Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Teacher pay tied to parent involvement?

I just settled down to catch up on my google reader and I read this paragraph from The Quick and the Ed's Quick Hits for today:

Teacher pay dependent on parents. Rural districts in Idaho have decided to tie teacher merit pay to parental involvement, specifically their attendance at parent-teacher conferences. State officials required districts to decide the factors from which to base performance bonuses. Up to 70 percent of that pay in these rural districts will rest on the parents. (Associated Press)

Not wanting to jump to hasty conclusions I went ahead and followed the link. It had to be a joke, right? Rewarding teachers lucky enough to already teach the kids who have involved parents? Those teachers already benefit from having a home/school connection, and from teaching children who are growing up in a house that values education.
I really, really hoped the quick paragraph was only a tiny piece of the story.

But it seems to sum it up pretty well-.
High school teachers can earn bonuses if at least 40% of parents come to conferences.
I'm sure looking at this from one side makes it sound like a great idea. Build in an incentive to make teachers get creative and reach out to parents. And it might actually get impressive results from some teachers.
On the other hand, it rewards teachers who teach classes full of students who come from involved house holds and punishes the teachers who work with students whose parents are busy with multiple jobs, or who just don't make education a priority. In many of these cases I am willing to bet that the teachers dealing with the least motivated students and the greatest discipline problems are the same as the teachers who have more no shows at conferences.
I always think you can predict how a teacher's year will go based on the turn out at open house. The class where very few parents show up is likely to be the class with students behind academically, students who act out, and students who just don't care about school. It is not a one to one correlation- not every no-show parent signals a long year, but there is a trend.

The past two years my partner in crime and I did home visits for our students. Too busy to come to conference days? We will come to your house at a time that works for you. No problem.

Do you know what it is like to be stood up at someone's house? Especially when you are pretty sure they are inside- just hiding from you. Knocking on a door, listening to footsteps inside that never answer the door?
There are parents who just do not want to be involved.
I've gone to great lengths to talk to parents who seem to have gone to equal great lengths to not talk to me. I've picked up their baby when they come to pick their child up from kiss and ride- they can't avoid me when I'm holding their 6 month old baby. I've shown up uninvited to birthday parties. I shamelessly snap pictures of their children and give them to them so they see me as someone who loves their kid and is safe to talk to. I've gotten my oil changed at the gas station where they work so we can have our conference while I wait.
And even with all that I can still be unsuccessful. There are parents who just are not interested, or who are just too busy to come to school.
Tying merit pay to whether or not these parents show up is like telling the dog he'll get a treat when he herds the cat.

I like that the school district wants to address parent involvement and I like that they want to encourage teachers to reach out to parents, I just don't think merit pay is the way to do it.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Yesterday I hauled little L into school to meet my kiddos. I needed to get out of the house and be around five year olds again. I've found myself chatting up five year olds in the grocery store aisles much to the dismay of their parents. I'm asking kids in the drs office waiting room to read to me and then I correct their one to one finger pointing. I need to teach again.
I'm also feeling anxious about going back even though it is still six weeks away. I know I'll still be sleep deprived and not in my best state. I'm worried that my emotional stress that week will interfere with my ability to be a good teacher. I want to start building a relationship with the kids now so that I'll be prepared that week. My plan now is to go in once a week to do a read aloud. Just brief visits but long enough so that I get to know the feel of the classroom and they get to know me.
It was wonderful being back. I know I love my job when it was hard for me to leave the classroom to go home. I just wanted to jump into reading groups and settle in.
In a totally shameful moment I decided I couldn't be I'm the building and not see Pixie. So despite the fact her first grade classroom was humming awayat reading workshop I peeped in so that I could get my dose of Pixie.
"I didn't know you had a baby!" she squealed. Which isn't true. "and you dyed your hair." also not true.
And with that she scampered back to her table as one of her classmates asked me where the baby came from. With that I slipped back out the door apologizing profusely for totally causing an explosion on the midst of reading workshop.

I am surprised at how good it was to be back and see all the children. It makes my December deadline seem more like something to look forward to and less like a curse.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Teacher prep

Although I haven't found much time to blog lately I have been keeping up on my google reader. I was thrilled last week to read from The Quick and the Ed's blog that Arne Duncan is putting a priority on teacher prep. Too many of us are sent into classrooms unprepared. And although your first year teaching is going to have a high learning curve no matter what, there are ways we can make it less steep.
One of the unintended consequences from Teach for America was that it somehow made people believe that teachers didn't need training- anyone could do it. I know it wasn't TFA's intention, but I think the assumption that anyone could go in and teach with virtually no background became a huge catalyst for the anti-teacher movement. Who would respect someone whose job is so easy anyone could walk in and do it?
Of course one of the problems is that although teacher training should be rigorous and should fully prepare students to enter classrooms, many programs are ridiculous. Mine certainly was. It pains me how unprepared I was, and it should not have been a surprise to me- my Ed classes were absurdly easy. This was a huge waste of my time- what I would have given to be challenged in those classes.
Because the classes were notoriously easy the teacher prep program was seen almost as a joke by outsiders. Potentially excellent teachers turned their noses up at the profession because they felt they were smarter than those classes. And they were- but that doesn't mean they were too smart for the profession.
Improving teacher prep can do what TFA wanted to do- bring intelligent people into the profession. But it can also do more- it can change the  perspective people have for the education field by making it a more respectable major. Who in college wants to major in something that is a running joke throughout the school?  Let me tell you- it takes a firm backbone to be able to stay in a major that makes people assume you couldn't cut it in anything else in the school. People start to talk slower around you, and explain their jokes as though you don't get them. Who would suffer through that?

However, I don't think we can improve the outcomes of teacher prep coursework simply by modifying the coursework alone. It has to go hand in hand with giving teachers ample time in the classroom as interns, or student teachers, working alongside expert teachers who know how to think out loud and explain best practices throughout the intern's time in the classroom.

My school works closely with one university in the area. We have at least 4, if not more, interns every year who stay with us throughout the entire year. Because they spend so much time in the classroom learning alongside the teacher before they take on the responsibility of running a classroom alone they usually end the year extremely prepared. We love when our interns are hired as teachers the following year because we know they are fully prepared and well trained.

I'm excited that the ed conversation has turned toward teacher prep and I hope it will be a positive turn. There has been criticism of teacher prep for awhile with the answer seeming to be that it should be eliminated. Instead let's make it more rigorous and fully prepare teachers for the huge amount of responsibility they will have in their first year teacher.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Thank you Steve Jobs

I have to admit I thought I would hate maternity leave. I'm an introvert by nature but the idea of spending 12 weeks by myself day in and day out filled me with dread. I love teaching and knew I would miss the energy I get from being around kids in the classroom. Reading click, clack, moo to little L just isn't the same- she doesn't do the voices along with me and it's like she doesn't even understand why cows with heated blankets are funny! (she is only a month old)
Before little L was born Mr Lipstick had us get iPhones. He somehow felt they were essential to the new baby process. I thought this was silly but I went along anyway. He was right- they are essential.
Without the iPhone I think I would be going crazy. Instead I have everything I need in one hand. My book, movies, email, my google reader to keep me connected to the education world, baby apps to track what I can't remember in my sleep deprived state, and the list goes on and on. Suddenly I'm not trapped by myself but I am still a part of the world. The iPhone is like God's gift to women with newborns. Or anyone that suddenly needs to do everything one handed.
In my sleep deprived state I can't help but feel eternally grateful to the innovation and creativity of Steve Jobs and the iPhone team. Thank you for helping me remember I am a human being with the ability to think and connect with others. Thank you for helping my poor memory, for making life easier, for entertaining me during late night feedings. Thank you for knowing what I would need before I ever did.
with others.