BROTHER CAN YOU SPARE A TEACHER?

“It is the folly of too many to mistake the echo of a London coffee-house for the voice of the kingdom.” – Jonathan Swift

“Had a doctor tell me I ought to quit this stuff [bourbon] because it was affecting my eardrums and I told him I liked what I was drinking better’n what I was hearing.”
Tony Hillerman, Listening Woman

When I dragged out the soapbox on Monday, it meant not reporting on and not commenting on other education stories. Which is why I am back on Wednesday with a mid-week post. Before we get to those stories though, I’ve got some explanations and clarifications in regard to Monday’s piece that I’d like to share.

Monday reminded me of the strong strain of tribalism that runs through education politics. When I made the illustration of picking up a brown shirt or blue shirt and their corresponding talking points, I wasn’t being flippant.

Advocates jumped all over my words and despite a history of advocating for students with disabilities, I was immediately labeled as dismissive of families, uneducated on the connection between poverty and literacy, and lumped in as a believer in everything anti-dyslexia. It was awfully reminiscent of arguments with charter school supporters in the early parts of this decade. Like previous attacks, the connection to the truth was tenuous at best.

A number of years ago, after much soul searching, I vowed to try and not participate in conversations that employ a strategy of sorting people into categories of heroes and villains. The reality is we are all a little of both. If that’s how you want to conduct your advocacy, that is fine, but it doesn’t work for me and I will do my best not to engage in such a strategy.

We also need to remember that having a disability makes us an expert on OUR disability, not the disability. I know how alcoholism and diabetes affect me, not everyone. I know what strategies work for me and I find they are ones that work for many others, but they are not the only ones that work.

It’s been my experience that in order to begin recovery from alcoholism AA is essential, and I’m skeptical of those who embark on the journey without it. But I have to remind myself that my way is not the only way, for some entering recovery, AA doesn’t work and some don’t need it.

I also don’t believe in making overall policy based solely on the needs of the minority. Here’s an example, 12.7% of the people in America are considered to be alcoholics. Every year roughly 88K people die from alcohol abuse. Pretty serious I would say. I’d say that’s a lot of folks suffering. Extend those numbers out and that’s a lot of families in pain.

Two years ago it was proposed that grocery stores in Tennessee be allowed to begin selling wine. I was appalled. We had all these individuals who were suffering from, and at-risk to succumb to alcoholism and here we were going to create a law that made access easier. I was livid.

Here’s the flip side though. 87.3% of American’s do not suffer from alcoholism. Would it be good for them if they didn’t have easier access to alcohol? Absolutely, the dangers of drinking for even the casual user are well documented. But just because I have a disability, does not mean that everybody has to take the cure.

Will I fight to make sure that every alcoholic has access to the services they need? Absolutely. Will I attempt to educate as many people on the dangers of alcohol and the benefit of treatment programs? Absolutely. Will I accuse those who disparage AA or pass laws that make access to liquor more assessable as wanting to kill alcoholics or of being unsympathetic of their plight? Absolutely not. Instead, I will continue to increase education and advocate for greater services.

I am now and have always have been an advocate for every student getting the services they need. Unfortunately, I’m well versed in the effects of poverty. Admittedly, we do a terrible job of identifying kids with dyslexia and that has to improve. I am in awe of parents of students with disabilities and the way they navigate the system while advocating for their kids. We need to understand that we can honor people and still disagree with their philosophies.

The purpose of Monday’s piece was not about disparaging advocates for kids with disabilities, or to bash parents, but rather to highlight that whoever wins the reading war is still going to have to address the impact of poverty on student outcomes. They are also going to have to find someone to deliver the decided upon curriculum because we are running out of teachers and there is not an orchard out there from which to harvest a new batch.

I 100% believe that at this juncture if we are going to make a significant impact on student outcomes we need to focus on addressing societal inequities outside of schools. But more important than that, we have to address the teacher crisis. The dire straits we are in with teachers can not be understated.

Let me say it again for the people in the back, MNPS has over 150 classrooms without qualified teachers. There is no guarantee that those classrooms with qualified teachers will have those teachers in a month. Next week is Fall Break, don’t think there is not a substantial number of teachers working on their exit strategy as we battle on Twitter.

To compound the problem, MNPS doesn’t have enough substitute teachers. Schools regularly report 5 or more substitute requests going unfilled on a daily basis. Somedays the district sees the number of sub-requests reach the upper 900’s. That translates to other teachers either giving up their planning periods or combining classes to cover the impacted classes. Neither is a sustainable solution.

For those of you who like numbers, and these just approximate, 7 teachers out of school impacts roughly 140 students directly. That’s on the elementary level figuring 20 kids a classroom, on the high school level one teacher impacts around 185 kids. 150 classrooms translate to over 3000 kids, depending on grade level, not receiving the level of instruction they deserve. 900 teacher absences equates to approximately 15% of the teacher workforce out on a given day.  Do we really need to be burning up the internet fighting over teaching strategies when it is pretty clear that we don’t have enough teachers to deliver whatever strategy is adopted?

The worst part is that we know what the causes of this increased teacher attrition, yet we choose to do nothing about it. Survey after survey, focus group after focus group, have all revealed the negative impact of building culture, discipline, pay, and professional development, along with a perceived lack of respect, has had on teacher retention.

We’ve put a great deal of focus on recruitment but that is meaningless if we can’t keep teachers employed for any length of time. Like I’ve repeatedly said, focusing on recruitment over retention, is like trying to fill a bucket with a hole in it by turning up the spigot.

Enrollment at teaching colleges around the area are reporting, for the most part, declining enrollments. Think about it. If I’m a bright young person, why would I want to go into financial debt to secure a degree that allows me to earn less than my peers while requiring a longer workweek and a  willingness to put myself at physical and mental risk, while people regularly disrespect my training and experience? If you are willing to jump into that line, I’m pretty sure that you can jump to the front of the line.

To make things even more challenging, Tennessee came up with the brilliant idea of ranking in-state teacher prep programs. So if I’m one of these prep programs, where am I more likely to steer the few candidates I do produce? Urban districts with a plethora of issues that are likely going to inhibit the effectiveness of my candidates in their early years, thus resulting in ratings of 2 or 3? Or the surrounding counties to Davidson County that have less inherent challenges, meaning first-year graduates will probably receive higher rankings, 4’s and maybe 5″s?

As a teacher prep program, I am probably going to want my candidates getting hired in districts where they can have the most success out of the box. After all lower scores would translate into the perception that I’m producing less-prepared students and potential future students want to go to programs that are perceived as producing the best potential teachers, even if that perception isn’t accurate. Remember teacher prep programs are running a business, not a charity service.

MNPS and its advocates can not at the present time afford to have a divided focus. Teachers and their retention and recruitment have to be the primary focus. That whole argument of we can do more than one thing at a time has to be shelved until we prove that we can put teachers in front of students at adequate levels, Until then, all other initiatives need to be put on the back burner because they ain’t going to be successful without teachers to implement. Sorry if that hurts your feelings, but its reality.

HELP WANTED SIGN FINALLY GOES UP

Well, it only took about 6 months, but on Monday MNPS School Board Member Will Pinkston finally honored his resignation letter. The timing of his action is curious, as this is the week that newly elected mayor John Cooper is announcing his appointments. Rumors have swirled for months that Pinkston has been angling for a role in the Cooper administration.

While he gave no indication of the validity of those rumors, Pinkston did announce that he’s working on a new project, called Public School Partners. The project is self-billed as “a collaboration of policy and communications specialists who support sound decision-making in public education.” The site says it provides technical assistance to help school districts manage the growth of publicly funded, privately run charter schools.

Hmmmm…when you go the site, once you get past its amateurish appearance, you realize that the proposed collaboration appears to be between Will Pinkston and…Will Pinkston. Which is fitting, because he’s always been his best collaborator.

Some community members have seized upon the phone number listed having a Knoxville pre-fix as a sign of Pinkston’s imminent departure from town. I’m not so sure.

Attention now turns to Metro Council, who will appoint a replacement. Previously I had wrongly stated that there would be no need for this step since it was after September. I stand corrected.

Council is promising an aggressive timeline in which they will name Pinkston’s successor. It could as early as the next meeting in 2 weeks.

Two names have risen to the forefront as potential replacements, Kevin Stacy and Freda Player. Stacy is the former Executive Director of English Learners for MNPS and now holds a similar role in Clarksville. Stacy’s experiences as an educator and an advocate for ELL students would lend themselves well to the needs of the highly diverse district. Also, his experience with budgets as they relate to MNPS would be invaluable.

Player was the former political director for SIEU 205 for a number of years before joining Mayor Briley’s team as a legal advisor. Given Pinkston’s long relationship with SIEU, its not much of a stretch to consider her his pick to succeed him. Player has no real experience with educational issues but is well respected among area activists.

This one should give us an early indication of just how much things are going to change under new Mayor Cooper. The selection of Player would indicate that things are still going to adhere to the status quo while choosing Stacy would indicate a willingness to give new voices a seat at the table.

Regardless of who is chosen, the term will only be until next summer’s election. If either candidate decides to try and retain the seat, they’ll have to hit the campaign trail in the next couple of months.

QUICK HITS

Governor Lee named his selections for the newly approved state charter school commission. The commission will be charged with overseeing the governance of charter schools in Tennessee. Two of the names will be familiar to Nashvillians, former school board member Mary Pierce and now-former State Board member Wendy Tucker.

Tucker’s appointment to the new commission leaves an opening on the state board of education. You’ll be shocked to find out who Lee named to replace Tucker, Nate Morrow, of Williamson County, who is the head of Christ Presbyterian Academy, a private Christian school near Brentwood with more than 1,200 students. CPA is the school where the governor’s children attended and first lady Maria Lee was once a teacher. In the immortal words of Lynard Skynard, “Ooooh that smell, can’t you smell that smell?”

Today was officially Walk To School Day. It looks like things were especially festive at Inglewood. You can see more pictures of the day’s activities on the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page.

Representative Bo Mitchell of Nashville has filed legislation that would repeal Education Savings Accounts (vouchers), Gov. Bill Lee’s signature legislative achievement from 2019. Andy Spears has a breakdown of the news.

The Weber household got good news yesterday. My son, as a result of having scored above the 95% mark on consecutive nationally normed tests, has been awarded a place in the Duke University Talent Identification Program. He’ll receive additional supports and opportunities through the 6th grade. What’s the sense of having your own blog if you can’t brag on your offspring?

Let’s give a big congratulations to these wonderful Restorative Student Leaders from Hillsboro HS, as well as the Glencliff Peace team. Under the guidance of teachers Laura Fittz and Ellen Montgomery, student leaders at Glencliff and Hillsboro high schools are co-designing and implementing “restorative practices” in their schools. The Restorative Student Leaders, who call themselves the Glencliff Peace Team and Hillsboro CORE, are not only studying social problems affecting their lives, they are also designing solutions and leading valuable trainings that are actually solving these problems, forming stronger, safer school communities in the process. Both were recognized at todays Nashville Public Education Awards dinner.

Congratulations to MNPS School Board members Gini Pupo-Walker and Racheal Elrod for their appointment as chair and vice-chair of the board’s budget committee.

And just like that, with a Twitter announcement, the MNPS family has added a new member. Congratulations to Dr. Battle on the birth of her son. Glad to report that everyone is healthy and happy.

And now a word from an MNPS librarian…Everyone run (seriously run) and get the book The Fountains of Silence. Seriously- it is beautiful. Ruta Sepetys is a master storyteller. Also, if you want to hear her book talk (also because she is amazing)- here is the link! soundcloud.com/mnps-library-s

POLL RESULTS

I know it’s late but here are the results from last week’s poll questions. The first one asked your opinion of when the school board should start the search process. Immediately was the number one answer with 43% of the vote. The number two answer 24% was “Never, give the job to Dr. Battle and let’s move on.” Third, at 22%, felt February felt like a good time to begin. Seeing as 65% of respondents indicated a desire to see a search in the next 6 months, it might be time to start talking timeline.

Here are the write-ins,

3 Months ago 1
Doesn’t need to be a search-we have the best now. 1
Should start talking about a real educator pay pla

The second question asked how often you read the Tennessean. The number one answer at 49% was “only sporadical”. Only 15% said they read it daily. The true tell though was in the write-ins,

Never 3
sporadically, online 1
Never. 1
Online–takes about 6 minutes if that long! 1
Plazas and Jason suck 1
Only when I have to 1
Cancelled after pro-Joseph articles 1
OnlyFor private schools and the rich 1
It’s become a joke. 1
Gave it up

The last question asked your opinion if the district canceled district-mandated standardized tests. This one got the most responses, and 66% affirmed support for such a move. 8 of you thought the idea was dumb. Not sure I know what to do with that.

Only one write-in to this one.

Yes!!! No teacher, no test!

Your guess is as good as mine.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 thoughts

  1. Do you know if the person appointed to fill Pinkston’s seat has to live in District 7? (Although Pinkston barely did and so don’t think his child ever attended school in that district).

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