I am a music teacher with 17 years experience, and I also coach youth hockey, soccer, and baseball.
If you read my earlier post, because of the face-to-face conversations I've had with people, with some of the suggestions they've come up with, I do assume a lot up front. And with your opening of cutting sports, coaches stipends, and closing schools, it appeared from the start that it would be easy to assume where you stood. I do apologize, though. You're right. If we were face-to-face, we could hold a better conversation. Reading blogs and emails, it's impossible to infer tone of voice. I just read those comments, and hear the voices of the people of Minot and Poland who just oppose education--which comes through loud and clear in their tone.
I am actually one of the more conservative teachers you'll ever meet. I do not believe at all that throwing money at the budget solves everything. There are many areas in which I wholeheartedly disagree with the majority of my colleagues--too many to get into here. But you've asked for solutions. I don't have much time here, so here goes: 1) The federal and state government should scale back new spending until the educational mandates that they've put in place are funded. Special education costs are through the roof, and are not always funded, so the cost gets passed onto the property owner. 2) Everyone should share the cost of educating children--NOT just property owners. I used to teach in a city (that shall remain nameless), and many students would walk to school from the dozens of apartment buildings in the school's neighborhoods. Many came from abhorrent living conditions, single parent households (and I use the word "parent" here loosely), and were unrested and malnourished. Some of these students required more help from the school than other kids (who may have taken the bus in to school from a stable home), yet the "parent" of the kid who came from the apartment building didn't have to "shell out" money in property taxes to go toward educating their child. This is wrong. 3) Give school administrators the ability to deal with ineffective teachers. Currently, the union is the biggest obstacle in letting this happen. I've seen far too many times where a teacher is totally ineffective with their students, yet the administrator can do very little to change it because the teacher has years in. The union will immediately come to the aid of an ineffective veteran teacher over the younger, fresher, energetic teacher with only 1 or 2 years in. This is a huge issue, as when budget cuts come (and believe me--they've come in a BIG way to RSU 16 over the past 3 years!), instead of being able to "weed out" ineffective teachers, you lose the youngest and sometimes brightest teachers in the building because they're "low man on the totem pole." Now, just writing this could get me in hot water with my colleagues, but I've had this conversation time and time again. The union is the biggest obstacle to effectively changing school climate. (Now I'll have to deal with a whole other group ticked off at me--great!)
I'd love to continue, but I've got to go. I'll close by saying that although I am very fiscally conservative, I believe we've cut all we can in RSU 16, in particular. I'm not privy to too much else in other districts, but my point is that the programs that are being offered in RSU 16 after very drastic cuts is unacceptable.
I chastise them (you) because your "solution" is just to keep taking away from education. Let's just use your "valid suggestions" toward a "middle ground" to help solve this impasse. In your comment, you suggest to offer fewer sports, not pay the people who coach them, to close buildings, have our youth leave to find better opportunities, cut principals, office personnel, and reduce "overhead" for salaries. You even suggest that we should look to "third world countries" in order to "educate...children for far less." Your comments speak for themselves. You make my argument for me. Are you serious? This benefits our children, how again? You fail to mention that. That's because--as my letter states clearly--you don't value quality education. In fact, you could have written my letter for me! Earlier in your rant, you imply that test scores equal success. Maybe when you were in school every kid tested well--except for the "dumb" ones, right? They probably didn't count when you were in school. They were the ones who slipped through the cracks and were tracked into certain classes, right? Well nowadays, we teach in such a way as to try to reach EVERY kid. But remember the kids who didn't test well? They still exist. We just don't call them "dumb" anymore. Should we? Qualified teachers spend countless hours planning lessons to give kids the chance to show deeper understanding than what one can show on a standardized test. Maybe a kid can produce a PowerPoint presentation--on their laptop--complete with video and an audio soundtrack to show deep understanding of a concept. But for some reason, they can't fill in the right dot on the test screen. That drives you crazy, doesn't it? But the fact is that the PowerPoint presentation is a much more valid way to put their knowledge to use. It's the kind of thing that they'll use time and time again, not only throughout their school career, but in their career, period. Like it or not, the world has changed a lot since you were in school, and technology has played a big part of the world we are preparing kids for. Do you remember every answer you filled in on a standardized test? I do: it was either A, B, C, or D. A lot of good those tests did for me. But I remember the oil derrick I made out of toothpicks much better--because I put the information I learned to USE! It didn't show up in my test score, though. I never was very good at those tests.
Looking back, I'm glad that my test scores weren't used to determine the financial worth of my teachers. You clearly imply that test scores should be used to determine what a teacher is worth. Kids take tests--not teachers. You can't draw a direct correlation from how effective a teacher is to how well a kid performs on a single test. There are too many variables. Besides, I can show you teachers who'd end up with merit pay they certainly do not deserve! (Yes, I'm writing that I agree that there are bad teachers out there--I've met several along the way!) But what if they benefitted from a pay raise because they got lucky enough to end up with a class where the vast majority are high performing kids? Some kids will always do well, with or without the help of their teacher. Meanwhile, the teacher across the hall busts her tail trying to get her room full of low-performers to succeed on the tests, but they can't perform well because of a host of reasons out of anyone's control.
You say with apparent authority that educators tend to see the answer to all their troubles to be money. I'm sure that's because you've seen firsthand what goes on in a classroom? Teachers are always screaming about money! That's all they care about, right? Believe me, if teachers cared about money, they wouldn't be teachers. The level of education that is required of teachers could earn them a lot more money in another field. But their dedication to kids is second to none. But you don't care about any of that. You don't want to hear about any successes. We should skip all that and just "try working with the public" to find the "middle ground". I just re-read your comment, as well as the beginning of my reply, and I can't believe I just wasted 30 minutes of my life trying to make you understand where I'm coming from. I should have just ended at "Your comments speak for themselves."
Sorry, Gerald. Throughout this process, I've stopped assuming that any questions are rhetorical anymore. For example, during one of the meetings, someone who opposes the budget proposed that we could save money by allowing volunteers into the school to do things, "like teach the younger grades..." When this is the mentality we're up against--to suggest that anyone off the street could just "volunteer" to "teach first grade"--you get pretty defensive about your profession. It's really gotten ugly up here. I've held very productive and friendly conversations with people with whom I entirely disagree--sometimes outnumbered 5 or 6 to 1--and those talks have ended with little or no progress, but at least a handshake and a "take care, drive carefully on the way home." I'm actually a pretty friendly, agreeable person, but many of the people who oppose this budget have brought out a side of me that I am just not proud of. I think I'm going to stay out of the paper and off the blog for awhile!