Saturday, December 3, 2016

Math Rant.

I attended a math conference today, as part of my professional development. Before the last session, all about teaching children fractions, a man made a comment that I've been chewing on all afternoon and evening. He said, "My wife saw all of these capable teachers walking in through the gates of Asilomar, and she wondered why so many kids are not successful with math." There were four of us in the room, when he made this comment. So, I mentioned my previous experience with public school in California.

1) There are relatively few teachers attending this conference, compared to the number of professionals actually teaching math. Let's face it, there are a lot of educators who are not in it to win it. I immediately thought about two teachers at my old school. One refused to use the math materials and curriculum that had been adopted by the school for our use. In fact, her books weren't even unboxed. I'm not sure what she was doing for math instruction, and the lackluster principal wasn't sure either, but didn't do anything about it. Another teacher, refused to use those materials, and was continually provided funds to purchase his own math materials. There was an additional teacher on my team who could barely make it to work each day, let alone provide effective instruction. No one was held to any standard in regards to instruction.

2) My old school district wasted hours and hours of our time in staff meetings. Teachers would all be using "Words with Friends", only playing a passive role in discussions about the school. There were disastrous collaborative meetings each week. That time could have been used to plan valuable activities for students, but was not. The district would bring in speakers for our professional development, instead of sending us out. These were meetings with huge numbers of teachers, and they were usually taught by people from the County Office of Education. They were taught in lecture form, with no one actually paying much attention. Teachers were not treated like professionals. It felt like we were being punished, and were not actually expected to improve our skills. I always felt offended that I was being treated like an employee who didn't care about getting better at my job.

3) Money for professional development was squandered and spent elsewhere at my old district. It was  important to have a fancy new high school, a state of the art football stadium, and more technology. But, it wasn't important to spend money on things that directly affected students. Professional development has a huge impact on instruction. It also motivates and excites teachers, getting them to try new strategies and routines.

4) And, while we're at it, there was no money for field trips either. That's just a side note. The money man at the school district was fired for misplacing funds. But, the superintendent was somehow protected from his malfeasance, although she was his direct supervisor. The County Office of Education came in and took over the financial management of the district.

5) My school had a gifted and talented program. The district couldn't fill this separate program, so they just started letting families "self-identify" their children for the program. Students had to be English speakers in order to be allowed into the program. Basically, it created a racially segregated school with two tracks. Guess which track had more effective math instruction? Guess which track had parent involvement? Guess which track had all of the struggling and resource students? How can students learn from each other, when no one in the class is proficient? No peer role models makes a weak class. Kids can't collaborate effectively or learn from each other. Year after year, kids made little improvement. So, the GATE students scored high on the state test, while the struggling students failed. Because there were more strugglers, than GATE students, our school was constantly failing. If the segregation of students had ended, I'm sure that the scores of ALL students would have improved. Most of the GATE students were actually just grade level students.

6) My school had a resource services director that didn't want to increase her case load, and so set quotas on students that could receive testing. She also only wanted to work on IEPs during her day. So, she rarely actually taught kids. Luckily, there were some marvelous aides at the school. They would deliver services both in and outside of the classroom. One aide in particular, was great with math instruction. I watched her teach a severely learning disabled student to learn to count to 100. She worked on it with him over and over, until he had reached mastery. Such patience.

I feel so blessed to have moved to a parent participation charter school. Students work hard. Parents participate in the learning process. Students complete homework assignments, and if parents feel it's necessary, they seek help and tutoring. I receive emails about assignments. All three parts of the caring equation are in place: the parents, the student, and the teacher. And, our resource staff is fabulous. They really are involved. The school is small, so each student is known and valued.

The public school system could invest in more effective professional development. All teachers should be able to attend conferences like I attended today. Our students are worth the expenditure in time and effort.

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