Will Opportunity School District send teachers flying out of classroom?

This banner flew over the UGA homecoming game Saturday.

This banner flew over the UGA homecoming game Saturday. (Twitter)

Allison Webb is a lecturer of Spanish and foreign language education at Kennesaw State University. A 2015 piece she wrote for the blog remains a reader favorite. When Webb wrote that piece detailing her average work day, she taught at Sequoyah High School in Canton.

In this piece, she talks about what drives good teachers from the classroom and questions whether that exodus will increase under the proposed Opportunity School District that voters will decide on Nov. 8.

By Allison Webb

Less than a year ago, I was at home on a snow day, reflecting on why my profession as a teacher was weighing on me more than ever, why I was feeling unresolved about another year — my 17th — in the profession I love. On the eve of the election, I find myself in a different place — happier personally — but sincerely worried about the future going forward for recruitment and retention of good teachers, and, more importantly, for the future of students in our state and in our country.

Education and access to a good one is now being used to manipulate votes, to potentially line pockets and in the end there is no progress toward the long-term goals that deserve our attention — attaining and retaining quality personnel and moving our students from where there are to where their potentials lie. These goals ultimately determine the trajectory of our state and country in years to come.

I am no longer a high school teacher. In the soul-searching that accompanied my snow days, I happened upon an opportunity that lead me to a position as a Spanish professor and molder of future teachers in higher education. When my colleagues remark, “Oh don’t let me bother or overwhelm you, I know how busy you are,” I smile and sit in what now feels like a state of Zen as I reflect on a teaching schedule which is manageable, grading which is doable, expectations which are reasonable.

But as I mold teachers whose program numbers have shrunken as the economic crisis and politicization of the profession has disincentivized genuine interest, I have to measure my words. I tell them that truly nothing is more exhilarating than watching students learn and feeling a class get it. But I also tell them their state government will be shifting the finish line constantly, they must be ever vigilant and not hide from the political agenda that will impact their daily work as a teacher and their pay and they must be prepared to feel like they are never on top of anything.

What does a quality education entail? It entails an education whose route reflects the best practices supported by research, and takes into account the students’ potential. It delivers the best possible outcome for each individual. It deserves the most prominent spot in our budget because its results tie us together as a society. We must lift those whose family and personal circumstances disadvantage them without impinging on the ambitions of those who arrive with all circumstances in their favor. We must differentiate in each classroom and tailor our curriculum to meet the needs of groups of learners as best we can. What have the state or individual districts done to help us in this endeavor?

Gov. Nathan Deal has accused those who oppose his Opportunity School District plan of not having proposed solutions of their own. In the meantime, he has failed to fully fund districts. What we know works in education is acquiring and retaining dedicated teachers and supporting their efforts to grow and better serve students. As a result of the austerity budgets, professional development for teachers and administrators has been severely cut.

Many teachers feel that the districts implement professional learning plans that are designed to check off a box and not necessarily to meet the needs and interests of teachers and students. Sometimes the training provided is not specific enough to the needs of individual departments, content areas or teachers. Often times, there has been no input provided by those teachers and their departments in the selection of those professional learning initiatives.

In addition, because of tight budgets, instead of acquiring substitute teachers and giving teachers leave time to learn, they are required to give up their planning periods or to sit in PLC sessions after a full day’s work.  To train better teachers, these learning experiences must happen in a space where their efforts to improve do not add to an already overwhelming work load. Consistent, specific professional learning in a community of educators with similar curriculum takes time, planning and money. It also takes meaningful feedback that is not punitive from a supportive community of colleagues. Peer observation has been affirmed by research to be a valuable strategy and yet there is no time to implement it. Why would you not provide to teachers what you expect them to provide to students — continuing, relevant, challenging learning experiences — and give them the time to deliver on their learning?

Adding professional learning to teachers’ workload without holding sacrosanct the time it takes to plan and implement lessons that accomplish these goals defeats the purpose. Training is wonderful, but without the time in each day to create and cater lessons to meet the needs of students, it does little to improve instruction. I can tell you from experience that a truly engaging lesson takes much more time and effort on my part to plan than a lesser quality, less interactive lesson.

In fact, I will also share that sometimes I found myself having to give students a lesser quality assignment to be able to keep up with other responsibilities — data collection, parent emails, grading, department responsibilities, etc. An earnest and systematic prioritization of teachers’ planning time would have freed me and my colleagues to collaborate more often, to design and tailor better projects and lessons and ultimately lead to better quality experiences for my students every day.

Good teaching takes planning and neither the state nor districts have truly prioritized time for teachers to effectively plan each of their lessons and fulfill the expectation that their lessons be differentiated for student needs. When high school teachers have five classes, with multiple preparations and only one planning period, which is not kept sacred for that purpose, the quality of lessons suffers. Teachers should have the same amount of time to plan as they will be teaching. This is one of the successful strategies that have brought many European school systems into the top echelons of education systems in the world. In Finland, differentiation happens constantly and meaningfully because teachers have the time to plan and prepare lessons that respond to learning patterns in their classrooms.

Gov. Deal’s plan does evoke an additional question for us. Can a charter school takeover bring about this sort of change in instruction? What politicians stress about these charter schools is their ability to innovate, their unshackled creativity and their out-of-the-box thinking.

Teachers in public schools could do that now if there were a sincere effort to release them from red tape, reorganize their days to increase their hours for collaboration with colleagues, instructional planning and meaningful and ongoing professional development. These sorts of experiences do not always have to be led by outside consultants paid top dollar by districts; there are hidden jewels in schools all over the state who could share with their colleagues to improve education and improve one another. Time must be taken to do so. And I must point out that even students would benefit from time out of their seats; study after study has shown that physical activity and breaks improve memory and retention. Cramming more material, more hours of instruction and more seat time into each school year does not result in higher graduation rates or higher achievement.

Last year, a former student of mine completed her first year as a Spanish teacher. She messaged me on several occasions, expressing the overwhelming stress, the feeling that she did not have enough time to finish anything. She decided in the spring that she could not continue, so that investment of four years and student-teaching, was now for naught. She gave up. And she did not quit because she was weak, unmotivated, untalented or unsuccessful — she quit because the system set her up to fail.

She posted the other day how sad she is that she is yet another “one and done” former teacher. State leaders cannot lament the teacher shortage, weak student performance, failing schools, and then expect the problems to improve without first listening to teachers and consulting the best research. Before we hand over our schools to state control, the state should show that it has brought all parties to the table and studied the problems with participation from those in the field.

We have the tools to improve the situation without resorting to a drastic strategy now being abandoned by those states who first implemented it.

 

Reader Comments 0

30 comments
OdessaHooker
OdessaHooker

Alison Webb's letter should be read by every teacher in an over- crowded, public school classroom. My niece was one such teacher. Two years ago, she answered an advertisement to  teach mathematics in South Korea. She has never been more fulfilled in her profession. Although she is now being courted by Ohio State University to return to America and earn a PhD in mathematics, she is undecided because she now enjoys teaching. It was my good fortune to teach in an excellent program  developed at the University of Wisconsin (Individually Guided Education- in the mid-seventies: IGE),; then, I went into administration and helped other teachers enjoy the program. After years of retirement from both public and private schools, my enthusiasm for teaching is still strong. In fact, I moved to Atlanta to help  prepare some of the children in my family for a a strong start in school. Some of them are stuck in the public schools here , and are unhappy with the programs they are being provided. Please don't allow the governor to make circumstances worse! Vote "NO" on the Opportunity School District!!

class80olddog
class80olddog

I believe what sends teachers "flying out of the classrooms" are these issues: discipline issues that they are not allowed to address, yet no assistance is forthcoming from the Central Office- indeed they are told not even to repot them. Teachers told to effectively teach students who are not even there, again with no support on addressing attendance issues. Teachers getting students that have been socially promoted and are four grade levels behind and are expected to catch them up. Of course they just promote them on up the line. How many teachers are fleeing from East Cobb schools? Do they have a teacher shortage there? Or maybe teachers don't want to work in acwar zone with no one giving back up.

RoyalDawg
RoyalDawg

Good schools, and good, caring teachers have nothing to fear from Amendment One, but many have bought the propaganda.


Aren't you good teachers tired of dealing with other teachers who don't share your zeal? THOSE are the teachers who are at risk.

Gunluvr
Gunluvr

Deal shouldn't have created such ill will down at the capitol before putting this out to the public. Last year this was passable, not today. Now everybody's just waiting him out.

Astropig
Astropig

Amateur stand up night at the "Get Schooled" comedy catch.A teacher complaining,no, lets just call it whining,about "politicization" of education.That was a belly laugh.


The rest was just silly.


 Let 'em leave.It's not like they're doing a good job anyway.

elementary-pal
elementary-pal

@Astropig  It is 6:15 on a Friday night and I have just watched the last of my teachers leave for the weekend. She was carrying her book bag full of papers to grade. She has just completed her lesson plans for next week.  She made adjustments so she could re-teach to a small group the math concepts they didn't master this week.  She added enrichment activities for those who grasped the concepts quickly.  


The teacher across the hall had only left a few minutes before.  She was working out the interventions for the students in her class who are struggling with reading. She had given an assessment and wanted to look over the data to group children appropriately on Monday.  


These are but two of the amazing teachers in our school.  We have many more.  Do we have some weak teachers?  Sure.  Don't you know some salesmen who are better than others?  How about doctors?  Do you know any who have better bed-side manner than others?  What about engineers? Ever met any who just didn't hold a candle to their office mates?  But I would bet my salary that you have never made the generalization that ALL salesmen are doing a poor job or ALL doctors are bad or ALL engineers need to be fired.  


You need to get off your backside and spend a day or two in one of these "failing" schools to see if any of the teachers are doing a good job.  Would you even know what to look for?  You see, I know what the state tells me to look for - I can quote the TKES standards and summarize data with the best of them.  BUT...in our school, building relationships with students, being aware of who did not get supper last night, being willing to help a child wash his face when he gets to school, or helping a child find a pair of shoes in the clothes closet..these things go a long way in getting a child ready to learn. 


Then, we teach them how to read and write and understand math.  We teach them positive character traits and why they shouldn't do drugs.  We teach them history and government and economics.  We teach them to work hard and keep trying when something is difficult.  We teach them responsibility and manners.  And we cry when they are not successful and look for a different way to help them understand the concepts.  


Then, we sooth the child who is brought back to school on the bus because no one was at home to let them in the house. We call all the phone numbers on their information sheet hoping to find one that is working.   Our hearts break when a parent finally realizes, at 5:30, that their child is not home from school and calls to see if we still have him/her.  


We make sure they have books to read at home and give their parents materials to help them review math facts or learn sight words.  We counsel parents on the rules and laws of special education.  We help parents learn English.


And you have the unmitigated nerve to lump us all together and say that we aren't doing a good job!?!  I dare you to try to do our jobs.  Are you going to take a teaching job?  Would you do what we do for the money we are paid and the lack of respect we get from pigs like you?


If you want to support this amendment, go ahead.  It is certainly your right.  But you need to rethink what qualifies these schools as "failing."  Do you think there are no children in a high performing school who fail the tests?  How is it possible that a teacher can teach students who fail AND students who pass in the same class? Is he/she only good to some of the students?  If failure is the fault of the teacher, how do you explain that????


There are so many other things that I would like to say, names that are swimming through my brain, but my father taught me better - and yes, he was a teacher.




Susan Blount Campbell
Susan Blount Campbell

I'm sending this to my daughter, whom I fear is another one and done. This is so sad. She so badly wanted to be a teacher.

CharterStarter_Too
CharterStarter_Too

-1. She clearly only knows what her teacher organization has fed her. Same old spew that is nearly verbatim from their anti amendment literature.

2. I have NEVER, and I mean NEVER given my students a lesser assignment or lesser quality instruction because I did not/ could not manage my time to handle admin functions. I work a lot of late nights and every weekend, but I'm fulfilled. I am a bit shocked Kennesaw would choose someone to train teachers with this sort of mentality.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@CharterStarter_Too

1. If your job requires you to work many, many hours of unpaid overtime, and to constantly neglect your family, maybe there is something wrong with your job and your priorities. I would rather children be taught by someone with a balanced life.


If you don't mid, please take your weekly pay and divide by the average number of total hours you work for your school per week and post your avg. hourly pay. Just want to see how much of an incentive this is to teach at a charter school.


Of course, if the state run charter schools posted salary data like REAL PUBLIC SCHOOLS do, we could look up state charter school pay ourselves. Wonder why they don't?

Astropig
Astropig

@AvgGeorgian @CharterStarter_Too


Look, Kyle Wingfield really blew you out of the water the other day on the bogus argument you keep making about this.Do you really want to keep looking like a total fool,or are you just so partisan that you can't help yourself?

RoyalDawg
RoyalDawg

@Astropig @AvgGeorgian @CharterStarter_Too This AvgGeorgian is on here every day, spouting "facts" which are untrue, and when rebutted, old Average just ignores the facts and continues the same tired mantra.


I'd bet $1,000 there is a Clinton sign in his/her yard- tell the same lie enough times and people will begin to believe it.


This Average Joe is definitely trying to protect some adults status quo, be it a Board Member, administrator, or teacher, and the children stuck in these failing schools be damned.


He constantly creates a straw man of "corporations" or "for-profits" while he tries to defend the existing education industry.

redweather
redweather

@CharterStarter_Too You seem to criticize in others what I suspect dwells in your own heart. But you're so addicted to the charter school Koolaid that you can't see that.

30303
30303

Ah yes, the old 'teachers will leave in droves' canard against education reform.

Any education reform.

Meanwhile, students are leaving traditional public schools for charters in droves—or at least getting on charter school waiting lists.

Astropig
Astropig

@30303


Now,be careful there,303.


We all know what happened after Georgia voters passed the Charter School amendment in 2012:


1) Schools were immediately re-segregated-just as opponents claimed they would be.


2) Teachers left in droves-Just as opponents claimed they would be.Some classes are being taught by bus drivers to this day.


3)Funding cuts have led to the complete shuttering of over 60 bloated central offices.Several districts have ceased operations entirely because they didn't have enough bus drivers to teach their classes.


4) Georgia's high school graduation rate sank like a stone and has never recovered.


5) Out of state teachers unions have called for a total moratorium on "dark money" being spent on education issues in Georgia.


It's important that we remember that all of these things happened because opponents said they would. They are never wrong.

Intteach
Intteach

The teacher shortage is reality. Look at the signing bonuses that Fulton and Savannah-Chatham instituted in the last couple of years. It will not change until some of the insane mandates are lifted - but ESSA will not bring any relief of those mandates either. Accountability with its insane requirements of standardized tests break the backs of teachers - and students. Maybe if teachers could start focusing on the individual child instead of the composite test scorers.

class80olddog
class80olddog

Are there teacher shortages in East Cobb schools?

northernneighbor
northernneighbor

The problem with the failing schools is unprepared students due to lack of parental support and a community that doesn't value education.  A charter school will have a hard time fixing these problems. Teaching methodology is secondary. 

Astropig
Astropig

@northernneighbor


" A charter school will have a hard time fixing these problems. Teaching methodology is secondary.  "


You are 100% right.It would be a struggle with any school arrangement (charter or zip code) to improve the outcomes in these neighborhoods/cities.I agree.


But doing absolutely nothing (which is what opponents of the OSD advocate) would make improvement impossible.Not unlikely-impossible.The status quo is the one thing we have tried, and no one other than the selfish vested interests that run things now is happy with it.

Tom Green
Tom Green

Sadly, the only place where teachers can cut back on (in order to have a personal life) is planning. Ms. Webb's letter is right on target. BTW.... teachers are already flying out of the classrooms without the OSD.