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!

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

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!

contract

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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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.

Nearly twenty years ago, I became enamored with the academic study of religion. During my first college class on the subject, REL2300: Intro to World Religions, I learned that one of the first true scholars of religion, Huston Smith, was instrumental in exposing Americans to the world’s faith traditions during the 1950s. The son of missionary parents, Smith was raised Methodist but his inquisitive nature led him to become a participant observer in numerous traditions across the decades.

While watching a PBS special that featured Professor Smith being interviewed by Bill Moyers, Huston relayed his experience living in a Zen Buddhist monastery for more than a month. When he completed his training as a novice monk, his roshi (teacher) told him a proverb that was the distillation of Zen Buddhist philosophy:

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One of many Post-It notes I keep on our bathroom mirror; I think about these words every day.

These three simple phrases gripped me immediately when I first heard them. So much so that they left an indelible impression on my mind and have become a personal mantra that I repeat to myself every day when I wake up, multiple times throughout the day, and again before I fall asleep. In essence, this Zen saying explains a great deal about who I am as both a person in general and a teacher specifically.

Infinite gratitude to all things past

As a human being, I am grateful for everything that has ever happened to me, good and bad. Every part of my past has culminated in who I have become in this moment. I am so thankful for all who have been instrumental in my life, starting with my parents, my brothers, the rest of my family and friends, and above all, my beautiful best friend and wife.

As a teacher, I cannot tell you how grateful I am to have what I believe to be the best job in the world. Each and every day I am humbled by the thought of all of my students, past and present, who have become an integral part of my life. I treat my students as if they were my own kids and want nothing but the very best for each of them. I am also thankful for all of my colleagues. Whether a fellow teacher, administrator, or anyone who works with our students in any capacity, I am grateful that you have had a hand in shaping me into the teacher I am today.

Infinite service to all things present

Being a teacher means living a life of service and often putting others before ourselves. I am firm believer in the idea that the surest path to happiness and life satisfaction is one that is other-centric. While I can go overboard at times to my own detriment, I would guess this is the norm for many who work in the education profession. We all care deeply about our students and their future, which is why we work so assiduously to ensure their success in the present.

Infinite responsibility to all things future

Perhaps one of the biggest reasons I am such an optimist has everything to do with always keeping one eye on the horizon. Each new day that dawns is a promise renewed, an opportunity for all of us to become the best version of ourselves, especially those of us who work with students on a daily basis and teach them by both example and non-example alike. Ultimately, I feel a tremendous responsibility to all that the future will bring to the next generation of teachers, students, and citizens in Florida.

There is a wonderful synergy among these three phrases and they have fostered a personal change in me that I cannot quite put into words. What I’ve learned in the last twenty years of telling myself these words day in and day out is that they form a virtuous cycle: by being grateful for all things past, we are motivated to be of service to all that is present, and by taking care of the present, we demonstrate our responsibility to the future.

If you’ve read this far, I want to close by sharing one of my favorite short videos on gratitude. The imagery is from time-lapse photographer and videographer Louis Schwartzberg’s TED Talk on beauty, but the narration is by Brother David Stendl-Rast, a Benedictine monk from my own religious upbringing and tradition, Catholicism. I hope that it serves as a reminder that we have so much to be grateful for not only on Thanksgiving, but each and every day.

Finally, thank you for supporting the Teacher Voice project. Even if we’ve never met in person, I am inspired, encouraged, and deeply grateful for you reading these posts and listening to the podcasts. I have been overwhelmed by the response Teacher Voice has received in the first five months, and I truly believe it will continue to become a platform for education stakeholders all across the Sunshine State.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving with your family and friends, everyone!

Frameworks Logo

This episode of the Teacher Voice podcast is an interview with Amanda Page-Zwierko, the executive director of Frameworks of Tampa Bay, an organization focused on bringing SEL (Social Emotional Learning) and life skills to youth throughout the Tampa Bay region and beyond.

Amanda Page-Zwierko
Amanda Page-Zwierko

Please listen and share with others who are interested in learning more about SEL and how it is helping students here in our own local school districts of Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.

Thanks for listening and sharing, everyone. Have a great week!