud to be part of a dedicated group of education professionals who work incessantly to give each and every child the very best quality education while simultaneously advocating for all students and our entire profession.

Perhaps more importantly, being a member of HCTA has given me strength through solidarity and the courage to share my perspective with my “teacher voice.” But ultimately what being a member has taught me is that it’s not about any one person at all.

It’s about all of us. Together.

When I recorded the podcasts for all four of the candidates, I was trying to be as impartial as possible, which is why I asked five essential questions and did not interact with any candidate’s response. Every candidate had great things to say, and I wish I could have an amalgamation of them all. But I realize that’s not possible, which is why I have been pondering this decision for the last few months and only decided today.

In my mind, Rob Kriete and Val Chuchman are tied. I honestly cannot really separate them, mainly because they both bring numerous tangible assets to the role of president. I even went so far as to write out a list of pros and cons, and still couldn’t make up my mind.

My gut, however, tells me something else. It tells me that we are walking into a storm the likes of which I doubt anyone in our district has seen in the last twenty years. The locus of this storm, of course, is the capitol; what the GOP-led Legislature has wrought over the last two years between HB7069, HB7055, and more cannot be ignored, especially the unwillingness to truly invest in public education and instead take what scant money exists and pour it into dubious ventures that only erode the entire education ecosystem.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because we all read about it a great deal a few years ago when it happened in Wisconsin. Now it seems as if “reformers” are trying to replicate that here, and we need someone who has the experience to take the fight to them by activating members and engaging our community partners.

We cannot afford to let them win.

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Val has this experience. She fought for teachers and all union workers in Wisconsin. She is not afraid to confront our elected officials, speaking truth to power while respectfully being a staunch advocate for all education professionals and our profession overall. Here’s one small sample and more can be viewed here. Anyone who watches will notice time and again Val going to bat for us all.

All candidates reached out to me for their support immediately after our current president, Jean Clements, announced her retirement. I was hesitant to fully commit to anyone, and I will say that initially Rob was my front-runner due to his diplomatic approach. But I knew I  wanted to interview them all myself to get a better grasp on who I would vote for while also informing our HCTA membership.

And after all the interviews and much thought, still unable to truly make up my mind, Val called. That really was the tipping point. More than anything else, Val’s tenacity tells my gut to vote for her. If she shows such persistence to earn a single vote, how relentless will she be as a leader and our next president? How dogged will she be in defending our education professionals throughout the entire district? How unflagging will she be in advocating for public education here in Florida? My gut says more than I can put into words.

Val’s got the fire. And that’s why I’m voting for her.

If you are an HCTA member, don’t forget that voting begins tomorrow at noon and will run through Wednesday, February 21st at noon. If you are not a member, I sincerely hope you consider joining; though you won’t be able to vote in this election cycle, you will still have a voice as a member and can help shape the future direction of our union.

This is about all of us. Together.

 

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Time to Tell Tallahassee to STOP!

Several people in the audience at last night’s HCPS School Board meeting asked me for a copy of my comments, so I figured it would be easier to post them here.  The indefinite “you” mentioned throughout would be our seven elected officials. Feel free to share with others so that our growing chorus of concern over the state of public education here in Florida becomes even stronger and louder.

No one likes a bully. We teach our kids how to stand together in solidarity against bullying, and we also tell them that when they see something to say something. Many would argue that silence in the face of bullying is to be complicit in the act itself.

Bullying has become a hot topic in Tallahassee this year. Bills like HB1 give vouchers to students so they can be uprooted from their school and go to another. Pay no attention to the fact there is no consequence for the bullies themselves, because simply removing the bullies would make too much sense.

The irony in all of this is that Tallahassee is the bully, and our 67 counties throughout Florida are the kids who are routinely picked on.

So when will you stand up? When will you say something? When will you fight back? You said nothing, and did nothing last year with HB7069. This year, when you’ve had time to be publicly outspoken about the new train bill, HB7055, you’ve said nothing again and, as cliché as it may be, the silence is deafening.

When all of you were elected, you swore an oath to protect the Florida Constitution. Personally, I am a constitutional conservative who believes we should obey the law as it is written, and I have railed against the multiple ways our Legislature has and continues to subvert our most important legal document by writing legislation to circumvent it.

HB7055 has an 11 page introduction and includes 32 subjects, violating a prime rule for how bills are to be written. It is a hodgepodge of education policy that is notably full of tax dollar giveaways to private and for-profit managed charter schools. It includes language that will decertify teacher unions that do not maintain at least a 50% membership, which flies directly in the face of Article I Section 6 that states employees’ rights to collectively bargain shall not be abridged or denied. Worst of all, Speaker Corcoran has added proviso language to the bill that effectively holds all of the state’s education funding hostage unless this trainwreck is passed.

Have you even read HB7055 yet? My guess is no, because if you had you might have recognized the fact that all of you are looking at a pay cut. The bill amends statute 1001.395, which means you will be paid by the established formula or at the same level as a first year teacher, whichever is less.

But let’s get back to your duties as our local education representatives. Specifically, I’d like to review the “core values” listed in the School Board’s Way of Work document.

  • #6 – Vigorously and intelligently advocate for the School District and its students on the local, state, and national level.
  • #7—Commit, both individually and collectively, to being well-informed and educated on local, state, and national educational issues, initiatives and practices.
  • #20—Take children’s interests first. The board will represent the needs and interests of all children in our district.

While you undoubtedly exemplify these core values in some areas, you have and continue to be lacking in advocating for our district on the Legislative front. If you are doing any advocacy, it certainly is not in the Sunshine.

We need elected officials, School Board members in particular, who are willing to take the fight directly to Tallahassee. Our School Board is desperately in need of a true education advocate who is outspoken and will stand up to the bully in the capitol. We need School Board members like Billy Townsend in Polk or Charlie Kennedy in Manatee, elected officials who stand up for their own districts against the dictatorship that is the House.

Who will become our outspoken champion? Who will join the concerned educators and parents in this fight? We need you now more than ever. Our kids need you now more than ever. Public education needs you now more than ever.

It’s tragically comical how much Tallahassee complains about the Federal government dictating terms to them yet turn around and do the exact same thing to the counties in turn. I believe in local control. I believe that our people, here working in our district, educating our children know what’s best for our community. But until we take a united stand against this bully and shout stop at the top of our lungs, Tallahassee will continue to tell us what to do. Which one of you will stand with me? Stand with us? For the sake of our students and their future, I hope all of you will. Thank you.

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The Florida Public Education System under HB7069 and HB7055

Got some time to spare? You might want to read the language of HB7055, the tumescent bill brought to the citizens of Florida by Corcoran, Diaz, Bileca et al. What started off as a 109 page bill covering multiple topics has now ballooned to 198 pages after a couple committee stops. In its current form it has an 11 page introduction and covers 32 different subjects, which is why many critics of the legislation have dubbed it a “train bill.”

But this is a misnomer.

HB7055 is not a train bill. It’s a trainwreck. And it will have a devastating impact on public education here in Florida.

For those who haven’t been keeping up with the latest Tallahassee shenanigans since the start of committee work back in September, there is one theme that is running through many of this year’s bills—subvert the Florida Constitution by legislating around it. Two strong examples are the proliferation of vouchers and attack on teachers’ unions.

Despite all the problems that have recently cropped up in the last year concerning the utter lack of accountability for private schools and for-profit managed charters receiving public taxpayer dollars, Speaker Corcoran seems intent on giving more and more money away to those who will line their own pockets rather than educate our children. It’s not enough that educational vouchers to religious schools have already been struck down by the Florida Supreme Court during the Jeb Bush era, or that Governor Scott’s stacked deck of CRC players is also trying to remove the Blaine amendment, Corcoran and his army of yes-men in the House will continue to write bills this way to economically undermine the entire public education system despite the outcry from engaged and enraged citizens.

No one is asking for these giant bills like HB7069 and HB7055. Well, except for the Koch brothers (and their lobbying arm, Americans for Prosperity) who are investing in politicians—including Corcoran—to dismantle the entire public education institution brick by brick under the pretense of reform and/or school choice. The only thing the Kochs and their lackeys care about is the commodification and monetization of our children and their learning.

And who finds this the most distressing? Public education advocates in general, and teachers in particular. So what is the House to do? Silence the teachers. How? By making it difficult to unionize and thereby have some semblance of control over their contracts, salaries, workplace conditions, and the exercise of their First Amendment rights without fear of retribution.

Let’s completely set aside the fact that this legislation will provide yet another end run around the Florida Constitution by potentially stripping educators of their constitutionally guaranteed “right of employees, by and through a labor organization, to bargain collectively.” (Article I, Section 6) The legislation is redundant because employees can choose to decertify their union if they ever deemed it necessary, so all the bill really seeks to do is shut down any union with less than 50% membership and have them jump through numerous officious hoops on an annual basis.

But worse than the redundancy and officiousness of the language in the bill is the rhetoric and so-called logic being proffered by Education Committee chair, Michael Bileca, who recently stated “the 50 percent threshold is intended to preserve the rights of the majority” and that “a minority leadership…is not a voice for the majority.”

Really, Representative Bileca? You do know where you live, don’t you? The United States of America, the country that always lives under minority leadership. Case in point: the 2016 election cycle. Roughly 60% of all eligible voters turned out at the polls. Of that 60%, 48.6% voted for Hillary Clinton and 46.2% voted for Donald Trump. 46.2% of the roughly 60% of the voters means that our current president now holds office because 27.7% of Americans voted for him. You know what that is? A minority rule.

These numbers also bear out at smaller scales such as state level elections, which means the legislation that the so-called “majority” keeps passing is not intended for the majority of the Sunshine State’s citizens at all. Instead, these bills are a means of repayment to the plutocratic overlords who bestow their largesse on political operatives who are in turn willing to sell out our own children in the name of corporate welfare, crony capitalism, and the decimation of public education as an institution.

It’s a foregone conclusion that HB7055 will pass the House along party lines at some point this week. Our only hope is that the more balanced body, the Florida Senate, will seek to avert this trainwreck that will slowly derail all of public education as we know it.

Contact your Senators now and demand they prevent this trainwreck from happening.

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Felecia Johnson                                                                   Leo Haggerty

This week’s podcast is a special edition for members of Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association. After interviewing the first two presidential candidates about a month ago, two more, Felecia Johnson and Leo Haggerty, announced their intentions to run as well. In order for our membership to hear from the candidates themselves, I reached out to them both in order to ask them the same questions. Take a listen to what they had to say.

If you’re a teacher or ESP currently working in Hillsborough County who is not a member, please consider joining. Or, if you are listening elsewhere in the state, I hope you join your own local union. We need to band together now more than ever. As Polk County School Board member Billy Townsend recently wrote, the teachers’ unions are the only positive force in Florida’s education model.

Thanks for listening and for your membership in HCTA!

P.S. – And if you missed the first podcast with Rob Kriete and Val Chuchman, you can listen to it here or scroll down to Episode 14 on the main page.

 

The latest guest post on Teacher Voice is written by Dr. Joel W. Gingery, PharmD. He is a retired clinical pharmacist who has since gone on to become a public education advocate. He is a current member of the St. Petersburg NAACP Education Committee, which focuses on economic and educational development in south St. Pete within Pinellas County.

Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel. – Plutarch

Imagine: You’re in New York City on the fifth floor of the The Museum of Modern Art, looking at Le Domoiselles d’Avignon by Pablo Picasso.  Picasso is a Spanish artist, but he’s in Paris when he paints this.  The title translates to ‘The Young Ladies of Avignon’, which refers to a street that’s not in France but is in Barcelona and associated with prostitution. What we’re looking at is a brothel.

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Le Domoiselles d’Avignon – Pablo Picasso

Les Domoiselles d’Avignon is one of the monumental works in the genesis of modern art. The painting, almost 8 ft x 8 ft square, depicts five naked prostitutes in a brothel; two of them push aside curtains around the space where the other women strike seductive and erotic poses—but their figures are composed of flat, splintered planes rather than rounded volumes, their eyes are lopsided or staring or asymmetrical, and the two women at the right have threatening masks for heads. The space, too, which should recede, comes forward in jagged shards, like broken glass. In the still life at the bottom, a piece of melon slices the air like a scythe.

In its brutal treatment of the body and in its clashes of color and style, Les Domoiselles d’Avignon marks a radical break from traditional composition and perspective.

For many art historians, this painting is seen as a break with 500 years of European painting that begins with the Renaissance.  It is a reaction to the oppressiveness with which post-Renaissance culture, its mannerisms, the Baroque neoclassicism, the academies of the nineteenth century, all weighed on the contemporary artist.  This painting is the foundation on which Cubism is built.

 

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Pablo Picasso – Self Portrait – 1907

Picasso was one of the greatest and most influential artists of the twentieth century.   He is the inventor of collage, but, most of all, he is associated, along with Georges Braque, with pioneering cubism.  Considered radical in his work, he made use of any and every medium.

His total artistic output has been estimated at 50,000 separate works:  1,885 paintings; 1,228 sculptures; 2,880 ceramics, roughly 12,000 drawings; and multiple other works, including tapestries and rugs.  Picasso continues to be revered for his technical mastery, visionary creativity and profound empathy.

Picasso was born on October 25, 1881, in Málaga, Spain, into a middle class family.  His father was a painter and art teacher who specialized in naturalistic depictions of birds and other game.  Picasso expressed his artistic talents early.   At age 16 he was admitted to the most prestigious art school in Spain.   But he detested the formal training, and, shortly after arriving, he left the school to make his way on his own.  Picasso would have never become the creative visionary that he became by continuing in formal schooling.   The only way for him to become ‘Picasso’ was out of school.

The Purpose of Education

In 1911, about the same time Picasso painted Le Domoiselles, Fredrick Winslow Taylor stated in his book “Principles of Scientific Management” that the duty of enforcing standards of work rests “with management alone.”  This attitude still permeates most of our organizations, whether we realize it or not.

Taylor felt that only management had the right and ability to see the big picture and make decisions.  This “command and control” mentality proved more effective when businesses were organized as hierarchies.  When the work is routine and only requires obedience, compliance, and perseverance, it is the type of work that is easily automated.

In today’s inter-connected, networked enterprise, everyone has to see their portion of the system and make appropriate decisions of their own.  Their work increasingly deals with more complex tasks that require creativity, curiosity, empathy, humor, and passion; the type of work that is difficult to automate and humans are good at.

A new skill set and mindset is required.  Employees need to learn how to be more adaptable, courageous, and resilient, as well as how to connect, collaborate, influence and inspire others.   More importantly, a sense of curiosity and thirst for learning and innovation is essential.

Unfortunately, many of our educational institutions are not sufficiently preparing learners for this new world of work; of shifting learner attitudes and mindsets from passive entitlement to active accountability.

To compound the situation, in our naivete’, we supported accountability initiatives that demand standardization. We asked:  “How can we hold schools, teachers, students, parents, etc., accountable, so they’ll give kids the education we want them to get?”

The result has been a rigid, technocratic, highly systematized and numbers-driven approach to reform, built on big new bureaucracies, costing millions to grind out and analyze countless billions of data points whose connection to children’s real educational success is tenuous at best.

Designed as they are to make the public education system dysfunctional, is it any wonder that these accountability systems fail?  They are impersonal and unresponsive to the real needs of real people. People are curious, interested creatures, who posses a natural love of learning; who desire to internalize the knowledge, customs and values that surround them.

These evolved tendencies for people to be curious, interested, and seek coherence of knowledge, would seem to be resources to be cultivated and harnessed by educators as they guide learning and development.

Too often, however, educators introduce external controls, close supervision and monitoring, that create distrustful learning environments. Essentially, they reflect external pressures on teachers that motivation is better shaped by external reinforcement than by facilitating students’ inherent interest in learning. Under such controlling conditions, however, the feelings of joy, enthusiasm, and interest that once accompanied learning are frequently replaced by feelings of anxiety, boredom, or alienation. They create the self fulfilling prophesy so evident in many classrooms, whereby students no longer are interested in what is taught, and teachers must externally control students to “make” learning occur.

America needs to rethink what it really wants from schools.

Answering this question takes creativity and insight, and courage, because answering requires us to rethink who we are and what it means to be human.

If we are truly passionate about an education system that supports the development of a learning environment in which the learner can grow into his or her highest future potential, we need to challenge ourselves to explore the reality of our situation and follow through with the appropriate action.

Half a century ago James Baldwin warned against this giving in to the tendency to minimize its importance: “This collision between one’s image of oneself and what one actually is is always very painful and there are two things you can do about it, you can meet the collision head-on and try and become what you really are or you can retreat and try to remain what you thought you were, which is a fantasy, in which you will certainly perish.”

Education is by and for the people. People whose purposes in life can’t be standardized or captured in numbers and technocratic systems.  People who are embedded in a bewildering variety of relationships and communities that shape who they are and what their lives mean. People who cannot be the one-size-fits-all interchangeable cogs that our technocratic, educational accountability systems need them to be to function.

Thanks for reading, everyone. As always, if you’d like to be a guest contributor to the Teacher Voice project (or discuss education issues on the podcast), please email me at 1teachervoice@gmail.com.

 

 

 

FCS

This edition of the podcast is an interview with high school science teacher, Brandon Haught, who is a founding board member and communications director for Florida Citizens for Science, a grassroots organization of concerned science education stakeholders that began in 2006.

During our conversation, we talk about last year’s textbook challenge bill, HB989, which has since become law, how it’s already been used in Nassau county, as well as legislation that is moving through both the House and Senate this session. All concerned education advocates should be paying attention to HB825 and its Senate companion SB966, which both deal with “controversial theories and concepts.” The other bills we discuss concern “textbook adoption” and are known as HB827 and SB1644 respectively.

If you’d like to get involved, please reach out to your legislators and tell them to vote no on these bills. And be sure to check out the good work being done by Brandon and the rest of the Florida Citizens for Science organization.

Thanks for listening and have a great week!

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Whistleblowers serve an important function in a free and democratic society. They serve as a bulwark against corruption and unethical behavior, and are a voice for the masses who feel powerless to fight back. And, more often than not, they carry on this important work anonymously.

Governments recognize and respect the work that these people do, which is why we have legislation at both the state and federal levels to protect those who have the courage to stand up and speak out against those who unscrupulously wield their power. These people should be commended for taking on the injustices found in both the private and public sectors.

It was alarming, then, to witness the unfolding of events at last night’s school board meeting here in Hillsborough County. For those reading beyond our borders, a popular local Facebook page, the Hillsborough County School Board Whistleblower, sprouted up shortly after our previous superintendent, Mary Ellen Elia, was unceremoniously removed from her post without cause in January of 2015. Over the last three years, the page has grown a large following while being critical of several of the board members on a wide range of issues.

During the meeting, a concerned citizen named Jason Ferger addressed the board about several issues, specifically the lack of transparency in their dealings with one another, which should happen “in the sunshine” according to state law. It was at the end of his address that one of our school board members, April Griffin, outed him as being the administrator of the Whistleblower page while simultaneously dragging another school board member, Melissa Snively, into the fray, despite the fact that she was absent from the dais. It was both shocking and unprofessional to say the least.

To be honest, Mr. Ferger may or may not be the person I interviewed a couple of months ago over the phone. The more important point is that, based on what I gleaned from our discussion, the Whistleblower is more than any one person at this point–it is a movement. And this movement is comprised of any and all stakeholders who are concerned about the surfeit of challenges facing our school district here in Hillsborough County. From what he described, the page routinely receives dozens of tips in any given week, and anyone who has sent along tips or helped dig through records requests to put together the facts may as well be the Whistleblower him/herself.

Which makes me the Whistleblower, too.

Over a year ago, I received a tip from a friend who told me that the district was purchasing 8,000 laptops. We apparently were about to significantly overpay for them because one of our other school board members, Susan Valdes, questioned the item and had it pulled from the agenda before a vote. Summation: the contract went to a local company whose CEO donated $1000 to her most recent election campaign. So I passed along the tip and then got an email back asking if I could help.

Attached to this email were pages upon pages of emails, purchase orders, bidding sheets; it was mind-boggling to behold at first. Relishing the opportunity to do some investigative work, I dug in, sifted through all the information, organized it onto a spreadsheet, and then sent it back. After a few more email exchanges, we were able to create a timeline, and then the page took the information public.

It has since been accepted by the Florida Commission on Ethics, and the investigation is one of two that are currently on-going (as far as I know).

My point is this: whoever you are, dear reader, you are powerful. We all are. As I said to someone last night, anyone who is helping to provide greater transparency by holding democratically elected officials accountable to their citizens is the very definition of what it means to be a good American. We have a right and responsibility as citizens of the United States to be informed, engaged, and acting on our civic duty. As Martin Luther King, Jr. once said: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

I am the Whistleblower.

And if you have ever helped that page and the cause, then so are you.

We are all the Whistleblower.

Sleeping Kids
Potential “Credit Recovery” Candidates

On the heels of my previous post, “Cooking the Books,” another teacher from elsewhere in Florida sent along the piece you will read below. While I only focused on exams in the last post, they are only one small cog in the graduation rate manipulation machine. The problems mentioned in this teacher’s post are REAL.

I am not a fan of “credit recovery” efforts in my school district.  I think they are burdensome to teachers who are already overworked and underpaid.  They provide students who choose to underperform in class a way out, which is punitive to those students who work hard all school year. Our “credit recovery” efforts in my district also do not align completely with state statute because our district is taking advantage of the statute’s ambiguity.

In my central Florida district, if a secondary student receives a D or an F for a school quarter they are given a “credit recovery” packet.  This “credit recovery” packet is given to students every, single, 9 weeks.  The packet is usually designed by the teacher of whichever core subject was failed and given to the student to complete.  Upon the completion of the packet, the teacher is to give that student a “C”.  There is no universal packet because it will vary by teacher, subject, grade level, and school.  A student who is taking a 6th grade social studies class at School A will get a very different packet to the 6th grader taking social studies at School B.

I want you to imagine that you’re a teacher and you have lovingly prepared engaging lessons using multiple teaching techniques that cater to a variety of learning styles, but also that meet state standards.  You arrive to work early on a daily basis in order to make sure your room is set up properly, get your copies made, ensure your technology is working properly, maybe grade some papers, and enjoy a few quiet sips of coffee.  However, every day little Bobby doesn’t participate in the lesson or complete any activities.

Little Bobby doesn’t even bother to put his name on any of the papers.  All little Bobby seems to do is sleep or play on his phone.  As a teacher, you try to counsel him one-on-one to encourage him.  Nothing changes.  You then call home on several occasions.  Nothing changes.  You go to guidance, a more seasoned educator, a coach, your administration, ESE teachers, the school psychologist, and check to see if little Bobby has an IEP/504 to ensure you are following all of his accommodations (if any).  You even provide him missing assignments weekly for him to make up. Still nothing changes.

Nine weeks go by and report cards are getting ready to come out.  Little Bobby has a 0% F in your class.  All your documentation for every parent communication, accommodation, and effort you’ve put in to trying to help this particular student is ready.  Then you get told by your administration that you now have to design him a “credit recovery” packet that goes over everything you did in the previous 9 weeks.  He is given 2-3 weeks to complete it, and upon completion you must give him a 75% for the 9 weeks.  Little Bobby repeats this same behavior every 9 weeks. This is a student who is clearly not proficient in the subject matter but because of the system, he is still going to get pushed through.

The Florida statute 1003.413(2)(d) states “credit recovery” should be “…competency based and offered through innovative delivery systems, including computer-assisted instruction.”  A packet is not innovative nor is it computer-assisted instruction. The intention was to use an online platform we lovingly call E2020, which provides content for core curriculum, elective, advanced placement, career and technical courses, and “credit recovery”.  It’s supposed to be for a semester.  This program alleviates the burden of teachers having to create and grade “credit recovery” packets on top of our already burdensome workload. But the programs also requires another prep, which means either the district will need to pay a teacher to give up their planning period or hire another teacher to teach those E2020 courses.  As it stands, having teachers create the packets puts the burden solely on them and there’s no accountability as to whether or not the packets actually meet the standards.

Kids are not dumb, and when kids learn how to work the system to their advantage they will do it.  I have had these students throughout my career as an educator who have stated there is no reason for them to work in class because they know they will get “credit recovery” and get moved along.  They do not have the impetus to do otherwise.

However, even when given a “credit recovery” packet there are still kids who do not complete the packets.  I think at my school we had over 160 students receive a “credit recovery” packet in one of the four core class (Social Studies, ELA, Science, and Math) during the first quarter of this school year. Only 40 students turned in a completed “credit recovery” packet. I often hear how “Kids are kids, and they make mistakes” when I discuss this issue with people outside of education.  They’re right…kids make mistakes all the time.  But the best way to learn from our mistakes is to receive a natural consequence.  A natural consequence for not doing your work in class is to fail that class, at least for the quarter.  In the hope, that the student will get their act together.

In my opinion, we should allow the students one opportunity for a “credit recovery” packet from the teacher.  If the student fails to meet the requirements of the packet, then that student’s grade needs to stand.  If that student’s performance still leaves something to be desired and they have a “D” or an “F” for the semester, they should be provided opportunity for E2020. If they fail E2020 and still continue with their lackluster performance they need to fail the course.  They need to go to summer school or repeat the course the following year. We need to prepare them for college or the workforce.  By allowing a student to do nothing all school year and give them multiple opportunities to make up their grade to a “C” is not a reflection of reality.  If you fail a course in college there is no “credit recovery”.  If you fail to finish a task given to you by your employer, you could be fired. There has to be a better way, and what we have now isn’t it.

Thanks for reading, everyone. The Teacher Voice project is always looking for guest authors, whether anonymous or not; I have always envisioned this blog and podcast to be a diverse and collaborative endeavor. If you’d like to contribute and share your “teacher voice” (and you don’t have to be a teacher, any education advocate is welcome to submit pieces), please email me at 1teachervoice@gmail.com

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FLDOE…and by extension every district in the state of Florida

One week ago yesterday, Hillsborough County Public Schools announced that its graduation rate had jumped 3.8 points to reach its highest total yet, 82.9%.

And in the midst of what should be encouraging news, I cannot help but feel unavoidably ambivalent. While I am glad that so many students earned their high school diploma here and across the state of Florida, I wonder how many of them—especially the bottom quartile of graduating classes—are truly prepared for college or career, let alone life.

Anyone who has been teaching for the last decade and has been paying attention to this so-called accountability movement unfold is aghast at the amount of grade inflation taking place. As a high school teacher, I have watched with dismay over the years as we continually lower our expectations for students, especially on the semester exams when we try our best to give students grades they don’t deserve.

The state of Florida ensures that students pass certain classes in order to be considered worthy of a high school diploma, and in the chart below I pulled the percentages that constitute passing scores for exams within the “core classes”—language arts, mathematics, science and social studies. The scores that our students must achieve on these exams are low.

Really low.

Exam Samples

I pulled well over two dozen scales out of curiosity and the numbers generally fall in line with what is seen above. Students typically need to only get approximately 70% of the questions correct to earn an “A” (most tended to be in the upper 60s) and, even more shockingly, only have to correctly answer 37% of the questions to earn a passing grade of D.

Perhaps it’s simply my age at this point, or the fact that I grew up in Rhode Island, but in my hometown you could earn an A, B, C—there was no D option—or an F. If a student received any grade lower than a 70 on any assessment whatsoever, it was considered a failing grade. To my recollection, there were no curves on exams either; I only learned of the existence of such curves when I attended college, and even then they were done on a standard bell curve distribution, which ensured that the majority of students earned a C, not an A.

The most pernicious aspect of this grade inflation is the false sense of confidence it instills in students. When I was teaching regular level Geometry, for instance, the students who earned high marks such as an A or B strutted around like proud peacocks until I had all of the students calculate the averages for themselves so that they could see the cutoffs with their own eyes. As their teacher, I knew that these students were nowhere near a level of mastery that these inflated exam grades seemed to indicate, which is why I had to disabuse them of this notion before we entered the second semester. Some were disappointed when they discovered how low the averages truly were, but if nothing else it motivated them to work that much harder in the second semester.

For a number of struggling students, however, this is not the case. There is a considerable amount of gamesmanship on the part of these students because they know that the scales will bail them out and let them pass. I’ve seen with my own eyes a few students who were so completely apathetic that they pencil whipped the bubble sheet without opening the exam, put their heads down, and went to sleep.

And, yes, those scores still counted as part of my VAM.

Looking at the chart below, it is easy to see why these unmotivated students use this strategy. For example, a student who earned a D for both the first and second quarter only needs to get a D on the exam to pass and earn credit towards his or her diploma. In fact, a student can FAIL one quarter, earn a D in the other, and then get a C on exam (which is about the same odds as calling a coin flip) and still get credit for the semester.

EOC Exam Scale
And for non-EOC courses outside the core, it’s even EASIER to get a passing grade.

On top of this, many teachers in Hillsborough and across the entire state feel the pressure from district administration to help these kids pass, whether that means offering lots of extra credit opportunities, not giving a grade below 50%, etc. Surely the outcome will be similar to the unfolding debacle in D.C. , but for now most are willing to turn a blind eye so long as they can tout rising graduation rates across the Sunshine State. And so we pass these struggling students along from one grade to the next until they walk across that stage, shake someone’s hand, and receive a diploma that they didn’t truly earn.

The truth always comes out, however…

If there is one statistic that demonstrates how our K-12 test-driven education model is failing our students here in Florida, it’s the number of students needing remediation (now euphemistically labeled “developmental education” or DE) when they arrive at college. Florida State University has a program that tracks much of this data, the Center for Post Secondary Success, and statistics found in those articles are illuminating: 70% of students entering a local community college, as well as 50% of students entering a four-year university, are in need of remediation in reading, writing, or math. How can these students have demonstrated proficiency in high school, earn a diploma, and then suddenly need help with the basics?

In the end, I’m truly torn about this situation. As Polk County School Board member Billy Townsend recently wrote (please read it; the entire piece is great), these students who struggle are better off with a high school diploma than without it. Even if these students never go on to higher education, the diploma will prevent them from a life of economic hardship and misery. Without the diploma, however, these students would be doomed. Ultimately, we have to do better, and that will begin when we start having honest conversations about how the entire metric is a sham and only invites this type of manipulation by the state and districts all across Florida.

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Rob Kriete                                                       Val Chuchman

The latest Teacher Voice podcast is an interview of the two candidates who are running to replace the current HCTA president, Jean Clements, who is stepping down due to her retirement. I sat down to get each of the candidates platforms and perspectives, and each of them were given the five main questions ahead of time (although I did ask a bonus question that neither of them were expecting). Both were also told that they would have up to two minutes to answer each question to ensure both had the same amount of time to get their messages across. If you’d like to learn more about Rob or Val, please click their names above and these links will take you directly to their respective campaign websites.

While this podcast is primarily for the HCTA members, the candidates and I wanted to publish this for all to hear. For non-member employees, we hope you consider joining us; not only will you be able to cast your vote for one of the two candidates, but you will be banding together in solidarity with teachers and ESPs from all over Hillsborough and across the state of Florida. You can find out more information and join HCTA here. For those of you who are community partners and education advocates, this would the first glimpse of who the potential president of HCTA will be.

Thanks for listening, everyone. Please be sure to share with others and consider joining HCTA if you are not already a member!

SaveOurPublicSchools

This entry is the second guest post on Teacher Voice. Any other teachers want to share their perspectives on education issues? Please email 1teachervoice@gmail.com. As today’s guest blogger, Kimberly-Jo Foster’s friend says, “unite and fight.”

Fight for Public Education

By Kimberly-Jo Foster

Today, many of my co-workers and myself are wearing red in support of Deyshia Hargrave.  For any readers who are unaware, Deyshia Hargrave is a middle school ELA teacher in Louisiana who was recently arrested after speaking at a school board meeting. You can read more about that here.  No one in that room did anything to help her.  We teach our students and children how to identify bullies, victims, and bystanders in similar situations, but as adults we handle those situations just as poorly. In a recent interview, the Superintendent said he failed to speak up when he should have.  A board member even stated after the arrest that is how women in Vermilion Parish are treated.

Ms. Hargrave thought it was pertinent to address the Superintendent’s raise because his contract with a raise and car were up for a vote, and it was relevant. The superintendent in Vermilion Parish was getting a $30,000+ raise with a car that would have gas and maintenance provided by the school district. Whereas, Vermilion Parish teachers have a starting salary of about $39,548 and haven’t had a raise in 10 years. On top of which, they have class sizes that are outrageously large which make teaching an even more monumental task.

Ms. Hargrave was not rude, out of order, or speaking out of turn.  She did not resist arrest.  The only moment of “resistance” we see in the video is Ms. Hargrave speaking directly to a board member asking “Is it against policy to stand?”  The police officer tries to grab her arm, and she says “Sir, do not”.  She has every right to not be touched.  In that moment, she was not under arrest and after that she did leave without causing a scene.  Within under two minutes of leaving the room, we hear that she is being arrested and see her on the ground.  Ms. Hargrave, who is substantially shorter than the deputy, is having a difficult time getting to her feet and moving at the pace of the officer as she is taken out of the building in handcuffs.

This event speaks to two things in my mind: the poor treatment of women in this country and the attacks on public education.  In this country, particularly here in Florida, public education is under constant attack in favor privatization and for-profit charters. Ms. Hargrave is an example of an educator speaking out about how unfair the divide is between teachers, top administrators, and policy makers.  We are doing the most work for very little pay in comparison to those who are no longer on the front lines educating students.  Educators rarely get credit for the successes we have in the classrooms, but all the failures get laid out at our feet. It is important that as educators, parents, and citizens that you attend public school board meetings.  Listen to what is going on in your school district regardless of whether or not you have a student enrolled in a public school.  Pay attention to legislation that impacts education at a national and state level. Don’t forget to vote in national, state, and local elections.  If we do not unite together as educators and community members to save our public schools more abuses like this will occur, and it will further disenfranchise groups of already struggling students.  Abraham Lincoln once said “A house divided against itself cannot stand”, and it’s time we all stood together to fight for public education.

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Let’s be clear: Scott Plakon’s House Bill 25 is an attack on women and professions dominated by them.

While there may be plenty of fellow male colleagues at my school or any high school, the teaching profession is largely comprised of women. The data I saw when I did a quick search may be a few years old, but roughly 75-80% of all teachers working today are female.

HB25 is a bill, then, that is grossly misogynistic. Although on its surface it is an unnecessary layer of accountability that seeks to control and regulate union membership, the most troubling aspect is this particular part seen below:

HB25-1HB25-2

What else is one to construe from these obvious exceptions? Nothing. It seems clear that if you are in a male dominated field—which all of the above clearly are—then you do not have to meet these requirements. So much for equality under the law…

And this is not the first time Representative Plakon has gone after women. He did it last year when he proposed HB1, which was effectively the same bill. When questioned on the House floor last year by a fellow legislator as to why police, fire, and prison guards were not included, he said something along the lines of teachers are not the ones running toward the danger; the other legislator responded with a reminder of the teachers at Sandy Hook who sacrificed their lives to save those of their students.

Clearly that did not make an impression on Mr. Misogyny.

I would hope that any teacher would do his or her best to protect the lives of the children we serve each and every day. Plakon’s ridiculous comment about teachers not running toward danger is thoroughly insulting, especially to the teachers who are veterans that served our country in the armed forces, some of whom I work with on a daily basis at my school. In fact, I can think of one former U.S. Marine in particular in my district who is tough as nails, and she would probably have a few choice words for Representative Plakon about this bill.

Even more troubling than the bill itself, however, is that fact that we’re already facing an incredible teacher shortage that the Florida Legislature is apparently hell-bent on making far, far worse in every way imaginable. As if all the unfunded mandates coming down from Tally aren’t bad enough, now they want to “decertify” unions and take away collective bargaining and any remaining vestige of job security educators currently have.

And if you think the teacher shortage is bad, we’ve got NOTHING on nurses. During several of his campaign events, gubenatorial candidate Adam Putnam has already highlighted the fact that the nursing shortage is so awful that it has been the number one job listed on several employment websites for the last seven years. Both of our professions are full of caring, nurturing people who want to help others, yet somehow we are deemed unworthy of a seat at the table to discuss our working conditions and salaries, ostensibly because women constitute the majority of the workforce in these two critically important fields.

This legislation is downright shameful; any legislator who votes for HB25 should be called out and castigated accordingly. HB1, last year’s version of this bill—not to be confused with the current bully voucher bill—didn’t really matter because there was no Senate companion. Conversely, HB25 already has a companion in SB1036, which means it is a legitimate threat to labor organizations that overwhelmingly serve women. If you’d like to help, please call 1-855-235-2469, follow the prompts to enter your zipcode, and the hotline will connect you to your local legislator. Please flood their inboxes and demand that they vote NO on HB25.

Thank you in advance for your help.

Billy Townsend2
Billy Townsend – Polk County School Board Member for District 1

“I want people’s lives to get better. I want to grow the teaching profession. I want kids to enjoy and learn what they’re doing. That’s not happening in this corrupt model and the people who are responsible for it are owed a reckoning.”

Billy Townsend is a maverick, plain and simple. I can think of no other elected official in the Sunshine State with the political courage to take such a stand. It was my honor and pleasure to record a second podcast with him this past weekend. This time, however, we set no time limit and simply had an organic conversation about what is wrong with the system and how we can make education more human and humane once again.

Want to learn more about Billy and his education advocacy? Check out his website at www.billytownsend.com or find him on Facebook or on Twitter.

Thanks again for listening, everyone!

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Teacher Recruitment Poster

Happy New Year, everyone!

I hope that you, your family and friends all had a wonderful holiday season and winter break away from school. Many school districts throughout Florida returned to school this past week, and here in Hillsborough we’ll resume classes this coming Tuesday. And while I did my best to focus on everything but education during the break, I couldn’t quite escape doing so because of television ads like this…

Be Inspired. Inspire Others. Teach. (60) from CFP Foundation on Vimeo.

Part of the College Football Playoff Foundation’s outreach efforts include the “Extra Yard for Teachers,” an awareness campaign that culminates during the bowl week leading up to the national championship (and has for the last few years). While the mission is noteworthy, it is equally troubling. Never in my life could I have imagined a point at which we would have a teacher shortage in the United States. And yet here we are, watching these commercials on TV.

Our elected officials of all levels–national, state, and local–have known about this phenomenon for nearly a decade now, and you know it’s particularly pernicious and routinely ignored by the powers-that-be when it comes to having advertisements try to encourage people to enter the profession. The truth is teaching is a noble profession, but it is one that no one will want when scorn is continually heaped upon it by those who have no idea what it means to educate a child, or when a career choice routinely pays 20% less than other college educated peers, or when professional autonomy and creativity is largely sacrificed for the sake of the one-size-fits-all standardized testing model that was enshrined in horrible policy such as NCLB, RTTP, or ESSA and later cemented into place by the educational industrial complex headed by Pearson.

All of this, of course, is backed by stats that can easily be found with a quick Google search, the most problematic of which shows a decline in college-bound students enrolling in education as a major. In the last decade alone this number has declined by 40% and will probably continue to grow worse, especially here in the Sunshine State where the legislature seems hell bent on never properly funding public education.

The teacher shortage is a national issue, but Florida will have an even more difficult time filling empty classrooms with qualified teachers. As a current report notes, Florida ranks 40th in average teacher salary yet is 26th in cost of living. This disconnect means not only are teachers making far less than their college educated peers, their earnings are not commensurate with the cost of living, thereby creating a more difficult economic environment for those working to ensure a bright future for all of our state’s students.

And if that weren’t problematic enough, think about how counties will soon begin to cannibalize one another in search of highly qualified teachers. Here in Hillsborough county, for instance, we lag every surrounding county for starting teacher salary by $2-5K. As former HCPS teacher and 2010 Florida Teacher of the Year Megan Allen noted in her recent op-ed, her younger sister didn’t even consider Hillsborough but only looked in nearby Polk. She goes on to illustrate how difficult it will be for Hillsborough–and by extension all of Florida–to recruit and retain high quality teachers to prepare our children for their future.

Ten years ago, I constantly encouraged my students to enter the profession if they expressed an interest. Five years ago, I still encouraged my students to become teachers, but with reservations about which I was completely candid. Today–and I’m ashamed to admit this–I tell former students who want to become teachers to do so but to leave Florida altogether and seek out a place that pays teachers what they are worth and respects them for their contribution to our collective society. There aren’t many places in the U.S that still do.

And I fear that soon enough there won’t be any at all…

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Teaching is an incredibly rewarding career, but it’s also an incredibly challenging one. And one daunting challenge stands above them all—time constraints.

Two weeks ago, educators throughout Hillsborough County Public Schools banded together to “work to contract.” As I noted during my reflections on WTC the following weekend, the most salient aspect was just how much time we spend outside of the classroom to prepare ourselves so that we can be the best possible teachers for our kids. While most of us undoubtedly have a vague idea that we spend a great deal of time on our jobs outside the 8-hour workday, I don’t think many of us truly realized exactly how much we go above and beyond until we found ourselves feeling less stressed and enjoying much more free time with our family and friends.

To be completely honest, after working the contract for a week, I don’t ever want to go back to not doing so. But I also realize that is a completely unrealistic expectation to set for myself because there will be times when I absolutely must do things outside of school so that the students can be successful. At my school, for instance, I am both the Theory of Knowledge teacher and the Extended Essay coordinator for our International Baccalaureate program. I essentially have two jobs and due to the timelines my students and I race against, there are certain points at which I get completely backed up; if I didn’t take work home, I wouldn’t be able to give my kids timely feedback and keep us all on track for our mutual deadlines.

Regardless of what level we teach—whether elementary, middle, or high—we all face obstacles to finishing what amounts to an average 60 hour work week in 40 hours. I have done my best to streamline my time and tasks to maximize productivity, but it still cannot all be done at school. Whether planning lessons, grading papers, entering data into gradebooks or other systems, sending emails, making phone calls, communicating with parents or administrators, sponsoring clubs, volunteering after school, and on and on and on, we all work well beyond the contract, which is why we need to start an awareness campaign on social media: #BeyondTheContract

Here in Hillsborough County where contract negotiations have dragged on for six months at this point, education professionals realize we are all at a crucial juncture. Should we continue to work the contract to demonstrate how much we do outside of school at the risk of alienating students, parents, and the community? Or should we simply go back to the way things were and do far too much outside of school to the detriment of our personal lives?

The honest answer is both.

We need to find a middle ground, which is what #BeyondTheContract is all about. We should do our utmost to work to contract and be as productive as possible during our regular school day, but then take home work only when we absolutely must. And when we do, we should log how many hours we spent along with stating the activities we did for the betterment of our students or our personal pedagogical practice. When we do go above and beyond for our kids, let’s inform our communities and keep them in our corner, rallying around us as they have the last several months. Let’s show district administration and our elected officials how much we care about our kids and our profession. If we do this here in Hillsborough, perhaps other educators across the state will join in, and hopefully Florida teachers can initiate a trend that will sweep across the education profession throughout the entire United States.

Please share the concept of #BeyondTheContract with every educator you know, and let’s starting spreading the word on social media!

Here’s the pinned tweet on my Twitter profile:

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And here’s a sample tweet I sent last weekend after reading/commenting on essays and typing up several letters of recommendation for some seniors:

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Tyler Choura
Tyler Choura, Fifth Grade Teacher at Westchase Elementary School in Tampa, FL

Tyler Choura has always wanted to be a teacher. When he graduated from high school, his senior quote in the yearbook said as much. After winning a prestigious award while attending Penn State, a $12,000 pay cut, and six years in the classroom, he is considering leaving his dream job. Check out this week’s podcast to find out why…

Thanks for listening, everyone, have an awesome week!

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#TimeToResign

While I highly doubt School Board Member Valdes will take this second call for her resignation seriously due to her megalomania, I hope you will listen to this very brief (4 minute) podcast as to why she needs to be removed from her District 1 seat.

Please share with others and use #TimeToResign

Oh, and if you’re interested in reading through the recall statute yourself, you can find it by clicking this link: Recall Statute

Thanks again for listening, everyone; have an awesome weekend!

TimeToResign

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Hillsborough County School Board Whistleblower

If nothing else, I am a persistent person. When I get an idea in my head or set a specific goal, I can become doggedly determined until I accomplish what I set out to do.

On July 10th, about two weeks after I started the Teacher Voice project, I emailed Mike Schmoronoff*, the publisher of the Hillsborough County School Board Whistleblower Facebook page and asked if he would be willing to do an interview. He politely declined. Multiple times, in fact. But I kept asking every four or five weeks, and he finally relented provided I could preserve anonymity and he could listen to the podcast prior to it being published on Teacher Voice.

We covered a lot of ground in just under seventeen minutes. Please listen and share with other interested education stakeholders in Hillsborough County and beyond.

Thanks for listening, everyone, and have a wonderful week!

* NB – “Mike Schmoronoff” is a pseudonym used by the WB page, not the person’s actual name. Again, the conditions for me doing the interview called for strict anonymity.

Essays
About 100 TOK Essay rough drafts, averaging 5 pages each.

This past week I joined in solidarity with the vast majority of teachers in Hillsborough County Public Schools who chose to “work to contract.” For all five days we arrived to work at our appointed time and left when our day was over. Like many–if not most–Americans in the workforce, we left our work in the building and went home to spend time with our family and friends.

It may have been the most difficult thing I’ve ever done in 14 years as a teacher.

Don’t get me wrong, going home each day and being able to spend time with two of my favorite people ever–my wife and my mother, who was in town for Thanksgiving–was incredible. We talked, we laughed, we ate delicious home-cooked meals, we watched shows together and just generally enjoyed each other’s presence and company.

But it was difficult because I hadn’t truly realized how plugged in I am to school virtually all the time. Whether it’s working on school stuff for my IB students, reading and doing research on education issues, advocating for our profession, representing HCTA, lining up podcast guests, communicating with elected officials, or writing posts for Teacher Voice, I clearly sleep, breathe, and eat education.

And I love it.

I also hate it in another sense, though. On the very first day of WTC I came home, put down my bag, said hello to my mother, and then immediately opened my laptop to send an email I thought about on my drive home. These habits have become so ingrained that I didn’t realize I was breaking my attempt to work to contract until my wife asked me what I was doing. I am glad she said something, because it immediately put me in a different frame of mind. I closed the laptop and walked away.

The rest of the week went well and I managed to keep my promise. I worked only the time I was scheduled. I enjoyed spending time with my colleagues before school when we picketed and walked in together every morning. I also had to prioritize my tasks in order to maximize my productivity. This was particularly difficult for me because when my students or coworkers ask me to help them in any endeavor I drop whatever I’m doing to answer the call. And while I still did this, I could see things starting to pile up.

Take the Theory of Knowledge Essay rough drafts I received on Monday. I wanted to try and read them by the end of the week. I should have realized how nearly impossible that goal was, but it motivated me to read and comment on at least a few while I could. But the more immediate tasks always came first. I had to teach. I had to write letters of recommendation that had imminent deadlines. I had to help get a necessary computer program up and running. I had to_____________.

And if you’re a teacher, too, you know that list of “I had to’s” is probably a mile long.

In the end, I feel like I was able to reclaim more of my personal life. I feel a little more rested, a little more balanced. I will probably try to work to contract as much as I can for the rest of my career, to be honest. But I also know there will be times when I have too much work to be done and have to bring it home.

The vast majority of teachers always do.

Because we know what’s at stake is too important: our kids and our future.