Merit Pay – Canada Edition

In case you don’t know merit pay is kind of a tough topic to deal with. According to wikipedia, “Merit pay is a term describing performance-related pay, most frequently in the context of educational reform. It provides bonuses for workers who perform their jobs effectively, according to measurable criteria. In the United States, policy makers are divided on whether merit pay should be offered to public school teachers, as is commonly the case in the United Kingdom.”

There has been many talks among many school boards about merit pay. Mostly in the States but it has started to become a discussion in Canada. Many of you know that I am based out of Canada but I like to know about all of North America specifically.

When I came across this article, it kinda got my wheels turning about this topic. Sure it would be cool to get a little extra money for doing what I do best (or so I think), but do I want to be judged consistently throughout my career? Not really…

Also how is the whole system going to work? Teachers who have more “difficult”classes get more just because their students are coded/special needs or those who have the top students in the board get more? How would we be judged? I don’t think there is any one way that this could be decided. There are so many factors involved in teaching. New teachers would barely have a chance of making anything and they’re are the ones that need it (Come on, 6 years of school!).

And what about the students?

Would having a financial incentive really prompt me to do my job any better? Right now, I would do my job and not get paid. I love my job. I love my students and I only ever want them to be as successful as they can be. Giving me more money isn’t going to change that.

For merit pay to work, I honestly think it would take a really long time to sort out all the kinks.

Do you want merit pay? Would it make a difference on the students?

Best & Worst of 2011

Huffington Post posted this list at the beginning of December but I thought it was a little more fitting to post it at the end of the year.

My favorite best is: The millions of students who had great learning experiences in their schools this year.

My favorite worst of the year is: A southern California high school was discovered to be giving color-coded student ID cards based on state test results.

Hope you enjoy the list as well.

Homework will be obsolete?

I read this list a few months back and I honestly thought it was a little scary at first. After thinking about things for a little bit I’m quite excited for these things to come to fruition. Here are a few of my favorites, but the full list can be found here!

  • DESKS
    The 21st century does not fit neatly into rows. Neither should your students. Allow the network-based concepts of flow, collaboration, and dynamism help you rearrange your room for authentic 21st century learning.
  • HOMEWORK
    The 21st century is a 24/7 environment. And the next decade is going to see the traditional temporal boundaries between home and school disappear. And despite whatever Secretary Duncan might say, we don’t need kids to ‘go to school’ more; we need them to ‘learn’ more. And this will be done 24/7 and on the move (see #3).
  • FEAR OF WIKIPEDIA
    Wikipedia is the greatest democratizing force in the world right now. If you are afraid of letting your students peruse it, it’s time you get over yourself. I still use wikipedia as a base for information gathering.
  • ATTENDANCE OFFICES
    Bio scans. ‘Nuff said. We may have to wait a while for this one!
  • PARENT-TEACHER CONFERENCE NIGHT
    Ongoing parent-teacher relations in virtual reality will make parent-teacher conference nights seem quaint. Over the next ten years, parents and teachers will become closer than ever as a result of virtual communication opportunities. And parents will drive schools to become ever more tech integrated.
  • PAPER
    In ten years’ time, schools will decrease their paper consumption by no less than 90%. And the printing industry and the copier industry and the paper industry itself will either adjust or perish.

Student Suspended for 180 Days for Accidentally Touching a Teacher

This makes me SICK.

A quick overview for those who don’t have time to read the whole article. A 7th grade student got suspended for 180 days because she leaned back and accidentally touched a teacher. The female student didn’t know the teacher was behind her when she leaned back and accidentally touched the female teacher’s leg.

Suspended? Really?! 180 DAYS?!?

I can understand that some schools have very strict rules about teacher/student touching but I think this may be a little extreme. Just to add to this another student was suspended for a day because he HUGGED a female friend. When I was in Grade 7 I was constantly giving my friends hugs and usually it was out of support (Being a teen is tough). Granted a few times it was cause I liked a guy and wanted to get to know him better but the only way I knew how was to THROW myself at him. No teacher ever told me that was wrong and a certainly didn’t get suspended for it.

I think my main problem with this whole situation is that students are supposed to trust their teachers. To many kids being able to hug your teacher is a way of showing trust. I sure know that there are many students in my class that some day I just want to ring their little necks, but when they are on the way out of my class I get a big hug and they tell me they had a good class. That instantly dissolves any negative feelings I have for them (in fact it makes me work harder next class). How else are these students going to tell me that they trust me?

I also understand that teachers need to protect themselves from any sort of lawsuits, etc. that can happen from ignorance. Maybe I have too much trust in the world, but I think this is a little too much…

Any other opinions out there?

“Let’s Get Together… Ya Ya Ya!”

Oh the Parent Trap.

Let’s Work Together! This was found over at The Ed Buzz.

In this article the author suggests that public schools and charter schools work together. You don’t need to have a good knowledge of either system to get behind this very valid point. Here’s what I got from the article:

  • Charter school have 2 different ‘camps’. One that is super awesome and wants to educate kids, the other is a less awesome side that’s more focused on the business side of things.
  • Charter school teachers have no tenure/union, get paid less. They also may not have handicapped students in the classes (as the schools can not ‘accept’ those students)
  • Public school teachers are ‘protected’ by a union, and have a salary grid. They also have to follow the rules that govern the schools.

What would happen if we mixed the public system that protected the teachers and had a few good rules with the passion and edu-business side of the Charter system?

Size Matters… Class Size, That Is (Re-Blog)

Here in Alberta, we have an interesting situation: one of the best education systems in the entire world, yet still feel the need to complain about it and obsess over it in public policy. One of the biggest things that we wrestle with in terms of our province’s system is how the money is going to be spent when the government gives it to us.

(As a slight aside, kudos to our newly-elected premier for following through on a campaign promise of increased education funding. In a downward economy, it might be easy to simply get elected and then say, ‘whoops, less money here than I thought. Guess that’s kaput’. Bravo!)

Anyways, when we get funding, the first idea is obviously to hire more teachers, the argument being that class size really does make a difference in the learning of students. The classic example that’s usually brought up at this point is a university undergraduate course with 1000 students, 1 professor, and absolutely zero engagement and interest. (I mean, really, who remembers their English 1000 course? Sit down, English majors, no one was talking to you! Stop messing up my point!)

This is a bad analogy for a couple of reasons. One, adults learn and take charge of their learning in very different ways from, say, six year olds. Two, the difference between 1000 students and 15 is a lot easier to measure than the difference between 15 and 20.

From my own experience in a variety of classes as a student, I put myself slightly on the side of those who believe that more teachers and smaller classes is the way to go. I never had a true example of this until my current teaching year.

As a music teacher who does mostly band, I see roughly 30 kids in the average class. This is on the high side for a social studies or math course, but the rigorous group performance task helps cut down on the confusion. As such, it’s hard for me to judge class size as a factor for learning.

Then I got my introductory computers course. Over 20 in the one, just under in the other. And let me tell you, it does make a difference. The amount of time I should be spending with students for individual help in the one class always leaves me a little behind in terms of being able to address all the questions and needs as efficiently as I would like to. Whereas the other class, I have plenty of time to look around, judge classroom management situations, and help anyone who needs it.

I got an even more extreme example just this week past. The majority of students in a class were gone on a field trip, so I had a grand total of four students. For 80 minutes. It was incredible. The personal connections that I could forge without even feeling like I was the least bit neglecting another student was amazing. Work got done faster than ever before, fun was had by all, and some of the useful tangents that help certain students learn better were able to be fully explored in a cooperative environment.

I don’t know if the solution is always ‘hire more teachers’, because just like in any other field, eventually you scrape the bottom of the barrel and hire perhaps not your best employees, but I’ve got to say that if I could simply choose to have 5 less students in any class I teach, it would be so worth it.

As a final mental experiment for those of you who might not have any experience in a classroom as the teacher, imagine that you are in charge of 24 8-year olds for an hour. In that hour, you need to help them learn one or two new things about the history of their country, and make sure that no one ends up bleeding, in a fight, or disappears on you. Now I offer you the chance to have that same situation, but I say, ‘This time you get 19 kids’.

Which do you choose?

20 Things Students Want Us to Know About Teachers/Education

  1. I have to critically think in college, but your tests don’t teach me that.
  2. We learn in different ways at different rates.
  3. I can’t learn from you if you are not willing to connect with me.
  4. Teaching by the book is not teaching. It’s just talking.
  5. Caring about each student is more important than teaching the class.
  6. Every young person has a dream. Your job is to help bring us closer to our dreams.
  7. We need more than teachers. We need life coaches.
  8. The community should become more involved in schools.
  9. Even if you don’t want to be a teacher, you can offer a student an apprenticeship.
  10. Us youth love all the new technologies that come out. When you acknowledge this and use technology in your teaching it makes learning much more interesting.
  11. You should be trained not just in teaching but also in counseling.
  12. Tell me something good that I’m doing so that I can keep growing in that.
  13. When you can feel like a family member it helps so much.
  14. We appreciate when you connect with us in our worlds such as the teacher who provided us with extra help using Xbox and Skype.
  15. Our teachers have too many students to enable them to connect with us in they way we need them to.
  16. Bring the electives that we are actually interested in back to school. Things like drama, art, cooking, music.
  17. Education leaders, teachers, funders, and policy makers need to start listening to student voice in all areas including teacher evaluations.
  18. You need to use tools in the classroom that we use in the real world like Facebook, email, and other tools we use to connect and communicate.
  19. You need to love a student before you can teach a student.
  20. We do tests to make teachers look good and the school look good, but we know they don’t help us to learn what’s important to us.

This list was acquired from MindShift (NPR).

As a beginning teacher I find this list fascinating. I was not too recently in University myself and I can remember my first time writing a paper. I tried so hard to do what was asked in the syllabus but for some reason my interpretation was not good enough for my professor. He wanted us to think for ourselves and not copy what other people had come up with. My teachers in high school hadn’t prepared me for this kind of writing. Of course, they had tried, but not successfully enough to prepare me for the critical thinking mentioned in #1.

I also have a passion for technology integration. When I was in Junior High (Grades 7-9) I was constantly on the computer. I was on so much in forums and whatever I could find. I even taught myself how to design webpages in HTML (back then that was the new and cool thing). This was never even touched on in school. I guess there was an advanced Info Tech. class but you needed to take the previous classes to be in it. If some of my teachers had suggested making a webpage as a project I would have been SO interested. It would have added a new level to my learning and I would have learned another skill while learning about Japan or Brazil. I plan to give my students as many opportunities as I can give them. I also want to encourage my fellow teachers to incorporate technology into their classrooms. If that’s where this next generation is headed then we should be at the forefront of it. iPods, iPads, Android, Social Networks, video conferencing, ALL OF IT!

Now while I support most of these I do not agree with the wording of all of them. Let’s take #19 for example. You need to love a student before you can teach a student. Loving a student can be taking in many different ways. I love my husband, but not the same way I love my students. I can love my friends, but not the same way I love my students. I can love one student, and not another. What I want is for all my students to succeed. This does not mean I love them. I think there needs to be a certain ability to find something positive in every student and focus on that but it certainly doesn’t need to be love (This could be expanded on in a whole other post).

While this list is based on information from the States and students who have been in that system, I believe it can (and probably should) be applied to all educational systems.