Tuesday, April 17, 2018

When Enough is Enough

When is enough enough?

Go back a few years and teacher strikes happened fairly regularly, usually in one district at a time.   Then they pretty much stopped.  There was the Great Recession and everyone was happy to have a job, even a relatively low paying one.  But the recession ended.   Economies brought on by the recession began to ease as well.   Teachers’ salaries increased.  In Maryland, the average teacher’s salary is about $65,000, not bad at all for working 190 days a year.   Maryland is one of the wealthiest states in the country and school systems are sharing that wealth with teachers.
However, while all may be well in Mary Land, all is not well in other parts of the country.   Money for education in Oklahoma has been so reduced that many school districts are only open for 4 days a week.   Arizona, Kentucky and West Virginia have also not shared the better economy with their teaching staff.   Then there is the pending Supreme Court decision testing whether teachers’ unions can have a closed shop that required everyone to pay dues or a maintenance fee to the union.   With a 9thmember of the Court being a conservative, it is not looking too good for the unions.
So, what to do?
The revolution has begun.  It started in West Virginia.   The difference between this walkout and previous strikes is that the entire state was involved.  After several weeks of closed schools throughout the state, the legislature caved and teachers were giving a 5% raise across the board.
Then Oklahoma took up the call.   Oklahoma teachers didn’t just want more money for themselves, they wanted more teachers for smaller classes and newer and better teaching materials. The legislature gave the teachers a raise.  They said that wouldn’t be enough, the teachers wanted the other improvements for the students.  The legislature said “hell no”.   The union said fine, we are staying home.   Soon the Governor decided to grant the teachers what they wanted.  He soothed the legislature by assuring it that the improved economy would take care of the increased cost without a tax increase. We will see but the union got what it wanted.
Now Kentucky and Arizona have joined the fray.
What is going on here?   
It really is quite simple.  This is just another example of big talk- we care about our kids and the education they get, followed by little to no action to back up the talk.   OPUD- over promised, under delivered.  Everyone is thinking that the expected Supreme Court decision is going to bust the unions.   But these teachers are saying enough is enough.   Guess they aren’t quite busted yet.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Barking up the wrong tree

Barking up the wrong tree

The school shootings in Florida and the one recently much closer to home in Southern Maryland were terrible events and have brought the fear of school invasion to a new level.   The Maryland State Legislature just completed its 2018 session and is requiring every school district to have school resource officers (or an affiliation with the sheriff’s office ) in every school.  Don’t be confused, a school resource officer (SRO) is a person with a gun in a school.   The idea is that this one person with one gun will protect and defend our children from an armed invader.   We know two things about this situation.  The first thing we know, sadly, is that the SRO may choose not to risk his/her own life by confronting the invader.  We saw that in the Florida invasion.   The second, and perhaps more important thing we know, is that school invaders are kids with a grudge against the school or are upset about a personal relationship.
School invasions go back to the 1800’s.  Better news media and social media make us all know about them more quickly now.  Columbine was the first school shooting incident that gained traction in the national news in recent time.  After the Columbine shooting, I asked our students if they were afraid.  To a student they said no, because our teachers care about us.   The root cause of that shooting was the same as all of the subsequent shootings, the perpetrator felt alienated from the school or felt to be unknown by the school.
So we have a pretty good idea of what turns otherwise fairly typical kids into people intent on destroying other people.  It is not clear to me how throwing more money into armed guards is going to fix the problem.
There are about 132,000 schools in the United States.  That means a student in a public school has about a .01% chance of being in a school with an invader.   Thirty-three thousand of those schools are private.   As of the end of 2017, private schools have been spared the horror of any large scale shooting.  I think there is a clear reason for this difference.  It is simple to me.   Private school students are known to their teachers.  The schools are much smaller.  Kids are not numbers; they are faces with names and interests.  Teachers ask about family members and family events. That just doesn't happen in secondary public schools and not in many elementary schools.
School districts in Maryland will be spending millions of dollars to hire, train and equip armed SRO’s.  One or maybe two of these people will be guarding high schools with 2,700 or more students.   How much better it would be if these millions could be spent on more clinicians who had the time and interest to care about and talk to kids.  People who wanted to give these kids an identity within the school.   People who were not wasting their skills pushing test scores around.   We need to spend those dollars on saving kids not shooting at possible invaders. And let us hope, that if we get all these new SRO’s and a shooter does come into the school, those 1-2 people won’t be off somewhere barking up the wrong tree.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

The "Can't do it" trap

The “Can’t Do it “ Trap

There are lots of things students can’t do.   They can’t fly; they can’t leap tall buildings at a single bound; and they don’t have x-ray vision.  They probably won’t be professional athletes or win an academy award for acting. Those are all low probability events.
And there are lots more things that they can’t do NOW but might be able to do with fine, fine teaching unless we allow ourselves to fall into the “can’t do” trap.  Everyone has seen that trap.   It is lying in wait for everyone who teaches children with disabilities, poor kids or students with unstable home situations.   Those traps are waiting for each and every teacher who needs an excuse for why her teaching has failed.  It is very easy to just glide right into that trap.   As the saying goes, “when you are deep in a hole, the first thing to do is to stop digging”.  So here are some ways to avoid all those excuse making traps.
Give ‘em some love.   There are people who will tell you that you should not get emotionally involved with your students.   My advice is, if you aren’t emotionally involved with your kids, get out of the profession.   Many students of poverty, dysfunctional homes and/or with disabilities that make them feel they are a disappointment to others, need love.  So tell your students you love them and care about them. Trying to learn is a risk taking behavior.   Children are much more likely to take that risk with someone they believe cares about them and wants the best for them.  They also need to feel that it is safe to fail.   They need to know that they will not be humiliated and that the teacher’s love and caring will provide a very soft landing if at first they do not succeed.  So tell your students you care about them early and often.
Students need teachers.   They don’t need pity for their circumstances nor do they need teachers to use those circumstances as an excuse for low expectations.   We already know what the child’s yesterday looked like.   We can teach to the child in the present and through that teaching we can define what his/her tomorrow will be.  Think of every lesson as a stepping stone toward tomorrow and a positive future.  A child may not be able to read today, but with the proper instruction step-by-step she will be able to read tomorrow.  Teachers need to keep their eyes on tomorrow and build the stairway toward that tomorrow by starting with expectations today, not excuses for why-not.
Teachers need to be human with their kids and recognize that the students are human as well, young but human.  If we want the children to respect us we need to build relationships with them.  Talk to them (not preach).   Find out what their burdens are today.  Is someone sick at home?   Is someone home period?  Did a boy or a girlfriend reject them?   Are they in competition for affection with another peer or some adult in the home?  Share your own similar experiences. Let the kids know you respect their challenges and that you too are facing challenges.  Those connections will make it much easier for the teacher to discipline or be trusted by the student when the student is presented with challenging work.   Life is all about honest relationships.
Good leaders have a lot to do with avoiding the can't do traps.  Every teacher is a leader.  Leaders need to lead; you cannot blame the system or blame the student challenges.  If we don’t believe in our hearts that we can change these kids’ lives, we should have stopped digging a long time ago because we are deep in the hole.  “They can’t do it” trap is a deep hole.   We need to stop digging and start delivering the future for our students.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Should We Let Them?

Should We Let Them?

Last week students throughout the country demonstrated their concern and memory for the 17 students and educators who were killed at their high school in Florida.   The reactions to the question: “Should we let them?” were across the spectrum from “no, and there will be consequences if you do”, past benign neglect all the way to the other end where administrators facilitated the event and faculty participated with students.
My first reaction was why the question was even asked.    Many years ago the Supreme Court made clear that students do not leave their first amendment rights at the school house door unless the demonstration of those rights would disrupt the education of others.
Of course, the supporters of “there will be consequences” immediately jumped on the disruption factor.   Yet in school systems that either allowed but did not facilitate and in school systems that facilitated and participated there were no disruptions.   The students and their supports walked out of class for 17 minutes, mostly stood in silence with heads bowed, then reentered their schools.   In some communities, students had assemblies and discussions on the event and their very strong feelings that they did not want this tragedy to touch their school and what could be done to prevent that.
We have universal education at public expense in our country.   We even limit the liberty of children between 5 and 16 (mostly although the end limit varies) to do anything but attend school.   It is expensive so there must have been a good reason for this requirement.
Although it is often forgotten, the reason was that as suffrage expanded we needed an educated electorate to make these elections work.  The need to train workers for the economy is a relatively recent reason to fund public education.
If we go back to our roots in public education, we still need an educated electorate.   Our students need more education in civics than they need chemistry or trigonometry.  The students who left their classrooms last week were not only speaking out for their cause but they were demonstrating an understanding of how a democracy works.  I found it particularly confusing that the advocates for punitive consequences for the students leaving school for 17 minutes and, thereby, disrupting their education was to promise that they would be suspended for a day causing their education to be further disrupted.   Where is the consistent value here?

We have no business asking the question should we let them.   Our job as educators is to not only “let” them but to encourage them to think more about their values as citizens in a democracy and how those values will be played out by their civic activism and their voting record.   The children of the 1950’s were repeatedly reprimanded for being the apathetic generation.   Now our children are no longer apathetic.   They want to take up the discussion and make change.   And we have the nerve to ask the question- Should we let them?  

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Shoot 'Em Up

Shoot ‘Em Up
There are dumb ideas and then there are really stupid ideas.   The notion to arm teachers in the wake of the most recent school invader shooting certainly ranks as a really stupid idea.
What are these people thinking!?  There are so many reasons this idea is so bad that it is hard to begin.
Let’s begin at the beginning.   The solution to the problem of a violent, probably mentally ill person in a school is to provide more armed people with guns in a school.   Has it ever occurred to people that there are some teachers who also may have mental health issues?   But Trump says some teachers might have a knack for guns and those teachers should be trained and, perhaps, even given a bonus for being willing to be armed.
A teacher’s first job is to teach children.    However, we already know that a number of children find their parents’ guns and use those guns to create harm either intentionally or unintentionally.   How will we protect students and staff from some students finding the teachers’ guns and using them to settle a school argument.   What will happen to a teacher’s gun when she/he goes home from school?  That gun will go home with the teacher.  Now we have a significant increase in the number of homes with guns.   Not a good idea.
Then there is the faith that a teacher trained to use guns will demonstrate that training in skilled way if the school is invaded.   The teacher, in the heat of the crisis, will be able to distinguish the intruder from the plain clothes resource officer who may be in the area, also with a gun who may be shooting.   The teacher will get a straight shot at the invader.  The invader will stand still so the teacher can take a good shot and the students will all move out of the way so they are not hit by a stray bullet.   The entire scene will freeze in time to allow this marginally trained teacher to be calm in the moment using the pistol to fire in the direction of the automatic rifle that is being fired.   Really!!   What fantasy island do you live on!
Our solution to the problem of violence is to create the opportunities for more violence.   A person may be a straight shooter but that is not straight thinking.
Our society has become increasingly violent.  Many reasons for this violence have been advanced.   Media in the form of games, movies and popular music have exposed us to increasing amounts of violence so that our threshold for outrage keeps getting higher.  Mental health treatment gets minimal attention in our health care system.  School are becoming bigger and bigger so kids aren’t known to teachers as feeling people but rather as potential test scores that could raise or lower a teacher’s rating.  It is no wonder some kids feel alienated from the very group whose attention and caring they want.

The United States already has the largest number of guns per capita among first world nations. There are approximately 50 million children in our public schools.   Tragically 200 of them have been killed by armed invaders.   Giving more guns to more people, particularly teachers, solves nothing.  It just gives people more opportunity to shoot ‘em up.

Monday, March 5, 2018

When She Was Bad, She Was Horrid

When She Was Bad, She Was Horrid
Many of us remember the old nursey rhyme about when she was good, she was very, very good; but when she was bad she was horrid.   Evidently many, many people feel that way about kids with disabilities.  Suspension and expulsion rates for children with disabilities are two times higher than they are for plain kids.  This information is based on data from the U.S. Office of Education.
According to the report, children with disabilities make up 12.46% of enrollment in traditional public schools.  Yet they were subject to discipline at roughly twice that rate.  In fact, 11.56% of children with disabilities had been suspended and .26 % had been expelled. 
It is interesting to explore the possible reasons for this huge difference.  The most simple reason is that kids with disabilities are just not as well behaved as plain kids.   But simple reasons are mostly easy answers. 
A better reason is that in spite of the requirement in the law that the manifestation of a child’s disability may not be used for disciplinary reasons, it is happening all the time.
Another reason is the huge push towards fully including children with disabilities into traditional classrooms.  When this happens most of the training received by teachers is designed to meet the academic needs of the students.  There is little to no training regarding behavioral management of children with disabilities nor how to manage their differing social and emotional needs.
One of the aggravating factors for children with disabilities is academic frustration and embarrassment that they cannot keep up with their peers.  General education teachers are not trained in differentiating instruction in ways that are needed by children with learning challenges.   They have little to no training in understanding children with autism and how that impacts the child’s perception of the world.  Teachers need to be trained in the causes of those challenging behaviors not just keep reacting to them with suspensions which only lead to more disconnection with the class.  Teachers need to be trained in positive behavioral supports.   For the most part they are not.  The ability to recognize the purpose of the behavior to the child as opposed to the teacher’s analysis of what the teacher thinks the purpose is cannot be overstated.  It is a science to determine what is motivating the CHILD not what the teacher thinks is motivating the child.

Just maybe all these kids with disabilities really are very, very good when they are understood instead of being treated as if they were horrid.