Deyshia Hargrave, Salary Schedules, and the Bad Options for Dissatisfied Veteran Teachers

This past week, Louisiana middle school teacher Deyshia Hargrave was thrust into the national spotlight after a marshal removed her from a school board meeting, pushed her to the floor, and arrested her for having the audacity to question her superintendent about the $38,000 pay raise (and car) he’d just accepted.*

Hargrave graduated from college in 2007, which means she’s been teaching for about 10 years. In 2016, she was named her district’s Teacher of the Year. She’s pursuing a master’s degree in administration. She’s reportedly outspoken, described as a “passionate education advocate,” who has “given her voice for many of those she works with,” according to the school’s write-up of her award.

She’s also clearly disgruntled. Her comments reflected frustration over teacher pay, burgeoning class sizes, increasing hoops to jump through, and a lack of recognition for the hard work teachers had done to improve scores in the district. She called the superintendent’s raise a “slap in the face.” That’s a teacher who’s not real happy with her employer. So what are her options, and if you find yourself in a similarly dissatisfying situation, what are yours?

In his book Originals, Adam Grant identified four options every disgruntled employee has. They are:

  1. Persistence — You grin (or don’t) and bear it. You keep working hard, accepting that nothing is going to change.
  2. Neglect — You mail it in. You show up but just go through the motions. Neglect describes the 57% of teachers who are not engaged at work.
  3. Voice — You try to change your circumstances by speaking up and fighting for change.
  4. Exit — You quit your job and find one with better circumstances.

If you take no action, the status quo persists. So only two of those have the chance of changing your situation.

You can work to improve things or you can walk.

Hargrave has obviously chosen to fight.  That’s a perilous choice in Louisiana. As she herself referenced in her comments, Louisiana legislators, assuming, as many legislatures have this last decade, that their teachers are likely pretty shitty, passed Act 1, which weakened tenure protections and gave principals and superintendents the final authority in personnel decisions, meaning they can more easily cast off the dead weight (or, you know, teachers that are mouthy and bring negative attention to their districts).

Hargrave explained that she was speaking for others because they were afraid. “I feel like I’m speaking on behalf of more than just myself, more than just Kaplan teachers, I’m speaking as a group,” she said. But given Lousiana’s legislators’ contempt for teachers, one has to wonder what will become of Hargrave when the furor dies down and the illumination of the national spotlight turns away.

The only other option Hargrave has is to leave. No one could blame her if she did. After all, I don’t know too many people who would want to continue working for:

  • a boss they don’t respect
  • a district that doesn’t give its teachers raises for years, in spite of improved outcomes.
  • a Board that responds to legitimate concerns voiced at a public meeting with removal and arrest
  • A Board President that refers to a former Teacher of the Year as a “poor little woman.” SOURCE

But here again, teachers like Hargrave are presented with a dilemma. While leaving might make the most sense, it’s not such an easy choice for a veteran teacher. If you’re an engineer who feels disrespected by your employer, you can quit and go work somewhere else without much consequence. Same goes for doctors, lawyers, managers, and nearly every other professional. Indeed, research shows that those who change jobs frequently make more money over their careers. (Read why here.)

But thanks to salary schedules and the way incentives work in education, Hargrave can’t leave without sacrificing thousands of dollars. Having 10 or so years in with her district, she stands to ruin her career earnings if she opts to leave a place where she’s grown disgruntled.

Here is her district’s salary schedule:

She’s probably making somewhere around $42,000 a year. In a just world, a former Teacher of the Year with a track record of results would be able to send her resume to nearby districts and make more money. But that’s not what happens in education. There is a far greater incentive for districts to control costs than there is to improve student achievement. So even though Hargrave (and thousands of other veteran teachers across this country) could improve a district’s outcomes, most won’t pay them for their expertise. Hargrave would be lucky to get five years and she’d most likely start at Step 1 in her new district, costing her thousands of dollars.

Hargrave is doing the only thing a veteran teacher who wants the benefits of mobility can do: become an administrator. One study in Texas found that the average tenure for a high school principal is just over three years. It’s not because principals are especially nomadic. Education is hard. People get worn out and seek a fresh start. Administrators can start anew without taking a huge hit in pay. Teachers, thanks to salary schedules and hiring districts’ penny-pinching, can’t.

We can feel bad for Hargrave. But this is about thousands of effective, dissatisfied veteran teachers just like her. Some of them risk their careers by fighting for change. Some give up and quit the profession altogether. Some quietly persist. But many, many teachers are just showing up, going through the motions, putting in the hours until they can retire. That’s bad for everybody, but given their poor options, can anyone really blame them?

 

SOURCE: Deyshia Hargrave: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

* Technically, she was arrested for “remaining after being forbidden” and resisting an officer. But she was removed for asking her boss a question that the Board President deemed non-germane, even though it was totally germane.

 

 

 

Growing Tomatoes in Wintertime

The following is a guest post by Kathy McBroom. She blogs for teachers and Christians at Real Life. Real Faith. 

 

Growing Tomatoes in Wintertime

Kathy McBroom

 

This past summer my two accidental tomato plants produced some amazing tomatoes. I say ‘accidental’ because while visiting a nursery last spring with some friends, in a weak moment I bought two tomato plants. We were scheduled to leave for Haiti the following week, so I arranged for a friend to come by and water the plants. I wished the tomatoes well. At our house plants must have a will to live.

When we came back, all I could say was, “Wow.” It was like the plants had been watered with steroids. They were huge; some of the best tomatoes I’d ever grown.

I was advised to save some seeds as starters for next year. I did, and there is now a small bag of seeds hidden in a kitchen drawer. After I pulled the dead plants out of the planters, I noticed there was a section that was still alive. I plucked it off and stuck it in a paper cup. I added some water. And then that thing grew and grew. I moved it into a pot. It grew some more. So I repotted it. It is now November, and I am in unknown territory. The plant is huge, unwieldy. I’m out of my league with these tomatoes, unsure what will happen next and what I will do about it. But I can’t let them go. I’m all in.

I never meant to be a teacher. I was Miss Playful in college, not much direction at all. On a whim, I added an English/Secondary Ed minor and student taught. I assumed it wouldn’t last. Teaching, like growing tomatoes, was something I had fallen into without much of a plan. I didn’t know what I was doing. Then, like my tomatoes, something unexpected happened. I fell in love with the kids — high achievers, low achievers, and all those in the middle. I started spending hours planning, and still do even though I ought to have it down by now. The seasons that I was out of teaching, I was drawn back to the classroom. The bells. Schools lunches. Pep rallies. Homecoming.

In spite of never majoring in English, I’ve now taught it to high schoolers for nearly 23 years. I still find myself sitting in English department meetings and having no idea what others are talking about. But I have never been a quitter.

The kids have changed. I’ve changed. Education has changed. The emphasis on data and test scores and the constant game-changing is confusing, annoying, and frustrating. These days I am surrounded by younger teachers with sharper minds, but I’m not done yet.

Like that tomato plant out by my garage that grew to an astonishing size, I can’t seem to let it go. I can’t give it up.

Maybe it’s pride. Maybe it’s an overachiever attitude. Maybe it’s because even though I’m now over 50, I can still remember things that my teachers taught me. I like a challenge. I can’t say no. I can’t give up until I’ve given all that I have.

I got into teaching the same way I got into growing tomatoes — on a whim. But in spite of the constant challenges, I won’t walk away. I’ll continue to stretch, to grow, and to ripen. I won’t allow myself to wither on the vine. I’m all in.

 

Why Protecting Your Time is Unselfish

I just finished publishing a 10-part series on how teachers can prevent burnout by vigilantly protecting their time.  Over the course of it, I recommended not grading homework, not creating new content, not taking student writing home, and saying no a lot more often.

One might read those articles and get the impression that I’m advocating for teachers to be selfish. To only look out for number one. To not do anything that doesn’t benefit them.

Clearly, a school can’t function if every teacher acts only in her own best interest. Compromise is essential. Many hands make light work. No organization can succeed unless it’s composed of more givers than takers.

But schools also don’t function very well if they’re full of burned out teachers. And the data suggests that lots of teachers are burned out or well on their way.

It’s hard to find research on how many teachers experience burnout. But we do know that six in ten teachers describe their job as always or often stressful. Only 30% say they are engaged at work. Just 15% “strongly agree” that they’re enthusiastic about the profession.

We also know that the great majority of teachers don’t stick with the job long enough to collect their full pensions. According to pension expert Chad Aldeman, only one in five teachers reach retirement age (Check your state’s numbers here). In spite of a financial incentive to remain in the classroom, only 20% do so. And one has to wonder how many of those are merely hanging on, teaching because it’s all they’ve known or because they’re old dogs who don’t want to learn new tricks. It seems likely that a lot of teachers burn out before they’ve spent 30 years on the job.

Protecting your own hours is important for career longevity, but it’s about more than you. It’s also about helping others. Just as people who have taken intentional steps to accumulate wealth have more money to give to others,  teachers who proactively protect their time and energy have a greater capacity to give at school. Who do you feel less guilty about asking for assistance, the overwhelmed rookie or the veteran who always seems to be two steps ahead?

The best thing — the most selfless, giving thing — that teachers can do for their coworkers and their students is to protect their time and energy. They should go home shortly after the kids have left, and find ways to reduce the amount of work they take with them. They should detach from work and eat an early dinner, followed by exercise, relaxation, fun, or time with people they care about. They should get at least seven hours of sleep. Happy, well-rested teachers, like every other professional, are better at their jobs. They’re also in a better position to help others.

There’s a tweet I read a couple days ago that sums it up perfectly:

Amen.

If you’re struggling with this mindset or you just need practical tips for how to effectively cut back on the hours you work, you’ve got just one more day to sign up for the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club. It’s the best investment you’ll ever make for yourself. It’s also a great choice if you want to have the time and energy to give more at work. Enrollment ends tomorrow, January 9. Act now!

 

Preventing Teacher Burnout – Part 10: Use Class Time

teacher burnout

I don’t know any teacher who thinks she has enough time during the school day to get done everything she needs to get done. That’s because most teachers split the time they have at work into two distinct categories. There is time with students and time without students. While we’re with students we are constantly interacting with them. We’re teaching, leading discussions, reteaching, modeling, helping, chatting, conferencing, and problem-solving. This constitutes the great majority of our workday. Time without students is used for all other aspects of the job: planning, grading, email, phone calls, making copies, locating resources, meetings, creating, and lots of other things.

Given that most teachers have a small amount of time without students, we struggle to accomplish all that needs to be done without taking work home or staying late after school.

But what if instead of dividing our time this way, we thought of our time at school as time to do the job of a teacher? 

Doing the job of a teacher involves interacting with students, but it also involves all that other stuff. Why should we limit those responsibilities to a small part of our day, thereby guaranteeing that we’ll have to work more hours before or after school and making the likelihood that we will burn out even greater? Why not structure your day so you can use your full eight hours to do all aspects of the job?

The first step to looking at your time differently is to let go of guilt. Guilt is the reason you feel “caught” when your principal walks in and sees you grading papers at your desk while students work independently. Guilt is why you walk around looking over students’ shoulders as they take a test instead of using that time productively. Guilt is what makes you reluctant to sit with your computer and provide students feedback on their writing instead of meeting with them in individual conferences.

Teachers have been conditioned to think that the only thing they should be doing when their students are in the room is physically interacting with them, even when doing so is detrimental.

It’s that way of thinking that creates the feeling that we never have enough time. If you want more time, create it. Carve time out of your time with students to do the things you used to reserve for time without students. Here are a few ways:

Give Breaks

Breaks are good for everyone. Everyone needs them. Give students occasional breaks and use the time to catch up on some of your other work. Read the whole article about this: One Simple Way to Steal Time for Grading

Use Student Mentors

I turned to students mentors our of desperation. The first year we implemented our math program, I’d have eight students needing help at the same time. I’d dart around the room trying to get to them all. Tired of waiting for me and unable to do the work, students would start talking. I’d have to stop and refocus the class. It was frustrating and exhausting. But while those eight students needed constant help, there were eight others who breezed through the assignments. Why was I spinning like a dervish when I could enlist their help?

You have students who can help other students. It doesn’t have to be you. You might not be all that great anyway. You “help” Johnny every day, but there he is again today with his hand up every five minutes. Send the message to your students that you expect them to do the work, and that if they are stuck, a classmate will help them. Then use the time such an expectation creates to reply to emails, sketch out plans for next week, or leave feedback on some student writing, only helping when your student mentors are unable to.

Test Time

Use student test time to get other work done. Quit watching students like a hawk. You can’t help them anyway and you’re sending them the message that you don’t trust them. Walking around the room while students are taking a test is a waste of your most valuable resource.

Independent Student Reading

I defended independent reading in another article, so I won’t repeat all of that here, but let me address one frequent criticism.

Research indicates that independent reading doesn’t work for the lowest readers. It doesn’t work for the lowest readers because the lowest readers don’t read.  It comes down to what you think the role of a teacher is. If you believe teachers must ensure students learn, then you’ll constantly guilt yourself into doing more. But if you believe that it’s your job to do your best to establish an environment where learning can take place and that ultimately, it’s up to your students to take advantage of opportunities, then you’ll have no trouble providing students with time to read, explaining your expectations for this time, teaching students why it matters that they read, making reading as appealing as possible, and then getting out of their way and letting them own their learning. If this is your philosophy, then you won’t feel guilty about working on other things while students have the chance to engage in an activity that will make them better readers, should they only choose to do it.

Video Lessons

In part 8 of this series, I wrote about leveraging technology. By making video lessons, you free up time for other things. Having successfully cloned yourself, the video version of you can do the teaching while the human version can do the parts of your job you complain you don’t have time for. Check some papers, reply to professional emails, enter test scores into your online grading system. These are all professional responsibilities. They are part of your job. You shouldn’t feel guilty about doing them, especially when you created that time without harming students in any way.

Finding time during the day to accomplish those tasks you normally take home isn’t abdicating your responsibilities as a teacher. It’s doing your job during the hours you’ve been given to do your job. Look at your whole day. Where are some other places you can carve out time so you can go home at a reasonable hour, keep burnout at bay, and extend your teaching career?

 

If you’d like more productivity tips, check out Angela Watson’s 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club. She’ll help you find even more ways to do less while being a more effective teacher. The sign-up period ends Tuesday, January 9, so don’t delay!

 

Other Articles in this Series:

Part 1: Why Teachers Fail to Protect Themselves From Burnout

Part 2: Make a Plan

Part 3: Say No

Part 4: Slash Your To-Do List

Part 5: Optimize Planning Time

Part 6: Ditch Homework

Part 7: The Common Core Advantage

Part 8: Leverage Technology

Part 9: On Writing

 

 

 

Preventing Teacher Burnout – Part 9: On Writing

teacher burnout

Let’s say that in the name of avoiding burnout you decide you’re never again going to take student work home. You stop assigning homework. You move paper assessments over to computer-scored ones. You grade in-class work as students finish it. But what do you do about student writing? How can you read 30 or 60 or 120 student essays without taking them home?

So much of cutting the hours you work is simply actually wanting to cut the number of hours you work and doing what’s necessary to make it happen. It requires you to challenge the way you’ve done things and maybe the way it’s “always been done.” You need new mindsets.

If you have 120 student essays to grade over a weekend, it’s because you chose to have 120 student essays to grade over a weekend. Choose differently.

Let’s start with the end in mind. You want each student to get better at writing. What actions can you take to achieve that goal? Or, another way to think of it, how do writers improve? 

Thinking of my own writing, the things that have helped me get better are:

  1. Reading
  2. Lessons (usually in the form of books or articles on how to write effectively)
  3. Practice
  4. Feedback

That’s it. You’ll notice the omission of the word “grades.” Grades do nothing to improve creative work. I have three books on Amazon that have “grades” in the form of little stars. Those stars don’t tell me anything about what I did well or what I need to do to get better. In the same vein, think of movie ratings. You might see a low rating and decide not to watch that particular movie. But if you’re the director of that movie, a 2-star rating doesn’t tell you anything. If you wanted to know what people actually thought about your movie, you’d have to read the reviews. In other words, creators value feedback, not grades.

So the first mindset change is: Grades don’t matter. Feedback does.

But whose feedback? Is all feedback the same? Can students become better writers by getting feedback from students or parents, or does all feedback have to come from the teacher?

Again, thinking of my own writing, I would benefit more from feedback from an expert. That’s why the master-apprentice relationship works. I have little doubt that I’d be a better writer today if Phillip Roth reviewed everything I wrote and offered pointers before I published. But that doesn’t mean others’ feedback is worthless. Every book I write gets sent to a handful of readers. Their feedback always results in a better final product.

The same is true for your students. They need your expert feedback, but that doesn’t mean peer feedback won’t also help them improve. Having students share their work with peers and requiring that they comment on others’ writing is a way for students to see how their work is received by readers. That’s the second mindset shift:

Not all feedback has to come from the teacher.

Alice Keeler says, “The longer a student goes without feedback, the less they care about the feedback when they get it.” Technology allows for faster feedback. I have my students do their writing in Google Docs so I can jump into their document at any time and provide suggestions and so that they can share their writing with classmates. It’s a recursive process of them writing, receiving feedback, and them improving their writing based on that feedback. It’s immediate and the feedback actually gets put to use. So that’s the third mindset shift:

Provide feedback on students’ writing while students are writing.

If you spend class time doing that, you won’t have to take their work home. You’ll also know where every student is in the writing process and you’ll use what you observe in their writing to decide which lessons to teach next. For an excellent article on how a teacher does this, read Catlin Tucker’s article “Stop Taking Grading Home.” 

But what about the grade? First, delay it as long as possible. Grades tell students that the work is over. If you want students to ever go back and improve it, then giving them a grade is a way to ensure that they won’t. If permissible, never give a grade on a student’s writing. They don’t help them improve.

If you can’t go that far,  grade as few of their writing assignments as possible. Provide targeted feedback. Require them to consider that feedback. Have them highlight areas where they revised to demonstrate how they used that feedback. But grade as a little as possible.

In those instances where there’s just no getting around it, grade the writing using a single-point rubric. It will save you tons of time and provide just as useful information to students as more complicated rubrics do (probably more, since students might actually read these less wordy versions). Limit the number of writing traits you score. Grading ten elements is too much. Pick three or four for each piece and focus your feedback on those. This will save you time and also help your students get better.

As with everything in the classroom, it’s not what you do but how you do it. De-emphasize the grade and stress their growth. Encourage them to go back and look at old papers they wrote. And if you were able to refrain from grading those earlier pieces, you might be surprised to see them returning to them and making them better.

 

The 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club is designed to help you regain hours of your life without sacrificing effectiveness in the classroom. In fact, like the article above, it provides new ways of thinking that will save you time and help you be a better teacher.

 

Other Articles in this Series:

Part 1: Why Teachers Fail to Protect Themselves From Burnout

Part 2: Make a Plan

Part 3: Say No

Part 4: Slash Your To-Do List

Part 5: Optimize Planning Time

Part 6: Ditch Homework

Part 7: The Common Core Advantage

Part 8: Leverage Technology