I forgot I had this blog up but I guess you could say it’s timely… California education is going down the tubes due to a whopping $44 billion deficit that will slash school budgets (and probably send teachers like me to the streets).

http://www.usnews.com/blogs/on-education/2009/1/12/state-budget-woes-could-lead-to-shorter-school-year.html

Facing a massive budget deficit, California is considering shortening the school year by five days, a move that would save the state $1.1 billion. But the proposal is causing uproar among families and educators, who say the consequences would be disastrous, the Los Angeles Times reports. State schools Superintendent Jack O’Connell told the paper the move would hurt low-income and minority children because affluent school districts will most likely have the funds to remain open all 180 days of the school year. If the California legislature agrees to cut the school calendar, the state will join North Dakota, Kentucky, and a few other states that require the least number of school days.

Yay! Maybe it’s time for me to go pursue that law degree after all.

Several of my closest work-friends are first-year teachers, and because of new credential requirements they have to do this program called BTSA.

They have these huge binders they have to complete, and they have meetings with ‘mentors’ who are there to help them get through the paperwork. My friend (who will probably be reading this) is a very good teacher. Like all first year teachers, she has things to work on, but considering her lack of experience, she’s pretty darned good. And yet, she is apparently ‘failing’ BTSA because she’s having trouble understanding the paperwork.

Let’s look at BTSA’s “goals”:

Provide an effective transition into the teaching career for first- and second-year teachers in California.

Well… teachers sure do a mindboggling amount of paperwork. So, the binders get teachers ready to be buried in paperwork. Good job so far.

Improve the educational performance of students through improved training, information, and assistance for participating teachers.

It is time consuming. Extremely so. There are tons of classes, meetings, workshops, etc. to attend, which takes time away from lesson planning, parent conferencing, grading, etc.. Clearly, this is THE way to improve student performance.

Enable beginning teachers to be effective in teaching students who are culturally, linguistically, and academically diverse.

By requiring them to spend several hours a week fussing over papers such as student interest surveys, sign-up sheets, and reflective journals. The time wouldn’t be better spent observing other teachers, taking a conversational Spanish class at a local adult school, or attending after-school activities to participate in the school’s culture.

Ensure the professional success and retention of new teachers.

BTSA is a huge incentive for teachers to stay in their jobs. That’s what people go into teaching for… to lug around 2 inch binders full of useless papers and stress over not having a particular tab item complete, to attend countless meetings after school (in addition to having to take night classes to finish the credential), and to spend hours writing ‘reflections,” lesson plans be darned.

Ensure that a support provider provides intensive individualized support and assistance to each participating beginning teacher.

Unless the ‘support provider’ can’t be bothered to help. Kind of how so many master teachers go AWOL when a student teacher takes over the classroom. And again, those meetings are SO supportive… after all, that time couldn’t be spent in any better, more productive way.

Ensure that an individual induction plan is in place for each participating beginning teacher and is based on an ongoing assessment of the development of the beginning teacher.

An individual induction plan? That’s why there are so many papers to complete? Is the paperwork being assigned after the teacher has been observed, so that the teacher can work on their weaknesses rather than have to put together a ‘portfolio’ of crap that they already know how to do?

Ensure continuous program improvement through ongoing research, development, and evaluation

Sure, because BTSA leaves SO much time for teachers to continue improving their skills through education, observation, and research.

I took a look at my friend’s paperwork. It’s a NIGHTMARE. It’s HUGE, full of tabs (half of which I couldn’t even figure out, and I’ve been teaching for a while), even more full of papers of all colors, including forms, printouts and who knows what else.

First year teachers need MORE time to work on their craft. Not less. Had I had to do this as a first year teacher, I probably would have quit… it’s a completely ridiculous amount of time and work.

Some real-world experiences with BTSA participants:

Beginning Teacher Stress & Aggravation

Support or another hoop?

Busywork, Tedious, Senseless, and Asinine

BTSA gets a big thumbs-down from me. Yuck.

Just an interesting discussion going on here:

In reading a lot of comments, it seems people are missing the point:

Truancy is caused because neither children nor their parents have any fear whatsoever of there being any consequences. So I say it’s time to start making some big ones, that nobody can get out of.

Schools get money based on student attendance. If students are truant (that is, absent without verified excuse), CHARGE THE PARENTS THAT DAILY RATE by ticketing/fining them, penalties included. Leverage the tickets against their state income tax or their driver’s license–something that they can’t just ignore paying.

So, rather than have the kid leave and allow others to learn, we should force him/her to stay and warm the seat, maybe even disrupt the class, just as long as they are THERE.

At my school, we have a trady policy that goes like this: if you are caught out of class when the bell rings, the teachers are supposed to lock their doors and the tardy students report to a classroom for detention that period. So our policy creates ditchers, because it gives the students somewhere to go and sit and kick it with their friends for an hour. After so many “tardies,” students get assigned detention. The policy is so absurd. How could keeping kids out of class improve their chances of success at school?

That’s an excellent question. Truancy policies like this make little sense. But again, they don’t address the problem.

***Clearing throat*** Ahem.

The reason why kids ditch is that they see no point in being in school. There is nothing to keep them in school… no incentive for them to be there. You can punish all you want, but in the end, if the goal is (as it should be) to educate the student, then perhaps we need to start by giving them something to be in school for.

Yes, yes… I know. Education is its own reward. Being intelligent, well-spoken, able to communicate, etc. are great things to have. But look at it from the point of view of a 16 year old who doesn’t know what he wants to do when he gets out of high school, but knows college isn’t it. Today’s school system is geared at making sure every kid goes to college. Every child must have ‘access.’ We give them career planning classes and teach them that success comes from higher education. And then we put them in rigorous college-prep classes and label them failures because they can’t distinguish between Teddy Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt.

Truth is, some kids know that college isn’t what they want. They are not sure what they want to do yet, but being a doctor, a lawyer, or an engineer sure aren’t it. They struggle to pass Algebra, tune out their History teacher, doodle during Science class… and that’s if they don’t just ditch, period.

Now imagine that instead of having to take all those classes, they could take autoshop, woodshop, drafting, computing, cosmetology… you know, the classes usually offered through ROP? The classes that are being pushed out and away because they are not content-based, they don’t raise standardized scores, and won’t lead to a college career? The ones that will churn out mechanics, collision repair specialists, etc.?

Bring those back, and you’ll see a steep decline in the number of truancies. Give the kids a reason to be in school and to enjoy at least one class a day. Stop pushing college on everyone like it’s the solution to everyone’s problems. It isn’t.

One of the things I struggle with the most is pacing. Now hear me out… when I start the year, I can put my entire semester curriculum into a nice little spreadsheet, complete with tests, major projects, etc..  But then, days start getting taken away:

  • Assembly days are pretty much a waste. We’re on shorter schedules and the kids don’t feel like doing anything, especially after lunch.
  • Standardized testing days - The CAHSEE, the CSTs, STAR, CELDT… I think a good 20 days out of the year are spent on various standardized tests. The CAHSEE removes several students from periods 1-4 for a couple of days… and that’s each time they retake it. CSTs/STAR testing is a whole week gone bye bye, and then there’s the kids gone a few days later due to make-ups.
  • Pointless drills… fire drills, evacuation drills, etc.. What is the point of the drill if EVERYONE knows about it? Even the kids know.. they come to class asking, “is the drill today”?
  • Malfunctions… this year I had my heater break when it was needed the most, rendering my first few classes virtually impossible to teach for a couple of days… we were freezing. I also had the internet go down on the day the kids were in the lab (and lab days are booked a month in advance!). And in previous years, the A/C was not working when it was 90 degrees OUTSIDE (about 100 inside?)
  •  The yearly LOCKDOWN – last year, kids went into the streets to protest new anti-illegal immigration laws (or, in most cases, to get a day off from school), and schools went into lockdown mode. We kept the same group of kids for a whole day. I got lucky… I had my honors class with me.
  • Substitute days – Now, I know being a sub is a tough job, but is it really so hard to get the kids to work on a worksheet and walk around the room while they do it? I spend a good hour or two preparing for a sub, only to find out the work I left (which required nothing other than the sub going around and checking that the kids are working) didn’t get done and I have to spend the next day having the kids do the work, so that sets me back a day. That’s why I only call a sub if I’m nearing death.
  • Big Project Day, a.k.a. big absence day – any kids who is feeling the sniffles suddenly comes down with a case of strep throat on the day a big presentation is going to happen.
  • Pointless Holidays, like the one today (I guess it’s Lincoln’s birthday). Do the kids really need to be off today? Do I need to be off today? Really? I mean… I had to look up what holiday it was, all I knew is that I had the day off. Yippee!

So, with all of the above, is it really that surprising that I am two full weeks behind where I think I should be?

Most teacher blogs out there seem to focus on the negatives of the profession: low pay, standardized testing, NCLB, discipline problems, etc. And though there will be a fair amount of venting on this blog too, I want to start on a more positive note and explain what I love about teaching in California.

1. Diversity – You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more diverse student population… we really have it all.

2. Strong Union – While I’m not exactly a fan of teacher unions, it is nice to know that the CTA will stick up for teachers when some bureaucrat who’s never taught before decides to put us through yet another loophole.

3. Diverse Districts – You can have your pick.. big, small, urban, suburban… the districts are as diverse as the students in them. You can, with enough perseverance, get the job you want.

4. Teacher Shortage – Well, in some fields, anyway. In others, you can be 1 in 50 applicants for the same job. But the prospects for teacher hiring in the future look good.

5. Good Teacher Prep. Programs – the Cal States generally do a good job at preparing you (as much as you can be prepared) for the job, if you apply yourself. How well prepared you’ll be depends a lot on you, but the opportunity to be ready is there.

6. Great Kids – I’ve taught in three different districts… two urban, one (my current one) suburban but with a high percentage of minority students. I’ve never left a district because of the kids, I can tell you that. Kids rock.

I can’t think of much else. But it’s a start. What do you like about teaching in California?

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