Monday, December 31, 2012
Saturday, May 12, 2012
As I sit here, though, it dawns on me that those two weeks got spent doing a number of different things. I spent the week after the convention attending the NEA Super Week in Washington, DC. That week included a round of different meetings with different groups of people who get together to talk about the goals and aspirations of the NEA, the realities that face those who run the NEA and the leaders of the state affiliates, and the members of the NEA Board of Directors who have the responsibility for setting policy and moving a balanced budget to the NEA Representative Assembly which will be convening in July--in just a few weeks, actually.
This past week was spent in meetings, catching up on emails, writing letters, planning other meetings, and just generally being available after being pretty much out of the office for the previous 10 days.
All this activity takes time, and sometimes the time seems to fly by while at other times, it seems to drag. What I have discovered about time is that it flies whether you're having any fun or not which is something I have grown fond of saying as I have gotten toward the end of my term as President of the VEA.
I have also been doing a lot of reflection on the four years since I became President of the VEA. I knew when I took office in August 2008 that four years wasn't a lot of time, and I have worked hard every day of my two terms to do my very best by the VEA and for the membership as well as for the students we all teach. I feel a deep responsibility with regard to wanting to leave the VEA in better shape than I found it, and I am disheartened in many ways as I recognize that that might not be the case even though it is largely through no fault of my own.
When I ran for the position, I knew there were challenges ahead of us professionally and organizationally, but I honestly had no way of knowing the breadth of those challenges and I also had no way of predicting the economic challenges which would exasperate the other challenges including membership challenges. The economic melt down caused by Wall Street and bankers and hedge fund operators with no conscience could not have been foreseen. The resulting contraction of state and local government, the impact on letting go new teachers and driving down personnel at every level has had a profound effect on our organization, and the effects are still being felt and probably will be for the foreseeable future. So, as I prepare to wind up my term as President of the VEA, I do so with a whole host of mixed feelings.
Some of those feelings include extreme fatigue, I will admit. I am so tired, in fact, that I have decided against going back to the classroom, and I will instead begin my retirement after a long and wonderful 37-year career in public education in Virginia. I am going to take a few months for rest and relaxation and then I will decide what next adventure I wish to tackle. I know it will have to do with schools and students in some way...I just don't know exactly how.
In the meantime, I continue to worry about the course that has been set for Virginia by the current policy makers who seem to be forging ahead with anti-teacher friendly policies that will make recruiting and retaining the finest teachers in the country more difficult. We need them for sure, but are we creating an environment that will send the young ones packing to other states where they will have some sort of job security, better pay, and perhaps more welcoming legislators? I wonder what I would have done if I were about to embark on my career now, in 2012, instead of when I began in 1975? Would I make a different career choice? Would I want to move to another state if I wanted to teach? I don't know the answers, but they are worth pondering, I believe.
What I do know is that it doesn't seem possible that the 37 years that I have dedicated to public service have gone by as quickly as they have, and if they flew, you can imagine how the four years at the VEA seem like they have slipped by in the blink of the eye. Most of the time has been well spent and it has been, for the most part, what I would call fun. The best part is that I have no regrets because I know that I have done the best I knew to do with the knowledge, skills, and resources I had at the time. I wouldn't do anything differently. What a blessing that is.
Until next time.
Thursday, March 15, 2012
I am writing this message this afternoon to all those at the state level who are in a position to have a positive impact on public education and the practitioners who are teaching in our classrooms even as I write this message all across Virginia.
I grow increasingly concerned about the level of negative rhetoric that was generated by our legislators and policy leaders regarding "bad teachers" this year. The final insult was offered in last Thursday's debate on the Senate floor when elected officials began to characterize teachers as "lemons" doing the "lemon dance." Having never seen the film, "Waiting for Superman," it was news to me that teachers had ever been characterized as such, and as Senator Puckett so eloquently pointed out, it was an insult to every teacher and every principal in Virginia.
I believe that most of you would agree that the vast majority--by your own accounts, over 95% of our teachers--are doing an outstanding job. If that weren't the case, there would be no way that Virginia would enjoy the ranking we received from Education Week as recently as January. A ranking of 4th in the nation is nothing to take lightly, and in fact, I was there to hear members of the Board of Education speak of it with pride.
That ranking is the result of the hard working teachers who ask for little enough and yet have been targeted for ridicule, disrespect and disregard that has reached untenable heights. I call to your attention the MetLife Survey that came out just last week regarding teacher morale. I am also including links to two blogs that I believe are worth reading if you share my concerns that the morale of our teachers is hitting a new, all-time low. The MetLife survey was national in scope, but I can assure you that it is representative of what I hear every day from those who communicate their concern and their dismay at what is happening to the teaching profession in Virginia.
My concern is two-fold, and I feel compelled to share it with you. First, I suspect that given the open attack on teachers that was evident in this past General Assembly session coupled with the changes that were voted on the dark of night on the VRS issue Saturday, we will begin to see an imminent exodus of teachers. I don't have to tell you the number of teachers who are already eligible to retire. That figure has been public knowledge for some time now. How to replace the number of teachers who are eligible to retire has been an issue that deserves attention, it seems to me, if we hope to be competitive with other states who are paying more (the average teacher salary in Virginia is now $7000 below the national average). Add into the mix that job security remains in jeopardy given that the contract issue hasn't gone away but has simply been delayed along with the decreased retirement benefit and the added burden of having to pay for their own retirement benefit as new employees, and I am very concerned that Virginia will start to have a very tough time of it recruiting the best and brightest talent to our classrooms as our older, more experienced teachers leave.
As we move forward into a period of reflection on what occurred this session, I hope that we can figure out a way to address these very serious issues and concerns with a sense of the importance that they have for the thousands of teachers who are working in our classrooms and
who are feeling really beaten up right now.
This isn't just about representing my membership although I would be remiss in my representation of them if I didn't share these concerns--but beyond that, I am deeply concerned about how all of what has happened this session will play out to negatively impact the quality of Virginia's schools in the future.
I am near the end of my career. I have dedicated 37 years of service to a profession that coming in, I believed was an honored one and I have certainly attempted to serve with honor and dedication. It has been painful for me personally to see what happened this session...and I know that it has hurt the thousands of hard working professionals who have been out in our schools and classrooms observing but not understanding how it has come about that they are the sudden scapegoats for things over which most of them have absolutely no control.
I sincerely and respectfully request that you consider these issues, and I remain, as always, ready to try to figure out how we can move forward positively during the remaining months of my term as VEA president.
Saturday, February 25, 2012
With regard to the February 24th editorial on teachers wearing black last week, I am sorry to see that the RTD has chosen to adopt the same air of disrespect, disdain and disregard for Virginia’s hard working teachers that our legislators have recently adopted. When you don’t care for the facts, I suppose the next best tactic is to simply mock those with whom you don’t agree.
Thousand s of teachers and supporters wore black on the VEA designated “Black Friday” because they know that support for schools from officeholders is declining, while disrespect for the work they do is growing.
It is only partly about the money. It is disingenuous on the part of the editorial board to only call attention to this Governor’s K-12 budget while ignoring the fact that SOQ (Standards of Quality) funding for K-12 schools has been reduced by $1.4 billion, and that permanent changes in the formula have undercut teachers’ ability to do their job. The state’s per-pupil support for public education was at $5,277 in 2009. The governor’s budget would bring it to only $4,730 by 2014. That’s a 12% cut.
Class sizes in Virgina, once very low, now rank us 41st in the nation. This is not the level of support needed to prepare students for a competitive economy.
More than the money issues, however, our teachers and support professionals are upset by the general tone of disrespect, disdain, and disregard that is coming out of Richmond’s legislators and now has been piled upon by the Richmond Times Dispatch editorial board.
Teachers really don’t ask for much, and most of them expect even less. They have, in many cases, dedicated half of their lives to children other than their own because they had a calling and felt a need to make a difference. Most of them struggle to make ends meet, but they never expected to “get rich” doing what they chose to do.
What has shocked and disappointed them, however, is they have now been labeled by some politicians as “greedy, entitled, and lazy.” The last straw was the most recent attack on continuing contract which is not tenure. Teachers in Virginia do not have tenure and never have. The suggestion that teachers have lifetime jobs with “irrevocable life time security” is bogus. This needless and unwarranted attack on their professionalism and dedication to their chosen profession is simply the last straw.
We’ll wear black every Friday if it gets people’s attention and causes the citizens of Virginia to take note of what is happening to our students and those who work in schools.
So, mock if you will, but unlike this editorial board, we know what the real issues are.
Kitty J. Boitnott, President
Virginia Education Association
Friday, November 25, 2011
This week, I have been basking in the glow and have been feeling deeply grateful for the wonderful Instructional Conference that the Virginia Education Association hosted last weekend (see my last posting for details). That event may well have been the pinnacle of my VEA Presidency, for I truly cannot imagine an event that will represent more fully what I hoped to accomplish when I ran for the office of President of the VEA in 2007-08.
One of my few campaign promises, you see, was to bring back a full time Instruction and Professional Development Department and its accompanying conference. We had eliminated the conference years ago, and at the time that I ran for office, the individual who headed up the IPD Department was only a half-time director.
Now, while we still only have a part-time director of the Office of Teaching and Learning, there is a staff of other individuals who are full time who have taken up the various responsibilities of a division focused on teacher licensure, education policy, and leadership training. And last weekend, we launched what I hope will become the annual Instruction and Professional Development Conference that so many of our members have missed since it was eliminated from our annual calendar.
This particular event was special for me even beyond the fact that we were reinstating the conference, however. We premiered a film that I believe will have deep impact on our membership in a way that may not even be seen yet. The story of the Mitchell 20 (http://www.mitchell20.com) is a powerful one, and the individual at the center of the story, Daniela Robles, was on our panel Friday night. In addition to Daniela, though, we also had on the powerhouse panel of education experts the following individuals: Dr. Mary Futrell, a founding member of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and former President of the NEA, the VEA, and Education International; Dennis Van Roekel, President of the NEA; Governor Bob Wise, Chair of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and President of the Alliance for Excellence in Education; and Nancy Flanagan, a former Teacher of the Year from Michigan, and current blogger and education consultant.
As far as I was concerned, it was a star-studded event and I couldn't have been more pleased with the caliber of the panel or their thoughtful remarks and discussion after the viewing of the film.
Saturday also went well, and I have heard nothing but positive feedback from those in attendance. Everyone wants the conference to be even bigger and better next year with more offerings.
So, this week, while I am grateful for my family and friends and for all of the support I have as I wind down my term as President of the VEA (I am term limited and will therefore leave in July 2012) I am very grateful for all of the contributions that were made toward making this conference happen. They know who they are and I have thanked each and every one of them personally and publicly. It was truly a team effort, and I am very grateful for their individual and collective contributions to what was, for me, a stellar event and one that I will long remember as a highlight of my term as President of the VEA.
Until next time.
Thursday, November 10, 2011
No, what I want to write about today is my excitement over the upcoming VEA Instructional and Professional Development (IPD) Conference which is being held next weekend, November 18-19, 2011.
Why am I so excited? Because this event represents a long held goal of mine that was part of the reason I ran for president of the VEA four years ago. I, for one, and I don't believe I was alone, missed having an annual instructional conference to attend which was sponsored by the VEA. I view the VEA, after all, as my professional organization...in the same way that the Bar is the professional organization for attorneys and the American Medical Association is for physicians...for me, the VEA is the organization I turn to for advice and information on best practices, professionalism, and professional development.
So, next weekend, with the launch of the VEA IPD Conference in Richmond, I will see the culmination of a long held goal come to fruition...and it's about time since this is my last year in office. I was beginning to feel that I was running out of time.
The focus of the conference is also a subject near and dear to my heart. While it isn't the ONLY thing that we will be focusing on over the course of the Saturday of concurrent sessions that are being offered, Friday night's opening session is ALL about national board certification...something that I feel very strongly about and to which I am passionately committed.
So, on Friday night, we will be one of the first state affiliates in the country to offer a premiere viewing of the documentary, the Mitchell 20. (You may see the trailer for the film at http://www.mitchell20.com.)
The film is about 20 teachers at Mitchell Elementary School in Arizona who joined together to undertake either the national board "Take One" process or the full blown program. The documentary follows the Mitchell teachers during their own individual and collective professional journeys, and it highlights the importance of undertaking meaningful professional development experiences.
Immediately following the film, a power house panel of educational leaders and experts will discuss their reactions to it and they will also take some questions from the audience of over 170 individuals who will be in attendance. The panelists include NEA President, Dennis Van Roekel, Governor Bob Wise, President of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, Dr. Mary Futrell, Past President of the VEA and the NEA and a founding member of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, Nancy Flanagan, a former Michigan Teacher of the Year and blogger and member of the Teacher Leader Network, and Daniela Robles, the teacher from Mitchell Elementary School who sparked the action of her colleagues after having gone through the national board process herself.
This event is a major one for the VEA, and I hope that it will spark a debate among educational practitioners in Virginia regarding the nature of professionalism in the teaching profession. I believe that the National Board process is one way of raising the teaching profession to its appropriate level of respect. For too long, now, we as educators have deferred to non-educational leaders--politicians, well meaning philanthropists (and perhaps some not so well meaning ones as well) and others as they took the lead in the public debate about what it takes to make a great school and what a great teacher looks like. We have gone way off track by accepting the premise that tying a teacher's performance to the arbitrary test scores of their students is a way to determine expertise or professional practice. We as educators must start once and for all to stand up and make our voices heard...and I believe that promoting the national board process is one way to do that.
As a result, I am very excited about our upcoming event, and I hope that if you are reading this, you will take the few minutes that it will take to look at the trailer for the Mitchell 20 and then learn more about the national board process as a possibility for your own professional development if you are currently a teacher. I wouldn't trade my experience for anything...and as a matter of fact, I am preparing to renew my national board certificate this year. It is a designation that means more to me that either of my master's degrees or my Ph.D., frankly. I tell people that if I had to give back all but one of my professionally earned credentials, the one I would keep would be my national board status. It's that important to me.
If you don't don't much about the national board process and would like to learn more, go to http://www.nbpts.org. You can learn what certificates are available, and you can explore the various possibilities that exist for how to pursue this most important program.
Until next time.
Sunday, October 2, 2011
The push for merit pay and pay-for-performance plans for teachers in recent years has been extraordinary in light of the fact that there is no proof that they work or that they have any merit of their own.
Most of you have already heard about the fundamental flaws in the merit pay debate, so let me use my time this morning to put a human face to it by sharing a true story of a little boy that I taught many years ago. This story demonstrates, I believe, all that is wrong with the merit pay debate.
My student’s name was Matthew. It was 1977. Matthew was in my class of heterogeneously assigned 6th grade students for two weeks before it was decided that all of the 6th graders needed to be re-grouped homogeneously based on “ability.” While Matthew had been in my class, he had demonstrated himself to be a highly motivated student. He did his homework, kept up with all of his assignments, he participated in class, and he had a solid “B+” average based on quiz scores, weekly spelling tests, and at least one major test that I had already given the class.
When it came time to re-group, I decided to keep Matthew in my class of mid- to upper- level students because he was demonstrating his ability to keep up with the work and he was clearly one of the most motivated students I had. No one was working harder or had a better attitude about his school work than he.
Imagine my surprise and dismay, then, when I started reviewing my students’ standardized test scores from the year before. Matthew had scored in the lower 20 percentile, and that seems to be about where he had always tested over the course of his school career. By rights, there should be no way he was working at the level that he was working, much less making the kinds of grades he was making. I was amazed and somewhat flummoxed. What should I do about it? Should I re-assign him to a lower group?
I decided to keep him and see how he did. A couple months later, on a snowy Parent-Teacher conference day, I met with Matthew’s mom. I shared with her what a great attitude he had. He was maintaining his solid “B+” and he was a model student. I also shared with her that I had had some concerns about him because of his low standardized test scores, but we agreed that he was perhaps one of those kids who just don’t test well.
She shared with me that during the first few weeks of school, Matthew had told her that he was “finally in the class where he belonged.” You see, in elementary school, Matthew had been assigned to classes based on his test results…but in his heart of hearts, he knew his own potential, and he knew he didn’t belong there. He saw that he had a chance to prove himself in my class, and prove himself he did.
What would have happened to Matthew in this modern day of testing craziness? I would not have been allowed the professional judgment to keep him, for one thing. His test scores would have taken care of that. He would have forever been relegated to slower classes where he did not believe he belonged.
Do we really want to communicate to our children that the only important aspect of them that we care about is the test score that they achieve on one day out of an entire year of 180? And I have to wonder…would I have wanted to keep Matthew and give him a chance to prove himself if I had thought that his performance on a standardized test was going to affect my pay for the next year? Would moving him out to protect myself and my own best interests have served him? We all know the answer to that question.
The problem with the whole merit pay proposal is that it just doesn’t work in spite of its enthusiastic fans asserting otherwise. And to top it all off, it is insulting to the millions of hard working, dedicated teachers in our classrooms to imply that they are holding back their “BEST” work because they need to be paid in bonuses instead of being paid professional salaries.
I am not arguing that we don’t need to do everything we can to promote having a great teacher in every classroom. Indeed, I believe to my very core that we owe it to every child regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or economic background to provide the highest quality education we can. It is our moral duty. It is the civil right of every child. If we want to compete globally, of course, we need to provide the best possible education for our young people. But there is absolutely no credence to the argument that merit pay or pay-for-performance plans will get us there. There are other ways to do it, but they are complex and complicated and messy, and they can’t be reduced to a ridiculous mathematical algorithm. Until we get real about what it IS going to take, this debate will simply rage on, and nothing will change... and kids like Matthew, caught in the middle while we adults wage philosophical warfare, will suffer for it.