Conversation Themes – Teachers

Yesterday, I posted themes from conversations with parents.  Today, I am posting themes from my conversations with teachers.

I would encourage readers to comment.  Which of these themes resonate with you most?  Which of these themes do not resonate?  Why?  What would you add to the list?

If you are a teacher who took part in these conversations, is there something I missed or got wrong?

The overarching question I posed was: As a school district, how might we move closer toward our potential?Top of Form

Over arching theme:

Teachers are proud of what they are able to accomplish given the resources they have to work with.  They are concerned about the present as well as the future.

Most commonly mentioned issues:

Class Size (instruction time).  Teachers are extremely concerned on the impact of larger class sizes.  They list a number of ways in which larger class sizes will negatively impact their abilities to serve students.  Bottom line:  Teachers suggest that it is structurally not possible to close the achievement gap or stretch the high performers.  In effect, teachers say they are forced to choose between students.

High school teachers indicate that the total number of students they have in their combined sections makes it extremely difficult to have meaningful relationships with their students.

Also, teachers say they are, in essence, being asked to do more work in the same amount of time.

Technology.  Technology is an important issue to middle and high school teachers (it was not mentioned as often by elementary school teachers).  As one high school teacher said, “We are desperate for technology.”  There also are concerns about how difficult it is to utilize existing technology.

High school teachers, in particular, are able to enumerate many ways they would use smart board technology.  However, as Math teachers said at the last board meeting, laptops and projectors are the first priority.

Student Remediation.  Teachers express concern about the number of students who arrive unprepared for their grade level.  This concern is expressed at all grade levels.  It is most pronounced at the middle and high school levels.

Student Support.  Teachers are concerned about cutbacks in and/or the limited number of positions such as literacy teachers and counselors.    Teachers say that when students are not able to receive individualized attention when they need it the classroom environment is further compromised.

Equity.  Teachers at the higher income schools indicate that their work is far easier than at lower income schools.  “It changes everything,” said one middle school teacher.  Teachers at all buildings indicated concern about equity issues.  The equity issues they described focused primarily on teaching tools (e.g. technology, extra books, etc.)

Compensation.  Many teachers made it clear that they are looking at other school districts in the area.  The gap between St. Vrain’s base pay and that of nearby school districts is getting large enough that many teachers are willing to consider a change – though that’s not necessarily their first choice.

Prep Time.  Teachers indicate that they don’t have adequate time to meet in teams (especially vertical teams) and use assessment data to guide instruction.  Given this, some teacher question the merits of the number of assessments students are required to take.  If there’s not time to use the date, the teachers don’t gain any value added.  Other teachers see the assessments as highly valuable but say they need more time to make effective use of this data.  Teachers say, consistently, that they would like more PLC time to focus on horizontal and vertical team meetings to, as one teacher said, “Figure out how to make the curriculum we’re using work for my students in my classroom.”

Teachers would like the community to be more aware that other school districts provide far more prep time to teachers than does St. Vrain.

Vision?  Teachers in four of the five schools said they are unclear on the district’s long term vision.  They indicate that they are seldom part of conversations about the direction of the school district.  At the building level, many teachers recognize that principals are consumed with daily operations and have little time for big picture thinking.  At the district level, they indicate that they are hungry for more communications.

Schools I visited after the Public Policy presentations found the meetings to be extremely helpful.  People said those types of conversations are important to have on an ongoing basis.

Communications.  Teachers want to make sure people in leadership positions are doing the work that’s needed to convey the school district’s message and needs to the community.  They are concerned the stories about the good work in schools are not getting out.  They recognize that there is an important role for them to play in helping to communicate with the community. 

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9 Responses to “Conversation Themes – Teachers”

  1. Brad Jolly Says:

    John, I think it’s great that you’re back to regular blogging. Regarding your comment that teachers in 4 out of the 5 schools were unclear on the district’s long term vision: are you talking about 1 or 2 teachers at each school, or are you talking about the general consensus of the teachers in the meeting? If the former, then the onus lies on the one or two who need to get a clue.

  2. Brian Herman Says:

    John, I’m bothered by the teachers’ concern over “the number of students who arrive unprepared for their grade level.” I believe that remediation strategies are the wrong approach, that’s looking to address the symptoms but not the disease. If students are arriving unprepared for their grade level then the district and schools have failed the community by allowing an unprepared student to progress to the next grade.
    While I often rail against the notion of “the good old days” I do recall that over the course of my primary education in SVVSD I was personally aware of 4 kids who were “held back” and didn’t progress to the next grade with my class. These students did not master the required skills at their grade level and the district and school had the courage to have the difficult conversation with the parents and did the right (albeit painful) thing for the student and ultimately for all the students who moved ahead as well.
    When we blindly move children ahead because we fear the response of the parents we damage everyone. No one is served by this except perhaps the parents of the lagging student. The unprepared student will continue to do poorly and will become a drag on the system, reducing the pace and effectiveness of instruction at the next level.
    You hear the horror storries of the high-school student who doesn’t know how to read. “How can this happen?!” is the cry of the policticians and public. The answer is simple… way back in grades 1-3 we took a child who couldn’t read and instead of holding on to him until he learned to read, we just let him move ahead with his class. You don’t learn to read by osmosis nor by being thrown into more difficult courseware. Moving the child forward will actually prevent him from learning to read by moving farther and farther away from the teachers and courseware that are focused on teaching reading. The same is true of all learning… if you don’t master the basics you can not pick them up while being trained in the advanced.
    I urge the district not to think of ways to shove unprepared students forward but instead consider holding them back so they can master the skills they’ll need at the next level.

  3. Brad Jolly Says:

    Mr. Herman is exactly correct.
    In just about any other form of human endeavor, people would go to jail if they knowingly ignored grossly substandard results. Imagine what would happen to a drug company CEO who knew that many of his supposed 100-mg pills of whatever actually contained 20-50 mg of the medicine. Consider what would happen if an oil company executive knowingly sold half-empty barrels of oil but marked them “full.”
    John, you have a background in banking; would your banks long tolerate a teller whose drawer came up missing hundreds of dollars every day?
    Unfortunately, in an unaccountable government-based system, this sort of thing is not only tolerated; it is S.O.P.

  4. Bud Hunt Says:

    Remediation is a tough issue – and worthy of more attention than this blog comment – but I find it interesting that all of your metaphors, Brad, involve quantities. That doesn’t seem to me to be the right way to think about learning and achievement.
    I certainly am concerned about the achievement gap – but I don’t know that “filling the pail” metaphors are useful here. Then again, neither are “lighting a fire” ones, either.

  5. John Creighton Says:

    Intervention, remediation and retention (to use the education words) are issues/policies that need to be updated. We identified this as one of the issues that needs short term attention at the board retreat this past weekend.
    It is easiest to imagine strategies for students who attend Kindergarten (even preschool) in St. Vrain schools and continue on. We also need strategies for students who arrive at a St. Vrain School in late elementary, middle school and high school.
    I plant to write more about the retreat soon.

  6. Brad Jolly Says:

    Bud, it is not about the metaphor.
    You don’t like the medicine or oil metaphors? Fine. Take any professional scenario where there are standards that are supposed to be met, and see whether the general principle holds.
    For example, suppose a karate school started passing out belts based on how many classes a student sat through, regardless of whether a student could competently perform the appropriate skills. How long would it be before the sanctioning body decertified the school?
    Suppose a psychiatrist certified as sane every patient who came in front of her. Would that psychiatrist have a license very long?
    In most professions that claim to have standards, there are serious consequences for ignoring gross violations thereof. Why is education different?
    To John’s point about “strategies for students who arrive in St. Vrain” as older students, why should the strategy be different? If the student is operating generally around grade level, leave him there. If the student is generally above grade level, offer advanced grade placement. If the student is generally below grade level, put him in a class at the appropriate level.

  7. Dave Eiffert Says:

    It’s not about the metaphores precisely because there are no metaphores which accurately portray the unique circumstances of public education.
    All of the metaphores used in this discussion presuppose some sort of authority enforcing a given set of standards. I know of no govorning body in public education with the authority to force a child to repeat a grade if the parents refuse to cooperate.
    There seems to be the automatic assumption that these students are “blindly” pushed ahead by lazy and/or indifferent Teachers and Principles? What about the parents who, against the recommendation of the Teacher and Principle, refuse to allow their child to be held back? If they disagree, what authority can prevent them from enrolling in a different school or even a different district? Where is the govorning body that says that child will not advance until he or she is proficient no matter where they go?
    It’s silly to discuss an important issue like this using clumsy metaphores that ignore the unique circumstances of the actual issue.

  8. Annette Higgins Says:

    As I read through some of these posts. The resonant theme is “Remediation, Who is at fault?” That blame is being shifted from the parents to the teachers.
    I appreciate Mr. Hunt’s comments. I believe that this is a complex issue and not simply solved by offering one solution for every student.

  9. Brad Jolly Says:

    There is no “automatic assumption that these students are blindly pushed ahead by lazy and/or indifferent Teachers (sic) and Principles (sic).” There is merely the observation that students who are not even close to grade level are promoted regardless. I am not talking about special needs students here; there are plenty of typical students who fail to achieve for a number of reasons.
    I completely agree with Mr. Eiffert that sometimes parents go against teachers’ recommendations that a child be retained, and that is often a real problem.
    Let us then at least be honest and say, “we have no academic standards. We have goals, and if a child meets them, fine, but if not, that’s fine, too.” The SVVSD has put a lot of effort into pretending otherwise over the years, but the kids know the real scoop.

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