Sunday, June 25, 2017

A Teacher Sounds Off

My teacher-friend, Brian Davis, posted this rant on FB this morning, inspired by the chart researched and created by John David French. I want to give him a larger audience for a vital truth OK's policy makers don't seem to want to recognize.

Brian Davis is a nationally-recognized geography teacher who lives and works at Central Middle School, in Bartlesville, OK. His wife is a National Board Certified Teacher. When he is not teaching, he can usually be found in a car driving his daughters batty with DAD jokes.

"Sorry, long rant ahead.
Chart and research by John David French*

According to the chart, this is what I need as a raise just to give me the purchasing power of a teacher's salary in 2008. My wife is also a teacher with five more years of experience than I have. Therefore that number is over $13K for our family. $6.5k is not really a raise. IT IS A COST OF LIVING ADJUSTMENT!!! 

Sooo, pardon me when I don't get ultra excited when a $ 1K to 4K "raise" is offered.

A true $5k raise would require $11.5K more each year. Coincidentally that's about how much more we would make in NW Arkansas or Texas. That's $20K to $32 K difference per year. If we finish our careers in Oklahoma we are leaving $800K plus on the table.

Ironically. $6500 is about what I made in my side hustles last year driving for Uber and extra-duty contracts. $6500 is about what we raised doing fundraisers last year for softball and mission trips for the kids. (Our barbecue ribs are really good. Hit me up the weeks before the Super Bowl) and we have added more to our side hustle this year.

If Heather and I have this "raise" (adjustment) We could give up some of the following extra jobs that we currently do:
  • Social Studies Department Chair 
  • Language Arts Department Chair
  • Team Leader for our perspective 
  • UBER DRIVER (this is cut back but still doing it occasionally)
  • Summer school teacher (both of us)
  • Geography Trainer
  •  Science Olympics coach (unpaid)

I AM A good teacher. No, I AM A GREAT teacher.

We both are, but how much more feedback could I give my students, how many more speakers could I bring in to enhance my lessons, or more time to tweak my lessons, how much better of a trainer or coach or department chair could I be, if I could afford to give up some of the side hustle? How much more time would I have as a father and a husband?
What if the side hustles were truly extra. I wouldn't have to plan 6 months out for new tires. 

The dryer going out would not be an emergency, I wouldn't have $10k in medical debt. (That's another rant in itself). 

I could replace and fix the laundry list of things wrong with my house, I could take a nice trip with my wife and kids not softball related. 

I could go fishing a little more. 

I could fund my IRA. I could worry less about how we are going to pay for college. 

I could drive cars from this decade. 

I could encourage our brightest students to follow the passion I have for educating. Including my own daughter who would be a phenomenal teacher.
I especially feel let down. When I was 12 yrs old my dream was to coach baseball and teach social studies. I didn't start out as an education major because I knew what my mom made but with the passage of HB1017 I thought, OK. I won't get rich but I can at least make a living teaching now.  And I did well the 1st 10 years. In my 2nd year, I made what my Mom made in year 22. I had a saving account, had an IRA that had a positive inflow, I traveled some and I had time to relax.
Folks. I write this sitting on a bed in our fireworks tent. 

I figured up I will have 4 days this summer with no obligations. 

What's this I hear about teachers having summers off? I'M TIRED!!!

And too many teachers in Oklahoma are sadly choosing to leave the state, or the profession, to adequately support their own families. Thank you, Brian, for staying, and for pointing out this inconvenient truth.

*John David French: "I posted it last week after my uncle suggested I figure out how far behind the inflation curve we've gotten. I used the lower end of estimates with 1.42% average yearly inflation over the past nine years, so the numbers should be slightly on the conservative side. I highlighted 2018 since that would be the earliest we could see a raise if the legislature finally decides to act next year."

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Stepping Back to Reach Out

Teaching often involves watching, observing, asking questions, withholding our judgement. It involves learning everything you can about your students so you can find the words to help. It's avoiding your knee-jerk response to perceived bad behavior and finding out more about the realities of your students.

My OSU student interns have a strong research, academic, and pedagogical foundation, and their semester of internship allows them to teach 'for real,' without much of a net. 

They learn to use their interpersonal skills, to inhibit their first responses and find other professionals who can help them learn more about these fragile students who try to appear so tough.

I have shared other intern stories here and here.

The stories I share today are young teachers using their gifts and talents and knowledge, getting to the bottom of troublesome behavior, seeking to understand their students' lives and finding ways to make school meaningful. I am so proud of these young teachers. Even if they choose not to teach, their semester in the classroom has given them even more empathy for others.

My student story is about a kid named T.  He is a “bad kid” according to almost all the other teachers (my CT is exempt).  He rarely comes to class, recently knocked-up his girlfriend, and is a general troublemaker.  He is disrespectful, has great contempt of authority, and will challenge teachers.  He likes to push back.  

I had him in class one day and was frustrated within the first five minutes.  I tried to laugh off his disrespect, but deep down I really wanted to call him out.  Instead, I kept my cool until I could talk to my cooperating teacher.  I told her about T and asked what she would do with him.  She told me that his dad had recently been sentenced to prison for trying to kill his mother in front of him.  Now, his mother wants nothing to do with him or any of his brothers.  She has all but abandoned them.  

To keep the boys together, community members have been letting them sleep on couches.  She never knows for sure where T is at any given point.  He feels ashamed of handouts so he won’t eat with the family he stays with.  He often doesn’t eat at school.  She said she had to force him to eat because he would be afraid of being called a bum.  

T works so hard to stay afloat that he sometimes doesn’t realize he’s being disrespectful.  He thinks that the teachers don’t understand him (and for the most part, he’s right) and so he won’t try. 

I pulled him out of class later that day and asked him how he was doing.   I told him he wasn’t in trouble, just that I wanted to talk.  He gave me a short list of his goings-on and started to open up a little. 

I then used “I” statements to discuss his behavior.  He instantly became the sweetest kid in his class.  If I could, I would adopt all three of those boys and make sure that they are cared for.  I still feel anger at the other teachers in my building for not caring for T and his family, but I’m glad I can help him in any way.  

And this...

I do not know how to start this written assignment, so I suppose I will just begin rambling. I have a student, EL, that is unmotivated at all times to do her work. She is a brilliant student, but she does not like feeling the pressure of working during class. To put this into perspective: while alone in the classroom, she finished a unit’s worth of assignments in about an hour. She is fully capable of doing the work, and doing it well, but she simply does not want to. She calls herself “stupid” regularly, and it breaks my heart.

After a while of this, my cooperating teacher and I decided to go to her counselor and find out if there is any background to her behavior. She is rarely disrespectful. She is just uninterested. We learned that her parents are currently going through a divorce. This put everything into perspective for us. It is so hard to ask he to work on English assignments when her home life is a complete mess. I fully understand that The Crucible is not relevant to her real life; however, she does need to graduate high school, so we hold her to a new standard.
EL is no longer allowed to take her work home with her. She always loses it, so there is no point in asking her to work on things at home anyways. We ask her to stay after class once a week and get all of her assignments done. She is only allowed, per our policy, to make an 80% on these late assignments, but an 80% is much better than a 0. 

We are now working with her schedule in a way that does not pressure her, or make her feel that we think English is more important than her home life or her mental health.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Relationships Support Students and Families

Last semester, I was able to work with OSU English Language Arts (and Foreign Language) Student Interns, and was deeply moved by their dedication to their profession and their students. I learned to love my students, and supported their various decisions about their futures: some (less than half) will be teaching in #oklaed next year. Some are making the trek south on I-35 to teach in Texas. Some are returning to school, pursuing degrees in higher education.

They all were more than ready for their internship by a strong foundation in the academics and pedagogy. They will all find success in their lives, and this semester they spent in the classroom will always inform their lives.

I asked my students to share a story (no names) about a student...when we tell these stories, we get to the heart of teaching and learning. I published one story earlier, about a student who turned his life around with the help of coaches and teachers

Today's story shows the power of a teacher stopping, reaching out to students and families, and building a relationship that will help that student grow. 

We are training amazing teachers. Unfortunately, fewer and fewer are staying home to teach our students.

Today one of my students apologized to me. 

An apology is a small thing, a simple action, but to a teacher it is one of the rarest and most appreciated things a student can do. 

This student is not a bad student (there are no bad students, only challenging ones). He’s not the top of his class. He’s not sought out by many of his peers. He’s kind and intelligent; he’s funny and polite. And he doesn’t understand many of the everyday social interactions you and I find commonplace. 

This student deals with autism and epilepsy, and the medical ups and downs that come with that, on a daily basis.

Sometimes he asks me after class why other students laughed when he wasn’t meaning to be funny. While the laughter wasn’t mean-spirited, the confusion and sometimes hurt that it causes breaks my heart. Still, on most days this student greets my lessons with an enthusiasm for learning and willingness to participate. 

Last week, this student came to class without his usual enthusiasm for the material. He was late, obviously lethargic and irritable, and he was rude to me when I asked him to pay attention.

I didn’t call attention to his attitude in class, but after on Friday I called his mother to gain insight into his behavior. She told me his medication had been changed yet again in an effort to prevent more seizures, and because of this change, my student was experiencing mood swings and irritability. She thanked me profusely for calling, because her son is seventeen and naturally doesn’t like to share details of his school life with his mother. She said that without my call, she could not give her son’s doctor an accurate report of the effect the new medication had.

Today, one day after that phone call, my student walked into class, strode directly to me, looked me in the eyes, and said with sincerity “Miss B, I’m sorry for being rude to you.” I felt like crying. Because I was grateful for at least one caring parent. Because I could tell that he didn’t understand that his behavior had come off as disrespect. Because he had a bad few days and he couldn’t see past how poorly he felt, and he didn’t feel he could express that feeling to me then.

I thanked him, emphasized that I wasn’t offended, and we moved on. Today I saw the return of his usual disposition, and I hope that the next time he has a bad day, he feels able to confide in me.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Teachers and Coaches Change Lives. Never Doubt

Last semester I was lucky enough to work with English Language Arts and Foreign Language student interns at OSU. I was the teacher of record for the extra class they had to take during their internship (student teaching). They reflected on their experiences, and during one class I asked them to tell me a story of one student...I'm a firm believer in the power of story to connect people and to bring change. My hidden agenda was to give student interns their voice in advocating for their students. The stories moved me, and I have permission to share some with you. So, over the next few weeks, I'll do just that.

Just under 20 student interns, and about half of them are already gone...gone to Texas for higher salaries, and a living wage. As I grew close to these young people, it made me unutterably sad to see them go. But I also felt proud of their insistence that they were worth more than Oklahoma schools can offer. They are the future of my family business. 

So, please enjoy the story of AO. And see how one teacher, one coach, can stop, notice, and change everything. 

AO comes to class every day with a smile on his face and tie around his neck. Though his shoes are tattered and his shirt is littered with stains, he dresses for success and remains the bright light for a darkened time. 
If you knew AO three years ago you would look down or possibly hide your purse from his sight. He was a repeat juvenile offender, an exiled disturbance to the regular classroom, and a frequent flyer on the alternative school roster. 
He did not have parents to come home to so he instead went to work at McDonalds and used that money to pay his rent. 
AO’s trajectory changed one day as the cross-country team hurdled by and the coach said he needed more runners. His life has metamorphosed ever since and is now an active a contributing citizen in society and in his high school. 
Though his path has not been easy, AO finds a way to smile and succeed.