Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Did you hear the one about the doctor, the lawyer, and the dentist?

“If a doctor, lawyer or dentist had 40 people in his office at one time, all of whom had different needs, and some of whom didn’t want to be there and were causing trouble, and the doctor, lawyer, or dentist, without assistance, had to treat them all with professional excellence for nine months, then he might have some conception of the classroom teacher’s job.” – Donald D. Quinn

In a previous blog I referenced a quote from Matt Damon, praising the influence that teachers had on his life, and took exception with the criticism that is directed way to often at teachers. When I came across this quote, it reminded me of a comment that I hear from a lot of non-teachers about our profession: “I couldn’t do the job that you do!” I am sure that many of our doctors, lawyers, dentists, accountants, and businessmen would be very frustrated if they actually faced the scenario above, yet day after day, our teachers do. No, we don’t have many classes at North Fayette with 40 kids in a class, but substitute 25 or 30, and I don’t think it would make a lot of difference in the dentist’s office!

What a lot of people are not aware of is the short amount of time that teachers actually have to do everything that is being asked of them. In fact, it is impossible. Between teaching class, grading work, meeting with students before and after school, attending faculty meetings, serving on committees, engaging in professional development, contacting parents, leading extracurricular activities, and working to implement the Iowa Core curriculum, what more can be asked? Did I mention having a personal life?

Okay, okay, okay. This isn’t a whine. It is a reality and I have a solution. We need more time. For years there has been conversation about extending the school year. I am all for that. Add twenty days of instruction and ten days for teachers to work. Let’s get innovative with our calendars and figure out ways to keep interruptions to a minimum and place a high value on instruction time. We need to be very protective of school time and the community has to understand that some of the things we do cannot be done during school time. We won’t have to have early dismissals for professional development if we have periodic full days for teachers to work.

I have a lot of faith in the abilities of our teachers. They work very hard and are committed to doing the best job they can. A lot has been thrown at them in recent years and they keep plugging away. There is talk about more pay, but they don’t do it for the money. Yes, if we have longer years, they will have to get paid more. But, I believe it is an investment that is worth it. American kids go to school less than those in other countries. We can do better if we would just give everyone a little more time.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Team Before Individual? Or Vice Versa?

When I was about seven years old, my dad taught me how to figure my batting average. I was obsessed with baseball as a kid, and even in the backyard games I would figure my average. I kept at it until I was in seventh or eighth grade, but then didn’t pay much attention to it anymore. Our coach would give us a statistics sheet at the end of the season, so I knew at the end of the year how I had done. Suffice to say, I was not really “stats conscious” as a high school athlete, whether it was on the baseball field or the wrestling mat. After all, there was only one statistic that mattered, and that was whether or not we won.

When I started coaching, I kept statistics but I never shared them with my athletes until the season was over. The game is not about how many hits some gets, or how many yards they rush for. The game is about the effort given and whether one is victorious. Whether it is a team sport, or an individual one like wrestling, you can have great statistics, but if you aren’t winning, what does it matter? I have worked with a number of coaches that share that opinion. But now, times have changed a bit and I cannot figure out why. Oh sure, there were guys in my day that seemed more concerned about how many points they had in a game than whether they did what was in the best interest of the team. But now, there seems to be almost an obsession with the numbers.

For years I have thought it was ridiculous when I would go to basketball games and moms (yes, usually the moms) would have a pencil and piece of paper out, keeping track of how many points their son or daughter had. Then when I actually found that there were some that kept track of other players on the team, I began to really question what kinds of conversations were taking place at home. Did they center on “doing your part for the team?” Or, “the heck with the team, make sure you get yours?” And then I even ran across parents that got into arguments with a coach because their numbers were different than the ones that he released to the newspaper. Now, as I have followed my daughter playing softball at tournaments called showcases – events designed for college coaches – I see fancy sheets with all kinds of statistical information put together by some parents to give to these coaches.

What troubles me the most about this is that in most high school sports, teams compete, not individuals. And when individuals put themselves above the team, generally the outcome is not positive. But then along came something called QuikStats, an online database used for high school sports in Iowa. A couple of years ago, I swear I saw pigs flying because both our boy’s and girl’s state organizations mandated that coaches post statistics on QuikStats! I couldn’t believe it! From organizations that profess to be about the high school athlete, and one that for years publicly stated that, “we’re not about making college athletes,” it amazed me that now coaches face being suspended from coaching in the state tournament series if they didn’t keep statistics updated. I have spoken to officials from both the IHSAA and the IGHSAU and both tell me that the media loves it, colleges can check it, and parents check it out all the time. Do you see a problem with this?

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Thank-you Matt Damon!

"This has been a horrible decade for teachers. I can’t imagine how demoralized you must feel. But I came here today to deliver an important message to you: As I get older, I appreciate more and more the teachers that I had growing up. And I’m not alone. There are millions of people just like me . . . And none of these qualities that I’ve just mentioned, none of these qualities that I prize so deeply, that have brought me so much joy, that have brought me so much professional success (imagination, a love of writing & learning, and curiosity), none of these qualities that make me who I am ... can be tested!" ~Matt Damon at the Save Our Schools March in Washington, DC July 2011.

Wow! Someone finally someone publically stood up for teachers! I cannot think of a group of individuals that have experienced more criticism, had more fingers pointed at them, and given more blame for the ills that befall us than teachers. The profession has been an easy target for the past ten to fifteen years, and the slings and arrows continue to come our way. It is interesting that our newly appointed Director of Education, Jason Glass, has included in Governor Branstad’s blueprint for education a reference to the quality teachers that we have in our state, but that seems to be lost in all of the other very important aspects of the plan he will take to the legislature in the upcoming session.

It pains me to hear the criticism. I know that there are some teachers that should not be in the profession. Believe me, in my role it is a huge concern and responsibility; one that I take very serious. It is important to work with all of our teachers to help them become better at their craft, just like any other employee. But, people need to recognize that the quality teachers outnumber those that should not be in the profession by a huge margin. Thus, I believe that the criticism lobbed our way is undeserved. Education is an easy target because a tremendous amount of money comes from the government to fund it. Yet, politicians have demonized the profession for what I believe is their own political gain. In modern politics, you need someone or something to point your finger at. Thus, they have been aimed at us.

When we look at the big picture and people throw all kinds of statistics around, here is one that I believe sheds more light on the problem than any other, and one that for whatever reason has not attracted attention in the media or politicians. In the most recent PISA results that compare the performance of American students to those in other countries, if you would adjust for poverty, students in the United States perform at the top. Hmmm. Do you suppose we have a poverty issue in this country? Have we adequately addressed that? When you recognize that in most industrial countries poverty levels are not close to what we have in the United States at this time, should it be a surprise that teachers struggle to teacher kids that come to school so very unprepared for school? There is a huge divide between the “haves” and the “have not’s” in our country, as is evident by what is currently being fought over politically. Politicians spend a lot of time talking about fixing education. How about they spend a little bit of that time figuring out how they can fix poverty? I may be very interesting what the future of our country will look like if that would happen!