Saturday, July 30, 2005

Deal Raises Teacher Pay

Today's Miami herald published an article detailing the proposed one year contract for all of Dade County's teachers. The article explains that every teacher will move up one step on a 22 step ladder, and that the average teacher salary will increase to about 48,000 dollars per year.

This might sound pretty good to a person unfamiliar with the average young teacher in today's schools. The "step ladder" referred to in the news article is a top heavy scale. A teacher in the first 8 years of service may receive a raise of only a few hundred dollars a year, and that is only if the teacher is awarded a new step each year. As I am set to begin my eigth year of teaching high school in Dade County, I am making only about 1900 dollars a year more than when I started.

In contrast, a teacher in his twentieth year of service will have received the bulk of the raises offered in the step ladder process only after their 12th year of service. The average teacher salary stated in the article is a telling sign of the nature of the workforce in the school system. Young, talented teachers are unfortunately not attracted to a profession in which after 7 years of hard work and dedication, their salary will have only increased by less than two thousand dollars.

It is wonderful that Dr. Crew has set aside money for additional salaries and pay increases, but it is important to keep all teachers in mind when discussing benefits of increased pay.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Letter Grades Must Have Purpose

Last year while speaking to the parents during open house, I was explaining that I teach through grading. I mark up their papers with minus fives and comments like why, explain this, how do you know this, prove this, and many others. I point out their mistakes based on the guidelines.

When they rewrite the assignment, they fix their mistakes and then make new mistakes and fix those mistakes and then make new mistakes and so on. So it is like climbing a staircase; they must continue to learn from their previous mistakes in order to build and reach the next platform.

I realized early in the nine weeks, however, that kids were getting back their papers and only seeing the letter grade. They were not interested in why they earned the letter grade, so the rewrites showed no improvement; the students began to feel helpless and hopeless in class.

Soon after, I took the time to show them the process that a writer must go through. I returned a set of responses and asked each student what grade they got and why they got it. First, the response was, “I don’t know.” I asked if there were any minus fives, and the student said yes. So each student read the errors that they had made aloud. Once they realized that each error had been previously discussed and reviewed in class, they rewrote the papers for homework.

Since then, students have begun analyzing their assignments in greater depth. When I return papers now, students carefully read every comment, and the complaints over their grades have dwindled. As the graded rewrites are given back, students are audibly and visibly excited to receive A’s and B’s. They have begun to feel a greater sense of pride and accomplishment over their better grades. They are earning them.

It is the idea of learning from their mistakes that I am convinced is part of the solution to the system at hand. Children are growing up in an age where everything completed receives a positive grade. Parents, teachers, and society are overly concerned with children’s self-esteem, so their errors and mistakes are ignored in favor of positive reinforcement. Unfortunately, it is through our mistakes that we learn the greatest lessons. Learning from our own errors creates self esteem, empowers students to experiment, and creates a deeper sense of success. When the rewards for overcoming errors are received, students now believe that the system is working.

Through rigorous grading, objective guidelines, and rewriting of work, students are learning that it is a positive to make mistakes, that high grades have to be earned, and that only through experimentation can real learning take place.

Pharming Parties: Kids and Prescription Drugs

According to Carolyn Banta in the Aug 1st issue of Time, "This isn't an ordinary party-it's a pharming party, a get-together arranged while parents are out so the kids can barter their favorite prescription drugs." Columbia University's National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) found that 1 in 10 teens ages 12-17 took prescription drugs illegally in 2003. Is this surprising? Are kids doing more drugs today than they were 20 years ago? We live in a drug crazed society. Peddled everyday on television are drugs for depression, anxiety, sex, energy, migraines, colds, and pain. Children are growing up to believe that drugs are an easy fix to their problems. These numbers and ideologies will continue to grow as long as the drug companies are able to push their products, offered to the public with all the beauty and promise that only an advertising company can create, to everyone and anyone who is old enough to turn on a television. Like cigarretes and alcohol, let's relegate prescription drug advertisements to newspapers and magazines. Let's put the responsibility on doctors to stay current on medicines and treatments. The best teachers lead by example; and more often than not, kids will follow those examples.