For the Children’s Interest
I am a big fan of an episode of 'The Cosby Show' where the teachers are driven to school in a limo, only to step out into adoration fans looking for textbook autographs. Into the classroom they go, where a John Madden-like telestrator outlines their excellent skills. I believe that to be good for educational achievement. It works for football!!
After many hours of meetings with parents, teachers, and policy makers last week, I am led to write the following. (Please accept this as a public discussion piece. Although a dichotomy of position is presented, the issues are not black and white.)
To protect children’s educational achievement:
Teachers should get paid above a basic living wage. Working two jobs and showing up to school sleepy and tired is not good for teaching our children.
Teachers should have their health insurance coverage protected. Fitness and health effects performance.
Teachers should have the average standard two weeks paid vacation for salaried positions. Most already get this with summers off. However, if they are not paid well enough for their standard of living, they will take summer jobs.
Teachers demonstrating excellence above and beyond should be paid above and beyond. A great teacher, who in-spite of environmental challenges and administrative constraints consistently leads his or her classroom to perform well on tests and postgraduate life, warrants a six figure income after bonuses.
Teachers whose classrooms consistently underperform should receive training, correction, and incentives commensurate to their performance. Teachers should receive more room for job security based on performance than the corporate sector, but whose work results are more important?
Deserving teachers deserve our utmost support. To do otherwise is to do harm to our children and America’s future.
Now come the lobbying efforts…
In this corner, fighting for the teachers...
- Unions: (nationally they set standards and zeitgeist even if they aren’t technically formed in our state) Their persuasive arguments and thought pieces are heard and seen by everyone everywhere. It has influenced a great number of people’s thinking for better and worse.
- Lobbying: Formal professionals and para lobbying by professional teachers association leaders, such as The Georgia Association of Educators or locally CCAE, fight for the teacher’s interests with a biased lean to protect teachers. Sometimes this can mean pressuring and influencing board of education leaders and policy makers to side with policy that indirectly encourages underperforming schools, programs, personnel and tenure processes.
- Captive Audience: (students and their parents) In schools where the parents are less familiar with educational processes and pedagogy, where they are working class and thus limited in time to research methods and issues in education, where they do not have the luxury of attending daytime board of education sessions (like the one I attend from 8:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.), they are even more captive simply due to social class. It is great to see the East Cobb Mothers at the morning BOE sessions, but who will work for the South Cobb working class families? How do they get a face rather than suffering the isolation of white paper data and distant overhead slides full of failing stats?
- Number of Votes: Teachers vote. That they vote is a good thing, but with the demographics of the other-side, it presents an imbalance of perspective and influence. Teachers are largely middle class, more likely to be married, more likely to be white, and more likely to have a vested interested in elected officials. Being endorsed by the Georgia Association for Educators is a coveted thing by politicians. Notice how no one raves about being endorsed by the Urban Parents Association.
- Involved Advocates: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is real in this dilemma. Teachers and their advocates have the time and income to move towards the stage of self-actualization in life. Poor parents don’t. They are focused on the first stage of sleep, food, and shelter. Faced with the decision of attending a PTA meeting or getting their phones turned back on, they’ll most often choose the latter. In fact, that they often don’t have consistent phone numbers is one of the challenges teachers have in scheduling conferences with them. I am so impressed by parents who show up at PTA meetings, many who can’t speak English, struggling to keep their eyes open after three hours of sleep. Teachers are at least living above that level of need. They certainly have advocates to call when unsure how to steer the course of life. None of these advantages are the fault of teachers anymore than being born into inherited wealth is a politician’s fault. They should not have to absolve themselves from generational blessings. Parents and citizens must see things as they are and know what they are up against when trying to get representation when teachers needs may conflict with those of parents and students. The consistent similarities in schools not making AYP are parents disadvantaged in information, involvement, and representation. To policy makers, they are often simply sad stories on a piece of paper. Like politicians who might ignore certain segments of society know not to vote, policy makers also pay attention to those with the loudest voice.
Case in point is my recent witness of Cobb Superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa’s convincing request for Teach For America (TFA) aid to South Cobb Schools. In this proposal he tells of his vetting process, Hinojosa speaks to research regarding TFA relevant to demographics like struggle schools in South Cobb. He gives anecdotal stories, qualitative evidence, and quantitative data on the effectiveness of the TFA teacher, system and process that makes a difference. He emphasizes in his pitch that the cost of the entire program would be paid for by corporate and private citizens!
Even before he was done presenting a local association leader began showing disagreement. Several board members immediately ignore the stories and begin to question the proposal as a vote of no confidence to current teachers and systems in place in Cobb. It was a clear as light to me that the relationships with teachers were real to them, some of them being ex-teachers themselves. In contrast, their relationship with a single parent working class mother was no closer than a distant hologram. They do care about education, but their care about teachers trumps results for children. They certainly have conflict risking what works for their demographic to benefit those less fortunate.
Teach For America is just one way to involve more people in assisting schools in teaching children. One school that accepted such help in a time of dire need is New Haven Connecticut’s Lincoln-Basset Elementary. How can our Cobb County School District turn away such help?
From Southern Connecticut University’s website, here is an account of a Teach for America student.
**My Experience as a New Haven Student & Teacher
A. Bobb-Semple, New Haven Student & Teacher
The educational achievement gap is one of the most disturbing issues facing our country today. In Connecticut, this gap is exacerbated when we observe the disparities between students in affluent and low-income communities. As a student in New Haven, I observed such disparities even with the New Haven Public Schools population. Although I received an excellent education in New Haven, many of my peers did not. This frustration served as the impetus for my decision to join the 2009 Teach for America CT Corps. I currently teach 7th and 8th grade science at Lincoln Bassett Community School in New Haven. Teaching in New Haven has provided me with a unique perspective on the achievement gap and what it will take to bring about change. Although teachers play a tremendous role in a child's educational achievement, they cannot act in isolation. Parents, administrators, politicians, and other stakeholders must all act collaboratively to take steps that are in the best interest of all children.
And now in this corner, fighting for the student living in poverty
- Empathy: It’s there, but for many it lasts only about as long as a ‘Save the Children’ commercial. Some who really care and do give the fight a go, eventually leave education alone and seek other arenas to improve the lives of children. Our diverted choices range from Feed the Children to the comfort of a parent engaged charter or private school teas.
- Parent Teacher Associations (PTA): Here is an opportunity to balance the fight for students. The way will not be easy. Designed to protect its status in relationship with schools, teachers and school systems, the PTAs have to work past its compromises. The average PTA, like ones with which I am involved, give a large amount of attention to teacher appreciation. The saving grace and future hope for children lies in this group’s mission to help families and students. In PTAs where the school is below poverty level, we see the same problem. Poverty limits reach and capacity. Schools that have poverty balanced by highly engaged parents and the presence of wealthier, middle class mix, like Teasley, Nickajack and King Springs elementary schools in Smyrna, do better at consistently making Annual Yearly Progress (AYP). Argyle has achieved the Title 1 Distinguished School status this year. These schools are developing a village to educate children by extending the circle of care. Isolated by income disparity in the student body, and parents who are struggling to provide the very basics of food and shelter, many PTAs struggle to get off the ground and represent their schools. Leaders themselves are often struggling with their own needs for survival. Calling a state representative about educational issues or helping with homework is simply not often a priority. And lets remember, since 2009, the number of families in poverty has greatly increased.
A great example of empowering the less fortunate was the approach former Virginia Governor Mark Warner (currently Sen. Warner) took when preparing to run for office. He empowered a slew of voters with a grassroots effort to micro-lend to what people called “red neck mountain people.” He also introduced wireless phones and computers to their communities to aid in their connection to agencies and policy makers. I was able to help get a working class mother elected to the school board in part due to his support. Effort to empower and include parents in board of education representation and even simple access with the tools needed to attend PTA meetings would go a long way in correcting the imbalance in protecting a students educational interests.
Here’s more from Dr. Bill Cosby, MA in Education, Phd. in Psychology, on why we need more parent involvement in schools.
What can you do?
Join your PTA. Join multiple PTAs. Pay for someone else to join the PTA. Consider the other stories and empirical data that improve the quality of education of the less fortunate. Attend the next Cobb BOE meeting (Thursday) and speak up for children and the teachers who won't settle for less than the best for education.