Saturday, September 24, 2011

An average of 4.5 years

A wonderful friend of mine, who works as a special education teacher in Brooklyn, wrote in her blog, that when she finishes this year (her fifth year teaching), she will have outlasted 50% of her peers in the field. I thought...can that be right? And then another good friend who works as a para-professional in a special ed school, posted this article from CNN. New teachers only remain in the field for an average of 4.5 years?

It seems to me that it might take about that long just to get to a point of being well-established and not feeling like a "new teacher" anymore. In the ethics books I'm reading for my School Psych seminar, it says that it takes about 10 years to reach "expert" status, so I'd think it takes about the first 4 or 5 years to leave "novice" and enter a sort of intermediate stage.

These statistics are incomplete in the sense that I don't know if teachers are leaving and entering a related field, or how much they invested in their training to become a teacher in the first place - I don't think every state requires teachers to have a masters degree, or you have a certain amount of time to get it after beginning teaching. It just seems sad to me, as I am investing so much time and money to become a School Psychologist, that after all that, I would leave the field after only 4.5 years? There must be something pretty darn extreme going on there to drive people out so quickly.

The CNN article said that many teachers cited parents as the reason for leaving the profession. First, this freaked me out, because as a School Psychologist, I will be expected to have more than the usual amount of contact with parents. But second, I wondered...why? Why are parents not respecting their kids' teachers? And why are teachers not prepared for dealing with parents? In theory, we should all be partners. We all are advocates for children, and we all want these kids to succeed. We really are on the same team. So why can't we all get along?

One suspicion I have, is that after a few crazy people go off on us, we will start to expect all parents to be crazy. (This happens a lot with arguments between me and Alex. He will *expect* me to be mad about something, so he gets defensive in advance. Then, I get annoyed because he is acting defensive, and then his prediction of my anger becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.) Are we being defensive with parents from the beginning, thus *causing* them to act crazy towards us?

As there are crazy people in the world, I am sure that I will have to deal with many crazy parents. (Case and point: the messages left on my supervisor's voice mail, SCREAMING at her about how terrible she is at her job.) However, my main goal is to remember that people who act "crazy" often have a reason for doing so, and dealing with large bureaucratic systems (like schools) can be really stressful. I want to attempt to put a positive spin on everything. (Eg. "Wow, I'm so happy you brought an advocate to this meeting. It's great that you are so invested in your child's education." Rather than thinking, Oh god. An advocate. This is going to be a fight.)

I also just hope that I get to work with teachers and be able to contribute to a more positive climate at whatever school I work at. This is why I am starting an "after school yoga club" for the teachers at my practicum site! I'm hoping it'll help people to feel a little more calm and a little less stressed, and maybe then we'll all be able to stay in our chosen careers in education for more than 4.5 years! Here's hoping!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A note on suprises

Life is always full of little surprises. (And NO, I am not pregnant. That's not what I mean at all.) I mean that time and time again, in small ways, and occasionally in bigger ways, Life reminds us that we insignificant humans are not really in control of everything. Of course for those of us that are (semi?) control freaks, that can be hard. But on the other hand, what I am learning, is that it can also be quite the relief. Since we *can't* control everything, we are relieved of the burden of *trying* to control everything. It just won't work. Sometimes, we just need to surrender to what IS.

I have been listening to this yoga podcast, which has completely been the jackpot of all internet finds for me. This amazing woman Kelly posts podcasts of yoga classes that she records, and she wonderfully posts images of the sequence of postures, so you can scan through and see if it's a class that sounds good to you at that moment or not. Plus there are so many to choose from, one that is only 23 minutes when you are crunched for time, 40 min, 60 min, or a full 90 minute class. Plus, she is a FANTASTIC teacher. I love her. She doesn't annoy me at all, and I like her sequences most of the time. I have never had this dedicated of a home practice and it feels so wonderful. (Find her blog here.)

One of her classes is dedicated to that whole idea of surrendering to what is. When you get a flat tire, there's no use to moaning, Why did this happen to me? You need to just accept that the tire is flat, and it needs to get fixed. I was pleasantly surprised when I had this reaction on Monday...I came home to find that when Alex took Gatsby out, he got sprayed by a skunk!!!! Alex was expecting me to be mad that he "let" it happen...but all I could think was, Wow, I am so lucky this happened while I was at class and you already bathed him!!!! (But seriously, it SMELLED SO BAD....I can only imagine how the poor dog felt, having just been sprayed straight in the face.) Anyway..sometimes stuff happens. What can you do but just deal with it?

We had a *happy* surprise on Sunday. On our adventures out and about in the Miata, we happened across a farmstand. We pulled over to see what kind of goodies they had, and it turned out to be a TOMATO TASTING. We seriously got to taste 15+ varieties of tomatoes for free, on a gorgeous, warm, late summer day, after driving around in a convertible. Does life get any better?

Sometimes it is so much harder than it seems to roll with the punches, but sometimes, it's the easiest (and only) option!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

An A+ teacher

Boston's NPR station (WBUR) ran a series back in May on what makes a "good" teacher. I did not get to hear it on the radio at that time, but I'm slowly sifting through the articles they have on their website and they are certainly very interesting. (Check 'em out here.) Now that most teachers and kiddos are back in school, including me! (Am I a teacher, or a kiddo? - well, both and neither. I'm an adult in the school system as a School Pyschology practicum student, and a student in the classroom at NEU....and hopefully a yoga teacher in the schools, if everything works out - fingers crossed!) One way or another I am "back to school." (This is where I emit a longing sigh for summer, and then move on sadly.)

So the whole reason the discussion of what makes a Good Teacher began in the first place is because studies show that teacher quality is more important to student learning than other things, such as school size, or student-to-teacher ratio. This is good, because even in schools where classrooms are overflowing, we can be hopeful that the students are not automatically doomed to failure from being stuck in a large class. But how do we define "good" or "quality" teaching?

One proposed method to determine if a teacher is "effective" is to rate them based on their students' test scores on standardized state tests, such as the MCAS in Massachusetts. In accordance with the No Child Left Behind act, schools should be striving to "proficiency" in subjects like Language Arts and Math anyway. Other states, like Massachusetts, require passing scores on these tests in order to receive a high school diploma. So everyone is under a lot of pressure to do well on these tests anyway, and now we are going to stake a teacher's job on them, too?

I have to say, as a budding School Psychologist, I am very interested in making data-based decisions and monitoring progress. However, putting such VERY high stakes on a One-Shot-Test situation is really a terrible idea. Obviously, teachers need to be evaluated via multiple methods, just as students do before big decisions are made. I don't think that anyone is proposing that test scores be the ONLY method of assessing a teacher, but something about it makes me a little uneasy. In one of the articles, a teacher asks, "How do you put a number on how much you love the kids?" You don't, and yet it is something that may be the magic ingredient to the kids feeling respected and valued as people: Love. My dad, who was a public school teacher for over 30 years, always says that the way to reach any kid, especially the ones who people think are "un-reachable," is just to love them. So simple.

And yet, is that asking too much? I'm not sure we ask more of any other profession than we ask of teachers, as far as giving so much of themselves personally to their job. We want them to go above and beyond always...but isn't that what makes people exceptional? Going above and beyond? If everyone was going above and beyond, that would become the average, the expectation. And yet, we ask for it.

I sat in on a class today with a *phenomenal* teacher. She teaches in a small classroom with 7th and 8th grade students who have language based learning disabilities. She has a standing offer with each student in the class to take them to Barnes and Noble and help them pick out a book right then and there, to encourage them to read. Out of her own pocket. She really is amazing, and she clearly LOVES her kids. But can we really ask that of EVERY teacher?

What do you think? Do you have any stories of a teacher who went above and beyond for you?