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Governor Kasich, we want a new bus driver

 

The Battle over Issue 2 Continues

The showdown over Issue 2 (formerly SB 5) will take place in a few days and the financial security and rights of many of those who are the backbone of our society are at stake. At the beginning of Kasich’s term he declared that if the people of Ohio weren’t on his bus then the bus would run over them. W-e-l-l-l-l-l, not so fast my friend.

How Issue 2 affects teachers

This bill affects state workers, teachers, nurses, police, and firefighters. It is a union busting bill disguised as a tool to balance the budget; but, what it really does is it tramples on the rights and working conditions of many people and sets them back decades. I have never been a union person myself nor have I been loyal to any particular political party and don’t believe in voting a straight ticket. So why am I so passionate to see this legislation defeated?

I first became aware of the issues when it was SB 5.  I objected to the bill for many reasons but as a former teacher I am offended that the  bill severally hinders teachers’ abilities to work effectively in the classroom by:

  • ·         ending work rules as a topic of collective bargaining, such as length of school day, building assignments, class size, etc.
  • ·         eliminating the ability to strike
  • ·         allowing a school board to implement its own last offer in order to end a bargaining impasse
  • ·         allowing a school board to terminate, modify or renegotiate the collective bargaining agreement if it faces significant fiscal problems
  • ·         a shift to merit-based pay
  • ·         the end of tenure

The bill includes many other offensive issues but these are the ones specifically targeting teachers. In addition, during the debates over SB 5 in the spring it was reported that Kasich proposed giving teachers bonuses of $50 for every student who shows more than a year’s worth of improvement based on existing state measurements. Translated that means that teachers will receive $50 for every student achieving a certain score on state achievement tests. This merely opens Pandora’s Box for teaching solely to the test and cheating and manipulating test scores (remember the latest scandal in Atlanta where teachers and administrators did just that?).

Jennifer Walker, an English teacher at Youngstown’s East High and the 2009 Teacher of the Year, said teachers at inner-city schools should not be rewarded based on the same metric applied to suburban teachers. “We are teachers whose students live in poverty, who hear gunshots on their streets at night,” Walker said. “I feel like teachers are a scapegoat. Schools are not to blame for the problem, we just mirror society’s problems.”

A school system cannot be compared to a corporation

As I said in Teachers Get No Respect, March 26, 2011, a school system cannot be compared to a corporation. There is no product to sell or manufacture except education. A profit and loss statement cannot be produced on this commodity because it is so nebulous. As a teacher, one of the most frustrating aspects of the job for me was that I never knew whether or not I was reaching my students. They might pass my tests but did they really learn the material and, more importantly, were they learning to open their minds and think for themselves? There were no measuring devices for immediate gratification.

Sometimes one had to wait for years before finding an answer. As an example, I once had a student in my class who I thought was under-performing. I called on her frequently in class, not to embarrass her but to delve into her mind. I knew she was smart enough to  handle the material. We were often at odds because she resented my attention. One day she burst out in class, called me a name that rhymes with witch, and stormed out of the classroom. I was shocked but never gave up on her.

Several years later I had quit teaching and one day I heard a knock on the door. There stood that student. She said she had to come to me and apologize and thank me for believing in her. She had had an adventurous life since graduating from high school including living on a kibbutz in Israel; however, she went on with her education and continued to learn and expand her universe. Yes! That is the confirmation I needed to know that I had gotten through to her even though you would never know it when she was in my class. She said I was the only one who had ever believed in her and challenged her and she didn’t know how to respond. Would she have passed mandatory state tests at the time? No one knows. But, the important fact to me is that I had been successful in planting the seed to learn. Nothing can ever top the feeling of knowing I had finally reached her—not even Kasich’s $50.

That, dear friends, is something that will never show up on a test and cannot be measured. That experience is priceless. Most teachers aren’t concerned with merit pay they just want to do the job they love without restrictions and endless regulations and testing. They are there to guide, counsel, and gently open the minds of young people. Their greatest reward is to see their students go on to live fruitful and meaningful lives.

Respect the teachers

The teachers have been strangely quiet on the debates over Issue 2. That is probably because school began in the fall when the political machinery was gearing up. They were more interested in getting a good beginning to the school year than fighting over their own personal and political concerns. That is as it should be, it is called dedication to the profession. We, the public, expect no less from the ones to whom we entrust our precious children.

That is why I am appointing myself as the spokesperson for the teachers in the fight over Issue 2. They have important business to attend to in the classroom. I have completed my time in the classroom and have also served as a lobbyist for the arts in education and am now lobbying for your support for the teachers. Show your respect for the job they do. Don’t take away their few rights they fought so long and hard for. Give them the freedom and security to do their jobs without encumbering them with countless tests, paperwork, overcrowded classes, extended school days, loss of tenure, and more.

Vote NO on Issue 2. Show the teachers the respect they deserve.

BREAKING NEWS: GOVERNOR, LEGISLATORS AGREE TO TEACH IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS

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In light of the recent controversy regarding teachers and SB 5, governor Kasich and many legislators have agreed to teach in public schools for the next grading period.

They agreed to remain in the classrooms the entire grading period stating, “How hard can it be?” They continued that they look forward to the comfort of leaving work at three o’clock daily so they can catch up on much needed sleep and workout time. When reminded they would have to prepare lesson plans, grade papers, and arrange graphic presentations they said they would refer these duties to their able aides. When reminded they would have no aides or secretaries for paper work and classroom presentations, governor Kasich replied, “Then I will just talk to them all day as I have done on the campaign trail and at Fox News.”

In addition, governor Kasich agreed to take on the extra duty of driving a school bus. Referring to his recent comments that he is driving the bus and you are either on it or you will be run over, Kasich pointed to his excellent driving record. He stated that he drove SB 5 over bumpy roads to adoption and feels navigating a school bus will be no different. When asked about his confrontation with a state highway patrol officer regarding a traffic violation, Kasich stated he felt certain that incident did not disqualify him from driving a bus. As governor he would see to it there were no obstacles ahead.

Many legislators also felt confident and felt no special education or preparation would be necessary for the upcoming task. One lawmaker was overheard to say he spent 12 years in a public classroom and felt he knew all he needed to know about teaching.

A spokesman for the teachers stated, “We are looking forward to an extended spring break. Many of us will be seeking new employment or taking on a second job.” One student commented she was looking forward to the change. “The teachers are wise to our tricks so now we get to educate a whole bunch of newbies.”

An interested parent commented she was looking forward to the experiment. Referring to talk of parents taking over failing schools she said, “I feel certain my son’s school will be in the failing group and then I can take over the system myself. I look forward to seeing that my son has all the additional help he needs, regardless of the other students’ needs. My son is the one who counts,” she said.

When asked about the significance of announcing this plan on April first, Kasich said he saw no correlation between the timing of the announcement and April Fools Day.

I STIRRED UP A HORNET’S NEST

My last blog, Teachers Get No Respect, created a big response. It seems all you have to do is mention “teachers” and “Senate Bill 5” in the same breath and people automatically bristle. There are strong feelings both for and against. I have received e-mails and been part of several discussions since posting that blog entry.

 What I find so interesting is nowhere did I take a stand for or against unions, yet, in all discussions people automatically assume I am pro union since I am defending teachers. My point is teachers have a very hard job and deserve the respect to have their voices heard. As I stated previously, the teachers are not the bad guys, however people tend to put them in the same category as bratty kids who need to be punished. Teachers are the first to recognize we have problems in the educational system and they are very willing to help find answers. However, people are too quick to place blame and look for retribution rather than answers.

I have the unique perspective of being able to look at this problem from both the educational and business point of view. And these are two completely different worlds! I must say, in some respects, the teachers bring some of this on themselves in that many don’t dress and act as professionals. Casual dress, jeans, flip-flops, etc. may be comfortable in the classroom but are not appropriate when working within the business world. Showing up at the statehouse wearing T-shirts with messages may have worked on college campuses but this only perpetuates the perception of teachers being less than professional. Like it or not, society judges people on their appearance.

Here are a few comments sent to me by some with experiences in the classroom or associated with teachers:

From Linda      “…it just sickens me, what the republicans/Kasich are doing. In fact, I went down to two of the rallies at the statehouse, (my daughter) wanted me to go, she couldn’t be here herself. She’s a speech therapist in a school district in the Akron area….”

From Kathie    “loved your blog—right on!!!!! I challenge everyone who criticizes teachers to teach for one marking period—not a day—but a unit with plans, activities, assessments, etc. Then tell us how truthful “those who can do, do. Those who can’t, teach”….if you asked me to define myself, I’d tell you “teacher”—even before “mother” because all mothers are teachers.”

From Jerry       “overall I think you’ve laid out a pretty good argument from the teacher’s side of the question. I’ll have to say that I agree with a lot of what you’ve said, but…I tend to look for a larger view of things. Maybe the problems aren’t so much SB 5 but much deeper. From my perspective there is really NO direct relationship between “teaching and learning.” I mean, teachers teach, and students learn and it doesn’t necessarily happen that “if teachers teach”, “students learn”. That, for me, sums up the whole question of what actually happens in classrooms…we have achieved two outcomes…neither of which we necessarily started with…1)provided employment for a huge number of people; teachers, janitors, administrators, etc. and 2) provided babysitting services for little Johnny and Suzie. Likely folks will reel at hearing this…and especially from one who defends “education” to the bitter end.

From my background, and that does include 25 full years in a classroom, the whole enterprise needs to be examined….in this case politicians are picking the “low hanging” fruit once again…I think they suffer from a similar problem as do the rest of us…”they haven’t a clue”…I suspect that this little issue you have spoken about will only lead to divide us further and eventually to armed conflict in this wonderful society we have created…there are multitudes of problems all relating to this and solutions can’t be found by taking swipes at each by writing a few paragraphs…

Oh let me add these thoughts:

1.      I don’t think teachers are overpaid (even though I would have done it for less)

2.      I do not know where to begin to balance income and outgo for the State Government

3.      I do not think that cutting education budgets are necessarily the problem

4.      If nothing else perhaps the new Gov. will help us focus on the “real” problem (whatever it is)

5.      I do not support labor unions in the “education” arena (especially the way it works today)

6.      Many times OEA and FTA tried to organize our school, I always fought against it. (for the most part those in favor of a union were those who couldn’t find employment outside a school, those who taught occupational skills were opposed)…that might give a clue as who supports unions in education.

I started this debate by asking that we give teachers some respect. We have serious problems in the educational system and nothing good will be achieved with each side trying to outshout the other. It seems Jerry summed up the debate with #4—if nothing else perhaps the new Gov. will help us focus on the “real” problem (whatever it is.) Let us hope something good will come from all this chaos and vindictiveness.

TEACHERS GET NO RESPECT

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Comedian Rodney Dangerfield popularized the phrase, “I get no respect.” If I didn’t know differently, I would think he was a teacher. Teachers are, perhaps, the most overworked and underappreciated portion of the American public.

Teachers’ salaries and benefits have been in the news a lot lately associated with discussions of Senate Bill 5 and Governor John Kasich’s new budget. In Kasich’s effort to balance the budget he is proposing to cut school funding by $1.3 billion over the next two years. Let me repeat that in case you misread it—that is billion—with a B.

Before I go any further let me explain why I am so passionate about this subject. I was a teacher once upon a time. But, unlike a fairy tale, my experience was not a pleasant one. Growing up and all through college, all I ever wanted was to be a teacher. Unlike many college students, I never wavered in my declared major. After graduation I went out to save the world one student at a time armed with my diploma and teaching certificate. I was not naive, I knew it would be a challenge but I thought I was prepared. I knew my subject material and felt I could relate well to students.

Experience showed that, yes, I was prepared to work effectively in the classroom; but what I was not prepared for was the utter lack of respect for my profession from the students, administration, parents, community, and even fellow teachers. The attitude was sink or swim. There was no mentoring from colleagues and no support from the administration. In addition, the general public had the attitude—those who can do; those who can’t, teach. I am ashamed to say I lasted only three years. The pressure was so intense from unruly students, angry parents, demanding administrators and a questioning public that I finally said to myself, “There has to be more to life than this.”

I walked away nearly 40 years ago and although times have changed, I’m afraid the attitude toward teachers has not changed. In fact, I think they have worsened. The new proposals are a witness to that fact. As part of Kasich’s new streamlined government plan he proposes to eliminate all collective bargaining and the ability to strike. There are other goodies thrown in such as:

  • Ending work rules as a topic of collective bargaining, such as length of school day, building assignments, class size, etc.
  • Delaying retirement age from 30 years to 35 years of service and age 60.
  • Lowering retirement payments to 77% of a teacher’s highest five years of salary…down from 88.5% based on 3 years of service.
  • Chopping cost-of-living adjustments for retirees from 3% to 2% with no cost-of-living adjustment the first five years of retirement.
  • Eliminating automatic pay increases for longevity, replacing with merit pay.

These are not all the proposed changes but just a few that jumped out at me. Something else that has been grabbing my attention during all the debates is the news media constantly stressing that currently a teacher’s average salary is now $57,000 for only 182 official working days. Stop teachers on the street and they will all tell you they work way more than the 182 “official” days. In fact, a teacher’s time is rarely entirely his own. After the official work day there is grading papers, preparing next day’s lesson plan, never-ending paperwork, maintaining a pleasant classroom atmosphere, communications with parents, chaperoning extracurricular activities, continuing education in the form of seminars and advanced degrees, and the list goes on and on. So, what on the surface looks like a cushy part time job of only 182 work days per year, becomes a life time of commitment.

Another overlooked fact of a teacher’s life is the amount of money the teacher personally spends for equipment and supplies in her classroom. Many teachers, especially those in elementary schools, spend their own money buying workbooks, art supplies, colorful posters, and other teaching aids. They do whatever it takes to brighten their classroom and the lives of their students—your children. No one ever went into teaching to become rich but to begin taking money out of their pockets is sinful.

I would like to know how many people could last even a week in a classroom room with approximately 30 children or young people constantly demanding your attention and not wanting to learn the lesson at hand. It is emotionally and physically exhausting work.

Another controversial item is merit pay versus automatic pay increases. Merit pay sounds good in the business world but the question is—how do you accurately measure for merit pay? In the business world there is usually a product that can be measured and then charted; but in education it is difficult to really know how much a student is learning. Various tests have been designed to evaluate this but when school districts and teachers know that so much depends on the numbers they produce on the tests, this then leads to teaching only to the test. Students must know X amount of information by the end of the school year so the teacher runs through the text books so all material can be covered; but, this often leaves students behind because there is no time to spend extra days on a particular concept for just a few students. In addition, it cuts out any opportunities to explore new areas brought up in discussions or for field trips. Must cover that material!

Also, when it comes to merit pay, the makeup of schools is never equal. The population of some schools may have many students from disadvantaged homes where they go to bed hungry and don’t feel safe in their own homes. Many today don’t even have homes of their own but are forced to live in shelters or temporary housing. In today’s culturally diverse society many come from non-English speaking homes making learning even more difficult. These students will bring down the overall average of the school or district because they can’t keep up with the progress of other students.

The world of education is not the same as the business world. It cannot be held to the same principals and mode of operation. There are no profit and loss statements or sales figures. There is no tangible manufactured product. Educators pass on knowledge and produce productive citizens. It takes a long time to know whether or not your efforts are successful. Even test results don’t tell the whole story, anyone can memorize a lot of facts and repeat them for a test but how do you know if your students really learned the lessons.

One evening I heard on the news a “brilliant” proposal of how to level the playing field—eliminate the bad teachers and put more students in the classes of the good teachers. This is the most ridiculous idea I have ever heard! It “rewards” the good teachers by increasing their class sizes. And, believe me, class size is important. A teacher is only one person and the more students in a class the less individual time the teacher has with each student. It also means more chaos and more papers to grade. Once again, someone will be pushed aside.

I feel one of the problems we have is too many people from the business world have tried to guide the schools when they know nothing about the educational system. I watched legislators make laws affecting the schools when they knew nothing about them. What was even more sickening was to see them in committee meetings where they were supposed to be listening to experts testify but instead were talking among themselves and walking about the room, plainly ignoring the speakers. The State Board of Education is no different. During my time as lobbyist I was shocked to learn that I don’t think there was any board member with an educational background. So we have legislators and board members creating laws, curriculum, guidelines, etc. with no practical educational experience. It is merely political posturing at the expense of our children and our state’s future.

Something else that annoys me about this whole SB 5 affair is the prevailing attitude that somehow the teachers are guilty of creating the mess within the educational system. It is almost as if society is lumping the teachers in the same category as naughty kids and, therefore, everyone must be punished. Treat teachers as intelligent adults! Robert Davis, lobbyist with the Ohio Education Association, said Kasich can’t blame teachers for Ohio’s budget woes. “Teachers shouldn’t be scapegoats for the state of the economy in Ohio. It feels like swipe after swipe. First and foremost, teachers care about kids, and the job they do is helping students. You look at this budget, which claims to prioritize education, but it cuts education by double digits.”

Another item overlooked by everyone is the schools should not be included in the general budget in the first place. When the state voters approved the lottery it was sold on the idea that proceeds would go to funding the schools. However, as money got tight that fund was raided and school funding landed in the general budget. I was a lobbyist during the debates of DeRolf versus State of Ohio which was a class action suit claiming every student is entitled to an equal and equitable education. I watched in disgust as the Republicans and Democrats squared off and took shots at one another, each trying to escape the blame for the state of the schools and each claiming it had all the answers to our problems. The debates became angry and agitated as they played politics at the expense of our children’s education. The state supreme court ruled that the 611 school systems in Ohio were not equal but every student deserved the opportunity to receive an equal education. After over 20 years of debates, the suit died in committee due to politics. According to findings resulting from the DeRolf case, the schools drastically were in need of better and equal funding then and now, twenty plus years later, we are going to drastically cut funding even more.

I have a suggestion for the governor and legislature—listen to the teachers. Most teachers are reasonable and are concerned with the financial well being of our state as well as their own finances and the needs of their students. Surely a compromise can be worked out if everyone comes to the table with an open mind and respect for each other. The teachers aren’t the bad guys here. They are doing the best they can with the limited resources they have. Don’t restrict those resources even more.

PS—to quote a bumper sticker—if you can read this, thank a teacher.