“Every day there had been rotten cops in the news and still she had been bamboozled.
‘I mean, they’re supposed to protect people, right? How can they be so bad at their jobs?’
‘They protect people from other people. Question is, who are people, and who are other people?”
Just a couple days until another Thanksgiving will be in the books. Kids are serving out their 2-day pre-break sentences with visions of feasts and festivals dancing in their heads. Parents are wrapping up work so that they can focus on family and friends.
Thanksgiving marks the official beginning of the holiday season, and soon another year will be completed. For some, it’s been a wildly successful time, while others have faced life-altering challenges.
Some of us will be surrounded by a plethora of loved ones while others will experience crushing loneliness. The holidays bring healing and estrangement in equal doses.
It would behoove all of us to take a moment and reset priorities. Take a moment to mend fences that have busted for whatever reason.
The pandemic, no matter what your beliefs, has altered all of us in ways we are still discovering, both for the better and the worse. Many of us question, who are people, and who are other people?
My hope is that the holiday season will provide a means to grow the former while lessening the latter,
Do They Really Get It
Long-time readers know that the subject of teacher retention has long been a primary focus of mine. Despite overwhelming evidence that enrollment in teacher prep programs is shrinking and existing teachers departing the field in rapidly increasing numbers, we continue to whistle past the graveyard, as if the whole crisis is merely a perception and financial issue.
An argument is continuously put forth that the issue is nothing but a recruitment issue. Grow Your Own programs have become the latest shiny object to distract us. Per a recent press release from the Tennessee Department of Education:
Supporting educators continues to be a priority area, as well. Pioneering a new pathway to the teaching profession to further innovate within the state’s Grow Your Own initiative, Tennessee became the first state in the nation to establish a registered apprenticeship program for teaching. Grow Your Own programs create pathways to become a teacher for free— enabling future teachers to earn their degree, serve their home communities, maintain employment, and begin day one of teaching with real-world classroom experience.
Maybe they can become teachers for free, but they sure as hell ain’t going to remain teachers for free. Especially when they are confronted with the expectations they will be held to for in the name of accountability purposes.
We all have those friends that are only too happy to write a check in support but balk when asked to actually engage in measurable actions. When it comes to teacher retention, the tendency is to replicate that notion.
Late last week, Peter Greene a retired teacher and all-around savvy fellow, wrote a piece about a district in Connecticut that was faced with a teacher exodus and the steps they took to address it. The piece was titled, CT: Darien Gets It.
In it, Greene relates how Darien Public Schools located in Darien, Connecticut. found themselves with a teacher shortage, and what they did to counteract it.
According to Niche, Darien is a top-rated district with A and A+ ratings. The district serves a little under 5,000 students and was singled out by the state for excellence in managing its way through the pandemic. Darien is a coastal town on Long Island Sound with a median household income of $232,523, a preponderance of Republicans, and low taxes. The median home price is $2.2 million.
“In 2021, more than 70 teachers left the district (double their pre-pandemic rate). Only five of those were retirees. The board and the teachers union agreed–some sort of action had to be taken. What to do?
Darien didn’t lower the bar by deciding to hire any warm body that could stand up in a classroom. They didn’t shrug and say, “Well, just jam more kids into the classrooms we still have teachers for.” No, they did something radical:
This week, the school board approved a three-year contract with Darien educators that will cost the district a total of $6 million but gives teachers the biggest increase in salaries in more than a decade and the highest starting salary among districts of comparable size and affluence.
Fantastic! But did they actually review their expectations for teachers? Did they actually address mental health issuess, or did they merely continue to lecture on the importance of self-care – something akin to telling a professional athlete to not play hurt? Did they review discipline policy in an effort to ensure that they were supporting teachers?
Or did they just write the check and count it as being a sufficient response?
In reading the linked article, I can’t find any indication that they did any of the aforementioned, though they do acknowledge that teacher attrition can be accounted for by more than just pay.
Yet, Board Chairman David Dineen feels confident enough to proclaim, “I think we came to the right conclusion at the end of the day in terms of continuing to support our teachers, pay our teachers, provide the right benefits and also continue to be able to recruit people to the district,”
They did increase maternity leave but that only impacts a few teachers and arguably increases responsibilities for others. As far as I can see, nothing but salary has substantially changed.
So back to the title, does Darien really get it? I’d argue no. But then I’ve been long saying most folks don’t get it.
Let me illustrate it this way, you’re fresh out of college, filled with optimism, and ready to change the world. I tell you I’ll pay you $1000 a month but it requires getting punched in the face once a day. You weigh your options, figure you are pretty tough, and what’s once a day? You take the gig.
Six months go by, and I double the number of times I punch you in the face and don’t change your pay. Two years later, I add another punch in the face per day.
After about 5 years, you’re pretty tired of getting punched in the face. After all, your friends only get punched about once every couple of weeks and make more money. But you do feel like you are making a difference, and other than getting punched in the face three times a day, you like everything about the job.
You also figure, nobody else is going to want to get punched in the face, and if you leave, who’ll do the job. You convince yourself that you can take it for the greater good. The greater good, there’s a word rapidly falling out of favor in this me-first age. But I digress.
After a while, it starts to dawn on me that you are not liking this getting-punched thing too much, and are beginning to consider other options. So, I raise the pay to 3000K a week and increase the starting salary to lure others in. I add a PR campaign extolling your virtues, including your toughness and sense of commitment, and to what an exalted position I hold you. But I don’t reduce the number of punches to the face,
In fact, about 6 months later, while telling you how I increased your pay, I add two more punches to the daily routine. Why is that a problem? I just told you how much I valued you by increasing your pay, you’re not ungrateful, are you? And isn’t this supposed to be about kids?
Eventually, you are going to grow weary of getting punched in the face. You are going to realize that maybe you can live off of less, and only get punched in the arm. Or under certain circumstances, make more and not get punched at all. Those coming out of college may decide that getting punched isn’t attractive for any salary, and they’ll choose other professions. Leaving me with fewer options to receive my blows to the face.
What’ll happen then?
Maybe then we’ll get it. But it’s going to take a mind shift.
Case in point, this morning I was reading a disciplinary form for an area principal. The issue was the lack of fidelity in regard to teacher evaluations. I don’t want to get into specifics, because that is not important here. Suffice it to say, there were substantial problems with teacher evaluations borne out by an HR investigation.
That’s concerning enough, but I want to focus on why district leadership finds this an issue, “Teachers have expressed distrust of the evaluation system since state procedures were not followed. When teachers feel they are not being evaluated adequately and fairly, they may seek employment elsewhere.”
That’s it. One statement reveals the pecking order by considering the impact on the district and failing to acknowledge the impact on the teachers. Not to downplay how they feel, but the important recognition here is that evaluations that are not properly conducted create an inaccurate professional record, one that impacts the potential future earnings of a teacher. That alone should be enough for district leadership to take corrective action.
What we are left with is one more instance where teacher value is inadvertently communicated. That’s why the profession is in decline.
We regularly try to place individuals in larger homogenous groups in an effort to simplify policy. We do it with black people, Hispanic people, gay people, and even rural people. We lose sight that these groups are made up of a collection of individuals. Similar in some ways, but equally different.
Doing so allows policymakers the ability to craft policy devoid of recognition of the individual. When it comes to district policy it is arguably forgotten that all policy decisions impact real people – teachers, principals, families, and communities. Those decisions are made that change the trajectory of lives – both negatively and positively. You can’t just lump them into a homogenous group and then cut out for happy hour.
I’d further argue that the growth in charter schools is symptomatic of this kind of thinking as well. Sure, intermittently the focus shifts to protecting the interests of the student, but invariably the argument reverts back to protecting the interests of the system. The system maintains a higher level of importance than the individual.
I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but I grow weary of continually being viewed as just another piece of coal by those charged with feeding an all-consuming steam engine. Somehow though, it doesn’t feel like I’m the only one. And it some point, unless properly maintained, the engine will break down.
The cost of repair is always higher than the cost of maintenance.
About 3 years ago Emily Hansford arguably ignited a new wave in the reading wars when she published an article promoting the “Science of Reading”. Well after fostering a movement that led to millions in sales for select publishing companies, and wholesale changes to teacher prep programs, calmer heads are starting to prevail. Fifty-eight educators say the ‘Sold a Story’ podcast series sells an incomplete story about reading instruction. They make the point that:
You can believe in the critical importance of phonics and not agree with the incomplete story being sold in “Sold a Story,” which paints educators as naively inadequate, gives them a lot less credit than they deserve, and diminishes their agency.
Changes are coming to teacher evaluations in Tennessee and Andy Spears has the deets:
Previously, TNReady scores in tested subjects counted for 35% of a teacher’s evaluation score, and “other achievement measures” accounted for 15%. The remaining 50% came from observation scores.
Under the new law and updated State Board of Education policy, “other achievement measures” will now account for 25% of a teacher’s evaluation. TNReady will still count for 35%. Observation scores are reduced to 40%.
Make sure you check in over at The Tennessee Star for more of my coverage on Tennessee Education issues. The politics might not be your cup of tea, but we are staying out of that and focusing on policy and how it affects teachers and students. Same mission but a different vehicle. And if you can’t do that, I’ll still be here at the same bat time, on the same bat channel.
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