Wednesday, March 31, 2010

What does it take to get a job?

From the Apple
Recently discussion in the Florida legislature has been scary for teachers - such as teachers losing their teaching credential if they can't show student gains on tests (that haven't been written yet) in 4 of the 5 preceding years; prohibiting pay recognition based on years of service, advanced degrees or National Board certification; hiring all new teachers on a one year contract with an administrator's ability to terminate at any time without cause; and not allowing teachers to enter DROP which is a financially life-saving program for teachers at retirement age. With absolutely no job security, it makes me wonder why our young talented students would choose teaching! However, regardless of how the legislature tries to destroy the profession, there will always be those of us who are called to teach and simply have no other choice.

Even in this tough job market that includes pink slips for many teachers, many second career professionals are looking to teach and so are those young hopeful, often ill-prepared, teachers coming out of our Colleges of Education. In such a tough job market, what does it take to get a job these days? I have to tell you about one enterprising college graduate who interviewed at my school earlier in the year. Actually she had me at the interview. She was out-going with a top notch resume for a beginning teacher. She is teaching in our Extended Day program now until she can get a job teaching!! REALLY, she had me at the interview but earlier in the year the Interview Committee decided to go with a more experienced candidate... Of course, that hasn't stopped this positive pro-active candidate. Like many that we interview, we each got a really nice e-mail from her after the interview, but she didn't stop there. On the 100th Day of School she sent each of us a 100th day candy bar (really, she had ME at the interview!)

Each day this week, new things have arrived at the front counter as we begin to enter the interview season. First an adorable cupcake on a plate hand painted with stars saying that she would be our star teacher if she joined our faculty with a newsletter about all the reasons we should hire her- showing lots of technical skills! Today the cutest little flower/ Easter Egg arrangement arrived with flower pens, which will be used at the front desk. The cutest thing is that when you pull up a flower to write, there is a picture of the candidate that says "Pick me!" This "teacher" has shown creativity, persistence, and a sense of humor - so many of the qualities that we look for in a new hire at the Creek. I don't know if she will get a job here but she certainly deserves an opportunity to teach somewhere!

I can remember the days when we had very weak candidates interviewing at Chets Creek. The word was out that we worked too
hard and were "required" to put in too many hours over and above
the teaching day. None of the rumors were ever true but they were
funny when we heard them. Over the years, however, the job embedded professional training and collegiality of our faculty has become the rumor and we have had more and more people interviewing - really top quality candidates. I don't know if the Florida legislature will chase off our most talented students (get ready Georgia- right across the border- to take some of our best), but I am enjoying the lengths to which teachers will go to teach in a school that has a reputation for expecting your best and taking care of its own. Can't wait to see what comes next!

Courtney, you're looking for a job for next year (last to hire, first to go)... You might take some hints from this young teacher. All the "extras" probably won't get her the job but it's sure hard not to pull her resume out of the pack and give it a second look!

The Orange slip and the cut backs

From the Star

So the other day we had a staff meeting about the new school opening in our area. We had a chance to meet the new Principal - who was very nice and very welcoming. As we sat there and listened to all the great things about the new school, all I could think about was the number of teachers that they said that we would be loosing - "10"! WOW! was all I could think! I know that I am at an outstanding "A" school. I know that there will probably not be very many volunteers who want to leave. I also know that I will be the first one to go (last hired- first to go!) I figured that I better start listening about the new school since this was going to be where I might end up next year! As the principal talked she held up a bright orange sheet of paper. Attached to this paper was the chance to go to the new school. She also mentioned a white sheet of paper if you wanted to go to any other school. Being new and not really knowing how the process worked, I went right up after the meeting to grab both the white and the bright orange form! I mean I am going to be cut and I will need a job next year! What I didn't know was that the forms were like a death wish because the Principal of my current school would now think that I wanted to leave her school. Now I totally freaked out. The last thing that I needed being a new teacher was for my Principal to think that I haven't loved my first year of teaching.

As the days went by I got more and more nervous about turning my papers into my Principal and what I was going to say. As the days got nearer to the last day of turning the papers in, and after talking with my team who kept telling me I was doing the right thing, I decided to just go talk to the Principal. As I walked into her office and sat down, she smiled at me and said, "Do you have something for me?" I was relieved because I realized that she understood my situation and that I must be doing the right thing. As I spoke with her she told me that I was making the right choice (whew!) and that I would be given a high recommendation from her to the schools that I have chosen.

She was a little skeptical about my first choice which is a Title one school. However, I explained that it was a Pre-k VE and that this was where I really wanted to be. She told me that should certainly try to get a job in the field I love. After talking to her I knew that I was making the right decision. While she supported me on the Pre-k job, she also recommended that I take full advantage of the interview at the new school to see what they have to offer me. I certainly plan to do that because you never know what can happen. I mean just think about my position - you finally get a job and before you even get settled you find out that next year you are not going to have a job. That stinks!

After all the paperwork, I did have a job interview this week at the school of my choice - the Title 1 school with the Pre-k VE job that I really want. While I will not find out about the job until all of the allocations are completed, I am super excited about my chances. I can say that I could not have asked for a better interview. Not only was the Principal very personable, but he made me feel very comfortable. I was able to answer his questions without being stressed. I am going to have an interview with the new school the day I get back from Spring Break. Of course I will let you know how it all works out but for now I am going to continue to teach my little angels and make the greatest impact on their learning and education that I can. I am going to remember how lucky I am to have had this amazing experience this year and to be doing what I love.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Thoughts on the FCAT from a Beginning Teacher

From the Star

Being a first year teacher and coming from an ESE and Pre-k background the FCAT was all new to me when I stepped into a 3-45 general education classroom. For years, of course, I have heard about the FCAT, Florida's state test, and actually participated in the test as a Sophomore in high school, I have not really had the chance to experience the FCAT in elementary school.

I want to begin by talking about when I was in high school - I can still vividly remember the stress that came with the test from a student's stand point. Knowing that I was an excellent student and that I always studied hard and tried my best, the thought that the FCAT could take away my chance of graduating scared me. Most students probably think it is a simple test with some multiple choice answers - how hard could it be? - but for students like me who do not do well on standardized tests (because there really is no way of truly studying and preparing for it), I was full of anxiety. My mother called it test anxiety. All I could think about while I was taking the test was if I don't pass this test my parents are going to kill me and I will never get into a good college!

While I didn't think elementary students could feel that kind of stress, I have seen firsthand some of the same anxieties in my students this year. For their age I feel that the pressure is too much and in the long term could be detrimental to those students, like me, who just do not perform well on standardized tests. I saw students who seemed distracted and who seemed to be second guessing themselves. Many of them seemed nervous and anxious.

From a first year teacher's stand point, I feel this year has been a stress mess! I remember when I called my mom to tell her I had this perfect job in this great elementary school in a multi-age class of 3rd, 4th and 5th graders, she said under her breath - oh no - what about the FCAT? I was too excited about getting my first teaching job to even think seriously about her comment!

The whole year I have heard teachers talking about the stresses and expectations of the FCAT and how they feel that they worry that they are missing important learning opportunities. Of course I really had no idea what they were talking about. I was in survival mode just trying to figure out what to teach each day! I was so excited about all the great and fun activities that I wanted to do with my 3rd, 4th and 5th graders. I wanted to promote learning through hands on fun activities. I thought my job was to teach children to love learning. However, while we still do some of those activities, I feel that the fun experiences are slim due to the fact that the time is now taken up with what the students have to cover before the FCAT. Instead of spending that time on relationships and individual learning needs, I fell like I am skipping and skating along with a bucket of facts that I am trying to cram into the children's heads. I have really struggled with this - especially when I watch my math class struggle through concepts because I need to get it all done rather than slow down and make sure they have the concepts thoroughly and completely. I have no time to really think about children loving learning because I have to stay with the pace if I want my students to know the majority of the tasks on the FCAT. With all of the requirements that are in the classroom now like 90 minutes of reading, 60 minutes of content, 60 minutes of writing and 60 minutes of math, there really is no time to intervene.

In reading I feel that the students are being pushed so hard that reading is almost no fun for them. Will they ever pick up a book just for pleasure? They are reading passages and answering questions that they may not even be interested in. Children cannot self-select reading passages even though studies show that students comprehension scores are much higher when the child gets to choose their own topics.

The last thing that I want to talk about is the loss of the content work. Even though I have never liked History and politics, I do understand how very important it is to an educated populace. It saddens me to know that many of my students have never heard of people like Rosa Parks and Susan B Anthony. This is just the beginning. The lack of map and geography skills is just awful. But... it's not on the test...

As a teacher and a professional learner I cannot say that I don't like the FCAT as a source of learning and assessment. It does have some advantages. However, I can just say that I don't like that it is the ONLY assessment that we look at for a child's progress and success. I feel that the learning process goes far beyond just one single standardized test.

What do you think?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

State Tests - Friend or Foe?

From the Apple

David B. Cohen left the following comment: I noticed lots of talk about state tests in the entries I read, and wondered if the attitude towards the tests is generally positive, negative, or mixed among the teachers you work with.

I'm not sure how other teachers feel about state tests. I'm pretty sure I know how Courtney feels and most other first year teachers, but I'll let them speak for themselves! As for me, it's easy to support accountability when you're a Kindergarten teacher and your children don't take the test! Having said that, I think teachers are generally fine with accountability and with our state test. The problem, however, is that it's become too BIG and too IMPORTANT. Instead of just being another piece, it's the whole pie! Everything about a child's entire year is based on that one day. In our county, where we have performance pay (and a pretty lousy model at that), a teacher's performance is almost totally judged on test scores. Don't get me wrong. I love the idea that the children in my school get to show what they have learned- that teachers who have worked so hard have a chance to show their stuff, but the severe judgements that are made from a single test, the stress and tears are just out of proportion. I also HATE the fact that teachers have come to believe that test taking strategies are more important than teaching children a love for reading and writing and math. I hate that teachers skip Social Studies because it's not a tested subject instead of teaching it because they know it's the right thing to do. I guess in the ideal world, I would just hope for balance.

My experience in education is that the pendulum swings back and forth and right now the pendulum seems to to be stuck in the Science of teaching, the accountability through testing, the data-driven everything. Hopefully, as it usually does, the pendulum will begin to swing back again toward the middle and we will once again talk about teaching the whole child and the art of teaching. And hopefully, we won't throw out the baby with the bath water. I hope we will hold on to the good parts of accountability and assessment but begin to listen to common sense!

What do you think? How do you feel about the state test?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

How do you spell relief? IT'S OVER!

From the Apple
I guess whether you've been teaching 1 year, 10 years or 40 years, state testing is difficult on everyone. As usual, even though I am a kindergarten teacher, I help my Special Education Team during FCAT making accommodations for our Special Education kiddos. That meant my testing days were much longer, often going until 2:30 in the afternoon with a lunch break. By the end of the week, I am pretty pooped too. You want so much for the children to do their very best. At our school we spray "attitude spray" (water) on them each morning to help them remember to have a good attitude throughout the assessment and have the "concentration lotion" (hand lotion) available any time they need a little extra dose! The room smells of peppermint and children ARE allowed to chew gum - all little extras to help stimulate their brains! The kids and the teachers work so hard all year to get ready for that all-important week. Just like you, Courtney, it just wears me out - wishing, hoping and praying, because it's a little too late for much else. It's finally over for this year - Time for a nap!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Stress Kicks In

From the Star
Oh wow, deep breaths! That is what I keep telling myself to get through these couple of days of FCAT. And... if FCAT wasn't bad enough we are teaching Human Growth and Development in the afternoons! At least I have the 4th graders and I don't have to talk about the girl and boy parts. Oh and don't let me forget to mention that they are already talking about allocations for next year. They just couldn't wait until after the FCAT to talk about all the craziness with the new school that is going to be opening next year and taking about a 120 of our students. I have the least senority at my school, so I'm the first to go if no one volunteers. Lucky me!

My students do seem to be doing well on the FCAT - or at least they don't seem stressed when they finish. I have heard all kinds of comments from the kids about how easy it was and how it was a piece of cake. These kinds of comments just make my day. I just hope that they are not like me - I always told my mom how great I did on a test and would then come home with a bad grade. I was never very good at knowing how hard something had been! Of course, I believe my students are bright and I have complete faith that they will all pass. If they say it was easy and that they did great, then I am positive that they did. I'm just ready for the thing to be over so that I can get the results and see how awesome all of my students did!

No one ever told me how exhausting this week is. Everyone talks about the stress and the students anxieties but no one ever tells you that you are going to be walking around watching the students for 2-3 hours a day without a sit down break. My feet are killing me, not to mention that I am totally pooped. The good news is that it's almost over and I can go back to doing what I love most - teaching.