Tag Archives: Teacher

Does money matter for teachers?

People used to ask me, “What do you do?”

I’d say, “I’m a Publications Specialist.” Before that I’d say, “I’m an editor, writer, graphic artist, or copy editor.” They’d nod and smile in approval and ask more questions about it. I felt respected.

Now, when people ask that question, I say, “I’m a teacher.” Their eyes pop open, sometimes there’s a gasp or a grunt or even a hiss with a dramatic “Ouch” at the end. I was startled that at first. I stopped wanting to answer people. I avoided the question when we were meeting people. Sometimes I even told my husband that I would just say I’m a writer and editor because I still am so I’m not lying or anything. I’d just leave out what I do the majority of the time throughout the year.

But, I couldn’t avoid it completely. So as I started answering that question more and more, I realized people just felt sorry for me when I said I was a teacher and it didn’t have to be bad. So, I’d laugh and grunt with them. I’d agree and then unload my frustrations on them. It felt kind of good considering that I needed counseling after all the rough weeks of teaching.

However, the underlying problem of telling people that I am a teacher never seemed to change.

There’s a tangible lack of respect for teachers. We are jokes. We are servants. We are babysitters. We can’t do anything else. We are burps in a person’s life that they’d like to forget about.

Or, we are honored for being so special that we work for scraps thrown from the dinner table and educate the children who will someday rule over all of us and either save or destroy the world. This latter “honored” reaction, I’ve found, happens a lot less than the other negative ones.

Somewhere, far, far away

According to an article in The Guardian, How the job of teachers compares around the world, there’s respect for Chinese teachers and teachers in Finland receive the monetary rewards that make teaching worthwhile and transform it into a respected, even sought-after profession.

So, yes, asking “Does money matter to teachers?” is a loaded question, I know. Many teachers would say, “Sit down and let’s talk for at least two weeks about why teachers absolutely need to be paid more.” Still others would say, “It’s not about the money.”

Despite either reaction, let’s just say this, teachers deserve more money based on the fact that they work endless hours and hold the world’s future in their hands. And, of course, I’m talking about the good ones. Those who look like they’ve been through WW III after the first week of school and lug stacks of papers back and forth from the school to their homes.

There was a video I watched about a year ago about applying to a demanding job.

People who were applying for jobs were asked by their potential employers to do what moms do without knowing that it was actually a list of tasks that every mom does. And, we all know moms don’t get paid for what they do. The people interviewing for the jobs were horrified and immediately rejected the jobs. In the end, when they were told that they were really applying for the job that all moms do, their faces changed to a knowing, a deep appreciation, a realization that only mothers do something so insanely valuable for no pay whatsoever.

I would argue that good teachers come close to that idea. Is it the same? Absolutely not, just the same idea.

To say we as teachers don’t work for the money is quite true. To say we shouldn’t demand more pay is not fair and ridiculous.

Dedication

We don’t work for the money because we’re paid nothing compared to the amount of hours we put into it. We grade stacks of papers at home throughout the week—if we are good teachers. We chase students around about homework, classwork, quizzes, and tests. We counsel them when they make mistakes and think they can’t go on. We care for them like they’re our own children. Then, we send them home to hopefully do homework, study, and sleep. We start over the next day even if we know they stayed up late playing video games and didn’t do homework.

Given that we are a world that runs on money, teachers need it not only to survive but to hope for more, to fuel their own fire if they’re giving so much of their energies to teaching.

It’s a profession with very raw, concrete value; yet, it’s treated as a volunteer opportunity offering little respect. Why would anyone with an ounce of respect want to teach or even continue to teach then?

We wouldn’t. In fact, any teacher worth their salt and willing to be honest will tell you that he or she contemplated leaving more than once. Many teachers make other plans and go as far as to pack their materials, but they remember their students, their lessons, the challenges that made them better human beings, and they think of the future without dedicated teachers.

We don’t do it for the money, but that’s precisely why teachers, good, hardworking, dedicated teachers, should be paid as much as any professional and respected equally or even more.

What’s interesting though, is that as a writer, editor, graphic artist, and publications specialist, I started out getting paid significantly less than an average public school teacher yet I got a whole lot more respect.

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Common Core in Florida

If you ask an educator or even a well-informed parent who lives in Florida about the New Florida Standards, there will probably be a very intentional groan of frustration followed by a rant or its opposite—dead silence and a mournful shaking of the head.

This is just a test.
This is just a test.

One of the many reasons I’ve stopped writing so much stems from the state of Florida’s new standards. I’m a teacher who’s lucky enough to help my students meet those standards. I wouldn’t say I’m using the word “lucky” sarcastically, and I love to be sarcastic—just ask my students. I’d say I use the word “lucky” with a paradox in mind. It’s a paradox because I met Jeb Bush in 2009. His organization awarded me an Excellence in Teaching honor. The organization also asked teachers who won the award questions about our success in the classroom.

The Paradox and Jeb Bush

I speak of Jeb Bush in relation to the new standards because he’s been a very active voice in promoting the common core standards that created such a controversy in Florida. And, now, parents and educators have been adorned with the New Florida Standards, which claim to correlate to the common core but are more detailed and focused for Florida education.

That remains to be seen, so back to the paradox. I feel like in the grand scheme of Common Core Standards, I helped in some small way to create them. So I feel both lucky and unlucky at the same time. My mantra as a teacher has always been to hold students to a higher standard. By that I mean, in very concrete terms, that a sixth grader can do anything a college student at your local public university can do.

Now, many people laugh at me, but Jeb Bush and his team of educators did not. They rewarded me for it.

However, the paradox of “lucky” insidiously slithers through those ideals to condemn the idea of challenging students. When you scrutinize the training tests that the Florida Department of Education plans to impose on the students, teachers, and administrators, you step back and think of the student who will have to take the test. I’ll put it this way.

I have a friend who’s a journalist, well-educated, and one of the smartest people I know. He took one look at the training test and told me to quit. Of course, I snapped back with a resounding, “No! Never! They need me.” He told me to quit because I will be held accountable for children who can barely write and these students will be required to not only write but perhaps type their answers.

I assume that over their catered breakfasts and suited meetings, the politicians didn’t think about how, yes, technology is relevant, but kids type with their thumbs. So, on top of teaching them to reach a modicum of college-level writing, teachers and administration need to make sure they can type, and quickly.

The teaching that should be happening in every classroom will happen, but these are kids in a modern society. When I announce that a sixth grader can do anything a college student can and possibly better, I mean it, with the passion of a teacher who plans to meet that goal and then some. I plan to infuse into that student all the tools to get them to that point by the end of the year. But, teachers everywhere know that no matter what we do, many students won’t get there even when they try with all their mighty souls.

Why won’t students achieve their goals?

Let’s start with a reality check that’s very distinct to Miami and Florida and our country in general. Many students are still acquiring the language, so please don’t expect them to meet those standards right away—even though as a teacher I will nudge and push them as long as they’re my students. Then, many students go home and find exactly the opposite of what I taught them. There’s no support for doing homework, reading, or even caring about any of it. They might even be told that the material doesn’t matter or that they’re too stupid to do it so just do enough to get by, if that.

I made all of this clear to the researchers from Excellence in Teaching during the question and answer sessions. I’d like to think they took it into consideration. But, it doesn’t feel like they did, so I keep asking myself if I’ve joined my imaginary list of unforgiveable hypocrites in society today.

Before I received the Excellence in Teaching Award, I got a brownie and lots of coffee. Later, at the dinner, I got to meet teacher and author Ron Clark. He dazzled and freaked out the teachers by jumping, quite literally, from table top to table top speaking about how exciting it is to teach kids.

It was inspirational and a little disturbing.

I got a free book of his and read it. I even agreed with some of it. However, I returned to my classroom feeling frustrated because I was nothing like him and I never cashed in on the 10-day cruise prizes that The Foundation for Excellence in Teaching offered me. I never had that kind of time, except for during summer, and by then I was too tired to think of how I would pay for the plane trip to Alaska.

Then, before I knew it, I was hearing about the Common Core Standards. I saw some interesting videos and teachers promoting it. It appeared to be not just a great idea, but a solution to the mindless standardized tests our students were subjected to year after year.

But, as with most issues associated with politics, the basics have changed—a lot.

Deals were being made. Testing companies started vying for contracts with different states. It wasn’t just about educating kids anymore. Nothing’s ever that simple when money’s involved. Take money out of the equation and everything might be more simplified, more sensible.

Now, however, here we teachers are scrambling to prepare our students for a test that was flung at us only at the end of last school year. There’s nothing practical or helpful about a surprise attack on teachers and their students. Education exists to help children make their way in the world and teachers teach to help them do that. Is that idealistic? Isn’t education supposed to help children, not cause problems for them?

My solution: I’ll be posting about how I’m handling it from both a teacher and a parent’s view. I’ll be rooting for all of our students and for their teachers. And, I’ll sometimes rant or shake my head mournfully when people ask me about it. Written by Lisa Chesser

Everyone should have to teach middle school.

Vortex
I’d entered a distorted dimension, splintered and shapeshifting, grew into a full-time stint as a middle school.

The uncertainty and shock of feeling as if I’d entered a distorted dimension, splintered and shapeshifting, grew into a full-time stint as a middle school teacher. Everyone should have to teach middle school. I’ve said this ever since I realized I wasn’t going to quit teaching after all, ever since I got through those first few years.

I usually say it at a disgruntled moment when it seems as if the people who I’m listening to or observing just don’t appreciate the complexity of heartache and the simplicity of discipline.

Those people usually have Bobble Head egos and tell really bad jokes that they laugh at because nobody else will. But, sometimes those people are people who I would normally get along with and they’ve forgotten what it’s like to be shoved into a tween body and told to cheer up and be happy about it.

Teaching middle school reminds me of this on a daily basis.

If you pressed rewind to the day I began, it feels like one of those nightmarish dreams or thematic moments in a film. I’d spent fifteen years as an artist, writer, and editor and then I woke up in khaki pants and wearing a bun in my hair with a bunch of tweens and teens blinking at me.

What’s worse, I had to attempt to entertain them for hours on end, a daring and nearly impossible feat in a society where social media and video games rule the world. So, I didn’t. I did the opposite. I talked to them. I looked them in the eyes and I talked to them. And, it was eerie.

Swirl
The world went winding around into a useless array of clutter speckled with static electricity.

There were moments when the world went winding around into a useless array of clutter speckled with static electricity that reminded me there was still energy left somewhere for me to tap into, even though the exhaustion accompanying my new career left me broken at times.

Teaching hundreds of students that reading still mattered shifted my perspective of right and wrong. It buried my sense of reality and scraped at my soul. Students openly berated me for daring to talk to them about the beauty of reading, for deigning to announce that the written word stands more powerful, more insightful than the latest flick.

Every fear I’d shut away in the dark corners of those storage closets, where you can’t even reach in order to pull down a box or everything tumbles out, those fears fell, crushing parts of me that I had thought were never to be seen again.

It was subtle at first. Sometimes, it was just a simple observation. A girl cried because someone called her a name. I needed to listen. Yes. These things happened. And, it happened to me so, really, I could help her. But, inside me all these emotions arose from somewhere left alone, somewhere kept quiet.

And, I tried to quiet them again.

But, there they were staring at me, waiting for me to recognize their existence. So, I did and what a twisted ride I took from there.

You’re pushed to a point that most of us runaway from and never really address. We simply encounter it over and over in our lives. We have run-ins with the classroom bullies who insidiously stick a foot out while we’re just walking to our desk, but this time, the bully’s a co-worker or even a boss, maybe even the person we love.

When I see kids come to school with their hair cinched into a bun or even disheveled, I chuckle. They don’t know how to just live, just be. If they do, they overdo it. They don’t have a sense of individuality and if they do they hide it. Muted and blended, they try so hard not to be different. But, when their appearance masks missing homework or no pencil or even a missing backpack, I know there’s more to it.

No matter how hard I try to forget, there I am too. I’m sitting in school without my pencil, no homework. My mother had had a fight with my stepfather. My grandmother had too many kids to care for and I had to help. My sister’d thrown a fit. I’d stayed up late doing my work because what else was there to do? I needed something to get my mind off the fighting. But, in the morning, sleep and chaos left my work at home.

I sat in class, reprimanded for not doing my work. It wouldn’t be the first or last time.

I remember that, my past, when I stay with my students organizing their folders. I remember that when I sit at lunch listening to their problems. I remember what it was like to be them when I give them the extra bag of chips I buy because I know one of them will be hungry for many reasons. Someone forgot to pack lunch. They just have no money. Or, maybe they just starve themselves. But if a teacher hands them a bag of Tostitos and everyone else is grabbing some, they might just take some too.

As adults, we get caught up in our problems and forget the kids who came with those problems. As adults, we forget the life we left behind. We forget what’s important in order to chase meaningless wants and desires.

Sometimes, as parents, we look at the social media and general consensus that education and agree knowingly. But, it doesn’t really matter when kids still go to school anyway. We love to justify our neglect, our smug lives, our rush forward. But, we shouldn’t.

How do I know? Well, I’m a middle school teacher. You should try it someday. You might learn something.

The Colors of To Kill A Mockingbird

Screenshot of To Kill a Mockingbird(an America...
Screenshot of To Kill a Mockingbird(an American movie issued in 1962) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Every year since I began teaching, my students and I read To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee together. They reluctantly open it and groan because after the first page, they almost unanimously claim confusion and therefore annoyance.

By the third chapter, they’re excited, irritated, laughing out loud, and angry. They love reading with a southern accent and can’t believe I’m letting them read a book with so many bad words in it.

That is, until we get to the “N” word, which everyone nervously reads or skips over. We always read a great opinion piece about the “N” word written by Leonard Pitts Jr. first, but that’s not the most controversial part of the book, at least not to my students or me.

The part they struggle with is the whole reason for the novel’s title To Kill A Mockingbird. They want to know why Tom Robinson’s found guilty and ultimately killed. Tom Robinson’s the black man accused of rape, but the evidence clearly shows it was impossible for him to do this. The jury comprised of white farmers remains unfair.

This year, a new element will enter into the inevitable discussion about change—What about Trayvon Martin?

The jury composed of six women appeared very different. The stories changed. Different characters. But, not different colors. There are the colors: it’s all still in black and white.

And, when that question comes:  What about Trayvon Martin?

Suddenly, this room full of lackadaisical sixth graders will boom with anger and upset. And, what will I say?

Nothing.

No, not really, but yes, nothing, in the sense that I won’t give my opinion. I’ll have to let them read news stories and perhaps bring in articles themselves. But, ultimately, it will be up to them to decide what happened.

Mine? I act as a guide, just like with my own children, when they say the whole world is against Trayvon and black people, I say, I’m not sure about that.

Look at the jury, look at what happened, look at the facts, how are things different? How has the law changed? What can we do to change something like this in the future?

Should Zimmerman have had a gun?

Why did Trayvon beat him?

Would Zimmerman be alive and Trayvon be on trial if Zimmerman hadn’t shot him?

What if they were both black?

What if they were both white?

These are questions I don’t think any of us can completely answer. I don’t know that we’ll ever be able to answer this. I struggle with this.

I hate guns and in To Kill A Mockingbird my students learn how much the main character’s father and the lawyer defending Tom Robinson, Atticus Finch, hates them too. He teaches us to walk in someone else’s shoes and to be kind to our enemies.

When Atticus encounters Mrs. Dubose, a decaying hateful woman who likes to call him a “Nigger lover” for defending Tom Robinson, Atticus removes his hat and tells her she looks like a picture. His daughter, Scout says, “It was times like these when I thought my father, who hated guns and had never been to any wars, was the bravest man who ever lived.”

I’ve been told that I shouldn’t read To Kill A Mockingbird with sixth graders, but now, I know I have to.

I do believe times have changed, but how? What’s changed? Are we better or did we just learn how to play a different game? What kind of game are we playing? Did we just change the rules and create illusions?

I’m not sure, but I know my sixth graders will spend time this year trying to figure it out.

Written by Lisa Chesser

Our Education God: The Test

Teachers often share many similarities with the students they admonish, chastise, chase, change, and ultimately love like a mother who spends her days doing the same. Because we’re together so much of the time and essentially trapped in the same environment, teachers want to escape just as much as students do, especially at this time of year. We also tend to mimic each other and think alike.

Since mid-April, we’ve been testing and I feel like a caged animal, so do my students. They’re wild, then angry, then tired, then irritated, then they start the cycle all over again.

Angry Student
Angry Student

I’m pretty much the same. I have no energy at the end of the day and I’m dreaming of that final day of school like never before.

See, I’ve been teaching for a while and the more years that pass the more I question the relevance of the Test, the more I think about it, and the more I hate it.

Backward Steps

I always walk backward to my own experience with tests. I was the kid who panicked, stayed up all night, worried so much so that I often bombed the Test, but ironically enough in a relaxed environment, if you never mentioned the word Test, I could answer any question perfectly.

I eventually got over it because I wanted to go to college and after bombing my first SAT, I knew I needed to figure out how to handle this.

So, I taught myself how to take a test.

Put any test in front of me, give me a minimal amount of time to study for it, and I’ll score well.

I had none of the handbooks, trade books, test-prep books, and didn’t use any “tips” to get me through it.

I found that if I treated a test mathematically and thought in a similar way to this imaginary person who created it, then I could defeat it. I practiced a lot, and it paid off. I plan to take the GRE soon and know that I’ll have to buy one of the test-prep books to review information that’s been filed away in those dark cabinets inside my brain. However, I also know I’ll not only pass it, I’ll do well on it. I proved that to myself.

Worshipping the Test

When I teach students how to take standardized Tests or any Test for that matter, I point out these basics to them and then we practice. I don’t rely on tips. We use some standard ones, practice using them, discard some, and return to others.

Woman teaching geometry, from Euclid's Elements.

I try to help them as much as possible because I know their education god, the Test, will be there as long as they remain in the world of education. It will make judgments on them. It will torment them. It will inflict fear in them. It will never go away until they worship it, until it knows they will kneel down and worship it.

But, there’s one way to bring a master to his or her knees. That’s to master the master, which is why I spend so much time teaching my students how to test.

Now, however, feeling so sick and tired, so broken, so desperate to end this school year, I just want to kick the test, even if it’s kneeling before me and my students.

I want it to die. I hate it for different reasons than the anxiety and fear I felt when I was younger.

It drains students from actually learning.

Instead of spending time learning about the great novelists and their character’s conflicts and struggles then realizing that all these struggles reflect their own, that books are Bibles for kids to value as tools to tackle their own difficulties, students learn that they have to score well on a test or they won’t be appreciated in school. Perhaps they won’t even move to the next grade level. All too often they think of themselves as failures, which I try to change by teaching them how to test. But, that in itself stealthily strips literature, language, mathematics and the written word of their essential value.

The False God and Judgments

Schools know that high scores on tests mean that they look good in any and every way. “That’s a good school,” a parent says to another. “Why?” I ask as a parent, not a teacher. “The scores. They’re ranked one of the best schools (in the state, country, etc.).” How else will people know whether a school is good or not?

Well, to answer that question, I’ll tell you and the Education God: Test.

There are a thousand other ways to compete and show what you know:

Contests

Art

Design

Competitions

Presentations

Portfolios

Projects

It goes on and on.

If the Department of Education hired trained representatives to visit schools and actually observe teachers and students, get to know us, hang around and see what we do, couldn’t the DOE learn and teach a whole lot more than by looking at the results of a multiple choice test?

Not only would the DOE help create more jobs, but it might just do something that no one seems to be able to do by making more tests. It might just improve the educational system.

We’ve been worshipping a false god. We don’t need this god. God should live and breathe inside us, forcing us to hold hands and be gods ourselves.

That’s what our kids need—a helping hand, not something to judge them.

Desire Meets Talent

They broke into my sea of problems rushing through my brain as I cleaned the house. There was a slow pounding to them as if sorrow was leaving the body and finding it’s own center.

I hadn’t heard any music, at least not from the piano for two months.

A half-smile split my thoughts apart.

My daughter finally played it.

Back Inside Music
Back Inside Music

Her piano teacher and mentor left for New York City a couple of months ago. She was the opposite of Daisy, my daughter. She smiled all the time and laughed a lot too. Most people who do this too much make me very nervous because I feel like they’re trying to cover something up.

But, Daisy who normally carries a serious demeanor found her teacher refreshing and inspiring. I did too. Then she left.

Since then, Daisy has avoided the piano, which she used to play every day. She abandoned it in a sort of mourning process because she really loved this teacher.

Even though her school has a piano teacher, we’d leave school at four and drive a half hour through heavy traffic to another school, a school where rich kids played tennis and housed a special piano teacher.

In a second-floor room, they sat and played. I took my shoes off and lay on the floor in a desperate attempt to fix my aching back. Between the hard floor and the therapeutic drop of each piano key, I was a new person at the end of each session.

More importantly, Daisy smiled and pushed back her shoulders that normally curled inward out of insecurity.

After two years of lessons, I realized, watching and listening to them together, that this very young woman wasn’t just her teacher. She was her mentor.

She was her mentor because she held Daisy to a standard above which desire met talent. She was an artist.

This mentor wasn’t just teaching piano. She was a pianist and a singer. So, the respect Daisy felt for her flourished on a level beyond teacher and student.

When she left, well, she took Daisy’s soul.

So, when the notes spilled into our house this last week, I smiled the smile of an artist who knows heartbreak.

My eyes filled with tears but none spilled over.

Heroes vs. Guns vs. Monsters

Over every meal, during car conversations, or over coffee breaks, guns appear. No one seems able to turn away from them.

Guns are everywhere.

They killed the King of Civil Rights. They killed Hope over and over again.

They killed children, parents, and teachers.

But, we still love them—these guns we’re so proud of.

Kids Find GunBy Kieran Turner
Kids Find Gun
By Kieran Turner

A recent conversation went like this:

“I think that no one here (in the U.S.) gets out of the car and fights anymore because we know that the other person might have a gun.”

I looked sideways at the person who said this. My heart beat faster. I told myself to calmly listen and do the same when I respond. I knew I would respond because, well, how could I not?

However, what made this an even more difficult situation was the fact that I respected this person and usually agreed with many of his views.

He said that in Australia people have been getting out of their cars and beating each other because of road rage. We happened to be driving when he said this. So, he continued with his theory that if only the Autralians had not banned guns….

“How can you say that?” I asked sharply.

I was answered with a slew of statistics about how many people in the United States have guns. But, I cared nothing about those statistics because all I could think about was those children and teachers being killed by a gun at Sandy Hook Elementary.

And, then, I spoke, loudly.

“You should be more careful about your opinions, especially because of what happened to those children and teachers. I realize people are the real killers. We do this. But, please, don’t tell me that giving people guns would stop the violence because of paranoia—the fear of being shot?”

He stopped. He realized how ridiculous he sounded.

As we talked more about guns and the people who use them, we also talked about why they use them. A gun in the hand of a hero might be a tool for protection either for himself or for another. A gun in the hand of a monster might be the end of any innocent life.

Kids Play with Guns by Dror Miler
Kids Play with Guns by Dror Miler

Then, we talked about what makes a hero and what makes a monster, and then, who’s responsible for making a hero and who’s responsible for creating a monster? I thought back to the last post here.

Could it be that simple?

Every adult reaches out to every child at one point or another. And, it’s not like the media doesn’t pick apart every angle of a killer’s life, a killer like that of Sandy Hook’s, Adam Lanza—lonely, withdrawn, anti-social. Oh, yeah, and don’t forget about the money. It seems he had way too much money.

So, what about the killers with no money?

I know a boy like many boys who plays an inordinate amount of violent video games, almost every one of them involves shooting people or zombies. I knew him before he did this all the time. And, yes, he was a brat sometimes, angry, happy, everything you’d image a smart kid growing up in the United States might be.

Now, at age 14, he’s withdrawn, angry, lonely, just like a lot of boys his age.

What makes a hero and what makes a monster?

Someone could’ve ripped the video games out of Adam Lanza’s hands, kept him in school, helped him understand why he was different, befriend him, give him the kind of attention he really needed.

Maybe. Maybe that would’ve made a difference.

But, it was the gun in his hand that killed all those innocent children.