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.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Josh's Point of View

I wanted to wait a few days before I decided to post again because I wanted people from work to get a chance to read my first post on Monday morning.  Well, it is now Monday night, so on with the show as they say...

First off, thanks for the replies and emails.  I have heard from a lot of people through my personal facebook page, my work and personal emails, and various forums that I am on.  It seems like I have definitely touched a nerve with many of you out there.  While it doesn't pay the bills, it does mean something.  I'm hoping this blog will start to gain a little notoriety and have personal stories coming in from everywhere.  Right now, I've had some input from teachers around my school, and from some friends--I'll be posting things as they come along, and as time allows.  (I also will be spending time filling out online applications--which don't fill themselves out!  In fact, it is quite ridiculous that each district has their own essay questions they want you to fill out.  Does anyone actually read these things?  I guess that is a digression for a future post!)

I received an email from my friend Josh over the weekend.  Josh and I went to college together, and have had similar career paths.  We both started teaching at inner city schools in Milwaukee, WI and our current jobs both serve large populations of low income students, though I have since left Wisconsin.  He currently teaches at Milwaukee Montessori IB High School, a school which he helped open, and is now a part of the team of leaders there as well as a classroom history teacher.  His successes in education make me proud to be his friend.  In fact, his school was recently the subject of a really positive article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.  He is the type of person who will always have a discussion with you about education, but most likely the discussion will also include the word "reform".

He wrote me this:
"I have crafted a new theory recently while wondering, where did all of the money go?

I started with the realization that the political Right has only made two significant contributions to the education discussion in the past two decades:  Choice schools (private schools that receive public funding) and No Child Left Behind.  As the Left has spent the past decades creating and studying different educational models:  project-based learning, differentiated instruction, constructivism, the Montessori approach, Direct Instruction, integrated curriculum through regular public and Charter schools (public schools with greater autonomy over curriculum and instruction in exchange from greater accountability for results). 
How does NCLB affect the funding of public schools?
Slowly, over the last decade, money has been siphoned from local districts to buy and expand the testing services from the test companies.  Then the local districts need to buy the new text books aligned to the new tests, and hire the consultants (who always seem to be Texans) that will help the schools teach the kids the skills to pass the new tests.  In Wisconsin in 2009, the Department of Public Instruction declared that the tests did not accurately reflect what the kids know, and since it took six to nine months to get the results, it was too late to do anything about the findings anyway.  A new test is being developed, but it will not be ready for three to five years.  Sounds like a pretty nice contract for the testing company who develop the new tests, as well as the consulting firm who facilitate the process.  Wait, and then the entire state will have to buy all new text books from a company in Texas to allow the kiddies to learn algebra in a new way so that it can be reflected on the new test.  Looks like another round of consultants will have to be brought in to teach the teachers how to teach the new textbooks so the kids do well on the new tests. 
Even more laughable is Illinois’s version of the high school test, the ACT.  Illinois uses a college entrance standardized test to assess the quality of the state’s high schools.  To my knowledge, Illinois high schools are tasked to teach the State Standards of education, not the content of the ACT.  This would be like assessing the effectiveness of a driving school with a boater’s safety exam.  Sort of related, but not the material taught or applicable to all participants.  I cannot wait to read about the contracts to redesign Illinois’s testing system.  So, No Child Left Behind is an unfunded mandate for continuous improvement, which requires significant funding from local districts to the Testing Industry, the Textbook Industry, and the Educational Consultant Industry.
Tom, I guarantee you can find a job in one of those three industries because they are always hiring and always expanding.  And, I hear Texas is beautiful this time of year."

Ah, Josh, never one to shy away from an opinion.  He makes some valid points; (though I don't want this blog to become a conversation on politics--if you are laid off, you are laid off whether Democrat or Republican, and the fact is while I sit jobless for next year, I haven't heard any politician offer anything other than garbage talking points about what we "need to do" instead of actually doing something!!) it bothers me that there isn't more investigative journalism into how much money states actually spend on standardized tests.  There are a lot of people that are getting rich on public education, and just the fact that I had to write that statement makes me disgusted by how wrong it is.  

At least it looks like NCLB is on the way out the door.  I'm going to dedicate a later blog post to this article.

Thanks for sharing your opinion Josh, I look forward to more people sharing their views with me so that I can post them on this blog.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Day One

As you can read in the description of this blog, I have started this to raise awareness of the awful circumstances surrounding public education.  Teachers around the country are being laid off in ridiculously large numbers.  I am writing this specifically from my own experience as an art teacher in school district U-46 in Illinois. Twenty three art teachers are being pink slipped next week, myself included.  Around forty teachers at Elgin High School are being laid off.  These numbers are stark across the entire district.  Next year's $1.3 billion dollar cuts to education in the State of Illinois will result in the lay offs of 13,000 teachers.  The situation is grim, it is devastating, it is unfair, and frankly, it stinks.  This will have monumental long term detrimental effects to students across the state, and this country.

I invite anyone who reads this blog and would like to submit a personal story of how they are affected by this crisis to send me an email of their experience.  Stories can be written by anybody--teachers, students, parents, administrators, or anyone else who has a stake in this (which is everyone!!!).  The more we can put a personal face on this issue, the more the public can become aware of what is going on.

My disclaimer is that I am not a trained writer.  I'll write from the heart, but there may be the occasional grammar mistake.  Things on this blog will appear that are opinions.  If there are largely disputed facts, I will remove posts or info--or try to link to the source.

Now for my story.  I came to Elgin High School four years ago.  I was hired as a photography teacher despite having no actual photography teaching experience.  (My teaching certificate is K-12 art, which includes specialized classes.)  My boss at the time said she hired me because after my interview, she felt like I could teach anything--a moment of pride in my career, for sure.  I took a photo class at College of DuPage to brush up on the photo skills I had from undergrad.  After my first year, I had a real sense of starting something great.

The next year I developed a new digital curriculum for the entry level class.  I began teaching digital photography and Photoshop skills.  Real world things that could help spark interest in photography or graphic design careers, or simply grow into a life long hobby.  I began to have a real sense of ownership of this class--it was my baby.  I grew it, I developed it, and I have adapted it and changed it each year to make it better.

This year my students have started blogging.  Each one of their completed artworks end up online in a digital blog/portfolio.  I love that my students have the opportunity to learn these 21st century skills in my class.  After surveying my last semester classes, over 40% said that they were likely to blog in the future.  You can visit it here: EHS Art & Photography.  I also use the website Edmodo to post bell ringer activities for my students.  I usually have them comment on something like National Geographic's photo of the day.

Today actually I posted this link: Nat Geo POD  Ashley N. wrote "This image is powerful because it's telling a story. Her shirt is torn, and way too small for her. Also, she only has one earring. All of this shows that she's very poor. Her facial expression shows that she's very sad & hopeful for a better future. You can see in the blurred background that her house has as little as a mat to sleep on. The photographer uses her skin color to sort of blend in with the background. The colors are faded. I honestly think i wouldn't have done anything different when taking this photo."  

Awesome.  She is looking at, and thinking about, a photograph.  She is using deeper level thinking.  I am happy to be her teacher.

Also today I met with my principal.  In this meeting he told me that he would help me out when it comes to finding a job.  I believe he will.  I think he might be having a worse day than me--he has had to have this same meeting with forty teachers.  In my district, because of what the State of Illinois owes us, teachers are being laid off in record numbers.  Art instruction at the elementary level has been reduced to thirty minutes per week.  This resulted in the loss of 20 teachers.  We also lost 2.5 high school positions because students in high school are required to take a study hall next year thereby reducing enrollment in electives.

Somebody with seniority over me will possibly be involuntarily transferred into my position.  I do not disparage the person that ends up in my position--I certainly would take it rather than not work.  Ultimately though, it just stinks.  It is unfair to all students--those at the elementary level losing their teachers, and those at the high school level who will have new teachers replacing the ones who they were looking forward to having next year.

Please pass information of this blog on to anybody and everybody that is affected and especially those who would be willing to share a story.  Thank you.