Leave the profession?

July 19, 2013

A good read about why some teachers leave the profession: 

Why Great Teachers Are Fleeing the Profession

Rafe Esquith:  Real Talk for Real Teachers:  


Lessons taught, lessons learned

July 17, 2013

What we do has an impact.

The impact is not solely on students but on ourselves as well… if we can take the moment to reflect on lessons learned.

I am two weeks a month into summer vacation.  It has taken me two weeks  a month to prepare myself to write this post.  There is a detox that needs to happen for me when a school year ends and while I wanted desperately to capture the thoughts and emotion from the last week of the school year, my brain would not let me sit down and write.  Now, a month later, the emotion of the last week of school is memorable but not palpable and I am well rested, not stressed and tired so I am ready to write.

The last week of school is chaotic.  Seniors, excited at the rite of passage, are giddy and loud and nostalgic.  There is a part of me that just wants them gone.  “I don’t say goodbye,  I’ll see you later.”  “See you at graduation.” These are my standard lines as seniors want to hug me, say goodbye, say they don’t want to leave.

However, there is a check list in front of me.  Many things that have to be coordinated, stored, inventoried, thrown out, prepared and completed.  I am overwhelmed by the volume of work that has to get down. So while my students are bouncy, I am working and waiting for the final bell, the final pomp and circumstance so I can be done for ten weeks.  Here is a reflection on lessons learned the last day of school:

Lesson learned:  Words matter

I was in the throes of some frenetic coordination and students had just received their yearbooks.  “Do you have a minute to sign my book Ms. Watkins?” Honestly, part of me does not want to. Immortalized words for someone else’s memory;  What do I say?  Should it be the same for each student?  What is meaningful?  What if I really don’t want to?  I sign a hundred yearbooks.  Some of the quotes are the same: “enjoy the next step;”  “I wish you success in all future endeavors;”  “keep in touch.”  Some of my comments are personalized and meaningful  I can see in my student’s faces that it is important to them that I sign their books.  The written word matters.

To me as well.  Several students wrote beautiful hand written notes thanking me for the knowledge, energy, and hope they say they gained in my classes.  Kind words, written down for my reflection.  Unsolicited and heartfelt, the sincere notes can make me cry.  I hope they mean what they say!  But this year, there was a student who with spoken word stopped the spinning classroom during a crazy moment and reminded me that even when we are not aware, students learn. He told me my class changed his life.  That he was moving confidently to the next step with an open mind, a stronger mind, and a desire to learn more.  He claims he never felt that way before and that I was the reason.  He told me I changed his life.  What they learn is different for each one, but they do learn something.

Lesson learned:  Find the joy

We find moments of joy through a school year, but joy can easily be lost in the craziness of the end of the year. Student joy at the end of the year is different than teacher joy.  We miss some kids, say good riddance to others, and are incredibly proud of many.  Student joy is about the completed goal: the end of another academic year on a journey promised to be rewarding.  Teacher joy also comes as a result of a completed goal (I made it another year!) but it is also about taking a break.  For many, teaching is a lifestyle, not just a job and sometimes we have to be reminded that there is more of our life out there.  Especially the last month of school, I often sacrificed my family and myself to get things done for school.   Summer break becomes part of the cycle.  The joy of reclaiming part of myself.

Lesson learned: Lock the door

All my good intentions to clean up my classroom, sort through old stuff to keep and throw out, and prep to make an easier start to the next academic year are thrown out as the clock ticks down to check out time and my start of summer break.  I stuff everything into cabinets, lock them up and promise I will start early in August to get organized.  My responsibilities include textbook counts, monitoring other teachers during check out, and completing grading and submitting grades.  There is so much to still do… but I lock it all up and pack up what I want at home and head to the door.  A room that looks clean, lights out, door locked, and me and my boxes head to the car.  It is Friday afternoon.  It is the start of a much needed break.

Carrying a loaded box, turning off the light switch, it feels like the start of another weekend.  But it is summer.  I have learned more about myself as a teacher, I learned volumes about my students.  I appreciate student’s statements that they believe I made an impact.  But each and everyone made an impact on me as well.  Locking the door of my classroom means that everything is there, everything is safe for some weeks. But yes… I’ll be back.

The Hardest Job

June 24, 2013

Post coming soon on the last week of school and the importance of summer break.
But for now: Read this The Hardest Job.



More and more with less and less

May 24, 2013

lightbulbsThe school year is winding down. It is a time for reflection on academic careers and celebrations of graduate’s accomplishments.

But put that on hold a minute… the reality is that we are ending this year with exhaustion and sadness as fiscal policies dictate school policies and people dedicated to the education profession are asked to do more and more with less and less.

Less and More

School districts are forced into reactionary budgeting to meet the demands of the federal and state government with less say, less resources and more demands.

Beyond the state budget crisis and a district anticipating $11 million in additional cuts (after five straight years of cuts), the morale,  health and well being of faculty and staff are threatened by  the demands to continue operating at high levels with less support.  Here is just a sample:

  • Budget constraints mean no new textbooks.  So we are asked to teach rigorous, modern curriculum with books 10 years old (and in some cases even older).
  • Teachers are mandated to prepare for Common Core pilot testing next year… and California Standards Testing… and CAHSEE… and maintain high end programs like IB and AP.
  • Stipends are being eliminated from coaches, advisers, support personnel, yet the programs are expected to continue to perform at high levels.
  • Teachers are needed but the only hires are to replace those who retired. Class enrollment levels are at 38:1 (and as high as 42:1 in some subjects).


Defying what I call good education and a good educational climate,  we work to finish this year and start anew in a couple months.

However, conversations with my colleagues and events this last week provide evidence that we are broken both in function and spirit.

  • It is seen in the District administrator who tells the school principal “Here is the list of people you need to fire today. Oh, and by the way, you need to figure out how to reduce our attrition rate.”
  • It is evident by noting that the people laid off are the same ones who provide support to the students identified as at-risk for attrition.
  • It is seen in the husband and wife who dedicate themselves to the district both getting laid off the same day.
  • It is evident from the newly hired second grade teacher whom parents describe as “the best teacher ever” getting her pink slip even though she is needed and loved by students.
  • It is seen in the veteran teacher who REALLY should NOT be teaching anymore; a teacher who does more harm than good in the classroom but is protected by the union and an outside advocacy group that scares the District despite years of documentation illustrating incompetence.
  • It is evident by asking teachers to continue to do more and more with less and less.

Most of my colleagues want to provide incredible educational opportunities to our students. Many are finding that harder to do given the demands.

My school site operates with a strong cultural principle of “We Are Us.”  We care for each other and mourn for each other.   We work hard for our students and fight for their rights.  But we also need to fight for ourselves.

More and more with less and less leads to a fragile environment detrimental to all of us.

Teacher Leader Teacher

April 15, 2013

I attended a conference sponsored by the Cal Council for Teacher Education (CCTE) this week. CCTE carries institutionally based membership concerned with teacher preparation and issues that affect teachers in teacher education. Invited as a panelist, this was a new experience for me. The topic was Teacher Leadership and a friend and colleague on the board for CCTE recommended me to sit on a panel to discuss teacher leadership from the teacher’s point of view. I felt like I was in the right place.

Over the course of three days, there would be panel discussions, institutional meetings, special interest groups meetings, policy briefings, research poster sessions, and some time for socializing with colleagues. Since most of the conferences I typically attend are for professional development of my craft, the opportunity to sit and talk with politicians, researchers, doctoral students, and professors of education was both thrilling and a bit terrifying for this classroom teacher. That is the same way I feel about the topic of teacher leadership: thrilled and terrified.

I attended the panel discussions and heard key speakers highlight the need to recognize teacher leaders. Organizations shared their plans and philosophy for preparing teacher leaders, recognizing teacher leaders, researching teacher leaders. Heads nodded throughout the audience when respected colleagues made salient points. Teacher Leadership (it was agreed upon) was important. Something to be recognized, compensated and developed.

As I listened to the experts and participants at CCTE, I found myself shaking my head no…no…no. There was another side to this topic. There were things not said that needed to be.

I did not know I was “teacher leader” until it was given the label. I involved myself and worked with others because it was the right thing to do. I think the conversation on the topic of teacher leadership should recognize that the semantics are important.
• Be careful not to confuse the concepts of quality, professional collaboration and teacher leadership.
• Do not call on teachers to play a “larger” role. We already play a large role in educating students. Call on teachers to play a different role.
• Think more in terms of mentoring/coaching instead of institutionalizing “teacher leader.”

Do other professions label their leaders? Are there lawyer leaders? Doctor leaders? Or just professionals doing good work for their community?

It seems to me that the focus is on building a healthy culture, where teachers (novice to veteran) want to work for their community. Create that healthy school culture and move people in the right direction.

What I do sounds crazy: I am a social science teacher with three course preps including IB/AP courses. In addition, I serve as the Social Science Dept. Chair, the WASC coordinator, a technology support provider, a common core trainer, a member on the GATE advisory council, the community service coordinator, the CAS advisor, an extended essay adviser, and a member of the District strategic planning stakeholder committee. I have a doctorate in Educational Leadership and work with other doctoral students on their research and writing. Some of these activities are compensated some I do because I believe in the work. I believe I am serving both my students and my colleagues.

The professionals at CCTE offered some suggestions for teacher leaders including courses in teacher leaderships and tests for teacher leader certification. There are several things to consider if the movement to certify teacher leaders continues.
• Budget realities prevent teachers being supported when they pursue leadership responsibilities.
• Finding opportunities can be challenging. Some panelists at CCTE talked about getting “tapped on the shoulder.”
• The concept of teacher’s pet applied. There is a fine line between being “a favorite” and maintaining legitimacy as a teacher.
• Policy makers think they know without understanding classroom realities.

Greatness by Design (http://www.cde.ca.gov/eo/in/documents/greatnessfinal.pdf) recognizes the challenges educators face and calls for reform to improve the teaching profession. Included are policy statements about support for teacher leadership through certification and professional development.

I disagree with some of the conclusions on teacher leadership.
For example, Greatness by Design (2012) states,
Currently, there are relatively few opportunities in the United States for expert teachers to share practices with their peers or to take on leadership roles. Most teachers are still isolated from each other, teaching in egg-crate classrooms and performing the same functions after 30 years as they did when they first entered the profession. A teaching career has not yet evolved that regularly supports shared learning, career advancement or enhanced compensation (p.72).

This statement does not fit with my career or experience and I believe it focuses on the wrong aspect of teacher leadership.

Greatness by Design (2012) advocates institutionalizing the concept of teacher leadership. This is a short-sighted view.

Yes, formal institutions like NBCT and professional development are important. But the real leadership is coming from the trenches. There are several informal networks that exist and illustrate how teachers support each other. There are listserves, Facebook pages, wiki’s, and BLOGS that serve our community of teachers. We lead informally. We share our knowledge, we support each other, we collaborate…all without coursework, professional development or a certificate in teacher leadership.

Change the conversation. How do you want your teacher leaders? Organic or Institutionalized?
What thrills me is that this conversation is happening.
What terrifies me is that there is a perspective that still needs to be heard.

What I appreciated from this conference, from the leaders in the room and the dialogue, was the recognition that there are teacher leaders. We have a valuable voice. We need to talk!

Weekend catch up

March 10, 2013

Over the course of an academic week, assignments, lessons, and administrative demands continue to pile up. I manage a few but start a pile of the work I need to catch up on over the weekend.

I tell my students: “Oh, that project you turned in a week ago? I’m almost done. I will finish grading this weekend.” And that is usually a lie. At least the part about grading almost done. Typically, I have not started grading but I plan to power out over the weekend to get it done.

Heavy sigh.

It is Sunday. Saturday was filled with my own family events including baseball and groceries, and laundry… and yes, a little bit of social time with friends. Now it is Sunday and the weekend guilt catches up with me. I’m not done grading. I will do some but I’m not sure I can finish. The pile is too high. The demands too great. If I go into another week without the work done, more will be added to the pile.

But it is Sunday. And it was daylight saving time so I lost an hour. I want to spend time with my family. I want to spend time with myself!

I just took time to write this post. Now I am behind even more. Must start working. Must catch up.

Heavy sigh.


February 24, 2013

I didn’t take my Adderall.

My printer isn’t working.

I didn’t know we had homework.

I’m on campus until 9pm.

My book is at my dad’s house.

I don’t understand how to submit homework.

I forgot my log in.

I had APUSH homework.

I didn’t get any sleep.

I had a doctor’s appointment.

My depression medication is being adjusted.

My alarm did not go off.

The counselor messed me up.

I’m not supposed to be in this class.

I was playing COD.

Can I turn it in tomorrow?