They’re not jobs, they are your children’s classes

This is just a quick note to vent some frustration regarding the state budget conversations going on all over the country.  Teacher payroll is a huge part of the expenses in many states, and so it is natural to consider teacher layoffs as a solution (or part of a solution) to a budget crisis.  I get that.

[climbing onto soapbox]

What I don’t understand is when politicians, pundits, and even the media report on “preserving teacher jobs” or “saving teacher positions” or “reducing the educator workforce” as though schools were corporations.  This isn’t about jobs.  I know that unemployment is high and many hard-working Americans can’t find work, but the potential that I may not have a job is not why laying off teachers is so bad.

Losing teachers isn’t like a corporation reducing its workforce.  We can’t downsize our schools.  We can’t reduce the number of “customers” that we serve.  In fact, the numbers increase every minute of every day.

No, all that firing teachers achieves is increased class size.  It takes the same number of students and divides them by fewer classes.  Your children (or grandchildren) are packed into the same size classroom with the same single teacher who now must find a way to meet the individual needs of more students.  The leaders of our future are given less opportunity for interaction and the education expert in the room is given less resources and time to spend with each child.  The data is pretty clear: larger class sizes negatively impact learning.

Nobody wins when we cut teacher jobs.

[soapbox now vacant]


Smarter Teachers

From Wikimedia Commons

My new Barnes & Noble nook has me reading more than ever and finally getting to some of the books that have been on my “to read” list for months.  One example is Superfreakonomics by the two Steves: Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner.  I thoroughly enjoyed the first book (Freakonomics) and am finding the second one to be equally fun to read.  The authors basically use research studies to draw connections between seemingly unrelated forces.  They aren’t without their critics, but one issue piqued my interest and I followed some of their references to learn more.

Continue reading


Teacher Appreciation

Disclaimer: There is nothing like getting scooped by someone whom you respect.  I mean, you have to swallow your indignity and your jealousy and put on a good face.  I imagine it’s like showing up at the prom in a gorgeous dress, only to watch the most popular girl in school make her appearance in the same dress (looking better than you).  Check this out to see what I’m rambling about.  Thanks, Bill, for showing up right before me wearing the same pink chiffon.

I really wanted this to be one of those “reminiscing about a tough-but-loving educator to turned my life around” kind of posts to celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week.  I wanted to regale you with tales of a ship adrift in the water until a shining beacon illuminated the way.  I wanted to be able to share a story of heart-wrenching self-discovery at the hands of a veteran teacher who carefully guided me to find my true self.

But, here’s the thing: That’s never really happened to me.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some FANTASTIC teachers in my 28 consecutive years in a classroom (learning and teaching).  I’ve known both seasoned and green educators who had a knack for making connections and engaging young people.  I look back with respect on many of them.

But, my ship never really drifted off course.  My path has been much more of a railway journey.  From an early age, I was encouraged to pursue certain tracks of study.  When I excelled in Science during middle and high school, I was recommended for more challenging college-level courses.  When I showed a penchant for research and presentation, graduate school positions (and Fullbright opportunities) were made available to me.  Later, when it became clear that my skills were best suited to teaching, I was lucky enough to enter a lateral entry program that got me into a classroom in less than three months.  There weren’t any detours or big blunders.

Along this journey, however, much like a passenger builds a scrapbook of sights seen and attractions visited, I’ve collected memories and lessons from those whom I’ve interacted with.  Some taught me that being quirky and a little strange can captivate teenagers (Thanks, Mr. Magnuson).  Others made me see that putting one’s nose to the grindstone can yield unimagined results (Hats off to you, Professor Liddle).  A few even helped me to see the invisible hand of politics in the decisions that large educational organizations make (All the best, Professors Shumway and Burkholder).

And one, more than any other, has demonstrated a path that (whenever possible) I’ve sought to follow.  He challenged me with a smile, and was casual enough to joke with students while commanding our respect for his tremendous body of knowledge.  To him, I say, thank you for the lessons that you didn’t have to teach.  I learned more from the way you live your life than from any lecture.

And I still have that aged bottle that you gave me at graduation.  I hear they only get better with age.