2015 Year in Review (Part III)
In Part I of my year-end review, I covered some of the changes from January to June of this year. We were all warm and fuzzy because we had a new state superintendent and she liked us and listened to us and invited us to hang out at her office and all that good stuff. More than that, she was in the same fights we were, but – and this was the real departure from the previous four years – she was on our side. We didn’t win all of the fights, but some that seemed to go away on their own actually disappeared because of political finesse. That’s still a win in my book.
Part II had less focus. I blame me changing jobs and having less time to write. Still, in the last month or so, I seem to have found a groove. Over the last six months, we have gone everywhere from the collective apathy around the state over A-F Report Cards to the return of voucher propaganda around the state. We also learned, sadly, that we’re broker than broke. We’re MC Hammer broke. We’re not Greece, but we’re not exactly Monaco either. And it’s not that people in this state aren’t making money either. Let’s just say that if somehow, all of Oklahoma had been responsible for all of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and its billionty dollar opening weekend, our state leaders would have found a way to keep from generating any state revenue from it.
Now, to the top five posts for the year:
- I am okeducationtruths – For all the people who supported the blog when I was writing anonymously, I had no idea that the number of readers and followers would grow so much once I removed the mask.
I couldn’t have done what I did for the first 29 months of the blog without support from so many friends and colleagues who didn’t even know they were contributing. As more blogs have emerged during the last few years, we’ve collectively built something really special here. Our blogging presence, the success of our EdCamps, and our Sunday night #oklaed chats are gaining national recognition. While our writing has a pretty limited focus, mostly to pushing back against bad education policy in this state, our story parallels so many others. We are both a cautionary tale and a success story.
- Save AP – I didn’t write much on this post. Mainly, I included a few lines of discussion from legislators who were questioning whether or not it was ok to have Advanced Placement classes in Oklahoma at all since they resembled Common Core, with the critical thinking and all. The main issue was the scheduled course redesign of AP US History, which Southmoore High School Teacher David Burton covered thoroughly. More specifically, a few legislators were afraid that we were teaching students bad things about the country.
Here is a page from a presentation made by College Board Vice President Trevor Packer at a conference I attended in February.
Of the five points shown on this particular page discussing World War II, four are clear statements about the strengths of our nation. Only one – mention of the internment of Japanese Americans – is negative. And I don’t see anything wrong with including that. The framework leaves it to the teacher’s discretion which battles, treaties, events, and individuals to emphasize during the course. Most of it will be positive. We studied Japanese internment camps when I was in school, and we were deeply disturbed by it – most of us to the point that we’d never want to see that happen again.
There was nothing to see here. Sometimes, I guess birds just flap their wings to hear the sound of the wind.
There is no confusion like the confusion of a simple mind – F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
- 182 Emergencies and Counting! – Well, now we’re up to 977 for the current school year.
As I’ve said previously, some teachers start with emergency certification and become great educators. Unfortunately, many – lacking teacher preparation courses and hours logged as student teachers under veteran teachers – succumb to how difficult the job is and last a short period of time. Some leave within days, and then we’re back where we started.
- Shortage of Teachers, Shortage of Pay – This was my first post of the year, and it was even more popular in March than it was in January. In fact, this post has had a decent number of page views during each month of the year. This is the conversation we can’t quit having. There’s a teacher shortage. Teachers haven’t had an increase in pay in years. There’s no change in sight to this cycle.
Keep in mind, as you look at the chart, that this includes all compensation – salary, insurance, and retirement. This does not include administrator salaries in the averages. Every time I use the chart, I get comments along the line of I’ve taught for 20 years and I still don’t make $44,000. And you are correct. But if you add the benefits together, this is the cost to your district of employing you. Or something like that.
We also know that with a $1,000 raise, Oklahoma teachers would still be in 49th place. With a $5,000 raise, Oklahoma teachers would move up to 36th place. At least we would if everyone else were standing still.
Sigh. We’re the ones still standing still.
At least we still have Mississippi and South Dakota below us.
- Guest Post on the Teacher Shortage from a POed Parent – It’s no coincidence that the three most popular posts on okeducationtruths from this year have to do with the teacher shortage. At this point, we’re all frustrated about where we are now and worried about the future. By we, I mean educators, parents, and even legislators. That’s right, the majority of our elected officials are worried about this too.
Dan Vincent, the post’s author, was very clear about why – other than just money – people aren’t flocking to the profession:
Over the past several years I have also observed waves of educational reforms crashing into the doors of classrooms and onto the desks of students—reforms initiated and passed into law by our state legislature. If you are a student or teacher, you’ve felt it; my kids have felt it. The changes included things like the A-F, the RSA, the ACE and the TLE to name a few. These have been widely recognized by educational leaders in our state as doing more harm than good, especially when it comes to teacher morale and student engagement. Professional associations, parent groups, blogs and personal anecdotes have documented how these reforms are negatively impacting Oklahoma districts, classrooms and kids. There has also been much written about how these reforms are DRIVING GOOD TEACHERS OUT OF THE CLASSROOM. Legislators have been told this over and over. Personally, I have had civil discussions about the issues I see; I have written umpteen letters to lawmakers pleading for change. I have friends who written many more.
I always say that the teacher shortage comes down to two things: money and respect. Some legislators really do understand that teacher pay is too low. Unfortunately, several of those think that there are solutions other than the state coughing up more money to put into the formula. Combined with the group that just doesn’t get the magnitude of the problem at all, we’re just not getting anywhere.
Roll all of that together with an alphabet soup of reforms that have been copied after Florida and thrown at schools, and it just keeps getting harder to keep good people around.
Maybe now that more parents are catching on, legislators will listen more too. If not, let’s get some new ones.
So those were my five most popular posts of the year. What follows are five more – they weren’t as popular, but they meant a lot to me. Mostly, they remind me why, in spite of the issues we face, I’m glad I chose this career.
Throughout the spring and summer, many Oklahoma bloggers responded to various blogger challenges. I love these, mainly because it’s like an extended thought version of one of our Sunday night chats. In many cases, it helps me see that there’s some substance beyond the 140 character universe to which we often limit ourselves.
This challenge stemmed from Iowa’s Scott McLeod, who writes at Dangerously ! Irrelevant. If you click to his link, you’ll see ideas from across the country. This is a question we need to ask ourselves frequently.
This was a response to another blogger challenge.
When I was in the classroom, my favorite thing to do was to challenge people to like things that wouldn’t ordinarily appeal to them. This was true with poetry. Teaching sophomore English, I could have just jumped in with Wordsworth or Teasdale or some other ancient that English majors love. No, I started with Free Fallin’. Because I could.
Maybe it’s because she’s a middle child. Maybe it’s because Austin is a fun place. Maybe it’s because she could. In any case, my daughter left her comfort zone in August and started college at the University of Texas. Yes, even though her mother and I have four degrees between us from the University of Oklahoma, she headed south. So far, it’s been a good choice for her. And we have more reason to go to Austin and eat at my favorite breakfast place (it’s really more of a lean-to than a structure, per se).
This was the second part of my response to the blogger challenge, Why Teach? Given the teacher shortage, I think the second question, why teach here? is equally important. I want teachers to want to be where I am.
Using Daniel Pink’s book Drive, and a ten minute video that gives a pretty good explanation of motivation, I distilled my goals for the people around me into these three words.
If teachers, principals, and even crazy central office people had more of this, they’d have a lot more satisfaction.
So would our students – and this is the kind of district I want Mid-Del to be.
I stressed pretty hard over this one. As a first-year superintendent, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say to 180 people I’d never met before and who were really curious about what they were getting into. What I do when I’m uncomfortable is blog, so I treated the moment as I do so many of the other significant milestones in my life now.
If you’ve heard me speak, you know there’s a pretty big gap between what I intend to say and what actually comes out of my mouth. I’m more comfortable walking to the front of a stage or moving throughout a room winging it than I am standing behind a lectern. I want people to know where my passions lie.
So if what I wrote here was any good, I can’t say that it’s what I delivered the next morning. We’ll call it close.
Oh, and since it’s Christmas Eve, here’s some Annie Lennox and Al Green: