Union leaders: We want better pay, not a new gimmick *
Leaders of local and state teachers unions tell the Herald/Times that they are eager for more details on the Florida Legislature's planned expansion of teacher incentives. But -- with lingering criticism of the 2-year-old "Best & Brightest" bonuses -- they aren't very optimistic that lawmakers will come up with a true solution to poor teacher compensation. "These guys don’t get it. Hiring teachers is not the problem. Retaining them is," said Mike Gandolfo, president of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association. Karla Hernandez-Mats, president of United Teachers of Dade, called the proposed expanded incentives "a gimmick" by lawmakers "to avoid paying our teachers adequately." "Teachers don’t want bonus pay; they want real pay," she said, adding that permanent increases to the base student allocation -- which could help districts afford to pay teachers more -- "is really the only thing that’s going to help with our teacher shortage." Joanne McCall, president of the Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, said in a statement: "The devil is in the details. We can’t give any indication of what we think of this proposal until we know about who qualifies and how teachers could access this money." McCall said Florida’s teachers’ salaries are $10,000 below the national average and need to be made more competitive with other states. "If this proposal works to alleviate this discrepancy, we could support it," McCall said. "If it's another scheme like 'Best & Brightest' that doesn’t address the core problems of paying teachers and education staff professionals adequate and competitive salaries, we’d have problems with it," McCall said. "We didn’t create the system but we do what is asked, and if a teacher meets the requirements of the complicated evaluation system they should be paid for it — not some — all."
Teaching was my life. Then I quit. Here's why
For years, teaching was my life. Last year, I made the decision to leave the classroom earlier than planned because this was no longer true. Did I leave because of a low salary? No. The paycheck definitely isn't why one teaches. Did I leave because of the numerous hours spent contacting parents, or the excessive paperwork of grading and reports? No. That is a teacher's responsibility. Did I leave because of the teacher-evaluation system? No. It's all subjective. I could handle criticism when it was constructive. I left because the passion was gone, and it wasn't fun anymore. For years, I adjusted to every new program and complied with all the rules. However, four factors resulted in a broken system for me.
Common Core: Common Core was designed to create a more rigorous curriculum. There are no longer average classes. The test scores result in some students being put into honor classes, and they can’t even read on the grade level. Too many students could not rise to the occasion due to the strenuous requirements. It is difficult to challenge the higher-level students in a class when others are so far behind. Teachers are required to make certain all students pass, resulting in watering down the curriculum for lower-level and special-need students. These modifications do need to be made. However, everyone takes the same state test. The curriculum left little time for learning for enjoyment. There was only “teach to the test,” and, honestly, it became boring and tedious.
Creativity: Albert Einstein said: “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” We assume that all students are headed to college and approach education in this manner. What about students who have creative minds and need outlets to explore and discover? Allowing creativity in my classroom had become obsolete. If the evidence wasn't there and you couldn't prove it, it was wrong. I used to tell my students to “think outside the box.” But I haven’t said that in two years.
Reading: I pushed this diligently on my students, personally purchasing more than 1,000 books that would hook them on reading. The reading privilege was a reward. Homework was to read 20 to 30 minutes each night, and take two to three reading quizzes each nine weeks for a percentage of their grade. So imagine my shock when I was told two years ago that "Orange County doesn't have time for students to read in class.” What is wrong with this picture? My state test scores plunged for the first time. I attribute much of that to failure to improve their reading skills. Data have proved that reading does make you smarter. Why not let students read for the pleasure of reading?
Discipline: You know those YouTube videos you see about problems in the classroom? They are real. I always prided myself on good classroom management. For the first time ever, students would tell me no and refused to abide by the rules. Nothing worked. I taught my students about unconditional love. Kids need to be held accountable for their actions. No human being deserves the verbal abuse that many teachers are experiencing, not just from students but also from parents. The truth is that teachers are powerless today. There are many wonderful, respectful students who are there to learn and outstanding parents who are supportive. This is the group that keeps teachers going. My teaching career was an amazing journey. I know I made a difference in many lives, and I left feeling grateful. Yet I feel sad at the direction education is heading. I have taught my entire career in Orange County, so I can address only those county leaders. Why can't they see what every teacher knows? It's not about the data; it's about the kids and what works best for them. School leaders are trying to put all students in the same "cookie" mold, and it isn't working. I always told my students that discipline is love. Administrators need the freedom to toughen consequences (including suspensions and expulsions) without worrying about repercussions because of the discipline records. Then teachers can be professionals and teach in a safe learning environment. As for the educational leaders in Tallahassee: Are they that clueless about what they are doing to our children? Yes, testing is important, but there has to be a better system. They are taking the joy out of teaching, and the thrill out of learning. It’s been two years since I heard those words that every teacher yearns for: "I got it. Now I see." Those expressions are music to a teacher's ears. Please, wake up and smell the coffee before it's too late for this generation.
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College presidents oppose Senate funding proposal
Florida college presidents say they are opposed to a new performance-based funding measure that will be considered by the Senate Appropriations Committee next week. James Henningsen, president of the College of Central Florida, told the State Board of Education on Thursday that the colleges want to stay with the performance standards that the board adopted in 2015. "As the Council of Presidents, we're in support of keeping that same model," Henningsen told the board, which met in Gainesville. "We've put a lot of effort (into the performance standards) over the last two years." The new standards contained in the Senate proposal would evaluate performance based on the number of full-time state college students who complete their associate degrees in two years and baccalaureate degrees in four years. Under the current system, the 28 schools are measured based on a three-year standard for associate degrees and a six-year standard for baccalaureate degrees. The tighter graduation standards, if they become law, could mean some schools fall short and lose performance funding. Henningsen said the college presidents want to retain the current standards for all colleges, while agreeing that higher standards could be applied to schools seeking to win a "distinguished" institution designation. The Senate bill with the new performance standards is one of two major higher-education bills scheduled for a vote next Thursday in the Senate Appropriations Committee. The legislation also contains a higher performance standard for state universities, holding them to a four-year graduation measure rather the than the current six. The legislation would also require state universities to put in place a block tuition plan, in which students would be charged a flat rate for classes each semester rather than paying on the current credit-hour basis, by the fall of 2018.
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2017 FEA Summer Academy: The FEA Summer Academy will be held from June 12-16, 2017 at the Sawgrass Marriott in Ponte Vedra. Stay tuned for more details!
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