Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Kids Don't Get Laid Off, But Their Teachers Do

While writing this blog I have begun to understand a sense that some of the public is satisfied with teachers being laid off. I understand that the private sector has been hit very hard in the past three years, and that millions of workers in all facets of employment have been let go from their companies—some losing their pensions, their seniority, and many with no compensation for being let go. This effect then does trickle down to government jobs. If people have abandoned their homes, and property taxes help pay for schools, police, fire, roads, etc, well… one can easily see where we are at currently. I think there is a sentiment out there that some hold that it is about time that teachers (and other government workers) are getting their due.

A comment about my blog on the Daily Herald read:
I'm sick and tired of hearing about the poor teachers. Thousands of people have lost their jobs the last few years.

OK. Yes, people everywhere have lost their jobs. Please understand that this isn’t about the “poor teachers”. Personally, I’m staying positive, hoping something will open up, and if not, use my art skills to find a job in the private sector. I’m lucky that I have a skill set that (I hope) I can fall back on. It is just that I’d much rather be in a classroom—I really do love teaching.
But understand this—teachers losing their jobs isn’t about just teachers, it’s about the STUDENTS. Students don’t get laid off—they continue to be required to come to school with significantly shrinking budgets and resources (I taught my art class last year with a $0 operating budget).

The Chicago School Board recently decided to lay off 2700 teachers and raise class sizes to 35. I spoke with a CPS teacher last week who told me that at the beginning of school last year her fifth grade classroom had 47 students in it. FORTY SEVEN! Where in Gods name does one even sit 47 students?? Have you seen the average physical size of a classroom? They weren’t built to fit that many students.

How many of you reading this would even begin to know what to do with 35 elementary school children? I should mention... out of that 35 students, you have one with severe hearing problems, six with special education IEPs (Individualized Education Plan), three with asthma, one with a peanut allergy that has to stay in your classroom during lunch, a student whose parents just got divorce, a student whose brother was shot last week, and only five of them who are reading at grade level. This is not an exaggeration; in fact, I think many would be shocked to know the diversity in today’s classrooms. This job is an important one, and teachers wake up every day wanting to help that classroom learn.

Another argument people bring is that if teachers' huge salaries and gigantic pension were bargained down schools wouldn’t be in this position. I agree that some teachers are overpaid, and I also agree that like every job out there, there are some employees that don’t do their job effectively. Taking a serious look at revamping teacher tenure is on the horizon I believe, and I have no problem being held accountable for my performance in the classroom. However, don’t we want our teachers paid well? Don’t we want to incentivize the best and brightest into teaching our students? Don’t we want to reward individuals that choose to dedicate themselves to a profession that is becoming increasingly more criticized? Don’t we want a highly trained individual in the classroom I mentioned above?

What people need to realize is that most teachers take their job extremely seriously and work VERY hard at it. Teachers are constantly working on their craft and trying to improve what they do in the classroom. It isn’t an easy job, but most teachers would have it no other way.

To me, it is worth my tax dollars to keep class sizes smaller, and it is worth my tax dollars to keep effective teachers in their jobs. If you agree, let a teacher know how you feel, and call your congressperson as well. Help keep good teachers in their classrooms, and stop what is happening in Illinois and all over this country.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Les Teachers? Misérables Idea!

Hello readers!

It has been a while since I last posted. This is for a few reasons. One, I really have been busy looking for jobs. It takes a lot of work to get one's portfolio together and I am regularly checking to see if there are an new openings to apply for. Two, I have to be careful about what I write. While I am bitter about my situation of being laid off, I don't want to seem like a complainer, or a screamer. I am, after all, trying to find a new home and don't want anything to turn off a prospective employer.

Lastly, I am still looking for stories from others to post. This blog was never intended to be about me. I actually was inspired by the Why We Write blog that was started during the writers strike a few years back. A few days back I spoke with a writer from the NEA, so perhaps my coverage will invite some more stories. I recently received an email from a reader sharing her story, but the language she uses is a bit colorful. Some of my students follow this blog, so I may not be posting that link.

Anyways... My inspiration for this posting came to me over the weekend. I went to Glenbard North High School's performance of "Les Misérables". It was phenomenal. They performed in front of a huge sold out auditorium (I'm told all three of their performances sold out). To be honest, I was a tad leery about going. I've seen Les Mis twice, and while I thoroughly enjoy the musical, I thought that it was a pretty ambitious production to take on at the high school level.

These kids nailed it. Their leads had the audience in their hands. Not only could they sing brilliantly, they acted. I really haven't seen high school actors with that much nuance before. I had forgotten how much raw emotion is in this story, but I had no problem feeling the story that they told. There are so many tragic moments followed by moments of pure joy, and this cast took their audience with them for the ride.


Then I started thinking.

This is what education is about. These students experienced something that they will not forget for the rest of their lives. Sure, most of them will not become actors or actresses, but perhaps many of them will continue in arts related careers. Perhaps some kids in the crew will enter the trades, maybe a member of the chorus will work as a marketing director for a performing arts center, maybe a member of the orchestra will someday be a member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and maybe the senior who played Jean Valjean will be actually some day be Jean ValJean (believe me, this kid will have the chops).

And lets not forget the audience. In my estimation some 2000 people watched this play (I have no actual idea how many seats they have, so my number could be high--though I suspect I guessed low). The audience was blessed with this performance. It is things like this that strengthen our communities.

In the program, this quote was towards the end.
"The arts reaffirm our humanity. They are the glue that holds society together. While improvements in the three Rs may enable us to compete more efficiently, economically. and technologically, it does not feed the human spirit. The most vital stages in the history of any society are marked by a flourishing of the arts. And when most material goods have turned to dust it is the arts that remain as a testimony to dreams and passions of the past." -Harold M Williams


And realize this: None of this would have happened without great educators. It took a whole lot of effort by a lot of people to put that play together, and they should all be proud. I am sad to say that the district I am leaving cut the elementary music program in half. I'm not suggesting the cuts should have been elsewhere--this is just a fact.

Education is worth it. Paying your taxes to better your community is worth it. Keeping good, hardworking, dedicated teachers is worth it. Supporting the arts is worth it. Please spread the word, and support legislation that pays the bills for education.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Grassroots Networking

Hey all. I haven't had the chance to post anything for a while. My master's degree action research paper is just about done, and it has been taking the majority of my free time.

I got an email a while back, when the Herald ran the story about the blog.
Hi. Read about your story in The Daily Herald and found the blog. Good stuff.

Nature Ridge has taken the biggest elementary school cuts, yet we’re the 2nd most overcrowded school in the district. Very typical of the logic in this whole mess, eh? If you’re interested, a few of us have been trying to fight the good fight this whole year via social media channels. Check out our page if you get a chance and feel free to follow along as we fight for the future of our kids at our little school.

Bob Skwarek

You can visit Nature Ridge's Facebook page here. Basically it is a place for parents and neighbors to share information with each other concerning the school and the district. The are also promoting a rally at South Elgin High School.

I think things like this really show the power of social media. Blogs and networking sites really can be an avenue for social change. There is a real chance to get a voice heard. Forming online communities like this are more important than ever. I encourage everyone inspired by what Bob has done to set up your own groups to promote discussion, spread information, and promote social change.

Well done parents of Nature Ridge.

On a side note, I have been invited to also blog on Huffington Post. You can visit my blog there as well (fan me if you could, I'd like to feel popular!). Currently, I just re-posting much of what has been done here to reach that audience.

Monday, April 5, 2010

A Post From a Reader

Being that I continue to be ridiculously busy (you know, from writing this blog instead of out looking for a job), I am hoping to depend on some colleagues, friends, and readers/followers to write articles.  Today's entry comes from Paul Kelter.  Paul teaches teachers at Northern Illinois University, he has a blog of his own, and he chimed in with a comment before as well as sent me an email.  I asked him to share his perspective on education from the University level, and he happily obliged--I think he actually returned the email within seconds.  Teachers and bloggers--mix the two, and you'll never be short an opinion.

He writes:
I’ve had the privilege of working with pre- and in-service teachers for nearly 30 years, and my primary assignment at Northern Illinois University is to teach elementary school science methods. I love my job and the kids – wait, “kids” is not at all correct. One class, which I teach on-campus, has 27 “traditional” students, including 26 young women and one young man. The other class, which I run at the Rockford campus – a fairly new, overgrown one-room palace of a schoolhouse, has 20 “non-traditional” students, who are returning to school after working in other professions for, in some cases, three decades. These are line workers, Sunday school teachers, business owners, and moms, and they all want something better (well, not the moms – they want something different, now that their children are independent.).  To be a teacher is to be something better. It is a profession with profound dignity, because there is no paying profession that is more important to a healthy society.
                But that’s not the message my soon-to-be-teachers get from our not-so-healthy society. Not the younger ones and not the older ones. These soon-to-be-teachers are being bombarded daily with the message that when good things happen, it’s because their students begin the year already prepared to learn, and when bad things happen, it’s because the teacher, in loco parentis, can’t do the job. The message is that teachers arrive at 8, leave at 2, go to the spa, have the maid take care of the family, and watch as the Teach for America students (and, after their 5 weeks of training, they are still, truly, students) show us how it’s done.
                We thought it couldn’t get worse, and then came No Child Left Behind. My student-teachers tell me that their cooperating district teachers do not have time for science and social studies; not with the tests looming. It’s all about the tests. The creative beauty that defines teaching is under heavy assault. So we have the beat-down about how easy the job is (Grading? What grading?), the cushy salary and benefits packages (How much did you spend on supplies last year because the district is broke?), the lack of passion for the job (Look at those Teach For America kids! You, too, can spend two or fewer years in the classroom and then earn six figures at Goldman-Sachs; it’ll give you cred as a minority affairs specialist!), and No Child Left Behind (Fill in your own tag line here: _______________________). And then, just when it couldn’t possibly get worse,  The word that school teachers throughout the state are getting RIFfed! NIU is owed $55 million from the state. Layoffs may loom at my place too.
                So, what’s the view from my younger and older future teachers at NIU? Just what we’d expect. They are scared. Really scared. They will graduate in a year, and there will be no jobs. They will have worked for at least four years in college, paid, perhaps, $50,000 or more for their education, jumped through all the wild academic hoops (What other field has students write “reflections” about everything from their experiences in class to the price of sorghum on the Mercantile Exchange?), and their only mistake was that they love kids enough to want to help them give structure to the chaos that is this bizarro world in which we live.
                If only they’d wanted to be hedge fund managers.
                So what can I do as their teacher? I constantly remind them that their career aspiration is the best one. That they have dignity, and that the struggle to keep this dignity is part of the deal. Experienced teachers struggle every day, and they do keep their dignity, I tell my students. They know what they are about, and they know the impact they have on their kids. The state legislature, many in the public, all kinds of people will try to take away that dignity. But inside that classroom – that’s OUR place, whether in 2nd grade or at NIU. No one can take that away from us as long as we have our job. So our public school teachers struggle for their jobs. But they will maintain their dignity. This is what I tell my students. I believe this. And, in spite of the firestorm of slings and arrows they see hurled at professionals, so do they.

Well Paul, I think you see it as I do.  Keep telling your perspective, and stay positive, you have a voice for sure.  

Monday, March 29, 2010

I made the paper! Welcome to new readers!

The Daily Herald wrote a story about me and right now it is one of the "most read" from today.

Fame has its price I guess.  I read through some of the comments and many are quite anti-teacher/education.  I understand the public's frustration, and I certainly understand that professions across the country have already had to deal with lay offs and that the economy has been in rough shape for a while.

This blog is not just about me complaining... and if I have ever seemed whiny, I certainly apologize--it is not my intent.  It is just a blog that shares a perspective.  One that people may not have considered before.

To those of you that are frustrated with teacher's salaries or our cushy jobs, I invite you to follow my blog.  I hope to share more stories that can give you an insight to what we do, and the importance we hold for the future of this country.

I believe many of the commenter's from the Daily Herald didn't even click the link to read this blog.  If you know of these people, ask them to spend the time reading through this blog.  I may not change any opinions, but perhaps I can effect a few....

And lastly, I did see this comment from the Herald, the only one that I will directly respond to at this time.
Vambo wrote: 

"cartooning, animation and photography classes"
'nuff said. I think education will survive.
Vambo, I invite you to come and take my class.  It will probably be one of the most challenging experiences of your life.  My students learn real world career based 21st century skills.  I recently worked with the Art Institute in Schaumburg to improve our animation curriculum.  80% of their graduates are hired within 6 months of graduating (in 3 years, no less!). There are seniors that are considering careers in photography and graphic design that I have helped educate.
Art, design, animation, and technology are all around us--these are the things I teach.  I love it, I'm proud of it, I deserve the money that I make, and I'll be sad to leave.

Thanks for reading--I may not post for a few days as I am super busy with an upcoming art show, graduation from my Master's program, the action research paper I have to finish in order to graduate, and of course, looking for jobs.  (Apparently I am wasting my time blogging instead of looking for jobs, and yes, I took 15 minutes during the school day to write this, don't worry, I'll be here well after the bell rings.)  Please continue to send stories--I'll need them to keep this blog going!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Stories From Others

After starting this blog a few days back, I have received numerous emails.  I have tried to reach out to teachers in my school and around my district to get their stories.  Following are a few of the brief emails I received:

Lora Nora, Elgin High School nurse wrote:
I am now following your BLOG.  It already is very powerful.  Personally, now that I have been pinked, I am going to put my Family Nurse Practitioner certification/training to good use, continue to help the students /community we served, but in a different nursing capacity the as a certified School Nurse for the past 11 years.  My heart is broken for all of us-students, staff, communities, and our principals, who have to shoulder this burden.
Mine too, Lora.  So its not just teachers.  It is much bigger than that.  We are cutting out nursing staff?  Isn't H1N1 a considerable health care issue in public schools right now?  Less nurses....hmmmm....  There are numerous students who fell ill last year.  I commend Ms. Nora's work in our school.  She constantly reminds us about sanitation, and teaches us how to minimize the spread of communicable viruses.  Our nursing staff at Elgin High does a great job, and as you can see by Lora's email to me, they have a passion of all of us.

Jacqueline Irizarry wrote:
I also love working at EHS also.  I have been riffed 4 times now, luckily returning.  This time I'm not as hopeful. You can share this. My feelings are of dejection and sadness to leave my kids.
FOUR TIMES!!!  My lord!  Going through this once I cannot imagine the repeated stress that this does to the newer staff in ours and other districts.  What a mess.  There simply has to be a better way.

Anonymous wrote:
I was laid off too.  Sorry.  I don't want to tell anyone my story.
I felt I had to post this as well.  There is a lot of anger and mistrust right now.  Not exactly what you want in an institution for learning.

There are many ways of dealing with this situation.  Mine was to start this blog.  I felt that it does no good to go silently by waiting for the next opportunity.  If you read this blog, please share it with others.  Only through our personal stories that put a real face to this crisis can we reach others beyond the walls of the school.

I continue to hope to hear from others outside of Illinois.  I know this crisis extends beyond my state's borders.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Guest Blogger Today

This was written by a friend of mine who along with his/her spouse has been laid off.  This person wasn't sure about attaching their name to this, so I'll leave it off for now. 

"Sad, sad, sad, sad"

My wife and I work hard as teachers.  We work hard for every penny that we make.  If you think that teachers have cushy, easy, wonderful jobs, then I recommend you go back to school, pay for your masters, semester of student teaching, content examinations, and then try to find a job making a teacher's salary.  Try it, and see how easy it is to be an educator.  I urge you to spend a year in the classroom in an age where government and district mandates, helicopter parents, and the complete lack of personal responsibility, make it almost impossible to do what you were hired to do: teach.  Try it,  because there is one point where you are entirely correct, teachers have wonderful jobs.  Honestly, it is worth every penny, I love teaching.  It's a job where you feel great about what you do, and you are allowed to do great things.  Right up until the point when you get fired, because of someone else's mismanagement.  At that point you ask start asking yourself some pretty serious questions.
Why bother? Why bother dedicating your life to teaching these kids math, science, art, english, auto's, etc.  We really should be teaching them how to launder money, lie, misappropriate funds, kiss your bosses ass, use questionable hiring and firing practices in order to force people into doing what you want them to do, abandon reason and logic for superstition, make sure to cheat people who are less able than you, cheat kids, cheat the elderly, cheat welfare, steal from pensions/social security, legally hold children's futures for ransom to fund phantom programs, racketeering, properly perform inside trading, bigotry, falsifying documents, go back on your promises if it benefits you, when in doubt hire a lawyer, commit felonies, perjury, murder, genocide, use drugs as long as you write a book admitting to it, but most importantly, blame everyone else for your problems.  These are the qualities that our culture has deemed most important, the qualities that you see exhibited by people in power, and the qualities that will make you successful over time.  These things sicken me.
In my classroom I have the expectation that my students take responsibility for themselves, speak and act in a respectful manner, and behave like people that care about the well being of others.  At times I feel like I am teaching them the tenets of a society that never really existed, and definitely does not exist today. 
Therein lies the hope, legitimacy, and necessity of what we do, did, and hope to do again.  While people can complain about a lot of things regarding education, I think that most people would agree that education, in some form, is indeed a necessity for a society to grow and prosper.  The problem is that the structure of the system is broken.  We need reform.  We need truly knowledgeable educators and economists to drive that reform.  Politicians need not apply.
What I find amusing and sad about this situation is when something goes wrong, when other people get laid off, the plant closes down, the bubble bursts, or the economy slows, the first place people turn to, in order to become more qualified for their next job, is their lowly and worthless local educational facility.  Glad to be of service to you.

There are so many teachers right now that share this sentiment.  It is easy to get down and be angry with what is going on in public education today.  I hope that another school picks up my friend--they will be the lucky ones.  

Friday, March 19, 2010

Very Truly Yours, You're Fired!

You know, I actually thought it would be pink.  Nope.  Regular white paper, on a letterhead that I have used a few times myself for much more pleasant things.  I don't even get the original, just a photocopy.  At least I have been "honorably discharged".  The shame of it is that honor is one of the last things from my mind.  I think disappointedly discharged or boy this really sucks but you're discharged may be more honest.  (And yes, I do understand what it actually means.)
In the future, some more posts from others.  I'll probably put some posts online during spring break. I've had a number of replies and emails since this started, and they are worth sharing.  Being that grades are due this week, I haven't had a lot of time to catch up on the blog... 
So... spring break... job hunting, blogging, and perhaps a cool refreshing beverage.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

I made the news! (Indirectly)

I'm famous!  OK, so I didn't get specifically named, but I certainly made the news.

Watch the whole clip, but watch more intently at around the 2:00 mark.  A nice young gentleman named Marcos was interviewed outside my school and he happened to mention a certain photography teacher that he won't have next year.  (He is talking about me).  Perhaps the interview was why he was late to class. 

Just kidding Marcos, and thanks for the shout out.  There are thousands of students across the district, state, and nation just like you who were looking forward to having a teacher next year that won't be there.  On the flip side, please never give up your dreams of being what you want to be because of who it is instructing you.  It will be the job of all students next year to perhaps be a little more independent and perhaps help their new teacher out a little more than before to keep things running smoothly.

To my students: I want all of my students to continue on with their dreams.  I have put too much time and effort into growing young artists for you to give up because of this situation. I think instead that it highlights the need for how hard you have to work to compete with everyone else out there because you never know what the future holds.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Time to Call Somebody

Students, teachers, and administrators at Elgin High School wore pink today to raise awareness and show support for those that are laid off.  I signed my you-will-not-be-back-next-year-but-thanks-anyways letter today just before noon.  Then I ate some creamy oreo goodness and tiramisu to forget about what just happened.  You gotta love the English department.  Even in the face of adversity, those folks can put together a spread that'll make you forget the sky is falling. 

My colleague and friend Jon Miquelon sent out this email at work today:
Hey everyone,

While I understand and appreciate the sentiment that wearing pink represents, now is also a time for action. 1/3 of U-46 employees are receiving their pink slips today, for those who have retained their jobs, you are facing dire working conditions next year, which, in turn affects our students negatively. Everybody loses today, and wearing pink is not going to reverse this situation.

Email and call your senators, representatives, and Governor Quinn. Do it every day if you can. The link below will get you their phone number, but not their email address. To contact any of these people via email, go to their home page (usually searching their name in google will get you there). I urge you to ask them why education is losing 16.1% of it's budget, while the rest of the Quinn's programs are losing 0.039% of their budget. Some of Quinn's programs are getting a raise. The entire situation is absurd. Luckily, the current budget is proposed, it is not final, and it can/must be re-written.
It may be that I am an idealist, but this feels like a situation that we, as constituents, should be able to change. Even if it doesn't work, I can't sit idly by, while elected officials play politics with my livelihood, our education system, and the futures of our students. Please let me know if you have any questions.

Click here, then click on "Legislator Lookup" under "Additional Resources" to find your state representation
Click here to see Quinn's proposed budget, turn to Adobe Acrobat pg. 52 (chapter 2 - 24 in regular text) to see comparison between education and the rest of state funding. The important parts are highlighted in blue.

Thank you Jon, and well stated.  While this specifically highlights the need for the people of Illinois to get politically active, I suggest everyone start participating in politics.  Some phone numbers for people nation wide.  (You'll have to look up your own State rep's numbers).  Again, its not a left or right issue--the need for quality public education is an issue that we all share.  I have listened to progressive radio for some time, but have still never picked up the phone.  It is time.  Maybe I've never been angry enough, or maybe I've just been lazy, but clearly nothing changes from doing nothing, so its time to pick up the phone.  I didn't live in a period of widespread polical activism such as seen during the civil rights movement and Vietnam war, but I wonder how bad does it have to get?  We seem to be in an endless war overseas, in a system that bails out banks but not states, and Fox's Glee hasn't been on since NOVEMBER! 

I imagine if we take people's HDTVs we will soon find them in the streets.