Posts Tagged ‘Teacher Appreciation’

Two messages: one on testing, one on purpose

1. Yesterday, HB 3218 passed the House by a vote of 95-1:

Oklahoma students currently are required to pass four of seven tests in specific subject areas in order to graduate.

The bill would remove the requirement for the end-of-instruction tests, which would no longer be required for high school graduation.

The state Board of Education would be authorized to create new graduation requirements. The board, in cooperation with other entities, also would be asked to develop a statewide system of student assessment, which would be subject to approval from the Oklahoma Legislature.

The bill would make the 2016-17 school year a transition year and would require students to take the new assessment or assessments beginning in school year 2017-18.

If the Senate passes this bill and the governor signs it, we would have a slow transition away from End-of-Instruction exams, and the ACE graduation requirements would be a thing of the past. Graduation should not be linked to testing, and for that alone, I am grateful. With four days to go in the legislative session, I hope this bill keeps moving forward and becomes law.

As Rob Miller wrote last night:

With today’s action in Oklahoma, along with similar movements across our nation, I hope we are starting to recognize that education and success in life is more than doing well on a bubble test. And how a young child performs on any standardized assessment given on any one day of their life will NEVER be an accurate measure of their potential value to our world.

Human beings are not standardized and no set of standards, no curriculum, and no assessment will ever capture the true essence of what it means to be an educated person, or a person of efficacy.

The message HB 3218 sends is that our Legislature is beginning to understand this. They’re listening to educators, parents, and students more than ever before.

2. I’ll avoid discussing the budget today. By the end of the week there will be one. Of that I’m certain. Whether it will protect education, trample on the state’s poorest citizens, or resemble something Lewis Carroll would have written – that all remains to be seen.

Instead, I’ll stay positive. Below is a video from one of our middle school students to our teachers.

This is one of the videos we took of students at the end of the school year. After seeing her speak, I wanted to meet her, so I did. Sometimes it’s good to be the superintendent.


I don’t know how many thank you messages we recorded in all from our students to their teachers, but I know the whole video made the end of the year even more special.

Even if your year has already ended, think about the students we serve and what they mean to us. If you’re fortunate, they’ve shared their gratitude with you too.




Guest Post: To Thank a Teacher

Today I’m loaning this space to #oklaed advocate and West Field Elementary (Edmond) parent Angela Little. She wrote a thank you to her sons’ teacher and asked me to share it with you. Enjoy!

Dear Mrs. Foster,

For an entire 8 months, I was extremely nervous about my little boys becoming 3rd graders. I worried, on the spectrum of worry mine was extreme, but every parent who was familiar with the RSA worried about sending their babies into a place where one test would define them. For many of us, third grade was the first time we felt like we couldn’t protect them. I had several sleepless nights and spent many hours of my life at the State Capitol fighting for my children and all children in this state. Finally we found resolve and this law was changed to allow my voice to matter in their education but I knew this wasn’t enough. I would still need the perfect teacher who would make this transitional year a positive one. Even if I had a voice in a retention decision, this test and this year would shape their self worth and their confidence for the rest of their lives. They needed growth and success not driven by fear but by a passion for learning. As the year comes to an end, I feel there are some things you should know.

You are the best kind of teacher.

You can tell my boys apart without hesitation.

You know the name of our dog and how much he means to us.

You know that Cannon loves yellow and Boston loves red.

You understood immediately that Boston only needed self confidence to bloom and that Cannon feels best about himself when he’s helping others.

You knew within weeks that my boys have sweet, sensitive hearts and are hardest on themselves if they feel like they have let you down.

You taught them that reading is done for enjoyment not for doing well on tests. At home, they will sneak flashlights into bed so they can finish just one more chapter.

You describe their compassion towards others as if you’ve known them for years.

You watch them laugh with their friends. Some days, they goof around during work time and you don’t punish them. It makes you smile to see them enjoying school and most importantly their childhood.

You radiate positive energy and I smile, because like the children in your class, I feel the warmth of your words. We all want to be one of your friends.

You have a little boy of your own, yet every day, you teach our children with seemingly endless patience.

You respond immediately to a text containing a question that I have asked you two times before and you are always kind. You understand that single working moms have very full minds and are pulled in a million different directions.

You have rock star status in our house.

“How did we get so lucky,” I say, “she’s exactly who we needed in such a volatile year.”

You are a dedicated third grade teacher. I know lots of teachers avoid third grade like the plague. You have to base their success and yours on a test that you don’t believe in.

You eased my worries.

Last year, I would have paid an exorbitant amount of money to buy the best third grade experience for my boys.

I hit the teacher jackpot. Every day, you give 26 kids exactly what they need to succeed.

I worried that my boys would feel defeated but they feel empowered daily.

Each day, I am at peace because I know you love and protect them like they are your own.

You help them feel unique despite them being identical.

You’ve made a difference in all of our lives.

Thank you,

Foster 1 Foster 2

A Chasm of Words and Deeds

Janet Barresi wants you to know that she’s celebrating Teacher Appreciation Day. Or week. Or eternity. From yesterday’s press release, I’m not really sure.

Supt. Barresi remarks on National Teacher Appreciation Day

OKLAHOMA CITY (May 6, 2014) — In recognition of National Teacher Appreciation Day, Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi is urging all Oklahomans to show their gratitude.

“Teaching takes a special kind of person with great intelligence and heart. We’re lucky to have many truly remarkable teachers in Oklahoma, and I hope we all take the time to show our gratitude for them. Honestly, I’d hope every day is Teacher Appreciation Day,” Superintendent Barresi said.

This entire week, in fact, is observed nationally as Teacher Appreciation Week.

This morning, Barresi visited teachers at Shidler Elementary School in south Oklahoma City. It was a bit of a homecoming for the superintendent, who had done her student teaching there back in the 1970s.

With Principal Beth Steele leading the way, Barresi sat in on a remedial reading class. Reading Specialist Liz Davis employed an instructional reading program, Structured Language Basics, for a small group of children.

The next stop was the third-grade class of Alana LaFon, who led the class in a discussion about The Chocolate Touch, a book they have been reading. She asked students to use a finger to write on their foreheads how they would rate the book.

“Zero if you despise it,” the teacher said, “or 1, 2 or 3 if you like it.” To the untrained eye, no child appeared to write an invisible “0.”

The superintendent’s visit ended in a pre-kindergarten class. Kids sat, legs crossed, in a circle while teacher Amy Castleman led them through a host of words that include the letter “X.” The kids later paired off in groups of two for more word-centric questions.

They performed admirably. “Give your partner a ‘High-10!’” Ms. Castleman exclaimed.

Barresi was impressed by the teachers’ ingenuity and enthusiasm.

“Teachers are the heartbeat of our schools. They bring not only skill and knowledge, but also passion and enthusiasm,” she said. ”These teachers here at Shidler demonstrated that today. It’s invigorating to meet such great, dedicated educators. There are some wonderful things happening here.”

It’s one thing to say that you appreciate teachers and make a photo-op at a school. It’s something altogether to show it with your deeds. Here are a few examples of what not to do, if you really appreciate the people who spend every day with children – whether cameras are there or not. I’ll put 15 minutes on the clock and see how many I can think of without looking back at the last four years.

  1. People who appreciate teachers don’t reduce their effectiveness to algorithms.
  2. People who appreciate teachers don’t call those who oppose their agenda liberals and the education establishment.
  3. People who appreciate teachers don’t fudge math to propose unsustainable raises that would make some schools go broke.
  4. People who appreciate teachers don’t grandstand with speeches about being damned and losing another generation of Oklahoma’s children.
  5. People who appreciate teachers don’t hang them out to dry over student test scores.
  6. People who appreciate teachers don’t insist that 75 percent of all special education identifications are a mistake.
  7. People who appreciate teachers don’t cater to corporate education reformers.
  8. People who appreciate teachers don’t cover for the testing company’s mistakes one year then feign disgust the next.
  9. People who appreciate teachers don’t invite them to serve on committees and discussion groups and then completely disregard their input.
  10. People who appreciate teachers don’t foster a rigid culture in a state agency that makes employees act without compassion (until social media calls them out for it).
  11. People who appreciate teachers don’t lament the shortage of charter schools in the state or promote private school vouchers.

That’s 11 off the top of my head. It made me realize why I’m so tired. This is just the surface of what we’ve been dealing with since January 2011. At the rally in March, Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Keith Ballard spoke about the underlying current of disrespect that our profession faces from politicians. He’s absolutely right. Nobody is fooled by opportunistic press releases and pictures with students.

Today, if you’re a teacher, know that the majority of the state still appreciates and respects you. I hope someone tells you that and means it.

Love, Respect, and Desperation

October 24, 2012 4 comments

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve read on Twitter and other blogs that many educators are tired of hearing that politicians and business leaders love teachers. What would be better is if these same people showed some respect for teachers. True as that is, another reality is that the same part of the public that consistently bashes teachers occasionally has to admit that it needs them – more of them in fact.

This morning’s editorial in the Oklahoman illustrates both the need for more teachers (intentionally) and the need to show them more respect (unintentionally). While crediting No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top as reforms that have improved public education (false claims, by the way), the paper asks how the state can develop and keep more high quality teachers.

The first part of this – developing great teachers – is multi-faceted. Teacher prep programs around the state do a good job, to a point, of developing a pool of quality teaching candidates. Every new teacher I’ve ever asked, though, has told me something they wish college would have prepared them for. Until you’re the teacher of record with a group of students to call your own, there are just some things you can’t plan for. Of course, developing talent is something that has to continue after teachers begin their careers. Professional development is important in any field. Collaboration time is also critical. Unfortunately, the state has never provided more than token support for the time and money these processes take. In the last few years, that support has completely disappeared.

The second part – keeping great teachers – is also complicated. There has never been a time when the entire teaching profession has been under attack as much as it is now. The discussion of the supposed problems with teachers often centers on calendars, lack of accountability, and unions. These topics are mere distractions. So are the solutions. Proposals of merit pay assume that teachers would be motivated to work harder if student performance were incentivized. The problems with such schemes are myriad, but largest is that students at the greatest risk often have the least experienced teachers. Merit pay will only amplify such discrepancies.

A third part of this discussion should be the areas of teacher shortage. Some of these are by subject (math, science), specialization (English Language Learner, special education), or geography (inner city, rural). Schools can’t always find the teachers they need when they need them. As such, schools sometimes have to hire the one applicant they get and then try to find someone better the next year. It’s a cycle that repeats itself.

The important things to remember are that teachers (a) work hard; (b) don’t get paid enough for it; (c) serve a public that demeans their work; (d) and suffer through specious reform ideas concocted by people who just don’t have a clue. Those of us who’ve invested a career in the profession have often said the greatest rewards aren’t the tangible ones. Without support (in multiple senses), fewer people are going to accept that.

Teacher Appreciation Week

May 5, 2012 Comments off

Showing you appreciate someone isn’t just saying nice things when there’s a Hallmark occasion. It’s also saying those things – and performing commensurate actions – when there’s no self-serving reason to do so.

It’s not enough to encourage people to celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week when you are known for bashing educators and saying that schools aren’t doing their jobs. It’s sort of like saying, “You’re doing a good job, teachers, when you’re not busy destroying kids’ souls.

If you’re a teacher, or you’ve ever been a teacher – I sincerely thank you. And if you’re someone who appreciates teachers all the time – not just when it’s a convenient talking point – I thank you for that too.

Why Arts Matter

May 4, 2012 Comments off

The state superintendent publishes a weekly newspaper article, which can be emailed directly to subscribers. Last week, she discussed the State Superintendent Awards for Arts Excellence which were won by 110 high school seniors from throughout the state. My blog post today isn’t going to explore the 36 schools from which these students came and the relative poverty that exists in each. While doing so might prove instructive, the words of the newsletter might prove even more so.

No one can argue with advising students to find “a life path filled with purpose” or that transforming Oklahoma into “a state of creative passion” is a worthy goal. We should all be so fortunate as to spend a life pursuing our passions. For many teachers, that involves spending time with students every day and helping them read one more story, learn one more math skill, sing one more song, translate one more story from a foreign language, or run one more lap. For many more, it involves working with populations of English Language Learners or students with special needs.

Fine Arts education is the epitome of discovery learning and the antithesis of the current education reform movement. You can’t measure passion and creativity on bubble tests. And you can’t measure teacher or school effectiveness with a piece of art.

While it’s important to know how well schools are doing in terms of student achievement, it’s refreshing that we haven’t entirely lost track of the heart and soul of children. Let’s hope that to some extent, teaching can remain an artform too.

On that note, next week is Teacher Appreciation Week. I’m going to personally show the teachers I know how important they are. And in this space, I’m going to explore topics that contrast what I know to be true about the teaching profession with the rhetoric being used by our biggest critics.

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