Sunday, December 26, 2010
Sunday, December 5, 2010
Transforming School Conditions: Building Bridges to the Education System that Students and Teachers Deserve is the latest TeacherSolutions report released by the Center and written by fourteen accomplished teachers from urban districts across the country. The report focuses on research-based principles that will “undergird sustainable and effective teaching reforms.”
With recommendations on areas where schools, districts, teachers, as well as school administrators need to focus, this team of accomplished teachers has covered everything from student learning growth to how to embrace school communities as partners.
The report begins with a look at teacher education programs and how well they are preparing teachers for the realities of the classroom. It is not surprising to read that teachers are entering the profession unprepared to teach the second language learner and unprepared to become “student assessment experts.”
Other tidbits aren’t shocking: “Teacher attrition has always been an issue and research shows that the decision to stay or leave is directly related to teacher working conditions” while others are: “Teacher turnover is costing the country 7.3 billion each year.”
I was delighted to see a reference to the North Carolina Teacher Working Conditions Survey, a process that empowers me, as a North Carolina educator, to have my voice heard on everything from how supportive my administrators are to how helpful my professional development is. I'm not surprised that this team of teachers agrees that we must provide a way for teachers to share concerns about the workplace.
In addition, the report points to “five ways in which conditions in schools, state and local education agencies, and preparation programs are holding back student learning and a 21st century teaching profession:
1. Recruitment and preparation pathways for teacher candidates;
2. Assessment and evaluation systems for students and teachers;
3. Development of professional networks within and across schools to support teaching and learning;
4. Empowerment and professional leadership for teachers; and
5. Investment of community resources to develop and support effective schools."
This report is written by teachers who truly understand the obstacles to effective teaching and who also recognize what is right about schools today. For example, teacher residencies are touted as meaningful to pre-service teachers who are given time to understand the job from top to bottom and beginning to end as they are training “on the job” during an entire school year. There are also discussions on the importance of mentoring, the need for multiple measures of teacher evaluation, and the strength that comes from working in Professional Learning Communities.
Invest a little time into some meaningful professional development and read what fourteen of America’s great teachers are saying about working conditions in our schools. We, as educators, are lucky to have the Center for Teaching Quality who continues to utilize the talents of teacher leaders and impact education policy in our country.
Friday, November 5, 2010
My former student D is eighteen now. He called me a week ago to tell me many things, all of them troubling:
1. He was just released from prison.
2. He has a four-month-old son who's in foster care.
3. He currently owns only three articles of clothing.
4. He wants to go back to school and graduate, but it would be too embarrassing (see #3).
5. He really wants a job to the point that he's harrassing people, but no one will hire him.
His last words at the end of the call - "Mrs. Rigsbee, can you help me?"
I wrote about some of D's troubles two years ago. Whenever I see him or talk to him, I cry. It's so sad to witness the stereotype of the young, smart kid growing up in poverty and heading in the wrong direction. I cry because I always thought if I cared enough, if I encouraged him enough, he would beat the odds.
And I cry because I don't know what to do to help him now. But this time I start by doing a Google search - I find that he was arrested in April for armed robbery. Later I learn that he was there but had no weapon; two others actually carried out the crime. D was convicted of "accessory after the fact."
Next I do a Department of Corrections Offender search. There's his name, just like it used to sit in my grade book, on his rarely turned in papers, and on the suspension list. I now know his DOC number, his age, his offense, and the fact that he's out of prison...on parole.
That leads me to my next step. I call my county's parole office and find the name of the officer I need in seconds. He returns my call within an hour.
When I have health issues, I pride myself on being educated on what may or may not be going on with my body. I do research to the point that I feel confident that I can converse with a medical doctor to communicate what I need. Not so much with a parole officer.
I call D's phone, but it's turned off. I go through my phone frantically and find the number he used when he called me last week. I have no idea whose phone I'm calling, and I'm terrified. A girl answers. I tell her who I am and what I want. She mumbles, barely audible, "Hold on." Another girl comes to the phone. Same scenario.
Finally, "Mrs. Rigsbee?" I talk, words tumbling out of my mouth one after another - "turn yourself in"..."do the right thing"..."I'll help you through this...."
He says, "You don't know how they do. They lie."
I say, "Don't talk without a lawyer. You have a right to have a lawyer present." (I shake my head at the phone. Since when am I Kate Beckett on Castle?)
I continue, "D, you've hit rock bottom. You have two ways you can go. You can make something of your life, or you can go to jail. What's it gonna be?"
One thing he wants me to know: "Mrs. Rigsbee," he says quietly. "About my armed robbery conviction...you know I could never hurt anybody, right?"
"I know, D," I answer, choking on tears again. We hang up so D can make his call. Soon he calls me back to tell me he's going to turn himself in.
And now I wait. I wait for the ending to this movie I'm in. Years ago, I signed up to teach middle school kids, and now I'm the one getting "schooled" on life. I tell D I don't know anything about this world he lives in...all I know about what he's into is what I've seen on tv. He turns his face away from the phone and yells, "Hey, Mrs. Rigsbee thinks my life is a movie!"
Yea, D, and I just pray for a happy ending.
Thursday, October 28, 2010
Also, as a young mother, it seemed to me that there was an unspoken competition when it came to putting costumes together. If I dared to show up to a pre-school party with my kids decked out in pre-fab costumes (some type of vinyl body cover and a plastic mask so popular in the 80's) there would be looks of pity and then whispers as one-by-one the other moms would shake their heads at my kids and then walk away, dragging their child-model in a handsewn costume with them. I'm not much of a competitor when it comes to things I don't know how to do. I decided then to hate Halloween and all the tricks and treats that went with it.
But perhaps the biggest reason I began to dread the orange holiday as soon as the first leaf yellowed is obvious - I TEACH MIDDLE SCHOOL! Are you kidding me? It seems my fate was incredibly twisted. 11-13 year olds are unteachable at Halloween! Right up there with Valentine's Day and Winter Break, the days surrounding that ghastly day have always been difficult. Candy gathered in the 'hood the night before means candy in the school the day after. And kids aren't even sneaky about it! A question about a character in a story was once drowned out by an across-the-classroom trade: "I'll give you my candy corn for your malted milk balls." Let's just say the rest of the class missed the "malted milk" part, and it took me the remainder of the period to settle them down.
But one year someone talked me into participating in our school-wide Halloween celebration. I resisted, but then she brought me the costume. Our school mascot was the Red Devils (since changed to Cardinals due to the hellish nature of the name), and the costume was a bright red, lycra unitard with matching headband/horns and a tail. It was so beautiful I couldn't resist. It looked like this, only sans the flames and wings:
There was a contest - one money prize for a teacher and one for a student. And we wore our costumes to school on Halloween Day. I absolutely cannot believe that I wore that skin-tight outfit to school. Yes, I was a 30-year-old very skinny teacher at the time. But STILL! What were my 7th graders thinking?
I tell you what they were thinking...that their teacher won $50 for the best costume! From then on, I was hooked. Halloween is awesome!! I even began to incorporate Halloween into our classroom activities. The students love our Fright Fair project; they all write scary stories, and then they're assigned projects that match their interests and skills. Some kids design, make, and deliver the invitations. Others design and then decorate the room.
On Halloween Day teachers come to hear story readings. The room is dark except for one small light in the middle of a story-telling circle and the orange lights that are weaved through the spiderwebs hanging on the walls and the whiteboard. Carrot cake is served to the visitors and a ghoulish time is had by all.
Last night as I sat on a hayride and watched my granddaughter (Cinderella) treat-or-treat, I thought Halloween is my favorite holiday!
Also known as....if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.
Saturday, October 9, 2010
excerpt from "To An Athlete Dying Young"
Sunday, September 26, 2010
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
I've been noticing it for awhile; I once was a Year-Round Calendar teacher, and I know how it feels to get those little prickles of excitement well before now. And as I've written before, the First Day is the BEST day (which is why I capitalize it like a holiday!) Blogs this time of year will be full of First Day activities and tips, and teachers all around are anxious with expectations on this the Happy New Year of Teaching.
This year, as you hand out insurance forms and Free/Reduced Lunch applications, I hope you'll think about another exciting time of a school year - the Last Day of School. As you look at your freshly scrubbed darlings sitting quietly (which is a good thing because you don't really know their names yet), think about what they'll look like, who they'll be, on the last day of school.
Chances are they'll be worn down and weary, many who worked dilligently but still failed standardized tests, many who've endured life-changing circumstances in their home lives - separation, divorce, domestic abuse, some who haven't fit in this year and are hoping for better things ahead...
Teachers get worn down, too...tired of working extra hours for less pay, tired of health insurance costing more, but covering less, and tired of hanging from the ceiling fan to teach standards to kids, some who still don't pass standardized tests.
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
One Who Knows
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
Finally New Girl had had enough. She picked up my student and slammed her onto the street. Then she pummeled her in the head a few times while yelling at her to go the ----- home! Finally she climbs off of her - meanwhile I can hear the crowd bullying my student about her lack of fighting skills. Apparently, that is just enough to encourage her to air-box the new girl again...who promptly slams her to the pavement again, this time putting her face close to my student's ear and repeating, "This is over. We're going home. This is over."
In the movie Valentine's Day, Ashton Kutcher's character makes this comment: "Love is the only shocking thing left in the world." Apparently he's right. Violence is commonplace and accepted, even entertaining. Those participating aren't outsiders. They're part of our current culture.
But I think of my students and wish instead they were being shocked by love. And I wish YouTube would ban uploaded videos by underage kids. Somehow we have to stop giving kids, who aren't old enough to make responsible decisions, the opportunities to promote violence and to use it as entertainment. To me....that's what's shocking...
Sunday, May 30, 2010
His favorite ploy was to get the teacher off the subject. He'd ask about her children...try to get information about her love life, grinning all the while. One day the teacher saw him throw a football the length of the middle school field and thought This is a very special young man.
Friday, May 28, 2010
One day this past week I walked the halls of my school and noticed that same eerie sound. It rang out more loudly than the usual halls full of bustling children...the "he saids/she saids" of middle school class change, the laughter and joking, the "stop running, keep-to-the-right" characteristics of a school hallway.
Our huge eight-legged critter?
I heard once that a first grader returned home from school one day during my state's End of Grade Tests (which we call EOG's) and announced, "The school was really quiet today. We had E-I-E-I-O's."
More like just O's....line after line of O's as in, "Fill in your circle completely. Be sure your mark is heavy and dark. If you erase your circle, do not try to redraw it."
Today I completed my fourteenth day of standardized testing. Next week there are makeups and retests and on and on - an army of arachnids taking over the schoolhouse and silencing the happy noises of the children.
Saturday, May 22, 2010
I'm so mad I don't even have words...
Friday, May 7, 2010
Saturday, May 1, 2010
Sister Remy taught me to take pride in my own work and to believe in myself. She shared everything she knew, no holding back secret tricks. With that positive experience under my belt, I continued taking art classes during the summer and eventually returned to college where I earned BFA Honors, was accepted into the MFA program as a teaching assistant (they paid me!) and started teaching high school art. Certification courses led to an MAE, but all the pedagogy in the world pales in comparison to the example set by Sister Remy. This is what I bring to my students.
Charlotte Amalie High School
St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands
(Thank you, Mrs. Warnecke and Sister Mary Remy Revor!)
Thursday, April 15, 2010
It's a hot topic to the International Reading Association...but only lukewarm to the rest of the world.
Sunday, March 28, 2010
But as an educator I never thought about a hybrid position, until this year, when I was assigned to do two jobs at once. Back to that later...
I have been a strong advocate for looking at schools differently. We need to think about scheduling, grading, and school calendars in a way that doesn't replicate the past one hundred years of public school. In the same way, we need to look at teaching in ways that capitalize on the strengths of our educators without overburdening them with too many duties. Here are my thoughts on hybrid positions in education:
On the positive side, any job in education, from the school custodian to the superintendent, would be more meaningful if part of the day is spent with kids. Plain and simple. They're the reason we're all there, and they make it worth the long hours. Spending time in a classroom of students also is the best way to maintain credibility with other educators. How many times have we heard teachers say that Central Office staff members don't "get it" because they aren't in a classroom? In addition to credibility, being in a classroom also is important so that the educator's views are authentic and not based on what they remember about teaching or hear from colleagues.
At the same time, hybrid roles can be difficult. Take mine, for example. I am currently the Literacy Coach for my school and the Beginning Teacher Mentor for my district. Suffice it to say that my two 50% jobs are really two 100% (or more) jobs and that I feel that neither the teachers I should be coaching nor the teachers I should be mentoring are being served as they should. Luckily, my administrators are eager to look at ways to make my "jobs" more doable next year.
A common mistake I see when hybrid roles are developed occurs when teachers are pulled to do administrative/Central Office-type jobs but are paid teacher salaries. I have seen numerous "teacher-on-loan" style positions where the work is overwhelming, but the pay isn't higher. Educators must be compensated for the work they do as professionals, and school districts need to resist the urge to get "cheap help" from teachers they can pull from classrooms.
It should be like that pea - different shades...but still a pea.
Monday, March 1, 2010
I've heard romanticized stories of my Daddy having to drop out of school to help support the family (not unheard of back in the 1940's), riding on the back of a milk truck, delivering milk to rural North Carolina. However, truth be told, I bet my Daddy left that junior high hooping and hollering, happy to be away from the requirements of school work.
I have more than one memory of Daddy handing me the newspaper and asking me a word or two. I tell my reading students about him, about how he worked hard to compensate for what he didn't have in book smarts, and how surprised I am that I grew up loving to read and write.
Friday, February 19, 2010
Last night I had the opportunity to speak to a room full of future school principals on the topic of beginning teacher support. Not suprisingly, the subject of this year's survey was at the top of my list of how to support beginning teachers: foster an atmosphere of collaboration. The first part of the Collaboration for Student Success survey is entitled "Effective Teaching and Leadership," and one point we discussed as a group last night comes up again: "While we are meeting with other teachers, we aren't observing other teachers." Less than 1/3 of the teachers who responded to the survey indicated that the practice of observing other teachers occurs at their schools.
As the years went by, those doors opened a little, but for the majority of my career there was still a mentality in the hallways and common areas of "I'm only going to address my own students, the ones I know, and leave the others to the teachers who teach them."
But now, according to the Survey of the American Teacher, 67% of the educators who completed the survey believe that increased collaboration has a direct effect on student success. And 80% strongly agree that teachers share responsibility for achievement of all students. We're in this together, folks, and I'm delighted to see that a majority of those questioned agree.
And although in many schools, there's still some "door closing" and collaborative planning is not a seamless part of the day, we have come so far in our understanding of purposeful instruction. My school has 1 1/2 hours of common grade-level planning daily and fully equipped team rooms for meetings (fully equipped = tables, chairs, and internet access...there are also bathrooms and a functional stove, but we don't seem to fit "cooking" in to the planning meetings).
At my school, collaboration is such a part of the culture that I see discussions about instruction everywhere - the halls, the cafeteria, the car rider line - and just last summer, while my entire faculty attended a graveside funeral, the math teacher I was talking to after the service excused herself on the lawn of the cemetery: "I have to plan a math lesson," she said as she walked across the grass to meet with her grade-level teaching partner.
I looked at my principal and said, "We're having PLC meetings in a cemetery...in the summer...when school's out."
I know this type of collaboration is the exception and not the rule, but I can tell you that it works, it's the best for students, and it fosters an atmosphere of family in a school.
The Metlife Survey of the American Teacher can tell you that, too.
Sunday, February 7, 2010
It was at the Pro Bowl last week that I looked at all of those heroes on the field and thought of my own students. Who are the future professional athletes, scientists, soldiers, and even teachers sitting in my classroom every day? What words can I say that will make a difference in the direction their lives take?
My hope is that I say it tomorrow...and do it the next day...and say it again the next...what an amazing honor...
Sunday, January 24, 2010
So I have to ask, is the use of technology, with all its bells and whistles, always the best way ?