‘Uncategorized’ Posts


Rochester Teachers Are Getting Slammed

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Rochester teachers are getting slammed by new evaluations that fail to take account of widespread student poverty. 40% of the teachers across the city have been told they are below par and must prepare remediation plans. The Rochester Teachers Association has filed suit with the New York Supreme Court. In Syracuse, even high school gym teachers are finding their evaluations dinged when kids math scores are low. Read about this NOW! And read more on the Progressive magazine’s new website, Public School Shakedown (which we’re glad to see joining the fray).

So will you write to the Rochester newspapers and elsewhere to support these teachers? Or are you going to just wait and hope this doesn’t come to your school? Bystanders all too soon find that they too are in the cross-hairs.


As Challenges Increase Teachers ARE Speaking Up

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Many of us grow discouraged when we see that our voices, even when we use them, go unheard and are left all too isolated. But maybe the pain has to really get intense to motivate more of us to begin to step up. In any case, as challenges increase teachers ARE speaking up — and it’s having an effect.

So here in Illinois, I’ll be interested to see how teachers respond when the new PARCC tests come online. Meanwhile, the rest of us should be writing and Tweeting to support these courageous educators.

The Real Story on the US PISA Test Rankings

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So here’s the last word from Teachers Speak Up for the crazy year of 2013.

I know most of you, or your educator colleagues, have been shy about telling your own story to the public. But how about sharing some info about the real story on the US PISA test rankings. OK, you’ve been so busy teaching that maybe you don’t recall what these are, so just to remind you: Every 3 years the Program of International Student Assessment administers tests on reading and math to students in 65 countries. The 2013 report puts the U.S.  in 24th place. Sounds bad, right? Public education detractors point to this as evidence that you, as teachers, are failing.

But the details tell a different story. For example, if you look just at the scores for schools where incomes are in the top 10%, the U.S. comes in FIRST. And schools with the lowest income families, well you guessed it. Here’s a great 5-minute video that summarizes the real, troubling statistics — which are not just about schools, but about the influence of poverty in America.

So if you aren’t ready to tell your own great classroom story, how about sharing the video with your friends and colleagues. By the way, it was shared on a new social media news site, www.upworthy.com that’s getting lots of attention — and that’s good.

So happy new year to all. Let’s see if our work can prosper in this next cycle of our lives.

–Steve Z

Teachers and Others Tell Education Success Stories in TEDx Videos

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Back on Sept. 28 in Chicago, we heard a group of teachers and others tell education success stories in TEDx videos now. As the organizer of this event, I’m excited to have you see and hear them. Just search TEDxwellsStreetED on Youtube — or visit our website, www.TEDxWellsStreetED.com .

  • Hear Chicago TV journalist Carol Marin tell about her own experiences with discrimination as a student and teacher that she compares to the second-class treatment of many urban schools now.
  • Hear great high school teachers like Adam Heenan, Elizabeth Robbins, Jean Klasovsky, and Matthew McCabe  tell about their work that empowers inner city students and could make a difference for many more.
  • Listen to teachers Heather Duncan-Whitt, Tai Basurto, Greg Fairbank, Marilyn Rhames, and Elijah Osorio, and principal LeAndra Khan describe policies and approaches that can enliven teaching, learning, and entire schools.
  • Attend to student Israel Munoz, parent Cecile Carroll, Chicago Alderman Ricardo Munoz , and VIVA founder Elizabeth Evans as they recount their activism working to make a difference in public schools.
  • And then let acclaimed story-teller Syd Lieberman explain the power of stories — through his own story examples — to build understanding and support for teachers’ work.

And finally, let us know what you think of these talks and how they can help you in your own teacher voice efforts. Post your comments here, or on the Youtube sites themselves.

Teacher Pensions Are Under Attack

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While it may have been a quiet holiday for most of us, the Illinois state legislature was busy readying a vote to reduce pensions for teachers and state employees, as a way to address the under-funding of the pension system. Of course, no one seems to talk about the legislature’s habit of skipping required payments into the system. So teacher pensions are under attack, with the timing cleverly arranged calendar-wise to minimize public attention or opportunity for those affected to voice their concern.

At least the unions in the state are speaking out. So how about teachers’ own individual voices? I was able to find one rather whiny letter to the editor from a retired teacher, on a local small-town newspaper.

But here’s a contrast on another issue, in  — surprise! — the state of Texas (thanks to Debra Gurvitz for calling this to my attention). There, the state board of education was being lobbied by far-right activists to reject the adoption of several science textbooks that, horrors, explained evolution as a central principle in biology. But Kathy Miller, President of the Texas Freedom Network, launched a petition drive on the CREDO Action website and obtained 163,000 signatures. Here’s the story, from the Texas Freedom Network website. And here’s what the campaign web page looked like in the midst of the effort. We don’t know how many of the signers were teachers, though of course having the argument come from parents is even better. Either way there’s a lesson here!

Voices Say Teachers Must Speak Out But We Need the Teachers

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Lots of people saying it right now. Here’s blogger Beth Shaum saying it cogently in a post on her site, Use Your Outside Voice.  Happily, she includes a brief portrait of an outstanding classroom for adults. Then there are a string of comments responding to the blog post, “Why Teachers Should Educate the Public About the Profession,” which we just featured in a post ourselves last week. A typical comment on this appeared on ASCD’s LinkedIn site .  Here’s another on that site. And yet another essay, this one by Kevin Meuwissen, on Education Week’s site Oct. 15th saying that teachers have an important role to play politically, since education is inevitably political.

So more and more voices say teachers must speak out but we need the teachers. So I challenge every one of these commentators and bloggers to take steps themselves to actually make it happen, rather than just saying it’s a good idea. Get a teacher to write about his or her work and help get it published on the web or the print media. Write a portrait of a great teacher yourself and get it published on the web or in print.

I figure that I had better be doing the same myself, or I’ll be guilty of the same talking-the-talking-but-not walking-the-walk. So take a look at my latest effort — teacher Catherine Clarke’s lovely piece that I posted on my blog, “Teachers Speak Up,” on http://evanston.patch.com .

Teachers Can Use Patch to Share Their Point of View

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One of the challenges to getting teachers’ voices heard by the public is finding media outlets that will support this. But there are a number of solutions to this — and we hope that learning about some of them will help teachers to begin speaking up and telling the world about our important work.

  • Teachers can use Patch to share their point of view. Patch.com is an online newspaper that has separate websites for many local communities around the country. Anyone can set up a blog on their local site. Check at Patch.com to see if your community has a site. Since we’re in Evanston IL, our blog is at http://evanston.patch.com . Go there now to see the latest wonderful classroom story written by special education teacher Ilyse Brainin.
  • Most local newspapers have online versions, and some welcome reader-bloggers. We found, for instance, that online news sources in Birmingham AL do this, and the Birmingham News is even seeking an education blogger now. You can use a blog to share your own stories — or gather pieces from fellow teachers and post them (with the writers’ permissions, of course).
  • In some communities teachers may be able to arrange regular education feature columns in their local newspapers. This is what the Western Massachusetts Writing Project has done. Here are some examples that we have featured on our “Teachers Writing for Support” page of this website.

So now, readers, you have one less excuse not to do this writing!

May 7th Is Supposed to be Teacher Appreciation Day

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May 7th is supposed to be Teacher Appreciation Day. If only we were! In any case, this would be an excellent occasion to explain to the community just exactly what we should be appreciated for (and if you’re a Teachers Speak Up follower, you know exactly what I’d like you to do).

In an op-ed on the “Take Part” website, Greg Mullenholtz, a math coach in Silver Spring MD, touts the new RESPECT program sponsored by the US DOE as the voice of 5700 teachers advocating for what teachers need in order to be supported in their work – and thus truly appreciated.

We’ll admit that we don’t love everything about the RESPECT initiative — it seems to start from the assumption that teachers are a rather weak bunch at this point. And it seeks such a broad range of improvements in our schools that it’s hard to know where to start. The Take Part website is a bit mixed as well, with some posts and articles that defend the most draconian of policies. And we can’t see who guides this site. However, at least teachers’ voices can be found there.

So besides receiving some cookies in the teachers’ lounge, what will you do to help people appreciate what you REALLY do?

RESPECT Is An Educator Led Movement

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Here’s a guest blog by our TSU partner Marilyn Hollman:

Tell your stories. That’s what Teachers Speak Up is all about.

Teachers are optimists or they would never be able to return on Monday. But to spend time writing, whether a letter or a speech, takes energy. A burning purpose or question and an audience make that “energy expense” worthwhile if there is some possibility of an open-minded listener and even the faintest trace of an avenue for change.

Sometimes some outsider clout can corral that listener and widen that avenue. RESPECT is an educator led movement initiated and supported by the Department of Education,  that provides some outsider clout. In this forum you will actually hear and see and read about classroom teachers from around the US, K-12.

This group’s first recommendation is to complete the RESPECT Self-Inventory with a group of fellow teachers. The Inventory contains the following critical components:

  1. A Culture of Shared Responsibility and Leadership
  2. Top Talent, Prepared for Success
  3. Effective Teachers and Principals
  4. Continuous Growth and Professional Development
  5. Professional Career Continuum with Competitive Compensation
  6. Creating Conditions for Success
  7. Engaged Communities

“Ah,” you may say, “I’ve seen those words before.” Well, yes, you have. But have you decided to tell people other than your colleagues or family the stories about what an effective teacher looks like, what can result from shared responsibility, what a difference no playground duty can make in your professional teaching life? What RESPECT feels like?

The RESPECT site provides a structure to begin, again, the conversation, as well as some specific action plans.

A personal note — I am a cynical optimist; I taught in a public high school over 35 years. This advocacy stuff is all SO hard. However, as one teacher on the site says, this seems to be a good time to try again. A summarized story follows.

One of the statements in the Critical Component #1 reads, “Shared decision-making structures empower principals and teacher leaders to develop school goals and strategies for achieving them.” In the darker ages, I had a principal who fell in love with Quality Circles. There it was, folks, shared decision-making, empowerment, labor and management working together. We’ve heard that before — in fact, right here in RESPECT. The Circle’s members (mostly volunteers) inventoried problems that everyone wanted solved. They took on a biggie: the school schedule that allowed 22 minutes to get your food and eat, teachers and students alike. Principals had all the time they wanted, but this principal really wanted to do Quality Circles. This First Circle (thank you, Mr. Solzhenitsyn) gathered information, analyzed it, found a solution. And implemented it! No fairy story, folks. It made an enormous change in teacher and student lives.

  –Marilyn J. Hollman


Thoughtful Ideas From a Teacher That Need a Wider Audience

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Today I’m off to the conference of the Urban Sites of the National Writing Project — where I’ll urge teachers to speak out about their work, and I’ll emphasize that this is about social justice — that is, support for the public education that can make a difference in the lives of poor and minority children.

Meanwhile, here’s a critique of the Common Core standards from a teacher who uses technology in highly innovative ways. It’s published in Education Week Teacher. These are thoughtful ideas from a teacher that need a wider audience. But how do we get his message out beyond an education journal to that audience? We can’t continue talking only to ourselves.