Sunday, October 19, 2014

Teachers Have a Right to a Good Living!

2015 marks our school districts 50th anniversary. How unfortunate that our coming celebration of excellence is now marred by our first and only strike.
After one horrendous week, the strike is over. Final score? No, there are no winners. Yes, we will have a fair settlement, but at a price no one bargained for.
Personally, I never bargained for: being cursed and honked at by drivers speeding by; walking in the pouring rain until my knee gave out; buying a brace and continuing to walk; being in every days front page of our local newspaper; viewing an unbalanced report on the evening news; and being shunned by student athletes at the school board meeting.  I no longer wanted or felt safe leaving the front door of my home to mingle in the community. I feared being confronted by another angry person at each corner I turned.

To be fair, there were many more folks who honked in support of our stand and gave us the thumbs up as they sped by. But, it’s the vial comments that prick your spirit and leave you sliding down the slope of despair. Like my colleagues, I feel rejected, humiliated, sad, disillusioned, and empty. We have poured all that we are into our profession and into what we do. Teaching is who we are. 
Nonetheless, I am resolved to continue to advocate for teachers and their right to a fair and good living. No matter how shamed and guilt ridden we are made to feel, educators need not be the standard for a mediocre or substandard living. We have a right to a good living and we should be able to feel good about that. 

I am proud of the courage and integrity my colleagues displayed in defending their right to a good living. I am also thankful for a union that has our best interest at heart and supported us and guided us through this whole ordeal. Our collective bargaining rights allowed us to advocate for a professional salary. I wish the same for my colleagues across this nation who without representation cannot even afford to stay in the profession they love so dearly. I look forward to the day when instead of quibbling over teacher salaries, we put our energy into coming up with systemic solutions for funding education.

Monday will look different to be sure. With many students having different views of the situation, it will take some time to regain our equilibrium. We will need to heal the tensions and rifts that exist throughout our education community.

It still holds true that our community has a longstanding and proud tradition of excellence in education. It is common to hear folks say, "We moved here for the education."  It takes an entire community to build such a reputation. To this end, we embrace the future and when our doors open in the morning we will welcome our students with warm hearts and a smile on our faces.
Now back to my kids (students).

Saturday, May 10, 2014

I Think We Can Take Better Care of One Another.

  Here we are on the heals of Teacher Appreciation week and the idea of tolerance tugged at my heart. How it came to be is interesting. It started on a saturday morning when I was catching a bite to eat one town over. The State of Vermont Agency of Education generously gifted me with custom license plates as part of being recognized as Vermont's 2013 Teacher of the Year. As you can plainly see it says TEACH13. The underlying thought was it would be a creative ice breaker inspiring conversation around education and being a teacher. In my devious thinking I imagined what would happen if I did not live up to all the rules and courtesies of the road that all good drivers should aspire to? I would instantly become that teacher that blah blah blah... No need to stretch your imagination. Allow me to share with you from experience what did happen. As the story goes I exited the small town go-around heading for a parking slip in front of my favorite eatery. Just then a car pulled out and I swerved ever so slightly across the center line to get around it. The quiet warm late morning air was broken by the shout of a passing driver as he sped around me; "Go back to school teacher!" he yelled. I wanted to respond with a snarky retort, but exercised a bit of self control and instead laughed to myself and thought, it was bound to happen sooner or later. I must be tolerant of him I thought and understand I am held to a higher standard. It was at that moment I  began to think about tolerance.

   My mom was a teacher in a private school for a good many years. In fact for a short time I had to endure all the trials and tribulations of being a teacher's kid. She modeled great tolerance for her students and by most respects was a good teacher but when it came to adults and especially the colleagues she taught with that was another story. Look out if you did not agree with Mrs. Hoffman's view of how to teach. She is my mom and in the spirit of tolerance I will leave it at that. One might share similar flaws in myself. We all have them.

  Are we that much different? How did your last faculty meeting go? In my experience it can be a pretty rough place where teachers are very short and rather crass with one another. Dare I say a bit intolerant! Remember the last time one of your colleagues shared an innovative idea only to be shot down and run over? I wonder why it looks so different in our faculty gatherings then in our all accepting classroom environments? Recently, while sitting at lunch with colleagues I learned our high school had been named the best high school in Vermont by Newsweek Magazine. I replied how wonderful that is and asked my colleague what criteria were used. Another colleague starring me down replied immediately with an air of sarcasm, "What criteria were used to determine the teacher of the year?" It was a remark that was off topic, unexpected, and like an arrow it pierced my heart. How did this happen I thought. I could see in her eyes that she has endured a lot of pain in her journey. I went home sad and reflecting quite a bit. A dear friend shared with me; "People who have been hurt usually hurt others." 
In the end my hope for my colleague is that she be healed of any pain she is feeling emotionally. If we were to treat each other half as well as we treat our students we would experience a changed climate for the better. Educators often feel emotionally squeezed from both ends. Parents, administrators, negative community sentiment, school boards, politicians, lack of time for our own families etc... Amidst so much turmoil at school it is not uncommon for teachers to take time off in order to regain their emotional health or in desperation just leave the profession.

   I think we can take better care of one another. I would challenge you gently, to make it a priority to be more tolerant of your colleagues. Unconditionally accept your colleagues like you do your students, without judgement. Welcome each of their differences of opinion. Celebrate the diversity in thought and styles that exist and see if in doing that you feel just a little bit lighter and happier!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Education Should Involve an Element of Unsettling

For this months post I invited my colleague and good friend, Sophie Fenton a highly celebrated educator from Melbourne, Australia, to share with our readers her philosophy of education.

For me, education is about facilitating growth … growth of students to develop into erudite citizens and growth of teachers to enhance their craft. Education is about enabling rather than instructing – it is about unleashing the potential in every one of us. But for that to happen, the teaching and learning environment has to be an equal participation. I go into my classroom willing to participate in a partnership. I know that I come into the classroom with a set of knowledge, but my students also come into the classroom with knowledge. I find that I impart knowledge in the process but I also gain knowledge - I don’t presume to know everything but share what I know. I also invite my students to share what they know and, in doing so, I find that the teaching and learning environment becomes an equal participation – a ‘dance’ if you will … sometimes, an intense tango and other times a swooning waltz, often simply a joyous frolic … but always a dance that involves both partners – me and my students. And that ‘dance’ is defined by a shared conversation and shared learning … Students appreciate the content delivered in a lesson (which has to be there!) but what they value is the way they learn it – through shared conversations and through a valued educational relationship with me as their teacher. On the basis of that connection between them, and me the learning takes care of itself.  Where you have a safe and connected environment, you can unsettle your students just enough to get them out of their haze and seeking to find meaning in a way that re-settles them. Enable them to experience the excitement of collaboration as they embark on a quest together. Teach them about taking risks and learning from failure. Challenge your students to turn the ‘Reliant Robin’ that has characterized their learning until this point into a space shuttle … make your classroom a place of questing … and make the learning culture irresistible! An educational environment that is irresistible creates the best possible opportunity for learning to take place.

Why do I think that education should involve an element of unsettling? The 21st Century is dynamic. It’s a moving feast of complexity and interactivity in a rapidly transforming, globalized context. It’s not about memory recall anymore, but rather the capacity to seek out and locate relevant information and then, crucially, be a critical user of that information. It’s about being flexible, communicating globally and being able to cope with constant challenge. Education has to equip students to be capable and competent individuals who can not only participate in society but also feel confident to be the drivers of it. We need to equip our students to feel confident in grappling with the challenges the modern world faces. Effective teaching enables students to develop capacities around problem solving by providing quests, not answers. 

This takes me back to my original point. To teach is to understand that education is about growing people. Teaching is about enabling students to engage with the world (critically and emotionally), to step outside their comfort zone, to take risks, to learn from failure, to be curious and to challenge conventional wisdom. Education is a human endeavor at its best, is communal. And teachers, at their best, are powerful agents of change.

Top Gear, BBC TV, ‘Space Robin’, Series 9, Episode 4, 2007,

Sophie Fenton

Head of Professional Learning and Chair of Humanities Faculty
       Melbourne area, Australia / Education Management

2012 ASG NEiTA Victorian (State & Territory) Teacher of the Year Award Winner
November 2012
In recognition of teaching excellence in the field of History and Politics.
In recognition of excellence in staff development in the teaching profession.
2012 ASG NEiTA National Excellence in Teaching Award Winner                                         ASG NEiTA
May 2013
Award for innovation in the field of pedagogy, staff development, and curriculum.

2012 ASG NEiTA Australian Education Ambassador International Space Camp USA             ASG NEiTA

Represented Australia at the International Teachers of the Year Space Camp for Educators,           NASA Space Camp, Huntsville, Alabama,                                         
July 2013