Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Where have all the teachers gone?

Where have all the teachers gone?

Gone to other jobs everyone, when will we ever learn, when will we ever learn?   For those of you of a certain age or a fan of the 60’s folk music, you might recognize the play on the lyrics of “Where Have all the Flowers Gone?”  
Today teachers’ salaries are higher than ever.   In Maryland, they are among the highest in the country.  Carroll County Maryland has just announced new teacher salaries will start at $48,000 this coming fall.  Yet in spite of dramatic salary increases, with even more expected as the Kirwan Commission goes into full operation, school systems are having a very hard time hiring and keeping teachers.
In the olden days, workers on the assembly lines at GM, Ford and Chrysler could earn 85-100,000 dollars a year with minimal education and experience, some limited overtime, and great benefits.   These folks worked the job for the salary, retired when they could.   I had a good friend who worked for GM as an engineer. He told me to never buy a car made on a Monday or any day after a holiday. He said workers often came in hung over and were sloppy in their work.
I doubt that teachers come in hungover today.  But what I don’t doubt is that many of them feel much like the workers on the assembly lines.   They are not getting the emotional return on their jobs that they once did.  In many ways they are working on an assembly line.  Pacing guides tell them when to teach and when to move on.   Tight curriculum plans spell out what materials to use and how to teach each concept. They are cautioned against getting emotionally involved with the students.
But what is the point in being a teacher if you can’t get emotionally invested in your kids?   What is the point in being a teacher if you can’t look to creative ways to teach them better?   What is the point of being a teacher if you can’t stop a lesson to find out how a kid is doing now that her parents are separating?   What is the point to being a teacher if you can’t authentically get to know your kids and change up methodology to meet their needs?  Forty-eight thousand dollars a year for a starting teacher will be one of the highest starting salaries in the state.  But it doesn’t answer any of the foregoing questions.  Answer those questions and you will know why all the teachers are going.  And unlike assembly line workers teachers are well-educated and have options.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Not so Quickly

Not so quickly!

Too many people with disabilities are being rushed into guardianships rather than families exploring less-limiting options.  A report out from the National Council on Disability seems to indicate that this pipeline begins at the schoolhouse door.

The study found that 58% of people with intellectual or developmental disabilities ages 18-22 have guardians.  Once this happens, people sometimes remain under guardianship for decades.  The process starts when students turn 18.   In many states that means the child has reached the age of majority and that parents no longer have jurisdiction over the child’s education.  In Maryland, if the child is receiving special education services the parents retain education guardianship until the child graduates or fulfills his/her entitlement.  Many educators do not know the options and often inform or misinform (depending on state law) that guardianship is the only way the family or friend can still have standing at the child’s IEP meeting.  

There are several different types of guardianship and the process for an individual regaining his/her adult rights is often complicated or unknown to the family. In Maryland there are two major types of guardianship for adults (people over 18).   A guardian may be authorized by the court to make decisions for the disabled person about his/her health, care, shelter, education or other daily needs.   A guardian may also be appointed  by the court to manage the property of a disabled person.  A guardian of property may be a person or agency, including a state agency.

In Maryland, each local jurisdiction has an Adult Public Guardianship Review Board that acts as consultant to the guardian.  Every six months the board reviews the case and makes a recommendation to the court to continue, modify or terminate the guardianship.   The local Board consists of a representative from the local department of social services, one physician, one psychiatrist, a representative a non-profit social services agency, an attorney, two citizen representatives, a public health nurse and a professional in the field of the individual’s disability.   This Board does NOT have oversight of private guardianship cases.

Guardianship is very serious and should be imposed on a person only as a last resort.  Educators need to be trained to explain the multiple options that families have for protecting their children’s safety AND respecting their dignity as adults. There are multiple guardian options and families need to get good advice before making such a serious decision.  That good advice seldom comes from a school person.  Let’s not act so quickly without knowing the full menu that is available.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Too scared to think

Too Scared to Think

A test can be an opportunity for a student to show off just how much she has learned.  Or it can be an opportunity for your course grade to plummet or for your high stakes testing to throw you into the pool of students who need an alternative path.
Test anxiety is a very real condition.   People who are afflicted with it can see the work of an entire semester go down the tube in one two-hour period.   Tests really don’t do a good job of measuring how much we know, and students with test anxiety are set up for failure.
We are living in an era when the common wisdom is that standardized tests raise the teaching/learning standard.  That means there is an increasing number of high stakes testing experiences.
There are things teachers can do to alleviate some of the issues.  First of all, prior to the test experience, give students examples of what the test items are going to be like.  Allow kids to answer questions and to question the questions.   Let them break into groups and work out problems together.   If the test is multiple choice, before the test give the students some multiple-choice items on the topic and lead them through the process of figuring out how to pick the correct answer from the several detractors. Directly teach the strategy for eliminating one or more of the detractors and narrowing the field down to the correct answer.
If the test has true/false items, directly teach the children how to look for “red-alert” words such as “never”, “always” and other always words.  
When the test experience is over, review the test with the class.   Ask students to tell you what they answered and why they did.  For items a student got wrong, walk them through the process to get it right.
Some people will tell you that is cheating.  That attitude always confuses me.   If the point of testing is to discover what the child knows about a topic as opposed to tricking the child, why is it cheating to help the child have the best shot of showing what they know.  I once had a teacher tell me that she knew in advance of any test which students would do well and who would not.  I couldn't figure out what the point was of giving the test. 
Of course, there is one more question to ask.   If we know that there are some humans who have such great test anxiety that they literally can’t think straight on  a test- why are we still giving them tests?   Could it be that we are too scared to think of another option to measure learning besides a written test?   Something to think about.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Birds of a Feather

Birds of a Feather

When I was a kid, my mother regularly reminded me of the old adage “birds of a feather flock together”.    Usually this was issued as a warning sign to be careful of who my friends were because if I chose poorly, I would be judged by their behavior as well as my own.
In the course of human events, we seem to have forgotten that old saw. It is both a warning and a commentary on human nature.   Advocates of full inclusion tell us that when children with disabilities are in the same classrooms as plain kids, the plain kids will embrace the children with disabilities and invite them to parties and to hang at the mall with them.  Somehow, these folks have neglected to look at their own feathered friends.   In doing so they will find that their friends are all “of the same feather”.  So it is not at all unusual for people of deep faith to socialize with others of deep faith.   Ditto political progressives, sports fans, and a multitude of other areas around which people affiliate.   It has also been noted by the recently divorced or widowed, that they are frequently now left out of their previous social set. 
So it is with adults with disabilities.  Cast out into the world, often lacking places of employment where they can make new friends, people with disabilities are deeply missing a social component in their lives.   It is not surprising that when an organization is willing to leap into the breach, many are clamoring to come.  Once a month, an organization in Baltimore transforms its setting into a night club event for adults with disabilities.   Folks come with walkers, support aides and parents.   They also come with enthusiasm, excitement, and an eagerness to make new friends.   They are even looking for love in all the right places.  Refreshments are served (no alcohol), music is played, people are dancing, chatting and just having fun.  Attendance continues to grow every month. Attendees pay a fee, support people for the attendee do not.
 Everyone wants to be some place where they are typical.   As humans we want to be like the other folks in our pack.  That is why there are restaurants and clubs frequented by people of similar ethnic backgrounds, socio economic status, or religious beliefs.   Now we have a once-a-month club for people with disabilities. It is the only one regularly operating in spite of the huge need.   Hopefully there will soon be more.  After all birds of a feather do flock together including those birds who are not your typical flock.