Dad Gone Wild

IF YOU WANT TO FILL THE TEACHER BUCKET, FIX THE HOLES.

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“Art does not exist only to entertain, but also to challenge one to think, to provoke, even to disturb, in a constant search for truth.”
Barbra Streisand

“Moths swarmed around the parking lot lamps, banging into the glass with a steady tap-tap-tap, and I wondered if they welcomed the dawn. At dawn, they could stop slamming their heads into the thing that forever kept them from the light. People don’t have a dawn. We just keep slamming away until it kills us.”
Robert Crais

This weekend I read a piece in Forbes magazine by one of my favorite authors, Peter Greene. Greene’s piece – We Need To Stop Talking About The Teacher Shortage – was not on a subject or issue that he hadn’t raised before, but suddenly this time it had gotten traction. The post went viral and along with other posts, it raises the question of how we are perceiving the lack of teachers in front of students.

If you look at the HR presentation given at the last MNPS board meeting you’ll come away with the opinion that there are just not enough teachers out there and so we have to do everything possible to find the rare ones that exist. That means alternative paths to licensure, recruiting fairs, TFA, and partnerships with local universities.  But what if the secret sauce already exists in our school buildings?

If I tried to fill up a bucket full of holes with water by just turning the tap on high you would look at me as if I were a fool. Yet, that’s in essence what we are doing with teachers. We are creating more means to get more people in the bucket without considering that the bucket has holes.

You see, we don’t have a teacher shortage. We have a shortage of teachers willing to do the job under the current conditions. That’s a different story.

As Greene points out,

“You can’t solve a problem starting with the wrong diagnosis. If I can’t buy a Porsche for $1.98, that doesn’t mean there’s an automobile shortage. If I can’t get a fine dining meal for a buck, that doesn’t mean there’s a food shortage. And if appropriately skilled humans don’t want to work for me under the conditions I’ve set, that doesn’t mean there’s a human shortage.”

Tim Slekar, dean of the School of Education at Edgewood College is even clearer on the point.

When we have a shortage, say of nurses, pay goes up, conditions get better and enrollment in nursing programs skyrockets. So if we have a teacher shortage, pay would go up. It’s not. Conditions would get better. They’re not. And enrollment in teacher education would go up. It’s declining. That can’t be a shortage then. 

When you talk about the fact that nobody wants to do this job, that parents are telling their kids right in front of me in my office that they don’t support their child becoming a teacher, this is a real issue that needs to be talked about quite differently and that’s why exodus is much better because you have to ask why are they leaving and why aren’t they coming.

So what are we doing for teachers already in the bucket? I mean we’ve held a shit-ton of focus panels, advisory committees, surveys…so by now we should have some idea of what is fueling this exodus, right?

The problem is that there is a big difference between knowing and acting. What I’ve also discovered over the years, is that we don’t always want to know, because then we have to act and usually in a manner that is not palpable to the powers that be. Hence, a large number of focus groups, advisory committees, questionnaires, and undefinable language. Anything to avoid having to actually do something. Let me give you some examples.

We know that money plays a role. It sucks when you are a young teacher who has incurred as much student loan debt as your peers, but they’ve entered fields where they can pay their student loans back and still go to the beach occasionally. Our new teacher has to take a second job just to meet those student loan obligations.

It sucks to be a veteran teacher that fights to get her students college and career ready and then has to take a second job just to be able to afford to send her own kids to college. One of the best teachers I know moonlights as a delivery driver for Walmart. Ask yourself if the same can be said for the best doctor or lawyer you know.

Discipline policy matters. No many how many surveys you conduct and how many different ways you word the questions, nobody wants to put themselves at physical risk for $45k a year. Hell, recently we have NFL players that don’t want to do it for millions of dollars a year. The bottom line is you have to have discipline policies that keep people safe, MNPS currently doesn’t.

Consistency matters. Nobody wants to spend an extra 10 hours a week learning procedures and policies only to do it all over again the following year, and again the year after that. It feels like an endless game of rinse and repeat. Much is made of the Titan’s Marcus Mariotta having to learn 5 playbooks in 5 years and how it’s contributed to his failure to become an elite quarterback. It’s no different for teachers.

Building culture is important. I love seeing the social media pictures from schools of the fantastic restorative circle they had during teacher PD, knowing that once the hands dropped, teachers were micromanaged, overloaded with excess paperwork, and planning time was eaten up with additional meetings. More than that teachers were not treated in a consistent professional manner by other adults in the building.

These are all relatively easy fixes – pay more money, keep people safe, don’t constantly change policy, and follow the golden rule. But the problem is if you pay teachers more than there is less for cronies and pet projects. Keeping people safe means getting fewer accolades as a social justice warrior and actually having to dig in and focus on how to get students what they need instead of where they need it.

If you don’t constantly change practices how is that executive director ever going to become district superintendent? Or that principal going to make it to the central office?  Not eating up planning time means reversing the paradigm and focusing on what teachers actually need instead of what leadership deems they need.

It’s much easier to pretend that teaching candidates just don’t exist and to downplay the exits. As Greene says, “The shortage model allows state and district leaders to shrug and say, “Hey, they just aren’t out there. It’s not our fault.”

That’s just what happened at the aforementioned HR presentation. Things kicked off with a presentation on how bad everybody else in the state was doing with teacher staffing and then proceeded to lay out plans to turn the spigot higher. Hey, it’s not HR’s fault. They just aren’t out there.

At some point, we have to change focus. Per Greene, “When the dealer won’t sell me my $1.98 Porsche, I can blame it on him and complain, “It’s not my fault he wouldn’t sell to me.” Or I can suck it up, take a look in the mirror and say, “If I want that car, I need to do better.”

I agree we have to do better. But I would add that we need to bring some urgency to the task. Long term studies and saying, “It didn’t get broken overnight and it’s not going to get fixed overnight”, ain’t going to cut it.

MY INQUIRY

Time now for the audience participation portion of our program. This is where I ask you to pick up the phone – or email – your school board member and inquire with them about the inquiry cycle. See what they know. This should be fun.

MNPS creates a new initiative that comes with a supervisory salary that ranks in the top 15 salaries for the district – 143K. The initiative requires the participation of every school and all must participate in disruptive 4-hour mandatory training sessions.

Yet, can a single board member explain the initiative and how it aligns with the existing strategic plan that was developed between the board and then-Director of Schools Shawn Joseph?

Can they explain how implementation and adherence to the inquiry cycle will increase student outcomes?

Can board members point to examples of other districts that utilized this strategy and have had success?

Can they list the qualifications of the administrator who heads the initiative?

Isn’t this all… kind of important?

There are those that argue that the primary job of the school board is to promote and secure resources for the district. How do you do that if you don’t have any tangible knowledge of a major district initiative? I guess they could wait until an article comes out in the Tennessean and then they could explain it to constituents who don’t subscribe to the paper. But it would probably be better if district leadership briefed them on it.

THE MAYOR”S LAST DAYS.

Baring any kind of major scandal, I think it’s safe to say that this will be the last official week as Mayor of Nashville for David Briley. I often can point to one incident or interaction with a person that to me defines them. For David Briley, that incident took place last year when I was running for school board.

He and I were coming up the walk to a Chamber of Commerce event at the same. I’ve known David for almost 15 years and knocked on doors for him back in 2007. We ain’t bosom buddies, but I’ve spent plenty of time in conversation at various events with him over the last several years. As a result, it felt natural giving him a friendly greeting.

We’d run into each other several times over the last few weeks and so I greeted him thus, “Good to see you David, but we have to stop meeting like this.”

“Yea, you need to get a job.” was his response. One that was as effective as a physical action in stopping me in my tracks.

I was 90% sure that he was joking. But his actions, delivery, and the words made it impossible for me to be 100% sure. In a nutshell, that’s Briley’s tenure as mayor. 90% of the time I’m pretty sure that he was doing – or at trying to do – the right thing, but his actions, delivery, and words made it impossible to be sure. He took bad advice from people who’s problem was just the opposite, and thus…here we are.

His people came into City Hall with an arrogance that belittled the people that had been doing the work before. They considered themselves the smartest people in the room and hence saw little need to calibrate. Briley awarded them a salary increase when teachers, firemen, and police saw none. A move that just served to validated their arrogance.

It was pointed out on social media this week that 2 out of 3 of this years major candidates for mayor will be employed as elected officials at the end of the week – John Ray Clemmons and John Cooper. One will not.

QUICK HITS

JT Moore Middle celebrates the 50th year of its existence. Currently, almost 780 students call the school home.  The most in its 50-year history. The administration and PTO are working together to plan celebrations throughout the school year.

Construction on JT Moore’s PTO funded outdoor classroom will begin in September and will be ready for use after fall break. It will be located next to the greenhouse and will be available to all teachers to hold classes in. The facility will hold up to 60 students at one time and was designed by architect and JT Moore parent, Mark Bixler from Manuel Zeitlin Architects in Nashville.

We always talk accountability for students and teachers, but somehow administrators get left out of the equation. That’s not all right with the Tennessee Ed’s Andy Spears.

He rightfully believes that somebody needs to be held accountable for the awful letters sent home to parents by local school districts explaining to parents that, based on state systems for rating school performance, their school had been targeted to receive additional federal resources and support because a historically underserved group of students within the school is in the state’s bottom 5% for that group. And based on guidance provided to districts by the state Education Department, most districts told parents which student group or groups were struggling. Just another failing in what’s fast becoming a pattern for the TNDOE under new director Penny Schwinn.

Bobby Robertson, a Glencliff Colts senior, has just published his first children’s book- way to go Bobby! Check it out and purchase your copy on Amazon: tinyurl.com/y4tmf3k8

Political endorsements do matter. I voted in the general election for Metro-at-Large candidate. After looking at some of her endorsements over the last two weeks, I changed my mind. What do all those folks have in common? They are all attached to previous administrations.

Furthermore, for the record, there is only one school board member on that list. The one who answered the question of why a 10% raise for teachers, by saying, “because they asked for it.” Nothing changes, nothing changes. And I’m ready for some change. Just putting it out there.

Still radio silence from board member Gini Pupo-Walker about her recent public and messy divorce with Conexion, an organization she has employed her for nearly a decade. It’s just weird to me that the secondary face of an organization leaves without a parting word nor indication of why. Public people wanting to be private never works.

It’s College Week at Amqui Elementary School, rep your squad! This gives me a cheap excuse to share a picture of one of my favorite people, Allison Simpson. Keep an eye on this one. Greatness lies in her future. Here she is with School Counselor LaTonya Winfrey.

Could Phil Fulmer become the next coach of the Tennessee Volunteers? It’s not out of the realm of possibility.

POLL RESULTS

There was lots of response to this week’s poll questions and a little bit of rigging on one of the questions. It always makes me sad when people feel the need to finagle the poll questions. They are not designed to give definitive answers but rather as a means for people to offer their views and maybe have a little fun. Rigging the game sucks the fun out.

Let’s look at results.

The first question asked for your comfort level with the district’s grading system. If your answers are any indication, the district might want to take a closer look. 59% of you said we bastardize Grading For learning like we do Restorative Justice. 13% indicated that they are lost and 11% more voiced a desire to have it explained. Only 3 out of 100 people felt good about it. It seems to me that grading has significant consequences and its a policy that should be clear as day. Perhaps this could be another presentation to the board.

Here are the write-ins,

Terrible-as always! 1
New? 1
categories make grade input easier but is it really standards based grading now? 1
It could be better 1
Redos need to go. 1
MS reports still aren’t averaging hw grade w/assignment gr. only a few caught it 1
Keep a system instead of constant change

Question two went in search of your recommendation for education advisor for John Cooper. I’m going to start taking Amy Frogge out of the equation because she continually wins these things hand down – this time with 44% of the vote.

Career educators Jared Amato and Cicely Woodard were next up. It’d be a good move to have someone who has actually taught and been in the classroom recently. The job calls for a teacher and not another administrator. Awarding the job to a classroom teacher would Cooper an opportunity to raise the profile of classroom teachers. It’s a win for everyone.  John, are you listening?

Here are the write-ins,

A teacher 2
David Williams 1
Doesn’t matter… We are lost no matter who advises. 1
Anyone who has been in the classroom and actually knows what’s going on 1
Scott Underwood 1
Jay Steele 1
TEAM WEBER &FROGGE! 1
Amanda Kail, new MNEA president 1
Mary Pierce 1
Someone not mentioned

The last question asked who you trust the most on the MNPS leadership team. This is the one that was manipulated. The beneficiary of the manipulation was Dr. Shun Turner. Turner has always conducted her self with a level of class that wouldn’t allow for this kind of behavior, so I’m not sure what the manipulators motivation was. The number two vote-getter was David Williams with 10% of the vote.

Chris Henson was third at 8%. One of the newer members came in third, Dr. Springer with 5% of the vote. That’s very positive.

My apologies to Dr. Sharon Griffin. For some reason, I unintentionally left her off the list of responses. Karen DeSouza-Gallman was the only candidate to receive no votes. Here are the write-ins. Warning, there is a lot of them and they ain’t pretty.

None 2
None of the above 2
NONE 2
Who are these people? 1
All pathetic. 1
Don’t know 1
Dr. James Witty 1
No thank you 1
None. 1
Craig Hammond 1
none 1
Amazing that Turner threatened to sue and now is promoted. 1
None of them 1
Disappointed…repeat of Dr. J..hiring friends 1
Henson – the one that has nothing to do with academics 1
None!! 1
None of them. What a sad team. 1
Donna Gilley. 1
Rebecca Watson – she does real work that matters 1
Nope! 1
None of the above. Too many Joseph holdovers.

That’s a wrap. Make sure you check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page, where we try to accentuate the positive. If you’ve got something you’d like me to highlight and share, send it on to Norinrad10@yahoo.com.

A huge shout out to all of you who lent your financial support this past month. I am eternally grateful for your generosity.

The official begging may have ended, but you can still head over to Patreon and help a brother out. Or you can hit up my Venmo account which is Thomas-Weber-10. I don’t need much – even $5 would help – but if you think what I do has value, a little help is always greatly appreciated.

 

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