Thursday, August 28, 2014

A Class Where I Get to Vent? Yes Please!!

Last night, I attended my first ever class at Graduate School.  I'm a big girl, now.  All grown up and embarking on a very grown up journey to receiving my Master's Degree.  And, I'll admit it... I was nervous.  Even though I'd told myself I'd be OK, and that I'd get through it no matter what, I still kinda sorta thought I was going to be diving in a little over my head.

Well, after last night I realized that I'm going to at least make it through the first class.  And, not just make it through, but actually REALLY enjoy taking the class, too.

My first class is Current Issues in Education.  

It's an 8 week class, but honestly it's a class that could last 20 years.  Simply because there has always been and always will be "issues" with our education system.  It will never be perfect.  There will always be problems, struggles to overcome, and government officials trying to figure out the best approach to education even though they've never spent a day in their life teaching children in a classroom.

Issues with education is a hot topic with me.  Hello, I'm a teacher.  Of course I have issues.  There's always someone from outside of the education world trying to change things, even though they have no idea what they're talking about.  There's never enough money.  There's always test scores that have to be focused on, and data that needs to be collected.  There's always changes being made to curriculum and standards.  There's never enough money...oh wait, yeah well that deserves being said twice.  There's always people that don't like what we do, or parents that have issues with education or teachers.  There will always be a few teachers that don't like to change or won't change or refuse to listen to anyone else's ideas.  There will always be government mandates looming over our heads that could drastically affect our future as teachers.

I could go on and on and on with this.

And, if I ever want to become an administrator, I have to not just complain about these things... but actually think about how I'm going to deal with these issues.  That's tough.  And, after my first class I can tell you that if I was a principal tomorrow, I'd fail.

But, I also LOVED having the opportunity to vent and let out my frustrations about these issues last night.  I also look forward to learning more about these issues, and continuing to vent my frustrations.. but also thinking about possible solutions to the problems.  Right up my alley!!

The first hour of our class was spent getting to know each other.  Well, let me rephrase that.  We already know each other, it was mainly spent introducing ourselves and learning a little more about our teacher and what the class will entail.  There are 8 students in our cohort, and seven of them are teachers from my school.  Our teacher is the current superintendent from a nearby school district.  That, in itself is very exciting to me.  It's great to have an actual administrator standing in front of us, listening to our vents and sharing with us some of the issues he has to face and how he has to deal with them.  

I digress.

The next two hours, we discussed the hot topics:  Money, testing, government mandates, and curriculum and standards.  We discussed how teachers are dealing with higher expectations but less resources in order to reach them.  We discussed the ever shrinking budgets.  We discussed the argument over Common Core and new standards that Missouri is adopting.  And we discussed how teacher tenure is currently under attack in Missouri, and how unfair the "teacher report card" is that could be used to determine if we're doing our jobs or not.  

For example...In the town I teach we have an extremely high diverse population.  Not just diverse, but an extremely high amount of non-English speaking kids, or kids that have limited English.  We also have a high poverty rate, and on a "national scale" our kids are very low in terms of their grade level counterparts across the country.

Right now, the majority (81%) of my kids in my class are reading on a 2nd grade level.  That doesn't have anything to do with the teachers in previous grades not doing their jobs, it has everything to do with the fact that we have such a high turnover and population of limited English speakers.  In fact, in our eyes, the fact that we have students that didn't speak a word of English a year ago that are now reading on a 2nd grade level is a HUGE accomplishment.  And, if we are able to get these kids up a grade level or two each year, we are most definitely doing our jobs and are very proud of the gains our kiddos make.  

BUT... if current legislation gets passed that "grades" teachers on test scores and student achievement, our students will be compared to students in other schools that don't have the same diversity and limited English issues, and we'll look like our kids are way behind where they should be, and that we aren't doing our jobs of making sure that our students are "on grade level" before they are promoted to the next grade.  Thus, possibly getting us fired because we don't "perform" to the standards that other teachers in different districts are achieving.  Like I said last night, that's like comparing apples to car engines.  It's absolutely impossible to grade us in such a way.  

If the government wants to see if we're doing our jobs, they should look at the progress OUR students make from when they step in to our classroom and compare it to when they leave.  If the kids have made gains, know more than when we started, and are proficient in the skills we have been able to teach them.. then we're doing our jobs.  There's no way I'm going to get a kid that reads on a 1st grade level when he enters my classroom reading at a 5th grade level when he leaves.  But, if that same kid is reading at a 3rd grade level when he leaves?  I think I've done an extraordinary job of improving his reading ability, and closing the gap just a little more.  

THAT'S how we should be measured.  

And, if that's how we were measured, people would truly get to see what an amazing job we do each and every year.  

This is the type of stuff we get to discuss in this class.  Each week, for 3-4 hours we'll be tackling these and other issues head on and looking at them from an administrators point of view.  As teachers, it's tough because we are thinking about ourselves and our students, but as administrators we would have to think about ALL of the students and ALL of the teachers.  And, I already have even more respect for our current administrators that are dealing with these issues right now.  They are hard to think about, hard to discuss, and hard to solve...and that's just from a teacher's point of view.  I couldn't imagine having 25+ teachers under my supervision and dealing with all of their concerns about these issues.  

But, if I ever, for a second think that I want to be a principal, I need to start thinking that way.  Even if I don't plan on being a principal for 15 years.  Those same issues will be there, and probably even more so.

So, as you can see, I'm fired up and ready for this class.  I am excited about it, I know I'm going to enjoy it, and I am ready to learn everything I can.  

Sure, it's going to be challenging.  It's going to be tough to keep up with the workload that the class requires.  But, it's about stuff I enjoy learning more about and talking about and venting over.  It's personal to me.  And THAT'S what's going to make me give my all in to doing the best I can.  

Bring on Graduate School.  I am now OFFICIALLY ready and willing to learn as much as I can and get through these next 18 months.

Have an AWESOME Thursday, everyone!!


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