Monday, February 24, 2014

Show Me The Money: Pay "These" Teachers More

I know some teachers who feel this way and should!

This past Saturday, 60 + teachers from various school districts came to Rockhurst University for workshops through TEAM (Technology and Educators Advancing Missouri Science) Science. TEAMScience is the name of a consortium facilitated by a small group of us (educational professionals) who applied and were awarded a $500,000 yearly DESE grant to provide professional development stipends for teachers to integrate science and technology into their K-5 lessons. These teachers came with smiles, positive attitudes and worked hard ALL day through interactive experiments and learning activities. I'd like to think it was because of the impressive and engaging workshops we did (insert wink), but maybe it also had something to do with their benefits of the grant. Which is perfectly acceptable. We thought carefully about the benefits of this grant and wanted to make these teachers feel special for their commitment to this project:

Benefits of the grant include:

  • Up to $2,850.00 stipend for summer institutes, plus additional funds for mentoring activities
  • $100.00 for each additional training day (6 Saturdays per year)
  • Membership in National Science Teachers Association & Science Teachers of Missouri ($100 value)
  • In-classroom coaching and demonstrations from master teachers with elementary experience
  • 4 hours of graduate science credit from Rockhurst University (participants responsible for processing fee)
  • Free resources and materials for your classroom; plans are to provide one electronic tablet (e.g. I-Pad) per participant & one pair of Google Glasses per school district
  • Travel expenses for attending field trips
  • Support in preparing grant applications and professional presentations
Why would we want to do them double and provide them with all these perks? Because these teachers deserve it.

We all know that no one goes into teaching thinking "I'm going to strike it rich."  At least that was true for me. I had two other jobs (coaching and retail) my first four years of teaching. Then I continued to work at Ann Taylor my first year as an administrator (at least there was a nice discount for professional wear!). Several of my teacher friends worked weeknights and weekends at other various jobs as well. Many of us were also working on our master degrees. It was what you had to do if you wanted to stay afloat. Now, I wasn't married and didn't have a family, so I guess you could say that I had some extra time.  But, I would observe my fellow teachers bring their kids to school in the morning while they set up their classrooms for the day, or talk about how much grading they would need to do when their families went to bed. All of this happening outside their 'contracted" time. Sadly, it's still that way. While there are certainly some financial perks to teaching; benefits, retirements, a few holiday breaks, it's overwhelming obvious we do not pay these quality teachers what they deserve.

The image below shows the overall state averages for teacher salaries. Please keep in mind there is variance between schools (rural, suburban, urban, private, public, parochial, charter, magnet) depending on the content taught, grade level, years of experience and degree levels of each teacher. Not only do teachers start out at lower salaries, but as the years of experience grow, the gap widens compared to other professions. Teachers make 14% less than professionals in other occupations that require similar levels of education and contracted time. Some articles compare teacher pay to that of a toll taker or bartender.

This is disappointing as the majority of these teachers have many years of experience and multiple degrees. Above all, many of these teachers are incredible at their craft.

Ideas on how we can we pay these teachers more:

Pay It Forward:   Want teachers to attend useful conferences and workshops, the school must pay for them and their traveling expenses. Upon their return, have them think about what they can share with other professionals in their field. Let's be completely honest, if a teacher is attending a workshop/additional professional development experience outside of school (i.e. taking time out of the classroom with travel costs covered), they could come back and share in some platform.  The school could even efficiently send one of these effective teachers to learn more about a particular area of education and have them come back to explain and teach what they learned to a group of teachers. The money saved could be used to provide an additional stipend for the teacher sent. I was just at a conference where a district sent about 50 teachers to the same conference, and many of them went to the same breakout sessions, and workshops. Why not send 10 from different grade levels, content areas and have them come back and share as experts? Stipends for this idea or not, money could be saved and placed elsewhere to enhance teacher pay.  Plus, teachers want to hear from other expert teachers during professional development days. Speakers have their time and place, but in my experience, teachers IN the trenches want to hear from teachers IN the trenches.

It's All About the Benjamins:  Do not pay a quality teacher an extra $10 or $15 an hour for an after school club or additional leadership responsibilities. Give them a stipend worth their time. If offered a low amount, teachers should always negotiate as much as possible. Contact hours with students alone DO NOT equate to the planning involved prior and after with these types of activities. Teachers who are asked to be leaders in and out of the classroom are known to always go the extra mile. Then these teachers only end up making a few dollars an hour once it is all said and done.

Mo' Money Mo' Problems?  Let's talk about merit pay. If you are unfamiliar with what 'merit' pay means, here's the down low: teachers are paid more depending on their performance and completion of extra duties and responsibilities. They are often compared to other teachers as to 'how much' time and professionalism is devoted outside of their contracted teaching requirements. There are merit pay programs where performance in the classroom is also evaluated, and their students' standardized test scores. This often causes competition between teachers. Research shows that it has not had an effect on raising student performance in the classroom.  However, it has kept many of these amazing teachers in the classroom who are already knocking the socks off their kids and making a positive difference in the world of education. It does appear to be working in North Carolina, Denver and Dallas schools.

Take The Money And Run: Great teachers are kind hearted and truly want to do what is best for their students. Unfortunately, evil (yes evil!) people take advantage of of these teachers. If asked to provide additional training outside of the normal workday, tutoring, research, and/or attend a workshop on a weekend or beyond the normal contracted day, compensation needs to occur. Time beyond the contracted weekday is already spent with grading, meetings and following up on your teaching responsibilities. These teachers should: 
I've seen these teachers, kindly respond to an offered payment, "No, that's ok...I'm happy to help." Great teachers already volunteer for more than their share, so when presented with an opportunity to earn extra compensation (money) in your profession, take it and to save it, or spend it!

Let's not allow these teachers transition out of teaching because we can't afford to keep them. Our schools need these teachers. 
Our kids need these teachers. 
We all need these teachers.

[NOTE: These teachers should not be confused or compared with those teachers. Those teachers who should not be teaching in the classroom and could be one of the main reasons these teachers are not getting paid more.]


Monday, February 17, 2014

Going For the Gold: Hot.Cool.Yours

GO USA!  Many amazing stories and events coming out of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. One of the questions I have heard asked several times is about  the slogan, "Hot.Cool.Yours."   Here it is broken down according to the organizing committee.

Hot: Expresses the intensity of the passion of the spectators.

Cool: Reflects the timing of the Games, and the cold climate of Russia.

Yours: Symbolizes the Olympians commitment, ownership and personal involvement in their successes and shows their sense of pride.

Five fascinating stories I feel define the Olympic slogan this year.
  • Keeping that spice:  Pure perfection and beauty come from Meryl Davis and Charlie White, our USA ice dancers. Dedication is obvious as they have been skating together for over 18 (wow!) years and it shows. It's not their technique they are focusing on but the movement.  They recently explained they want to elevate the competition and add more erotic moves bringing out the passion and excitement for free skate. In their interviews they discuss that it's not about pushing each other, but truly enjoying each other's company. Their coach, Zoueva, has been quoted as saying, "There is little room for improvement. My mission is that you can't take your eye from them. Everyone has to watch."  And boy, are we watching!
  • Back to the drawing board: Over 69 iterations completed on the the shape of the  BMW developed bobsled for Steven Holcomb and Steve Langton . It was all about keeping that balance of technology and real-world application. The developers used CFS (computational fluid dynamics) and then put the sled into action on the track. It was key to constantly go back and tweak the tension and other areas of the sled until Holcomb and Langton felt it was absolutely perfect. Countless test runs and being risk takers of innovation have helped Michael Scully,and his world class team of engineers, master the reinvention of the bobsled and skeleton. When there's less drag, they go faster. Less vibration allows for better sight conditions (their heads aren't bouncing around as much). The equipment had to be perfected. Tuffy Latour explains that these competitions are 90% mental, so the athletes have to believe they have the best equipment and coaching behind them. Even though there's a science to it all, at the end of the day, it's the ability to believe in yourself that gets you on the fast track.
  • Hit me with your best shot: Earning a bye to the quarterfinals, hockey team USA came out winners in the most anticipated game on Saturday against the Russians. Newton's Three Laws of Motion were observed (as they are in every game) throughout this thriller. Friction, force, mass, collision and action all play their special roles in this game of physical endurance. Science and mathematics are key to making the best shot. Hopefully, the Winter Olympics has you excited to learn more about hockey, it's truly amazing just how technical it is, despite our perception of players slapping around the puck and shoving each other.  Check it out for yourself!
  • Fashion faux pas: Are the high tech suits to blame for slowing down the USA Speed Skaters? I find this story fascinating because it brings us back to reality. Sometimes the newest technology, high tech interest, is not always the best. The speed skaters showed no increase in speed, actually the opposite, when they wore their high tech suits last week. This has caused the team to revert back to their former tech suits for the rest of the competition. What's even more interesting is that the Dutch are dominating the competition so far and they are basically out there in Lycra suits.  One of the USA coaches, Kip Carpenter, had this to say, "The human factor is the largest piece out there. There is not an athlete out there who is slowing down a second per lap because of what they are wearing." Which brings up the question, it is the suit or the athlete that is dragging? 
  • Rising above tragedy: Winning the bronze in the Super-G and persevering on to being the fastest skier on the Olympics and possibly the oldest in decades, Bode Miller is a true champion. The 36 year old truly shows age is just a number.  Thoughts about his deceased brother, "Chilly" Miller, who died of an apparent seizure  almost a year ago, are with him in Russia. He has been seen emotional and has discussed his late brother on several occasions. However, given his past record, nothing seems to keep him down. This amazing man grew up in cabin with no electricity or running water, was homeschooled until third grade, has penned a book, Bode: Go Fast, Be Good, Have Fun,  was the subject of documentary, Flying Downhill,  and when he missed the gate at the 2002 Winter Olympics, he hiked his way back up the 25 ft course to take on the slalom run,  which instantly gained him more notoriety. He defines unconventional.
As more stories unfold and exciting events progress, we all can learn a great deal from each one. Let's be HOT with fire and passion as we cheer others on, COOL enough to appreciate our surroundings and environment, know that each day is YOURS to be committed to and move forward in achieving whatever goal you have set for yourself.

Go for the GOLD!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Rules: Make 'em or Break 'em?

Are your rules sending the message: "My way or the highway?"

I was lucky enough to have the two worst behaved 5th graders my first year of teaching.  Don't get me wrong, I had a great class, but when I think about that first year, I will always remember Vijay and Terrell. Vijay was very quiet and had a terrible temper. He would sulk all the way down in his chair anytime I started a math lesson and mumble under his breath (but for all of us to hear), "I HATE math."  Usually followed by, "...this is SO stupid."  He was unmotivated by every subject and his desk was so messy with crumpled up papers that I thought at any minute it would suddenly burst filling the whole room.  Terrell wasn't much better. Every second he was making some sort of noise with his mouth, fingers, feet, pencil, paper, ruler, chair, get the point. Like Vijay, he never did his homework either. Terrell was the class clown who loved to make everyone laugh, except me because he was constantly disrupting whatever learning I was trying to facilitate.  

Every day they broke rules I/the school made. From disrupting class, to running down the hall, too negative or too funny, pushed others around and rolled their eyes so many times at me that I thought they may not roll back.  To be honest, there were nights where I would go to the gym and run (what felt like) 30 miles to get out the frustration or walk in the door and down a glass of wine before I even took off my coat.  I tried to focus on the other 23 students who seemed to enjoy having me as a teacher, and who were following the rules. I just couldn’t get those two boys off my mind. They both hated me.

But I was blessed and thankful I had them.

Why? Because they made me a better teacher. You see, I learned there are sometimes too many rules. Rules about being in the classroom, out of the classroom. Rules on the playground, the bus. Rules about what to do when kids broke the rules. There were so many rules, the only time I really had a conversation with them were about the rules. I was making them and they were breaking them. It was a vicious cycle. Then something happened. After winter break, they both came back with smiles on their faces and in happy moods. I thought, "Whew, now we can start off the New Year right!" To keep us on the right track, I decided to find a private time to ask each of them why they were so happy and what they did over winter break. They both basically said, "we didn't have to come to school to see you." Wow, OUCH! 

That night I went home and realized I couldn't change them, but I could change me. I started to ask more questions in a nicer way, focused more on their positive behaviors, picked my battles when it came to rules they didn't want to follow and I kept a journal about them. I wrote down when I saw them smiling, and what they were saying and doing at that time. 

I found out that Vijay was so happy after winter break because his sister was home from college and he had missed her a lot. He said he was lonely when she was away because his parents worked all the time. I found out that Terrell was obsessed with Usher and Nelly.  He also loved to wear goggles on his head and sing rap songs. So, I made some changes. Whenever Vijay finished his work and showed a little bit of a positive attitude, he could take some time to write his sister letters or draw a picture for her. When Terrell did his homework and refrained from bothering those around him, he got to wear his "thinking" goggles all day (just like Usher's trendy goggles in the pic above) and we took commercial breaks during lessons so he could sing his favorite rap songs.  Instead of seeing their frustrated frowns, I started noticing their sensational smiles.  

When there were days where one or both of them started slipping up, I didn't have to say a word.  Their peers did.  "C'mon Terrell, we wanna hear you rap, where are your goggles?"  "Vijay, we want to see those cool pictures you always draw for your sister, do your work, dude!"  Their classmates started wearing "thinking" goggles, glasses and hats in class too. They also took time to write some of their loved ones letters, sing their own songs, or draw pictures when they were finished with their work. We all were much happier. There was less talk about rules and more time for learning.

In the courses I teach each semester, I touch on classroom management and rules, I share these thoughts with my undergrad and grad students about rules and expectations which I strive to follow.

1.   Communicate why there are rules. Gone are the days where you can just say, “Don’t do that.” Kids now want to know why and we should tell them. Why can’t they just sleep with their mobile devices? "Because I said so," doesn’t cut it. Instead explaining that it is harmful to your health and you need to unplug when it’s time for a good night’s rest.
2.   Be consistent. This is so challenging. I struggle with this at home as well. You have to follow through. Yes there are times when a rule for one kid may not be applicable to another one. Explain why and try to be consistent with the message you send each and every day.
3.   Have students/your kids set the expectations with you.  I love this one and have seen it work well. When setting rules and expectations ask them what they think should occur in the classroom. Why it is important?  They will take more ownership in following the rules if they have a hand in setting them.
4.   There are non negotiables.  You cannot sprint down the hall with scissors or yell profanities in the middle of class. Enough said.
5.   Some classrooms/families have different rules than yours. Another tough one. Don’t judge others for the rules, differences in rules, or (what appears to be) lack of rules they have. Just be true to your values and how you want your kids/students to behave. Always putting the child’s best interest first is the best motto to follow.

Whether you are a parent, and educator, or someone who is nice enough to read this blog, I hope you find these rules ones that you can follow. 

Just remember, some rules are meant to be broken. 
If they are, put on your thinking goggles and find a way to have fun!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Wake Up! I've Got Your Java

"Learning to write programs stretches your mind, and helps you think better, creates a way of thinking about things that I think is helpful in all domains.“ Bill Gates

I LOVE coffee. Let me be specific. I love lattes. Extra shots of expresso are always nice too. Cannot imagine my life without a Roasterie (Carmella, no whip and skim milk) or Latteland  (Brookside Bob with Almond milk) cup of magic each morning. There are things in life we all can't live without. How about you? Could you live without the Internet? Word Processing programs? Digital Games? Texting? Email? I think not. Computer Science is needed to function in society, especially in the US. 

Should Computer Science be the new requirement in schools?  It's the new rage in the news, school curriculum development, coffee shop conversations, and Hollywood has even jumped on board with several movies, Jobs, The Social Network, and The Internship. I've blogged before about the importance of coding and programming and I will continue to do so as it is extremely important for 21st century learning and progression. As, an artist and musician with the Black Eyed Peas put it, " Here we are...we ALL depend on technology to communicate, to bank and NONE of us know how to read and write code. It's important for these kids, right learn and write code."

Coding. Programming. Who cares? You should. For many years these terms have been kept to the underground world. You may have this perception of a room filled with selected nerds punching letters and symbols into a computer to bring the world games and software we need to live our lives. Not anymore.  It's time to wake up, smell the coffee, and  this is why:

1. We are short handed: Sad, but true: we are outsourcing many jobs that our youth are more than capable of doing. "There aren't enough people to fill these jobs because technology and the job market are moving much faster than education in high schools and colleges" explains Mark, Lassoff, founder of .  India and China are the two biggest countries for programming and coding. 

2. Builds life-long skills: How do you inspire creativity and confidence in learners? You reach out to each students' interests. ALL OF THEM. I will tell you that you have to make a connection to real world application. I know there are times when parents and teachers struggle to find the answer to "when will I need to know this?"  Computer science requires creativity, risk taking and perseverance which will build confidence. Coding and programming require memorizing rules and identifying patterns. This improves your memory and strengthens your mental muscles. All of these things come in handy throughout the journey of life.

3. Requires you to think critically and follow directions: Learning how to code and program requires you to learn a second language. What's so intriguing about this new language is the challenge of having to think very clearly about what you are trying to 'say'. Just being off by a letter or adding one too many parentheses will leave you lost in translation. It can be every bit as engaging and thrilling as playing a game. One of the most popular coding languages is Java Script which is the scripting language of the web. Then there's HTML, which helps you build websites and CSS, which provides a way to control the style and layout of multiple web pages at once. See for yourself. Wanna make a dog fetch a ball? Code this. As far as programming, another avenue of computer science offers experiences in using building blocks to command the program you are creating to do exactly as you want. Try it out. Wanna make the Angry Bird catch the naughty pig? Don't just play it, program it!  It's much easier than you think.

4.Get a J.O.B.: These infographs speak volumes...

5. It's FUN, but don't force it  Let's face it, you really can't make kids learn. Every great teacher knows that.  You engage students by finding out what interests them. We are are lucky to have a variety of coding and programming resources (Hour of Code) out there which cater to a variety of learners. Encourage our youth to play games, learn the 'new' language and make it fun!  Offer food, a laid back environment, allow them to listen to good tunes, work with a partner, take breaks and work at their own pace with short term and long term goals. Think about it...this is real world application.

This Code Avenger is tough and smart.

Inspire Our Youth! My Five Fav Free List:
This Code Monster is  cute and creative.

Susan Wojcicki, Senior VP at Google,  sets it straight, 
"Learning to code makes kids feel empowered, creative and confident."  
If we want our students to retain these traits into their adulthood we need to start in their youth.
 Wake up! Give it a shot.

Other Resources: check them out.