Two Tales in Education

Author collectionTwo stories from the education world caught my attention this week, and I feel that both are worth the time to read. The first story, Why Teachers Quit by Liz Riggs, is a cautionary tale from 2013 about teachers and burn-out. The second, Silicon Valley Courts Brand-Name Teachers, Raising Ethics Issues is by Natasha Singer of the New York Times. It is a warning for anyone who worries about the possible effects of corporate America’s influence in schools and school materials.

The Atlantic recently reposted Liz Riggs’ 2013 article Why Teachers Quit which was originally printed in October 2013. Even with a 4-year time gap, this is an article that is relevant and worth reading for anyone interested in retaining educators. The turn-over rate cited in the article, 40-50%, refers to the numbers of teachers leaving the education profession within the first five years of their career.  While I believe this attrition rate to be lower in 2017 thanks to strong induction and mentoring programs available to beginning educators, many beginning teachers continue to leave education for other fields.

Although many of the teachers Ms. Riggs interviewed were from charter schools, the conditions which lead to decisions to leave education are often some of the same expressions of discontent heard now from both novices and experienced teachers. The responsibilities of educators don’t end at the dismissal bell. Planning, assessing, writing reports – those workloads are often overwhelming and makes for an unhealthy and out-of-balance life.

Even when one goes into education for all the best reasons, the reality of the profession can become overwhelming. With all of the emphasis on teacher quality, there continues to be a need to ensure that the extracurricular demands on talented educators are not overpowering.

The second article, Silicon Valley Courts Brand-Name Teachers, Raising Ethics Issues, was recently published in the New York Times and describes a new trend in education: recruiting teachers to promote edu-products. While understanding that obtaining “free stuff” is a way for classrooms and educators to afford enhancements and the latest in bells and whistles, I think this pathway is a very slippery slope. It makes me more than a bit skeptical about the motives of corporate American forming relationships with educators to obtain favorable product placements.

As a retired educator, I can still recall the disproportionate amounts of time spent each evening writing plans, pulling together materials, researching, contacting parents, and grading student work. I am not quite sure how Kayla Delzer, the third grade teacher chronicled in the Times article finds enough time to attend to teacher responsibilities; blog, tweet, and post on Facebook; and sleep. I wonder about the cost to her students.  Is her objectivity in evaluating appropriate materials compromised? Are her students missing out when their expert teacher is away to promote these materials?

Two tales for the week, both cautionary. Anyone out there listening?


The $100,000 Question

Massachusetts, one of the highest regarded public education systems world-wide, is embroiled in a ballot initiative, Question 2.  Question 2 proponents want to raise the current cap on charter schools to include 12 new charter school each year. Opponents – and full disclosure, I land in that category for a number of reasons – want to keep charter schools capped at current levels.

One would think that the state governing boards making decisions about which charter schools to approve and how many might try to maintain neutrality in such a debate. But here in Massachusetts, one would be wrong.

Paul Sagan, the appointed Chair of the Commonwealth Board of Education (by Governor Baker who is an advocate for charter schools and lifting the cap) is one of those who gives thumbs-up or thumbs-down to charter schools in Massachusetts. Paul Sagan, it was recently revealed, donated $100,000 of his own money toward the campaign tasked with tasked with getting Massachusetts voters to vote Yes on 2. Does that seem wrong to anyone else?

Mr. Sagan, who sits on a number of Boards of Directors, used to serve as an executive in a company called Akamai. Mr. Sagan, it was revealed yesterday, also deeded over some of his stock to a family fund supporting charter schools.

How, I ask you, is this allowed to stand? Why is there not more outcry for Mr. Sagan to resign from the Board of Education?

Mr. Sagan’s boss, Governor Baker, apparently thinks this is a big “nothingburger“. Yes, that is indeed the terminology Mr. Baker used to describe these ethically questionable donations when asked about it. Nothing to see here, move along.

Even if one were to swallow the spin that Mr. Sagan’s monetary support for lifting the cap on charter schools is perfectly allowable, there is an aura of cronyism here. Instead, of neutrality and impartiality when making decisions about charter school approval, it appears that the “fix” is in.

Political appointees are certainly well within their right to donate and support whatever makes them politically happy. However, when your appointed position on a very high-level board making decisions about how many and which charter applications receive approvals will be impacted by whether or not a ballot initiative passes, that is not a “nothingburger”.

That is the real deal, and a raw one at that.

Thanks But No Thanks

It happened that I was sitting at my desk during my lunch, reading the local newspaper, when I spotted an article about new ethics requirements for teachers who receive gifts from students. How ironic that this discovery was on the day before our Holiday break — and that 5 students had given me a Christmas present that very day!

The new regs seem like a knee jerk reaction to some larger issue, and far removed from the tokens that kids bring to their teachers. It’s not as if the students I have from families with limited monetary resources are buying me a day at the spa. The geniuses behind this regulation  can make all the noise they want about “bribery” and undue influence as evidenced by a present for teacher. If a good grade or college recommendation can be “bought” with a $25 Dunkin Donuts card, image what $250 could buy.  Valedictorian?

So this morning, in addition to handwriting thank-you notes — because THAT’s the polite and accepted social norm  I want to model for my kids — I dug through the website and found the form I need to complete. I’m including the link here for anyone else teaching in the Commonwealth’s public schools (hmmm, do Charter School teachers need to do this too?).

Despite my appeal for no gifts (I have a treasured collection of notes from students),  some parents and students still give gifts at certain points in the year,  Christmas being one of those times. I dread Valentine’s Day — I’ll have to refile this form for every cardboard box of candy a student brings.

So here’s what I’ve needed to declare in order to disclose “the appearance of a conflict of interest” (I kid you not, this is the title on the form!):

  • 2 packages of Ferrero Rocher chocolates
  • 1 Country Apple bath set
  • 1 Cherry Blossom bath set (hmmmm, are the kids trying to tell me something?)
  • 1 dozen butter cookies in a ziplock baggie
  • a 2009-2010 calendar (priceless!)
  • hand lotion and a jar candle
  • handmade eggrolls to share with the class and 1 chocolate homemade cupcake

I might add that, in the spirit of not allowing presents to impact my professional decisions, I did complete a behavior report on one of the gift-givers after the students aimed a pencil at another student in the classroom (missed!) and used inappropriately foul language.

Good grief!