Dear Teachers, Please Go Home

There is one thing every teacher can and should do if they want to be less tired and use their time at work more efficiently:

Quit working shortly after the kids have left. Go home.

There are many reasons teachers stay late at school. Some feel a sense of pride at being one of the last to leave. They believe their late nights reflect greater dedication to their students. They enjoy their reputation as a hard worker. Others feel guilty when they leave quickly. They keep working out of a misguided sense of obligation. They worry what others will think of them, fearing they’ll be thought of as lazy and apathetic. Many teachers act as if they have no choice in the matter. They’re on committees, run after-school clubs, or just have so much to do that they have to stay after work to get it done.

No matter the reason, all believe that staying late after school makes them a better teacher. But they are wrong.

Quitting, for lack of a better word, is good.

Quit for Your Health

I was jogging the other day when my back started to hurt. I tried to keep going, but it got worse. So I quit running and my back instantly felt better.

Restaurants have gone crazy with the size of their nachos.

I mean, will you look at this thing?

I get full about halfway through. So I quit eating them.

Smart people quit when their body tells them to. No one feels bad about it. But when it comes to work, we suddenly start believing we’re Superman and that no matter how tired we are we can and should just keep going.

Teaching is a unique job. One of the reasons it’s so exhausting is that we have to be “on” all day. To do the job properly, you need to be well-rested. You need to be enthusiastic and observant. Going home will help.

No matter when I get home, I want to maximize the time I have for myself.  On nights when I’m home by five o’clock, I’ve got six hours to do whatever I want. That’s a nice balance. Ten hours for preparing for work, commuting, and working, six for my personal life, and eight hours of sleep. Because I value my personal time, any day I get home late leads to a late night and a lack of sleep.

Getting home earlier also means you can eat earlier. Your body will have longer to digest dinner before you go to bed, and eating early gives the food enough time to settle so you can exercise without discomfort.

Quit to Be a Better Teacher

A lot of teachers stay after school because they have work to do, but they’ve chosen the worst possible time to get it done. By the end of the day your willpower is exhausted. Willpower is limited, and once it’s gone only eating and sleep can restore it. Willpower is what you need to make yourself check papers, read essays, plan lessons, and respond tactfully to emails. A lack of willpower means your after-school efforts are going to be inefficient. You’ll be more easily distracted, more tempted to check Facebook or gossip with colleagues, and more likely to head to the lounge to eat whatever you can find because your body needs fuel.

Parkinson’s Law is also working against you. It states that work will expand to fill the available time. I wrote and published my first two books, The Teacher’s Guide to Weight Loss and Happy Teacher in two months each. I was able to do that because that’s how long I gave myself to complete them. Because of the topic of my next book, I planned an October release. I started working on it in May. The book is taking me longer because I gave myself more time to do it, so many days I don’t write much and on some days I don’t work on it at all (I write long blog posts like this one instead).

This is Parkinson’s Law at work, and it will strike you as you sit at your desk after school. Instead of working until you complete a certain amount of work, give yourself 30 minutes. You’ll be more focused, your work will be of better quality, you’ll cut out any distractions or cute but unnecessary extras, and you’ll get it finished. Give yourself less time, and you’ll get more done.

Quit to Be a Better Person

Psychologists discovered something they call the morning morality effect. Basically, you’re a better person in the morning. Your body needs glucose for pretty much everything, including willpower and decision-making. Since teachers expend a lot of willpower and make a ton of decisions, we burn through glucose pretty fast. When it runs out we’re tired, cranky, impatient, have stronger cravings for sweets and other junk food, and we experience stronger emotions. All of which lead to bad decisions. The morning morality effect explains why you’re more likely to ruin your diet at night than in the morning, and why people are more likely to commit immoral acts like lying, cheating, and stealing in the afternoon. School is not a place you want to be when you’re more likely to make bad decisions. Go home.

Quit Because Science Says To

Many teachers reading this will still stay after school because they believe it’s the only way to be effective at their jobs. They’ve fallen victim to the culture of overwork. So a fair question to ask is:  Do longer hours make you more productive?

The research is clear. More work doesn’t equal more output. In one study, managers couldn’t tell the difference between employees who worked 80-hour weeks and those who just pretended to (which actually sounds worse). Numerous studies have shown that overwork leads to stress that causes health issues, sleep deprivation, depression, heart disease, memory loss, and greater alcoholic intake. Researchers have also found that working too much impairs your abilities to communicate, make judgments, read others’ nonverbal language, and modulate your emotions.

Also, your cat will miss you.

So go home. Eat dinner. Hit the gym. Kiss your spouse. Watch Netflix. Play Uno with your kids. Leave work at work. Detach. Live your life. And when you’re tempted to choose more work over all those things, remember this Arianna Huffington quote:

“Have you noticed that when we die, our eulogies celebrate our lives very differently from the way society defines success?”

You can read more here: Stop Working More Than 40 Hours a Week.

_________________

Related Content:

Why American Teachers Should Work Less

Stop Complaining About Your Teacher Salary If You’re Working for Free

Why Teachers Are So Tired

How Teachers Can Get Paid For Extra Work

There are a number of studies that have attempted to determine how many hours teachers actually work. The Gates Foundation says 53 hours per week. The NEA claims 50. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics gave teachers a time-use survey and concluded teachers work about 40 hours each week. Teachers surveyed by AEI reported working an average of 44 hours, a little less than college-educated professionals in other fields.

Regardless of which study you believe, one thing is certain:

Teachers work a lot of hours for free.

In my last article, I argued that teachers are going to keep right on donating labor for a very simple reason: Employers like work they don’t have to pay for. If you’re willing to work for free, then don’t expect to ever be paid.

So how can teachers start getting paid for all the extra work they do?

The solution is simple. Stop working for free.

Don’t go in over the summer to set up and decorate your room. Don’t volunteer for committee work. Don’t attend after-school events. Don’t take work home to grade. Don’t meet with parents after school.

Unfortunately, that solution is also really hard. You’re probably uncomfortable just reading those ideas. That’s pretty messed up when you think about it. It shouldn’t be a radical idea to suggest that professionals be paid for their work. But most teachers with whom I share this idea react with at least one of the following emotions:

Anger

There is a subset of teachers who believe that teaching is a “calling.” They see it as special work that ought to be governed by special rules. They’re there for the kids. They’re selfless, often working to the point of exhaustion, and they wear that dedication proudly. The idea of them or their colleagues slacking off or demanding to be paid for things teachers have always done without compensation is offensive to them.

Guilt

A lot of teachers like the idea of being paid for all their work, but they know they’d feel guilty if they simply stopped. What will those colleagues who put in so many hours before and after school think of them? Are they being shallow or greedy for expecting pay for things others are doing for free? If they’re not working lots of hours, are they letting other teachers, their principal, their students, and their parents down?

Teachers who do decide to cut back on extra, unpaid hours almost always betray the guilt they’re feeling by justifying their decision with high-minded reasons, like spending more time with their family. They hardly ever say, “No, I quit that committee and go home right after work because I’m not paid for that stuff.”

But feeling guilty about not working for free is absurd.

Why should any professional feel bad for expecting to be paid for the work they do on behalf of their employer? For that matter, even if everything you do is “for the kids,” why shouldn’t you be paid for those things? Surely, acting in the best interest of children is deserving of compensation. Things are so backward in education that the party who should feel guilty –the district for taking advantage of their dedicated employees — actually have the audacity to lay guilt trips on teachers when they don’t volunteer their labor.

Fear

Some teachers worry that their districts might retaliate. They might ding them on their evaluations. They may put pressure on them by reminding them how much their colleagues are going “above and beyond” (which is perhaps the most insulting and manipulative phrase in education today). They fear what parents might say when they make what should be a reasonable request to meet during the school day instead of after hours when they’re no longer being paid.

Altogether Now…

There’s not much I can say to those who are offended by the suggestion they be paid for their work. For everyone else, the solution to guilt and fear is a unified teaching force that takes a stand and refuses to budge.

When teachers are unified in their conviction that they will be paid for their work, the ball is then in the hands of district leadership. They will no doubt respond by pressuring the staff to return to the status quo. They’ll argue that teachers knew the deal going in, that other teachers work for free, that it’s always been like this, that “professionals” do what needs to be done, that you’re there for the kids. They’ll lay on the guilt because they like not paying you. There isn’t an employer in the world that would turn down free labor.

When that fails (and a unified front that wants to actually get paid for their work must ensure that it does), then districts may seek to punish. They may threaten teachers with poor evaluations. They might engage in a public relations battle to convince parents you’re not working hard for their kids. They might not renew the contracts of the most vocal ringleaders.

This is what most teachers fear, but my suspicion is that it’s unlikely. Look at it from the district’s point of view. If no staff member breaks ranks, then the district will be in a difficult position. Are they going to give every teacher a low rating and risk their own reputation?Are they going to fire the entire staff and risk making the national news over refusing to give in to teachers who want nothing more than to be paid for their work? Are they going to convince parents they’re right and that teachers are greedy for wanting what other professionals get as a matter of course? It’s a losing argument, and teachers should force districts to make it.

Paying People Forces Decisions

Districts will have to decide whether or not that thing for which it’s been relying on free labor is worth enough to pay for it. There’s tremendous value in that. Schools try to be everything to everybody and waste a lot of their employees’ time. Committees are created that meet often but accomplish little. After-school events put a strain on everybody in a school and sometimes result in low turnout. They often draw only those parents who are most involved anyway.

If the work, the committee, or the after-school activity is important enough, then they’ll find a way to either pay teachers or free up time to get it done during contractual hours. Alternatively, they might negotiate new contract language that requires a certain amount of donated time (for which any decent bargaining team will gain concessions in other areas). They might also pay someone else to do the work. For teachers who complain that nothing is ever taken off their plates, their willingness to work for free is one of the reasons.

So will I be putting my money where my mouth is? Nope. As I said, this only works if everyone is in the boat and rowing in the same direction. Short of that, it would be foolish for teachers to go it alone or with just a few others. You’ll succeed only in making yourself look bad. So like almost all of you, I will be heading into my classroom in the next couple of weeks to get the copies made, the lessons planned, and the classroom organized. I’ll be doing those things because I take pride in my work. I’ll do them because I’m a professional.

And I ought to be paid like one.

Stop Complaining About Your Teacher Salary if You’re Working for Free

Huffington Post publishes the writing of thousands of bloggers and they don’t pay them a dime. Why not? Because they don’t have to. When people are willing to work for free, they give up the right to complain about their pay.

And yet in almost any discussion about teacher workloads and salaries, teachers do exactly that. On the one hand, teachers will do everything they can to convince you that they work really, really hard. It’s not uncommon to read a laundry list of extra responsibilities submitted as proof of the teacher’s dedication and of how unappreciated her efforts are. On the other hand, they say they should be paid more.

A few days ago, The Educator’s Room Facebook page shared a post a teacher had written that outlined the pensions of a Texas educator and a Texas legislator. Needless to say, the teacher didn’t compare favorably. As usual, two points were made:

Texas teachers are paid poorly, and their pensions will be relatively paltry as a result.

Texas teachers work a lot harder than those bums in the legislature.

Both of which are true.

But the writer couldn’t help herself. She had to prove just how selfless and hard-working teachers are:

They are expected to work for free during the summer by attending professional development and preparing for the next school year. Their average workday during the school year is 12 hours and most devote weekend time to planning and grading.
In addition, most districts arrange to pay teachers for a ten-month contract over 12 months. This creates a common misconception that teachers have paid vacation over the summer. Actually, the teachers are providing an interest-free loan to the districts and are paid back during the summer. Teachers are contractors who work from year to year, contract to contract, but are only able to write off $250 of their business expenses like classroom supplies, tissues & hand sanitizer, and snacks for hungry kids. The average teacher spends $500 and many spend $1000+ on their classroom annually – and as budgets are cut, teachers take up the slack.

Some good points, to be sure. But what struck me, as it always does, is the contradiction between whining about low pay and bragging about working for free.

Because that’s usually what it is. Teachers who talk about working 12-hour days and going in on weekends and spending thousands of their own dollars aren’t actually complaining about it. They’re proud of it. They believe it’s proof of their dedication. It makes them feel superior to those who aren’t as selfless.

But these same people also feel like they’re getting the shaft. They ought to be paid more! Society doesn’t appreciate teachers! Their districts don’t respect the work they do! Look how much they’re working!

Whether or not you’re paid by the hour or earn a salary, you are involved in a transaction. You give your time and effort in return for compensation. In reality, all jobs are paid hourly.  Someone who earns $100,000 but works 80-hour weeks may have twice the money, but they only have half the time of someone who gets paid $50,000 for 40-hour weeks.

Teachers, then, have a really simple way of maximizing their hourly pay:

Work fewer hours.

Let’s consider two teachers:

Teacher A, we’ll call her Mrs. Balance, gets to work an hour before the kids and leaves about 15 minutes after they do. She doesn’t volunteer for extra responsibilities and says no to additional paid work because her time is more valuable than what the district offers for an hourly stipend. She works a 40-hour week and makes $40,000 per year.

Rate of pay: $40,000 / 1600 hours (40 hours x 40 weeks) = $25/hour

Teacher B, let’s call him Mr. Burnout-in-Progress, also arrives an hour before the kids, but he stays three hours after. When he gets home, he works another hour checking papers. On weekends, he puts in four hours every Sunday to get ready for the week. He’s on a few committees and does some paid advisory work. He also works over breaks and throughout the summer. Mr. Burnout-in-Progress averages about 55 hours per week, and he works about 46 weeks per year.  The extra duties earn him more than Mrs. Balance. He makes $50,000.

Hourly rate of pay: $50,000 / 2530 (55 hours x 46 weeks) = $19.76

Both teachers have reason to complain about their salaries. Mrs. Balance makes just $40,000, and Mr. Burnout-in-Progress, when he thinks about how much he works, feels like his district is getting a steal by paying him 50k.

And he’s right. His district is taking advantage of him. And the reason his district is taking advantage of him is the same reason Huffpo doesn’t pay its bloggers: He has allowed them to.

If you’re going to work for free, then why in the world would a school district ever pay you?

With the end of summer closing in, many teachers will be heading into their classrooms to donate some work. They’ll spend hours decorating their rooms for open houses and preparing plans for the first week of school. They’ll give and give and give some more. And their employers will be the happy recipients of their labor.

If this suits you — if you don’t mind working for free, if unpaid work makes you feel more dedicated, if showing up on a Saturday and being the only teacher in the building gives you a sense of pride no amount of money can match — then go for it.

But realize that nothing is going to change if you do.

So don’t complain about your pay.

You’re the one choosing to work for free.

____________________________________

A reasonable question to ask after reading this is, “Well, what am I supposed to do, just not get my room ready for the year?”

I’ll address that in my next post.

Teachers, Stop Saying You Work All Summer

I know, I know. Some of you actually work. Some of you really do plan lessons, attend conferences, renovate your classrooms, teach summer school, or even work a part-time job. Some of you do all of the above.

But most of you don’t. I’ve been teaching seventeen years now. I know a LOT of teachers. Most of my friends are teachers. Hardly any of them work much in the summer. One teaches summer school for three days a week for about six weeks. Most of us do some planning for next year (“vaguely thinking about” would be more accurate). We might read a teaching book or two this summer (might I recommend Happy Teacher?). Almost all of us will, at some point before the year starts, head into our classrooms a few times to get everything in order. But most of us aren’t doing much work. Don’t believe me? Check out the Facebook pages of the teachers you know.

So can we please stop pretending? Can we stop lying?

Stop Being Defensive

I was on Facebook earlier today when I came across a video a friend had shared. You’ve probably seen it or one like it. It was about how teachers get no respect and how there’s a shortage in teacher prep programs. It listed some of the reasons teachers feel disrespected.

The first comment under the video trotted out the very tired, “Teachers have three months off” argument. Evidently, the commenter missed the part about teachers quitting and young people avoiding the profession. That would seem to argue that those three months off aren’t the incentive people think they are. The commenter was beset, of course, by teachers claiming, as they always do, that no, actually, we work those three months!  That’s not a vacation! We take classes and plan lessons and work other jobs because of our shitty pay. Reading them, you would think that most teachers are busting their asses all summer. We aren’t. I sure as hell am not.

And I won’t apologize to anyone for that.

Teachers Don’t Waste Time

I work hard during the school year. I work harder than a lot of people. I may not work the same number of hours as someone in another profession, but the hours I do work are not wasted. I’ve never participated in a Cyber Monday. I’m there the Monday after the Super Bowl, without a hangover, doing the same job I do every day. A 2014 survey from Salary.com found that 89% of workers admitted to wasting time at work. 31% waste 30 minutes a day. Another 31% waste an hour. 16% waste TWO HOURS each day. How are they wasting time? Well, Bitly found that traffic on Twitter peaks between 9 am and 3 pm, Monday through Thursday, and that Facebook spikes between 1 pm and 3 pm midweek. Those are curious times, aren’t they? It’s almost like people in cubicles are not really working that much. Usage drops off at 4 pm, when all those hard working business people go home.

Teachers don’t get to waste time. We don’t have the luxury of buying crap online while students are watching our every move. We can’t check Facebook six times a day to see how many people liked our cat photo from last night. We’re not getting into Twitter arguments at 2 pm. In fact, if you’re a teacher who tweets you know that educator chats always occur at night. #edchat runs from 7-8 pm on Tuesdays. #edtechchat from 8-9 pm on Mondays. #tlap is scheduled at Monday at 9 pm. When do Twitter chats for marketing professionals take place? #ContentChat is Monday at 3 pm. #BufferChat is at noon on Wednesdays. #BizHeroes is at 2 pm on Tuesdays. Must be nice to have tweeting considered “work.” If teachers waste time at school, it simply means we have more work to take home. Other professionals might work more hours than teachers, but that doesn’t mean they’re doing more work.

Stop Apologizing

Teachers, let’s just be honest: Summer vacation is perk. No one else apologizes for their work perks. Why should we?

I’ll start feeling bad for enjoying my three months off when business people start feeling bad about their hour-long leisurely lunches at restaurants (that some write off as business expenses), their corporate junkets to Aspen, free tickets to sporting events, paid air travel and hotel stays that allow them to see the country on their company’s dime, high salaries, the ability to take a week off in October to vacation during non-peak times, workdays that permit (even encourage) dicking off on social media, paid water cooler conversations about last night’s episode of “The Bachelor,” and lots of other perks I don’t get as a teacher.

But since that’s not likely to happen anytime soon, I’ll just enjoy my three months off. Every glorious, sun-filled, relaxing day of it.

The Best Way to Thank Your Child’s Teacher

School is out for the year in most places. Teachers are sleeping in. Parents have arranged for child care. Students are snapping chats, or playing Fortnite, or getting in my way at the zoo (I don’t really know what students do with their free time. I used to watch Matlock in the summer). Many teachers received gifts from the parents of their students during that last week of school. I saw them on Facebook, and I don’t know a single teacher who doesn’t greatly appreciate them. In a world where genuine appreciation is as rare as political bipartisanship, even a token thank-you stands out.

Gift cards, coffee mugs, thematic baskets, chocolate, and thank you cards are all great, but there is one way parents can thank their children’s teachers that beats them all. Few teachers receive this gift, even though it costs nothing, takes only a few minutes to put together, has lasting positive effects, and you can do it at any point of the school year, even now, when it’s over.

What is this wonderful, simple gift?

An email to the teacher’s principal.

Teachers Get Evaluated

Many parents may not be aware that teachers are evaluated yearly now. This is a relatively new thing, at least in practice. While there have always been teacher evaluation systems, the old ones were mostly formalities. The principal would let the teacher know he was coming, the teacher would teach, the principal would fill out a quick form that usually lacked teeth, and they’d all go on their merry ways.

Then, for lots of mostly bad reasons, politicians decided teachers were the main cause of society’s failures. They decided to weed out the bad ones. To do that, they needed some kind of system to identify the duds. They wanted to use test scores because test scores produce numbers and people like numbers. They seem objective. But then the forces of good convinced them that including principal observations should be part of the system, too.

So what does all this have to do with writing an email to the principal?

Principals Are Human

The system described above is meant to be objective, but it isn’t. Humans are involved. Humans have values and prejudices and feelings and all kinds of other humany things that make objectively evaluating others impossible. Two principals watching the same lesson will judge that lesson differently. Two principals will measure the value of teachers in their buildings differently.

In practice, the system actually works like this:

– For various reason –some good, some bad — principals like some teachers more than others.
– Principals bring their biases with them when they observe teachers.
– Charitable view: Although principals tell themselves they’re being fair, their preferences for certain teachers show through in their ratings.
– Less charitable view: Principals decide beforehand which teachers are going to get lower scores and then, no matter what they observe, they rate teachers accordingly. In other words, they say to themselves, “Well, if the district is going to lay people off this year, I better make sure they lay off the teachers I’d rather not have around. One way to do that is to rate them poorly on observations.”

Humans Can Be Influenced

It is human nature to complain about things that annoy us and keep quiet when we’re satisfied. That means that if principals hear anything about the teachers in their buildings, it’s likely negative. The feedback principals receive about teachers either confirms or challenges their opinions.

Fortunately, positive feedback works the same way. Most principals are unaware of much of what happens. They can’t be everywhere all the time. They may not know anything about how a teacher communicates with parents, or how a teacher inspired Timmy to read more at home, or the way a teacher makes learning fun. A principal might not notice the rapport a teacher has with her students. But if he receives three emails from parents praising the relationships their children have with their teacher, he’ll start to.

All of us are influenced by the opinions of others. It’s what makes hit songs, bestsellers, and blockbusters. It’s why one restaurant thrives while others close. It’s why I don’t admit to people that I don’t care for Monty Python, Wes Anderson movies, or Meryl Streep. When you hear from lots of people about how great something is, you start to think you’re the weird one. You keep those opinions to yourself. You question them. You look for evidence you’re wrong.

That’s why parents who are happy with their child’s teacher should email the principal. The more a principal hears good things about his teachers, the more likely it is he’ll start to believe them or at least question his own opinions.

Don’t Just Tell the Teacher

Most years, I get a card from a parent thanking me. Often, the card will say something like, “Ivy really enjoyed being in your class. She was nervous to have a male teacher but she had a great third-grade year.”

I love getting these cards.

But I’d also love my principal to hear what parents appreciate about me, too.

Principals who hear good things about teachers will be less likely to evaluate those teachers poorly or consider moving them to a different position in their district. Upsetting parents who have proven they’re willing to write emails to school administrators is one thing most principals are reluctant to do.

So if you think your child’s teacher did a good job this year, write an email to the principal saying so. It’s fast, easy, free, and will help the teacher more than anything you can buy from a store.

_____________________________________

Feel like reading more? Try these:

10 Things Parents Just Don’t Understand About Teachers

Why Bad Teachers Are Hard to Find

Why You Shouldn’t Care About Your Teacher Evaluation

Why You Shouldn’t Care About Your Teacher Evaluation

Evaluations are in. All of your good intentions, hard work, and personal sacrifice have been boiled down to a number and a label. Are you “highly effective” or “innovating,” or merely “developing,” like you’re an insect in its larval stage instead of a professional educator?

Whatever your label or your number, you shouldn’t take too much pride or allow yourself to feel any disappointment or shame over it. Your evaluation is meaningless.

My district uses Marzano and everything is entered into iObservation. The last step in the evaluation process is for me, the teacher, to go in and “acknowledge” my scores. Why this is necessary is a bit of a mystery, since I am in no way allowed to question or challenge my final score. The state of Michigan gives districts total power when it comes to teacher evaluations. No due process. No appeals. No presumption of effectiveness. It’s all very democratic, and obviously designed to help teachers get better (he said sarcastically).

Once I acknowledged my rating, I was then provided the opportunity to leave a comment. I guess this is iObservation’s way of throwing teachers a bone. We may not be allowed to tell our principal, “Actually, the stupid learning goal was on the board. You just didn’t see it,” but we can sound off in the comments section. As a reminder, that’s the section nobody reads.

Nevertheless, it was my only chance to offer any thoughts, so here’s what I wrote:

I continue to find the evaluations arbitrary, based on questionable data, and demoralizing to the profession. That 75% of any teacher’s evaluation is in the hands of a single individual should be cause for concern. That that individual, however well-meaning and effective he or she might be, bases most of his or her evaluation on a small sample size of a teacher’s instruction is also concerning. It’s a flawed model, operating inside of a flawed system, foisted upon professional educators who were given little opportunity to provide input to the flawed legislators who pushed for more accountability based on the flawed belief that American schools, and therefore the people who work inside of them, are failing. The whole thing is nonsense, and I therefore put no stock in the above numbers, whether they be high, low, or somewhere in between. It’s a shame that principals have to waste so much time on it.

To add to the above and to put everything in list form, here is why your evaluation is meaningless and therefore not worth hanging your head or puffing your chest over.

Your evaluation is likely composed of two parts: administrator observations and student growth data. Both have major problems.

Student Growth

  • The student growth portion of your evaluation is likely based on cruddy assessments. Mine was based on screeners, which were never intended for teacher evaluations.
  • Students are not held accountable for their performance on the cruddy assessments, which makes you wonder how much they really care about them, which makes you wonder how hard they try on them. (I’ll give you a hint: two of my students were done with the 30-question reading test in 10 minutes.)
  • In my district,  growth scores are harmed by students who start the year with already high numbers. They have the least room for improvement, and that lack of growth lowers teachers’ ratings.
  • The whole thing sets up terrible incentives, which I try my best to ignore. Teachers in my district joke about getting students to bomb the fall screener to show more growth. You could actively lobby for the lowest students to be on your class roster to have a better chance of showing growth. There’s no doubt that some teach to the screeners, so kids get the idea that reading is really about saying words super fast. The list goes on.
  • Those students who missed more than 20 days of school? Doesn’t matter. It’s somehow your fault they didn’t learn as much as they should have.

Observations

  • Most of the evaluation is based on principal observations. I had two.  If we only needed two songs to evaluate a band, Tesla would be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
  • Observations are only as good as the people making them.  They’re meaningless if principals across buildings and districts evaluate their teachers in different ways, which they do.
  • Observations are only reliable if we assume that principals can shelve their personal biases when observing a teacher and rely only on their training (assuming they received any).
  • Evaluations lose their meaning when those being evaluated are judged against different criteria. The current system assumes districts have at least a somewhat similar approach to evaluating teachers. They don’t.  My wife’s district handles the whole thing differently than my district. An “effective” teacher in one district won’t necessarily be effective in a neighboring district. Some districts make it nearly impossible to be “innovating,” while other districts start teachers out there and only lower them for cause. That makes the system junk.
  • Basing a significant part of a teacher’s evaluation on an administrator’s observations makes the system ripe for abuse. Observations might be an honest appraisal of your skills or they could be the result of office politics or personal grudges. If it’s the latter? Well, there’s always the comments section.

And why only observations and student growth, anyway? I’m a teacher, a service professional. Why don’t parents get a say in this? Why don’t the students?

I don’t mind being evaluated. I just wish my evaluation actually told me something, anything, about how well or poorly I do my job. Until it does, I find it hard to care. You should too.

10 Things Parents Just Don’t Understand About Teachers

I’ve eaten at hundreds of restaurants in my life, but I’ve never worked at one. My wife was a waitress in college, so when we go out to eat and I complain about something, she’s usually able to offer me an explanation.

The table next to ours received their food first because they ordered soup and sandwiches and we ordered pizza.

That family was seated ahead of ours because a table for four opened up, but there isn’t yet room for our party of six.

The restaurant may appear sparsely populated, but our food could be taking a long time because there’s a backlog of take-out orders.    

Until you do a job, you can’t appreciate all that goes into it.  It’s this fact of life that accounts for many of the misconceptions parents have about teaching. So here are 10 things parents might not know.      

We Have Less Control Over Things Than You Think We Do

The state adopts standards that we have to teach. The Board of Education approves programs that we’re required to use. The district’s administrators are under pressure to improve test scores, and that filters down to us. We may be “there for the kids,” but we’re also employees. So while we may want to teach your child other things and in other ways, we usually have less discretion than you suspect. When you complain about our math program,  you put us in a difficult position. We might very well agree with you, but saying so would be unprofessional.

We Do It All Ourselves

Teachers don’t have office assistants. We type all of our own newsletters and emails. Because we have many other urgent things to do, we likely typed that newsletter in ten minutes, while being interrupted three times, and then quickly read it over once before hitting print and running out of the room to pick up our students from some other class. Those typos aren’t because we’re idiots. They are the predictable result of never having enough time to do all aspects of our jobs at the level we’d like to.  

We Forget Stuff

There are a LOT of things that happen during the day. We may read an email from you right before the office interrupts with an announcement and a girl picks a scab and comes running for a Band-Aid. The contents of your email can quickly become forgotten amid the hustle and bustle of our days. We don’t recall everything that happens. If we send an email home explaining that Tommy had a rough day, don’t be surprised if we’re unable to recall the six things Tommy specifically did that led to the email. All we remember is he was disruptive.  

We’re Really Busy

We don’t have office jobs. We have a computer, but there’s a very good chance we won’t sit in front of it the entire day. If you email at 10 a.m. asking us to tell Timmy to ride the bus home after school and you don’t get a response back, you should call the office. We either didn’t check our email or we read it and forgot (see We Forget Stuff above).  

We’re More Annoyed Than You About Buying School Supplies

We don’t like asking you to provide notebooks, pencils, folders, Kleenex, hand sanitizer, and all the other things on those beginning-of-the-year supply lists. But our schools aren’t buying them for us, and we already spend plenty of our own money on things we shouldn’t have to. If you don’t want to buy the stuff on the list, that’s fine. But don’t complain to us about it.  

We Don’t Really Want to Take Your Kids’ Toys

We know it’s unrealistic to expect you to double-check your kids’ backpacks every morning and that most toys arrive in our classrooms without your knowledge. But please understand that when we take your sons’ toys we’re doing it because they’re distracting, and if we allow one there will ten more tomorrow. So please, if your child takes a toy to school and it’s taken away from him, don’t bail him out by coming to school and asking for the toy back. Let him learn his lesson, at least for a week.

We Might Not Want Your Help

Schools like to talk about how they want more parent involvement, and some parents generously offer to help in classrooms. Sometimes, it’s greatly appreciated. But other times, it’s more work for us. We’re used to doing things ourselves. We’re not very good at delegating. And if we know you’re coming every Wednesday at 2:00 p.m., we have to find something for you to do. We’ve also had parents who caused more problems than they solved. They joked around and distracted students, made too much noise when they were in the room, and modeled bad behavior. We don’t want to correct your behavior in front of the class, but we also don’t want our students disrupted. Sometimes, we don’t want to take the risk, so we don’t ask for your help.  

If We Meet With You Before or After School,  We’re Working for Free (and We Might Resent It)

If we need to talk to our doctors, we must do so on their time. If we call a business after it’s closed, we have to wait until tomorrow to get service. Even professionals like realtors or financial advisors who will meet with us after hours are doing so with the expectation of a pay-off in the future. If we meet with you before school, we’re probably thinking about all the things we need to do before students arrive. If we’re meeting with you after school,  we’re tired and want to go home. We’ll be professional, but we’re no more happy about it than you would be if your boss asked you to stay and work for free.  

There’s Not Much I Can Do To Punish Your Kid

Some of you want us to handle all things school-related, but there’s little we can do when your child regularly misbehaves. Our principals may think we’re ineffective if we send your kid to the office too often. Taking away recess is counterproductive and punishes us just as much as your child. Other more creative consequences may be met with criticism from you, despite your pledge to stay out of school matters. If your child isn’t doing her job at school, you’re in the best position to punish your kid because you can take away the things she really likes. You’ll send a stronger message by taking away her iPad, making her go to bed thirty minutes early, or not allowing her to attend a sleepover on Saturday than we will by giving her a lunch detention. If we’re telling you about your kid’s poor behavior, it’s because we want you to do something.  

We Sugarcoat

If we tell you that your kid was disrespectful to his classmates, we’re really telling you that your kid was a jerk. If we describe your child as “difficult to motivate,” we’re calling him lazy. If we say Jill had a difficult day, we mean she was a major pain in the keister. Whatever we tell you, assume it was twice as bad as it sounds

Why You Shouldn’t Take Away Recess

I stopped taking away recess as a punishment for classroom behavior two years ago. I’ve never regretted it. The elementary school where I work uses a stoplight system for behavior management. If you’re unfamiliar, students start out with a clothespin on the color blue. If they break a rule, they move to green. Break another and it’s on yellow. Three strikes and it’s on red. Many teachers take away 10 minutes of recess from students on yellow and the entire recess for those on red. I used to.

I stopped for a selfish reason. Then, I justified my decision with other, better reasons. Here are the reasons you should stop taking away student recess for classroom misbehavior:

Stop Punishing Yourself

There were days when I made sure I didn’t put any students on yellow because I didn’t want to babysit during recess. I had stuff to do. If I was going to take away a student’s recess, that student had to be supervised by someone. Often, that someone was me. I’m a big believer in not punishing people who don’t deserve it, especially if one of those people is me.

Those Students Need Recess the Most

For the most part, the same kids lost recess over and over again. You know the type. They couldn’t sit still. Couldn’t leave other kids alone. Distracted others and interrupted me with their impulsive behavior. They weren’t made for sitting for long periods. They needed to move, make noise, and run into things. So what did I do to punish them for moving, making noise, and running into things? I took away the one time of their day when they could move, make noise, and run into things. The students I punished by taking away their recess were the ones who needed recess the most.

Everyone Deserves a Break

Some people see recess as a privilege, something to be earned. They tell their classes that if they want a recess, they better work for it. That’s wrong. Recess is a break. Everyone needs breaks. When you attend a training, one of the first things you want to know is when the breaks will be. If your trainer blithely blows past your break time, you’re going to be pissed. If your trainer makes your break contingent upon you working hard and participating, you’ll likely feel condescended to. The United Nations mandates that all prisoners receive at least one hour of exercise in the open air daily. Murderers and rapists get an hour of recess. But you won’t give Marcus a fifteen minute break because he interrupted your lesson a few times?

It Doesn’t Work

If the same students are losing recess more than once per week, that should tell you something about the effectiveness of taking it away. It doesn’t work. Most of the students whose recess I took away had problems self-regulating. They were impulsive. They acted, then, like thirty minutes later, thought about their actions.

Sometimes.

These are not the kinds of kids who think to themselves, “Hmm, if I squirt water on Sally’s hair then the teacher is going to move my clip. Since I am already on green for shouting out, “My butt is stinky!” in the middle of the social studies lesson, I shouldn’t squirt this water because that will result in my clip being moved to yellow, which will subsequently lead to me losing ten minutes of my recess in three hours.”

When stuff doesn’t work, don’t keep doing that stuff.

Snowball Effect

Some students have a difficult time settling down in the morning. Their home environment is loud and chaotic. They may have not gotten enough sleep. They didn’t get breakfast. As they enter the room with their classmates, they quickly become overstimulated and do something stupid. You catch them. They’re on green. Ten minutes later, they’re talking while you’re teaching. Boom. They’re on yellow. They’ve already lost ten minutes of recess. Again. “Well,” they say to themselves, “today’s shot. Might as well go all in.” You’re not setting up students for success when they know they’ve already lost the one thing they look forward to all day long. In fact, you’re making your job much harder. Why would you want to do that?

The Lone Exception

I do have one exception that I explain to my students on the first day of school: “I will not take your recess away for your behavior in here. I know some teachers will take it away if you’re on red. I won’t. But I will take your recess away if you are ruining other people’s recess. Everyone has a right to have fun at recess. If you are making it not fun for others because of your choices, then you can’t be outside.”

Students want to hear this. They want recess to be fun. They want to know that adults won’t allow jerks to run rampant on the playground.

Parents like the policy. Parents with students who have lost many recesses in the past really like the policy. Many have written to thank me for it.

So what do I do about student misbehavior? Just ignore it?

No. I send emails or texts to parents any time their child ends the day on yellow or red. The great majority of parents want their children to do well and behave in school. Most of them are willing to do their part to make this happen. But they can’t do anything if they don’t know about the problem. The email simply states what the student did to get on yellow or red. I should also note that students can move back off their color if they improve their behavior, so there’s always a chance they can avoid having that email sent.

It doesn’t solve all problems. But it works better than taking away recess.

Both Sides: Whole Class Punishments

A confession: Although I usually write as though I’m 100% positive of the suggestions I make on this blog, the truth is I rarely am. There aren’t many sure things in education. What works for one teacher won’t work for all of them. What works for one class won’t work in other classes. Hell, sometimes what works for a teacher one year won’t work the next. But most people don’t want to read unassertive, maybe-you-should-try-this articles. They want new ideas or solutions to problems. So I play along.

There are many education issues on which I have vacillated. One is whole class punishments. Early in my career, I used them on occasion. I felt I had good justification for doing so. I still feel solid arguments can be made to support their use. I’ll share those arguments below. I haven’t personally used whole class punishments in probably seven years. However, I can’t write a post titled, “Why You Shouldn’t Use Whole Class Punishments” because I see their merits. Instead, I’ll present both sides and let you argue in the comments.

Why You Should Not Use Whole Class Punishments

There are a number of reasons I no longer use whole class punishments. The first is I hated them as a student. I was a good kid. Never got in trouble. So when some asshole ruined it for the rest of us, I resented it. You don’t need to be very old to comprehend when you’re getting jobbed. A whole class punishment didn’t teach me anything except that adults were power-hungry despots who treated saints the same as convicts. I don’t want to be one of those adults.

I also didn’t like what whole class punishments did to my classroom culture. It pitted the well-behaved against those who struggled to follow the rules. The kids who ruin it for others are almost always the ones who need the most support. When you punish the whole class for the misdeeds of the few, those students who did nothing wrong will resent those who did. It invites the well-behaved students to mistreat the behaviorally-challenged. When you punish everybody for the actions of a handful of students, you shouldn’t act surprised when your class gangs up on the handful.

The third reason is parents don’t like them. Some will complain. They will have valid arguments. I usually try to avoid doing things that anger parents because I’m a chicken.The last reason I no longer use whole class punishments is that whenever I made everyone put down their heads or took away everyone’s recess, I felt like a jerk. Which was a pretty good indication that it was the wrong decision.

Why You Should Use Whole Class Punishments

Bill Cecil was the 2003-2004 Michigan Teacher of the Year. He’s a fifth grade teacher in the Lansing area. In his book, Best Year Ever, Cecil makes a compelling argument for whole class punishments. I had given them up by the time I read it, and he didn’t quite cause me to reverse my decision, but his arguments did make me think.  Here’s what he writes:I have the students working together to earn their recess each day. It’s quite simple to earn recess. All they have to do is end the day without two checks on the board. However, if they get two checks in one day, they lose recess and write the rules during that time to refocus on what they as a team need to be doing to be successful.

Cecil justifies:It never fails that someone will say that they weren’t doing anything wrong, and therefore, it’s not fair they lost their recess…I tell them it’s similar to when I used to play soccer. In some games I may be playing great and even score a goal. But if we aren’t playing well as a team and our defense lets up three goals, we still lose. I still lose the game despite my good performance.Cecil’s argument is predicated on three beliefs:

  1. This class is a team, and we will succeed or fail as a team.
  2. Behavior is everyone’s business. If you see someone doing something they shouldn’t, get them to stop because that behavior is going to harm all of us.
  3. This classroom will reflect the real world.

I would add that in addition to Cecil’s soccer analogy, we can find many other examples outside the world of sports.When the housing bubble popped in 2008 it wasn’t just those with bad mortgages who were screwed.Homeowner associations exist because we know that having neighbors who don’t mow their lawns and fly Aryan Nations flags can ruin the whole neighborhood’s property values.The reason you can get a ticket for not wearing a seat belt is because too many people weren’t wearing them.

You might be a great teacher, but if you work with a bunch of idiots, your school is likely to get labeled in a way that damages you just as much as the idiots.In the real world, we are often in this together. Our success or failure hinges on the choices of others, as unfair as that sometimes is. Why should students be protected from this reality? Isn’t one of our jobs to prepare students for life outside of school?

Where you fall on this issue likely comes down to a bigger question: What is the role of school? Should schools reflect society at large? Should they prepare students for the unfairness and harsh realities of the world outside their doors?

Or should schools rise above society and strive for a more idealized version of it? Should schools offer a sanitized experience in the hopes that our students will grow up and change the world for the better?What say you? Are you for, against, or do you fall somewhere in between? Share your thoughts in the comments below or on Facebook.

Note: While I disagree with Cecil on whole class punishments, his book is excellent. It’s especially useful to teachers preparing for a new year.  Buy it here.

Why Student Disrespect Shouldn’t Bother You

I once had a student throw a water bottle at me while shouting something that rhymed with “stuck glue.” I’ve had more than one flash me the middle finger while my back was turned. There have been countless eye rolls in response to what I thought were reasonable requests. If you’re a teacher, part of the job is being on the receiving end of occasional disrespect from students.

It used to bother me. I’d see red. How dare she! How could he? I’ll show her! I’d upbraid the impudent offender in front of the whole class. If a student was going to challenge my authority, I was damned if I was going to let her get away with it. I’d put her in her place. If I didn’t, wasn’t I inviting more of the same?

It was the wrong approach. It often gave the insolent student the very thing he wanted. It raised everyone’s stress level. It ruined my mood and wore me out. It damaged the relationship I had with the student and negatively affected the classroom culture.

There’s a much better way to deal with student disrespect. It starts by changing how you think about it.

It’s Probably Not About You

We teachers tend to be sensitive people, and we sometimes accept too much responsibility for what happens in our rooms. A lot of student misbehavior has little to do with the teacher. When a student mouths off or audibly sighs at a benign request, it’s often the culmination of a series of negative events. You may have provided the spark, but the fuse was already lit.

I sometimes say insensitive things to my wife. It’s rarely the result of something she has said or done. More often, my poor behavior happens as a result of an accumulation of trying circumstances. I had a long day at school. I lost my planning period because of a lack of substitutes. I got stuck behind a tractor on the drive home. I’m hungry because I haven’t eaten a thing since 11:30. The only thing I want to do is eat a can of Pringles and zone out, but my wife wants to tell me about a dream she had last night. So I say something awful like, “I don’t want to hear about your dreams.” I take my frustrations out on her.

Kids are people, too. This also happens to them. Their disrespect, while hurtful and seemingly personal, probably has little to do with you.

 It Might Be About Power

Some students challenge authority as a way of seeking power. All of us, from a very young age, want to feel in control. Children, who are in charge of so little of their lives, sometimes seek to acquire power in disrespectful ways. I used to think I had to win this power struggle. I thought that to win meant I had to put down any threat to my authority. I needed to show the offender, and the whole class, that I was the boss.

Now I know different. There’s another way to win. You can do so without demoralizing students in front of their peers. You can preserve their dignity. You don’t need to emotionally stress out yourself or your class. You do this by doing the very thing we tell students to do when they’re being teased. We tell them to stop showing how much it matters to them. “Just ignore them,” we say. “He’s only doing it because he’s getting a reaction out of you.

There is no reason to show your students that they have the power to affect your emotions. Your students shouldn’t know how to push your buttons, because whenever they try, you ought to react impassively, as if you have no buttons at all. And for the love of all that’s holy, don’t use “I feel” statements. “I feel” statements admit vulnerability. They’re a sign of weakness. They let students know that they have the power to single-handedly affect your feelings.

The message your students receive is simple: You don’t particularly care what they think about you. Act like their words don’t bother you, or even better, don’t act at all. Why would you give a nine-year old (or a fifteen-year old) that much power over you?

Consider the source

For those students whose disrespect is more frequent, stop and consider why. These kids often come from rough home situations where disrespect is prevalent and where they haven’t been taught the proper way to interact with others. By responding in anger, you damage the relationship with the student and make it more likely you’ll get even more disrespect. You turn it into an ongoing battle. You also reinforce the behavior they’re  seeing at home. Instead of responding in kind, as their parents and siblings  do, show them there’s a more mature way to handle disrespect.

What To Do

You’ll need to assess what kind of disrespect you’re receiving. If it’s an anomaly and likely the result of frustration, you might simply smile knowingly, sending the message that you get it. You’ve done the same thing yourself at times. You know how they feel. You might shrug, as if to say, “Oh, well. I’m sorry you feel that way.” Then move on as if it were any other minor transgression.

More often, though, you’re going to send the message that while you personally don’t care about their opinion of you, their disrespect is socially unacceptable. It will lead to future problems. Dispassionately give your predetermined consequence outlined in your classroom expectations. Make it no big deal. Then teach.

Assume they don’t know the right way to act. Even when that’s demonstrably untrue, it’s a more charitable view and will make you more likely to offer patient guidance.Assume the student doesn’t know an acceptable way to express his anger. Model better ways. Explain that there are people in the world (not you, of course) who will get very upset if the student treats them with similar disrespect. People who feel disrespected will be less accommodating. The student will be less likely to get what he wants. And there are some people in the world who respond to jerks by punching them in the face.

Once you’ve taught the student a more appropriate way of responding to others, forgive and forget. We all have our moments. Just ask my wife.