Wednesday, February 23, 2011

I'm A Teacher and I Think Wisconsin Teachers are Wrong.

I teach in a right to work state. That means I am not represented by a union. Sure, you can join NEA/TSTA if you want, but it's the most expensive ticket to representation. Most teachers, regardless of political views, only join to get liability insurance. That's the bottom line. If I can get that for less from any of the other alphabet soup of organizations, then I will. That all being said, here's my take on the brouhaha in Madison.

I am appalled.

If you talk to any teacher, one of the first things that comes up is that kids just aren't very well behaved. Also, if you are really a trained professional, you know that modeling behavior is one of the best ways of teaching behavior. So by rioting, writing fake doctor's notes and more, these teachers are acting out just as badly as the more unruly segment of our student population. I suppose we should give many of the younger ones sort of a pass because they were raised in an era when adults tolerated snippy behavior as "cute." I didn't let my own kids watch The Simpsons, because I didn't find mimickry of Bart's behavior to be an attractive trait in a child. But other parents said I was staid. Now we have young adults who think aggression equates to assertiveness. Nothing could be farther from the truth. If you are assertive, you have the authority of facts to back you up. On the other hand, aggression is nothing more that bullying behavior and conjecture based on nothing but opinion. That is what we see in the streets of Madison.

I understand to a point. I am currently the only breadwinner at my house. As a classroom teacher it's not easy to make ends meet on a less than $50K income. But we do what we have to do. We sell things. We make do. We do without. And we do this as our parents and grandparents had to do during bad times. Unfortunately, the youngest teachers were raised in a period of time when self-esteem trumped achievement. Everyone wins a trophy. Nobody loses. And that's not reality. In the real world competition determines the winners. I bet the Chinese understand that. And I think many immigrants who come here for the very freedoms this current administration is trying to squelch understand as well. But these younger teacher do not understand. The think they are entitled to have everything it took their parents and grandparents decades to afford. For example, my mother didn't have her own new car until I was in high school. I didn't get a car for turning sixteen. My kids helped pay their way through school. These things may sound normal to you. If that is the case, I can almost guarantee you were either raised before 1980 or you were part of a military family.

These are the attitudes that fuel this debate in Madison. It's been shouted by Oprah, echoed by Obama and resonates with those who would much rather watch others work than work themselves. These are the folks who were never read "The Ant and the Grasshopper" or "The Little Red Hen" or "The Goose that Laid the Golden Egg" because those were seen as archaic stories written by dead white men. Instead these young teachers' heads were filled with politically affirming stories of downtrodden people deserving the best and getting it only when laws were changed or when action was taken by governments. Funny how none of these stories ever relied on actions by individuals to save the day. But socialist regimes rely on groupthink and group activities and those are the very things that condition smart kids to carry the rest. The result: well you see it on the streets of Madison.

What can you say about unions? Unions had their place. There's no doubt that appalling conditions of child labor and dangerous working situations were changed because of unions. But it is also true that unions are far more concerned in their own success over the success of the business in which the rank and file work. Unions destroyed American manufacturing, the auto industry being a prime example. Had GM been allowed to fail, union contracts would have had to be renegotiated. But Obama was indebted to union organization for votes, so he managed to create funds that bought out GM. And we will never see that money paid back. Card check, buyouts, exemption from the healthcare bill and countless other actions have been promoted by the White House and backed by muscle from such entities as SEIU and AFT. When you have the president calling out political activists to intervene in a state funding issue, that is invasive policy and demonstrates the absolute disdain this White House has for the states. In a larger measure this also tells us that Wisconsin is not the end of this fight but may be only the start. I know there is talk of Texas teachers gathering in Austin on March 12th. I do not know if I will be there or not. But I do know that I will not support unions in this state.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Education and Economic Freefall

A couple of years back, I predicted that the falling of the value of property would result in an economic downturn for cities and states. I don't like being right,but I told you so. Entities that survive on the revenue gleaned from taxes are naturally going to be hit and hit hard by this economy. No entity more so than the public education apparatus.

I am a teacher in a public school. I do not make a princely salary. In fact right now I am the only income at my home. That being said, my family is dealing with the downturn like most others. We are paying off the bills we can, making do with less and watching every penny. There are no vacations on the books. No lush parties being planned. We aren't remodeling. We are barely getting by. So it is with real wonder that I look at the way education dollars and bond issues are used.

Down the road in a town called Allen, they are building a sixty million dollar stadium for high school football. Yes, High School. I was raised in Texas and I understand that football and sports are trumps, but seriously is this what we want of the future? Do we really need more uninformed, overdeveloped drones? While sports have their places, it used to be such things were extracurricular, as in outside the curriculum. Now we have "classes" in cheerleading, football, drill team and marching band. The cost of supporting such programs have necessitated a highly mobilized parent base in booster clubs. Sadly those booster clubs, in their zeal to support, see nothing beyond the limits of the interests of their own children. So we end up with big fancy stadiums and no textbooks.

Then there is the electronic message. Politicians LOVE electronics and technology. By mandating support for such things they can look smart and supportive. But frankly having seen a couple of decades of students go through programs that feature technology I wonder if it isn't making them less inclined to learn. When given a task, unless specifically told not to, most student choose the first entry on Google or Wiki no matter how inane. These students duration at reading and their comprehension are marginal. The printed word is very different from the electronically generated one. I have to wonder if in our excitement to use technology we have made it harder for kids to learn or enjoy reading. Most adults that work on computers use glasses because of the eye strain. Perhaps our young children are having the same issues which they cannot voice because they don't know any different.

Then there is the issue of class size. In this regard it is all about the formula. If you have class A with a one:one student teacher ratio and class B with a one : thirty five student ratio and average them, it become a perfectly acceptable one : eighteen student teacher ratio. But that doesn't mean that the kids in the larger class will be getting anything near the time and attentio of the kid in the single student class. Then there are the various alphabetic issues. When you have a student with significant challenges, for which teacher must by law accommodate, you add to that teacher's responsibilities. Take the thirty five student class and from that class pick the kids who have 504's or IEP's or ESL issues or behavioral contracts and you make it where a small group within the larger class are demanding almost all the teacher's attention. I have seen this in action where a severely disabled student was put in an art class where when she didn't get attention, she would cut herself. This was a class of over thirty high school students including several gang members. There's no way the few kids who actually wanted that class got a positive experience. And this is increasingly the norm as the solution school districts are faced with is to throw disabled students into classes and hope to God the teachers can do something with them.

I am not sure what the future holds. Today my principal said that the district would reduce numbers through attrition. That might work for one year or maybe two. But down the road unless things turn around many districts will be facing reductions in force and more. I just wonder at what point superintendents will cut their pay.....

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

About That Global Warming....

It is 19 here in DFW. The Superbowl is this weekend and no doubt Jerry Jones sold the Dallas location as a sunny alternative to Maimi or Las Vegas. Jerry simply ignored the weather history of the area wherein our coldest days are usually in the January-February range. So all those northern visitors here and the ESPN open pavilion for broadcast and many others are learning that Texas can be deathly cold as well as really hot. There is ice beneath the snow, product of a thundersnow storm last night. Tonight's prediction is for 10 degrees-below zero with wind chill. It is the coldest it has been in 14 years. So Mr. Gore, please, no more guessing.