Tag Archives: laws and policies

Vive la France! Pas de devoirs!*

Last year, my principal invited faculty members to attend an optional meeting where he would review the longer school day options and discuss our new bell schedule.  I decided I’d pop in and found that I was one of three people.  Talk about community involvement, eh?  The principal ran through the bell schedule and while doing so, he and I became engaged in a debate about homework.  Were we debating increasing the rigor level for homework assignments?  Nope.  Were we discussing how too much of homework nowadays is busy work and not work related to critical thinking?  Nope.  Were we discussing how much kids are under-prepared for college because of the lack of rigorous self-preparation in the form of homework?  Nope again.

So, what were we debating?  Simple: he’s against homework and I’m for it.  I can’t even believe in this day and age that there are people who are against homework.  This is what happens when we let C students gain political power…eventually the world goes crazy with the notion that promoting bad habits is actually a good idea.  So, imagine my disbelief when today I was reading an article about France’s president, François Hollande, and his reform ideas, which include getting rid of homework.  Ummm, I’m sorry, what?

I understand that people don’t love homework.  You’re not supposed to love homework.  Homework is work.  Work is not fun.  Work is, however, important.  It teaches us to think about things differently.  It helps us attack problems on our own.  It teaches a work ethic, too.  It allows us to contribute to society.

Homework is practice, too.  It’s a way to make sure you master a subject.  I teach English.  Homework is a way to get kids to read on their own.  It makes it so that we read a book in a few weeks versus a few months.  Homework is a way to extend the classroom learning experience outside of the classroom.

In an era where we tout Malcolm Gladwell’s rule of 10,000 hours, you would think we would want our children to have more homework.  Alas, it seems as if we’ve forgotten that the rule of 10,000 hours doesn’t mean let your kids play video games for 10,000 hours and learn for 50-minute periods of time a few times a day.

If the goal is to get kids to walk out with mastery of a subject by the end of the year, and we know that 10,000 hours is the amount of time it takes to be an expert, we should aim for at least, what, 1,000 hours?  I mean, I don’t expect a 10th grader to be an expert on American Literature, I just want him or her to have mastered the main concepts I teach.  So, let’s assume that 1,000 hours is the amount of time I need to make my students “master” a subject at its basic, introductory level (which high school is).  That means that if kids didn’t get homework, if all the instruction and practice they got each day was in my 50-minute class for 181 days, they’d be about 850 hours short of mastering anything.  If I give them 1-2 hours of homework a night in addition to the 50-minutes I teach, I’m at least getting closer to that 1,000 hours.  I may not hit it, but at least I’m not sitting pretty at 150 hours total.

Sure, I’m making certain assumptions here: that kids actually do their homework, that all homework is rigorous and actually prepares students for their future, that students who actually complete their homework interact meaningfully with it, etc.  Still, I think you get that homework plays an important role in a child’s education.  So what happens when we take that out of our children’s educational equation?  Simple.  This happens.

So, be careful watch you wish for, Monsieur le President.  Pas de devoirs = Eventually watering your crops with Gatorade.

* Oui! Je suis sarcastique!

(Photo via Deviant Art)

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The Irony of Our Times

A grad professor of mine always talked about an assignment one of the student teachers he oversaw did with her class.  She was reading The Age of Innocence with her students and asked them to complete the sentence, “We live in an age of ________.”  In other words, she was asking students to come up with one word to define the times in which we live.

I love telling people this story because I usually tell people that the perfect word for our times is “retraction.”  This is because I always think people say what they mean, what they’re really thinking, then when the world (or sometimes just a few) disagree, they retract their statements, apologize, and vow to be less offensive later on down the line.

These days, though, perhaps the word for our times is “contradiction.”  Why?  Because the world we live in is filled with people who shop at Whole Foods and buy Fair Trade products, but who no longer support labor unions.  Because the world we live in has people who would never put their child in a school that had 35 days of testing (in fact many of them would pay exorbitant amounts of money in tuition to avoid it), but they would force that amount of testing on people who have no choice but to public school-educate their children.  Because we have a president who is a Democrat, a traditionally pro-union party, but who seems to be joining his Democrat friends in demanding union money for their campaigns, but leaving unions hanging with silence and lack of support when it comes to the laws that want to rip unions to shreds.

I don’t know how to fix the world or its problems, but I do know that a lack of common sense seems to be plaguing many of those around me.  Perhaps the easiest thing to do to change the age we live in is to simply start using some more common sense and encouraging others to do the same.  Perhaps we could put it in a letter and send it to the President himself!

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Let’s Start a Revolution

With all this talk of merit pay for teachers, modeled of course after the business world, where “accountability” is king, I wonder why citizens don’t push these ideas back onto the politicians.  After all, these people, more than a McDonald’s employee, should be held accountable.  They are given millions of dollars by the citizens to make promises to the citizens of they things they will do for the citizens, and yet, very few of these promises come true.  Why aren’t politicians held accountable?  Why can’t there be merit pay for politicians?  Perhaps a nice bonus structure?  Base salary of $50K, with a nice $5K bonus for every promise kept.  Cap at their current salary of $174.  Doesn’t this sound like a solid plan?

Why are politicians able to pass laws to hold other public servants accountable and withhold their raises, but they themselves have not taken any such pay cut?  Nobody even realizes how lazy some of these congressmen and women are.  Did you know that Jim Cooper (D-Tennessee) sponsored a bill this year to incentivize Congress to work called the No Budget, No Pay bill?  The idea is simple: Congress must set a budget by October 1st, their deadline, or risk losing their salary (see below for a very interesting video discussing the bill and congressional reform…be sad it’s only been viewed 52 times).  In other words, they have to show up to work and do some work to get paid.  Shocking concept!

Speaking of Congress, did you know:

– That Congressional members only work 260 days a year?  That’s 52.6% of the year.

– In America, 1% of the population are millionaires.  In Congress, 40-50% of the population are millionaires.

– That because of such rampant insider trading within Congress, the STOCK Act was passed just this year?  If Martha Stewart had thought to run for office before her little insider trading stint, perhaps she could have avoided jail time.

When I think of how I was disparaged on the news almost every night as a teacher being called lazy and greedy for wanting a measly 4% raise, and then how these people are looked at as golden gods, I want to throw up.  When I think that my so-called ability to reduce poverty and change a student’s home life through 46-minutes of teaching is now going to be measured through crazy amounts of standardized testing and performance tasks (and some good old-fashioned value-added assessment for good measure), but these politicians answer to no one except their financial backers and lobbyists, I practically do throw up.

I took a pay cut last year and this year.  I’m sure you did, too.  My brother-in-law’s girlfriend who is also a public servant hasn’t had a raise in five years.  People across this country are hurting for money and resources and politicians are seemingly unmoved by this.  Politicians can choose to take pay cuts (in the form of turning down a raise) and some do, but why in the world should they continue to make such exorbitant salaries for such little time worked?  Why shouldn’t their pay be frozen?  Why shouldn’t they be held accountable?  Perhaps a little value-added assessment would do them some good?

I say we start a revolution.  I say we demand that politicians be held accountable.  I say we get out into our communities and get talking to our community members and get our communities mobilized.  I say, merit pay for politicians!  After all, people work to get stupid laws passed all the time, why not a smart one for a change?

(Merit pay political cartoon by Jeff Parker of Florida Today via here)

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An Interesting Idea

My husband suggested I read this NY Times Op-Ed on how to fix schools.  Truth be told, I think the author’s suggestion that good teachers should come from a strong educational background and rigorous training is an important part of the puzzle that often gets overlooked.  That being said, I think it is rather short-sighted (and perhaps a little naive) to leave out the testing and funding aspects of public education that are also extraordinarily different than the public school systems in Finland or Ontario.  The reality is those are HUGE pieces of the puzzle that seemingly no one wants to acknowledge.  How we fund schools in this country needs to change.  Funds for schools should not come from property taxes.  Schools should not have to play Russian Roulette for resources.  Standardized testing helps us learn some things about our students, but frankly, I learn more about them from the classroom.  Standardized tests are tools to help me assess my students’ needs, NOT tools to assess me as a teacher.  Oh, when will we learn?

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What I Taught My Students Today

Today was the first day back to school.  It felt invigorating to be back in the building.  The kids seemed to really miss school and their teachers and the teachers seemed happy to be off the picket line and back in the classroom.  I can talk more later about whether or not our deal was as good as we’d hoped (we definitely made some concessions in terms of salary and wages in order to really benefit our students), but what I did today was showed students that every once in a while, a strike was necessary.  I had them read this article and this article.  Then, we discussed the similarities and differences between the Teacher Revolts that happened 79 years ago and the strike that happened seven days ago.  Let me tell, it saddens me that not much has changed.  It’s as if we just haven’t learned our lesson.

I’d like to think my students learned a bit about Chicago history today (and got some Common Core non-fiction in while they were at it).  What I hope they really learned though was just how much teachers love kids.  I hope they really learned that throughout history teachers have always stood up for the welfare and benefit of our students.  That no matter what anyone says, pay is often the last things on our minds.  After all, no teacher gets into teaching for the big bucks.  We do it because we want to make a difference in the world.  We do it because we are idealistic and hopeful that the day-to-dayness of our job will one day make a difference in a child’s life.

PS.  The coolest part of the day?  When we all met in the parking lot, wearing red, and entered the building together.  : )

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Some Photos from Week One, Prt. 2

Here are the rest of the best of photos from Week One of the CTU Strike.  Enjoy!

(All Photos by me; Please do not reproduce without my permission)

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Some Photos from Week One, Prt. 1

Picketing is no joke, guys.  It’s grueling work that you don’t get paid for.  Not that I’m demanding pay…I walked out on my job.  I’m just trying to correct a common misunderstanding that I’m getting paid for not working.  I’m not.  At all.  And I’m starting to feel it.

Yesterday was the first day of Week Two of the CTU Strike.  Our spirits were down today; we really wanted to be back in the classroom.  Still, we are unified in our fight for a fair contract and for the future of our schools.

Last week, I took 1500 photos.  After Day 1, I got a little behind uploading them and posting them, so I spent the better part of yesterday sifting through them and post-processing the best ones.  Here are some highlights from last week!  Hope you enjoy!

(All Photos by me; Please do not reproduce without my permission)

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Even Ronald Reagan Liked a Good Union!

Somebody should tell Mitt and Paul that their fearless leader, the one they quote to death, LOVED unions!

“…where free unions and collective bargaining are forbidden, freedom is lost.”

Found via here

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Highlights Day One

Some photographic highlights from Day One.  See you on the picket lines!

(Images by me)

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The More Things Change, The More They Stay the Same

Found this article from 1987, just after the last Chicago Teachers Union strike ended.  It’s interesting to me how we just never learn from history.  25 years ago, my predecessors were asking for some of the same things we’re asking for today.  When will we learn?

Are you wearing your red today?

(1987 Strike Image via Substance News)

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