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Day 88 – Speaking Up

Day 88 of Year 5 of teaching started out with me looking like this…

Please remember that I must maintain “Basic” status by taking daily selfies.

😀

About an hour and a half later, I looked like this…

I really wish I could do the pretty cry, but I cannot.

It’s a good thing we were in the middle of exams, and my planning period was extra long.

Why the sad face, you ask?

I’ll tell you the long non-sordid tale.

I’d run into my fabulous principal shortly after arriving to school, and because he is generally a very busy man, I pulled him aside to ask him a couple of questions.  One, in particular, had to do with an option that most teachers are being offered in lieu of enduring long, cumbersome observation requirements.

I had missed a faculty meeting during which the particulars of said option had been discussed.  I’d had a parent conference that morning.

So, when I asked Mr. Principal about it today, he said that I didn’t meet the requirements for the option.

To which I think I gave him this look…

We walked to his office, and he read from the official principal handbook (I’m kind of making this up…I don’t know if there is such a thing, but he did read something from a piece of paper).

I’d thought that because my overall VAM (Value Added Measure…the thing used to ultimately “grade” me as a teacher) had been Effective, that I would be allowed to take advantage of the option.

Unfortunately, teachers have to be Highly Effective/Effective in ALL areas of their VAM…including the Student Growth section.

Despite 92% of my Level 1 and nearly 70% of my Level 2 students scoring learning gains last year, the Student Growth portion came back as Needs Improvement…and this with three years of data being factored into the following formula…

My previous years of data were never below effective.

When my principal told me this, I started crying again…out of frustration.

Once again, my VAM score is screwing me over.

Pardon my Redneck.

While I’d normally have a simple walk-thru by my principal, now I have to do a lot of extra paperwork, we have to meet twice, and I have to spend many nerve-wracked hours prepping for something to “prove” that I am a decent teacher.

To his credit, Mr. Principal told me not to worry.  He values my work and knows the quality lesson plans my students work through.

We rehashed the unfairness of it, and then he made a suggestion that I speak at a legislative delegation meeting that was, coincidentally God-incidentally going to be held tonight.

The Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, Don Gaetz, newly elected Jay Trumbull, and Brad Drake would be in attendance to listen to comments, compliments, and concerns.

I asked my principal if he thought it would make a difference…if people in Tallahassee would make new laws about education because of me speaking out.

He told me that my VAM story needed to be told, so I said I’d pray about it.

When I got home from school, I typed out what I wanted to say.

I tend to ramble.

Not that you would know anything about that.

:::insert rolled eyes:::

Then, I drove myself to the meeting.

I called Super Sis on the way and asked her to pray…to pray that God would be glorified…that I would not speak out of anger (I’ve had a nasty attitude the last few months)…that my words would not get jumbled.

She said she would pray as soon as we hung up.

I nervously signed in and filled out the card to be added to the agenda.

Then, I waited.

Don Gaetz facilitated the meeting, and he began by explaining the rules of order.

I was intimidated.  It was all so formal.

I sat in the back, read over my notes, and listened as others were called up to speak.

Twenty-four of us had requested an audience.

People were allowed to take a lot more than the originally allotted time of 2.5 minutes.

At one point, a teacher friend I’d worked with a few years got up to speak, touching on the subject of teacher evaluations but did not completely delve into it like I’d planned on doing.

Finally, my name was called.

I took a deep breath and walked to the podium.

My legs felt like jello.

I explained, in the microphone where my quivering voice was magnified, that I was nervous.

The representative laughed and said, “You’re a teacher!”

To which I responded that I was used to speaking to 9th and 10th graders…not adults!

I then began to share my story.

I admitted that prior to becoming a teacher, I’d lived in a bubble for a long time…raised children in the school system…children who always passed FCAT easily.  I’d always thought that kids should pass the FCAT by the 12th grade…especially after having three years to do so.

I had also agreed that teachers should be judged based on student performance.

I said my bubble burst when I started teaching…Intensive Reading to kids who struggled with learning disabilities, homelessness, and hunger.

I told those representatives that I’d always heard of these issues but never seen them up close.  Every single day of my four years of teaching reading has had me working with kids facing such issues.  The issues were suddenly real for me.

I shared a story of a student who told me that I needed to find food for her classmate…one I’d just been working with…because she had not eaten in two days because her mom had to give the only lunch money she had to her younger brother instead.

I broke down when I told that story then explained that if I cried, it was because I was so passionate.

God was so good as I spoke and helped me recover quickly, and I returned to my carefully prepared notes.

I told them that despite the challenges, my students had made learning gains, and I shared my stats.

Then, I told how I’d felt sucker-punched and betrayed when this year’s VAM came back, and Student Growth showed Needs Improvement when my kids had clearly improved.

I told them that God had called me to teach…that I absolutely adore my students…but that there were times that I questioned if I should stay in a profession where an impossible-to-understand formula determined my worth to the State.

I said that I was grateful for a principal who validated me…a wonderful staff I worked with…and amazing students.  I explained that I loved my school…that I was still wearing my shirt with the logo from my day at work…a day that had not begun with plans to speak at the meeting.

I asked the representatives to think of my story when they returned to Tallahassee to hash out education legislation.  I told them that my story was one among countless others, and I asked them to change a broken system before more teachers left.

I ended by sharing a line from an email I’d received from a student just before entering the meeting…”You are one of my main motivations for finishing school and going to college.”  This was written by a student I taught last year.  She’s at a different school this year and has had to overcome tremendous obstacles to stay in school.  Her words were so inspiring.

To their credit, the representatives did not stop me when I’m sure time ran out.  They allowed me to finish, only interrupting when they had comments to insert.

When I finished, the entire room erupted in applause.

I was thanked for my words.  Other things were said before I returned to my seat, but in all honesty, I can’t remember!!  All I know is that I breathed a huge sign of relief, to the laughter of a few in the audience, got a thumbs up from a School Board member sitting in the back, and gratefully sat down.

I shed a few silent tears, so thankful that God had given me strength to speak…so overcome with a mixture of emotions.

When the meeting ended, I had the opportunity to thank Jay Trumbull for listening.  I really did feel like he and the other representatives listened to me.

I met a number of teachers who’d sat in the audience.  They thanked me for being so genuine.

I saw one of my mentors…gave her a hug and thanked her for her influence in my life.

When I left, I called Super Sis and thanked her for praying.  I gave her the scoop on the meeting, and I could hear her smile in her response.

She told me that as she’d prayed, beautiful words came from her heart…words so eloquent that she knew God was in this…that I would be okay…that this was the right thing to do.

I give ALL of the glory for this experience to God alone.

He was in this.  He spoke through me.  He calmed my nerves.  He gave me a conviction that was not full of anger but of truth and justice.

Time will tell if my words will have any permanent impact.

Regardless, I stepped outside of my comfort zone tonight and spoke up.  I’ll leave the rest up to God.

The Test

Dear Students,

You are going to be given a test.  Please ensure that you understand the following:

  • It will be a three-part test.
  • I will grade the first two parts, and they will total up to 50% of your final score.
  • Someone in Tallahassee will score the third part of your test.
  • I will have no input, so whatever observations I make won’t really matter in the end.
  • You can do all of the supporting work during class…fill out the proper paperwork…document everything…but that probably won’t matter in the end either.
  • To arrive at your overall, final rating, your score will be plugged into a formula that is similar to the one you see below:
  • Have no fear.  This will be a reading test, not a math test, so it’s really not necessary that you actually understand the formula that will be used to determine your grade.
  • Just so you know, your grade for the third portion of the test…the portion that will be graded by someone else…will be tabulated according to predictions.  Yes, that’s right.  Predictions.  Three years’ worth.  So, it’s really important that you don’t do anything to upset the predicted outcome.
  • Make sure you get a good night’s sleep the evening before, don’t have any emotional upsets that morning (heaven forbid that you are teenagers), and eat a good breakfast before the test.  The formula doesn’t factor in such lapses.
  • A word of caution:  Even if you do well, you still might not make the amount of improvement the formula states you’re supposed to make, so it might be possible that you could actually pass the test but still have to re-do it later.  Hey!  I’ve told you I don’t do math.  It’s not even my formula.  Blame someone else for this.
  • Make sure you do well this year because if something goes wrong, and you don’t do well, this year’s score will affect next year’s rating, no matter how you do on that test.
  • This is the part where you should laugh a little.  Laughing beats screaming.  Or crying.  You’ll just get a headache from crying, and that could mess up your test results.
  • You can protest this assignment.  We do, after all, live in a democracy.  Don’t expect, though, that anyone will listen.  In the end, you’re not a person with a face.  You are a number.  Computer models don’t see faces and feelings…only data.
  • Oh, and if you have any questions, feel free to request a FAQ, ripe full of information that you have my blessing to try to disseminate.  If you figure out how to understand it, patent the cipher.  You’ll be financially set for life.  I’ll even give you bonus points.  Of course, the bonus points would have to be added to to portion of the test that I get to grade, so your overall rating still wouldn’t be affected.
  • One final word.  Don’t complain.  You’ve been told, from Day 1, that you’re at school to prepare to become college and career ready.  Well, welcome to the real world.  This test will prepare you for a career in education, should you decide to go that route.

Remember that though I am giving you this “real talk,” I do love you with all of my heart.

Love,

Mrs. AuburnChick

Twas the Night Before VAM…

Twas the night before VAM,
And all through the school,
Every teacher was working
Against this dumb tool.

They wanted to sleep but could not settle in
Instead they partook of a tonic and gin.
Some “brainiac,” you see, had decided one day
It’d be great to let test scores affect teacher pay.

When out in the district, there arose such a clamor
Educators were ticked; they raised a banner.
How dare politicians who earn way too much money
Try to take ours away…hey, that’s not even funny!

Have you no scruples, do you not understand
That you’re running off teachers by leaps and bounds.
You’re taking our planning, we attend endless meetings.
Our students’ attendance is often fleeting.

You test kids to death,
They cry out in pain
By the time April comes,
They’re beyond strained.

We need a new driver,
Someone who knows
What it’s like to teach children
Whose reading won’t flow.

Walk a mile in our shoes; let’s see how you do
Teaching standards that change every year or two.
Let’s measure your children against those who don’t struggle
And with those who have parents with whom they can snuggle.

You will beg, you will plead, but your efforts will fail.
No one will care; the VAM will prevail.
Only then will you see why teachers can’t sleep
On this Night Before VAM when worries are steep.

Public Release of VAM Scores – My Thoughts

A couple of days ago, teachers across Florida received the news that the Florida Department of Education and the Florida Educators Association had lost a legal battle to keep VAM (Value Added Measurements…aka a teacher’s evaluation data) out of the public eye.

Oh yes, the media had flexed its powerful arms and fought mightily to have this data made available to the public at large.

Not only can the media request it but parents can as well.

What does this mean?

Basically, if people want to see my VAM score from last year, they can.

Here are my thoughts…given by a fourth-year teacher who’s still learning the ropes, mind you.

VAM scores are determined by many different factors.  I posted the ridiculous formula somewhere on my blog last year (BTW, this is why I am not a math teacher, although most of ours can’t figure out this formula).

VAM scores supposedly compare students across the state.

Yeah.  Right.

One huge factor in the VAM scores is data from FCAT and other standardized exams.  The State of Florida looks for learning gains, in the case of FCAT, and pass/fail in the case of other exams such as End of Course, which might sound simple if you don’t work in the trenches…i.e. in the classroom…but is, in actuality, not so simple at all.

The VAM scores do not take into consideration students’ attendance records, discipline history (and, thus, time spent out of the classroom because of behavior infractions), emotional ups and downs that prevent students from focusing, hunger, homelessness, and neglect, whether intentional or unintentional by parents who cannot or will not devote the attention needed to raise well-rounded young adults.

Here is my beef.

If someone wants to look at a teacher’s VAM score, that’s all well and good; however, that person is only going to get one side of the story.

The person won’t know that a certain student skips class three out of the five days each week, nor will the person know that many of a teacher’s students come to school hungry each day.  This affects learning because those children cannot focus in class because they are too exhausted from empty bellies.

Is there a place in the VAM equation that allows for these factors?

I rather doubt it.

What about the kids who leave directly from school, work until 8 or 9pm, stay up past midnight doing homework, forget to eat in the process, and get maybe three or four hours of sleep.

That’s the norm, my friends, especially in schools where a household is lucky if it has one working parent.  Students are often called upon to fill in the gap with their minimum-wage jobs.

What about the students who miss half of the school year because they have to stay home and care for younger siblings because their parents are unable to do so themselves?

Will the person who requests VAM information be privy to the inside information?

Heck no.

I have nothing to hide.  I am not ashamed of my VAM score.

Do you want to know why?

It’s because I don’t measure success by one incomprehensible number that some freakingly ridiculous person-who-thinks-he/she-is-the-end-all-be-all-to-all-things-teaching-and-math-related.

I know what happens in my classroom.

I build relationships with students who don’t have people at home to talk to.

I hold children accountable for their actions by requiring them to show up to class on time, in school dress code, ready to work a solid ninety minutes.

I build up my students’ confidence by praising them for their daily accomplishments, however large or small the steps might be.

I feed their bellies and their minds.

I create readers because of my love of reading.

I foster an environment where we talk about life, manners, and curriculum.

The public will never see these things because the public isn’t in the classroom for the 48,600 minutes that I am each year (I did the math on the calculator).

The VAM formula doesn’t have a place for those things because they can’t be measured.

Truly do I love my job, but I don’t think that many outside of education understand that one number or rating isn’t a complete reflection of how effective a teacher is.

Evidence of a Highly Effective teacher can be seen in the proud strut of a high school senior on graduation night is one measurement…

The hug a teacher gets when a student visits the following year…

The trust a teacher sees reflected in the eyes of twenty-six students who have sat down to take FCAT Writes…a trust that the teacher has done everything he/she can do to prepare said students for the writing test.

So, to those who want to look at a teacher’s VAM, exercise your legal right, by all means, but please remember before you start pointing fingers or sit down in judgement, that teachers are human beings teaching little human beings who are trying to deal with all of the crap that life throws their way (the teachers kind of have a lot of crap thrown their way too, truth be told).

Just as one performance isn’t the measure of a singer or actor, one score isn’t the measure of a teacher.  A lifetime of teaching hundreds of children…well, that’s the true measure.

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