Monday, September 5, 2011

From the City to the Suburbs

I've often wondered what it would be like to teach in the suburbs.  I have in my head the unsubstantiated notion that it would be easier, more pleasant, and less overwhelming.  But that's all conjecture - I have no personal friends who have made the switch.  I have, however, stumbled upon this article by Brett Rosenthal, who left Jamaica High School for a Long Island high school.
He notes differences in parent involvement, the lack of student sorting at his new school, discipline, leadership, and hiring.  His notes on leadership are interesting.  At South Side High School, leaders are experienced educators who are committed to not only education but also their school.
I think about City Prep, and I wonder how many of our staff will leave before next year.  I wonder how long our leadership will be in place.  And I wonder about the things that make people leave.  In an urban school, there's so much movement of personnel that if I were to walk into CP of three years ago I would know perhaps two people.  If I were to walk into CP three years from now, I wonder who would still be there.  CP has recently seemed to turn a corner in its ability to get teachers to stay, I think we're approaching the point where there might be some restlessness growing and turnover on the horizon.
I'll admit it:  reading Rosenthal's article makes me tempted to take my teaching to the suburbs.  If I remain in the classroom, I think there's a very good chance that's where I end up.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

50 Hour Weeks

Charles Blow cites a study that says high school teachers work 50 hours per week, and that figure suggests they're undercompensated compared to teachers in other OECD countries.

50 hours?  I've hit the 50 hour mark by mid-Thursday (as have all my coworkers), and that excludes all the weekend hours.

Surely we at CP aren't the only ones...

Technology and other Gimmicks

This article seems to provide some data to what I, and others, have long suspected.  Expensive investments in technology don't seem to be worth the cost from an educational perspective.  I fully appreciate using an iPad to blog about a social studies topic can really invest students in learning, but nobody ever failed to learn math for lack of a laptop.  Most teachers (and most adults) are ill-equipped to use much of the latest technology, let alone teach it or use it to teach.  The tens of millions of dollars invested by districts gives leaders something to identity as a change or improvement from the past, but I don't think anyone is substantively better off because of that investment.  That money could go a long way toward paying teachers more, recruiting better teachers, or improving one of the many metrics that correlate with student success.

On a somewhat related note, I've learned all current Teach For America corps members are going to get a free iPad from apple.  As an alum, I'm kinda bummed I don't get one.  Where's the love, Teach For America?!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Starting the School Year

As the school year begins, it's been a hectic series of weeks.  I caught this piece regarding principal burnout  at charter schools just as I was recovering from an incredibly hectic week at work.
I'm fortunate to teach at a school that is, in urban education, a good school.  I'll call it "City Prep", or CP for short.  I've had enough experience at CP that I've been thinking a lot about what teachers from my former school would say about my classroom and my school if they saw it.  They would probably notice the following.

1.  Teachers are teaching rigorous and well-planned lessons.
2.  Students are paying attention.
3.  There is no inappropriate noise in the hallway.
4.  Students are generally on task in the classroom.
5.  Students are FAR more respectful to teachers and follow directions.

The big visible difference at our school is that students are doing much better than students at the school I came from.  But the students are basically the same.  They come from similar neighborhoods, face similar pressures, are distracted by the same things.  What's different is what the adults are doing.  At CP, we have a consequence system that the teacher simply has to utilize, not create.  We have consequences for student actions, and students face them every time - no student is sent to the office only to return 10 minutes later because the vice principal "spoke to them," as was frequent at my former school.  There are very clear expectations - talking back to an adult is simply not tolerated, and thus it doesn't happen.  And finally, adults are incredibly proactive in trying to build great lessons to make sure that students are engaged.  One think I'm working to improve is my proactive management - the process by which a teacher sets up small student actions that promote behavioral and academic compliance.  For example, the English teacher at CP shouts "pencils up" every time students are about to begin independent practice.  After waiting for compliance (2-3 seconds), which is easy to observe, the teacher shouts "go", and all students immediately get writing.  That's a big improvement from just saying "Okay, now we are writing independently.  Begin."  In the latter example, it's difficult to monitor student compliance, and there's no easily observable action that makes a student feel pressured to follow along (nobody wants to be the one without their pencil up.)

All of this relates to the article about principal burnout because I've been wondering how sustainable  14 and 15 hour workdays are.  14 hours is a lot, and each day is draining physically and emotionally.  And then there's always weekend work to be done.  Which reminds me, it's about 9:30 on Saturday and I need to get to work.