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September 24, 2017

Dear teachers, I owe you an apology

Sorry cat
Posting a cute little kitten meme doesn’t make it all better, but I do hope teachers can forgive me for my prior prejudice.

Dear Teachers,

I owe you an apology.  From the deepest level of my heart, I am so sorry for misjudging you.

This is what happens when a person bases her opinion about a school solely on test scores. This is what happens when a person judges an entire profession based on news stories about a few bad apples. This is what happens when a person believes the so-called education experts’ solutions rather than trusting the men and women who invest their lives in the education and well-being of my children.

I have been guilty of all of the above, and I ask for your forgiveness.

My epiphany came last week when I made a Facebook post about my fifth-grade son’s problems with math. He’s had difficulty since third grade, which coincides with when Texas, as well as virtually every other state in the country, adopted the education experts’ “conceptual math,” a teaching method that shuns memorization of math facts and promotes multi-step “strategies” to solve math problems. Several of my teacher friends blasted the new method.  My friend April, a third grade teacher in Tennessee, confessed she desperately wants to teach her class using the tried and true methods that have worked during her 20-year teaching career, but she is prohibited from doing so by the state.  She candidly told me teachers are not allowed to speak out against the new material, especially with students’ parents.

April and other veteran teachers I’ve talked to say student comprehension has not improved under any of the new methods, and Common Core is making things worse. They vigorously dispute U.S.  Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s assertion that “their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.” The kids and teachers are not the problem; the constant revamping of education by inexperienced experts is the problem.

Principals are also held hostage by the revamping problem. Earlier this year I attended a parent meeting about our elementary school’s curriculum and was told how the experts have determined these new techniques would be better for public school students. The teaching techniques, especially with math, were radically different from what my daughter experienced just three years earlier.  In exasperation, I blurted, “Why are we changing things every few years? Has there ever been a time when these experts thought public education worked?” The principal gave me a sympathetic smile. She wanted to respond, but couldn’t. I felt her pain.

Why do we keep trying to fix public education with new teaching models and testing? Why can’t we return to the teaching methods that worked for us, our parents and grandparents?  Long before reform became a buzzword, America’s public schools have been educating our nation’s scientists, engineers, teachers, economists, physicians and other degreed professionals. They’ve also educated our entrepreneurs, technology pioneers, farmers, mechanics, nurses and countless other Americans who contribute to making our society great. I believe they still do a good job, and they could do better if more parents gave a flip about their kids and the so-called experts got out of the teachers’ way.

April, like thousands of other teachers, has spent more time with 9-year-olds than a Teach for America volunteer or education reformers like Bill Gates. She knows what works. She teaches them reading, math, social studies and science. She provides books and supplies for kids who can’t afford them, spends her free time trying to engage busy or apathetic parents, comforts children when they are sad, and serves as their primary source of encouragement, and sometimes, discipline.  What would help improve education for April’s students? It’s not multi-billion dollar testing or new teaching models; it’s parental involvement.  A teacher cannot encourage a love for learning if the child’s parents treat education with disdain or indifference. Parents, not bureaucrats, need to be actively involved in their child’s life by reading with them, helping with homework, supporting teachers’ discipline efforts, and stressing the importance of learning.

Teachers, I don’t expect you to do this alone. You can’t. You need my help, and I need yours. You also deserve some gratitude for a job that often gets you more criticism than praise. Thank you for caring about my kids. I know you would do anything to protect them from harm, and I know their tears hurt you as much as they hurt me. Thank you for the emails and calls to update me on how they’re doing.  I know you want to keep me involved in the process. Thank you for inspiring them to be better people. I know you see their potential.

I want you to know that I have your back. You may not be able to speak out about things like Common Core or other curriculum issues, but I can. I will be loud and persistent because you are valuable, and I don’t want to see you run off because of ridiculous regulations and self-righteous reformers who have never been in a classroom. I recognize I am the worst PTA fundraising and party-planning mom, but I promise to be a great butt-kicking mom who will fight for things that will make our educational system better for you and my children.

I know you want what’s best for the kids, and I’m sorry for not standing up for you sooner.

Sincerely,

Kim

P.S. –   I am a product of our nation’s public schools.

_________________________________________________________________________

Parent tutorial: What is conceptual math?
This is not the math you learned during elementary school. The old time-tested methods for long division, borrowing and carrying are no longer used. In their place are tactics such as partial products for multiplication and magic seven for division. Students can no longer provide an answer; they must also show their work and explain the strategy they used to get it.  The techniques work for some students, but the multiple steps can cause great frustration for others and can make it nearly impossible for parents to help with homework.


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23 Comments on Dear teachers, I owe you an apology

  1. I teach at my neighborhood home campus around the corner from my house. My grandchildren and their friends go there. My children went there. Obviously I am very invested in this campus as a TEACHER and PARENT/GRANDPARENT in ensuring these students do well in ALL facets of their educational journeys!

    With that said, my 6th grade grandson is having to learn what has been the 6th math TEKS as well as the 7th grade TEKS due to changes at the state level that dropped 7th TEKS to 6th grade. So two years in one year with a sum total of 45 minutes a day for math. My granddaughter is currently taking pre-Alg as a 7th grader so that she will be able to take Algebra 1 next year as an 8th grader in preparation for applying to the Early-College Campus Program as a 9th grader. So for her this year, she is dealing with already jumping a year in math to 8th grade work which means she is learning 7th and 8th TEKS together but ALSO has an extra year of TEKS due to the 9th grade TEKS being dropped to the 8th grade level. She has a WONDERFUL teacher who busts her butt teaching my granddaughter and her classmates but imagine being that teacher who has to crunch 3 years of TEKS objectives into one school year with, again, only 45 min of class per day!! Her teacher just told me yesterday that my granddaughter didn’t pass STAAR math but that many of her classmates didn’t either. Which is the first year ever she has not passed any of the tests! She felt it was her fault and she was too stupid to get it. And her teacher felt it was HER fault because she didn’t have enough time to cram those three years of instruction one year. Which makes me very angry that a wonderful teacher feels this way and I know, without a doubt, that she is an excellent teacher because we did math tutoring after school together!! The kids now feel bad, the teacher feels bad and I feel VERY ANGRY with the system in general that causes this state of affairs.

    I teach special Ed students with emotional disturbances as well as some with learning disabilities. As others have mentioned here, I see special education students with some serious deficits who are required to take the exact same grade level tests as regular Ed students with some accommodations but they are still totally lost and confused.

    I had some students who acted out due to their ED issues, stomped out the testing room, tried to invalidate test scores by refusing to follow testing protocols and then, upon deciding to test properly, took a 62 question STAAR Math test in ELEVEN MINUTES!

    And the state of Texas says MY TEACHING EVALUATION is tied to that student’s test scores! My friend, the math teacher, her teaching evaluation is tied to test scores of her students who the state TEKS requirements of this year require her to cram 7th, 8th, & 9th TEKS in one year of instruction!! Do we see the wrongness in these scenarios?!

    We love what we do but the state and federal governments and the politicians DO NOT want passionate, engaged teachers working with our students! They want minimum wage hourly workers who teach testing skills and how to use devices to find info for instruction. TEACHING, MENTORING, ROLE-MODELING-it’s all left out of this current national educational agenda!!!

  2. Some New Some Old Some Fun Some Knowledge but for goodness sakes give the Educators these new innovative tools and technology and let them put together the type of curriculum that the students can enjoy their education and the Teacher uses her strengths innovative nature and her joy of sharing her knowledge with the students who become her kids by the end of the year! This is when you have an effective educational system when the True Educational Professionals share their love of knowledge and open the minds of their students to wanting to know more to become curious to stretch their knowledge into other areas and combine in such a way that the light bulb snaps on and that ahhh haaaa moment when it comes together and they know the knowledge and are so excited they say “OH SNAP MISS I *AM* SMART! I guess I should have known you would be right!” Then just grin at me like the world finally made sense! This is what I work so hard for this is why I try new things and yet I am intelligent enough to know that before they can reach that point they have to want it and I have to share my knowledge of FACTS first before they can take all these facts and know them well enough they the know the shape of these puzzle pieces (facts) and stretch their boundaries enough to have thoughts and ideas as well as pull the past present and future together to finally click the pieces together in their own unique way to the point their thought processes are reaching deeper levels of “rigor” than most tests especially if for once the Teachers, you know those professionals who somehow muddled their way through educating our lawyers, judges, Congressmen, Senators, Lt. Governor and Governor and dare I say it….even the Presidents and the Vice Presidents,The FBI personnel and the Military Generals well I guess I could go on and on but they didn’t get where they are today without the TEACHERS! When did they forget this? Was it that one bad teacher they had out of what almost one hundred teachers that impacted their lives in a positive way? Really? I am a Teacher and I had that one teacher that lets face it shouldn’t have been a teacher or…maybe he should have because I learned a life lesson that not everyone is going to help, believe in you, some will even try to hurt you and will succeed if you let them, or when my teacher wouldn’t help me understand how there could possibly be imaginary numbers and infinite numbers and stupid X and Y with brackets braces parenthesis multiplying dividing subtracting and adding these nonexistent infinite imaginary numerical combinations to solve for Z which really didn’t exist either, he just shook out his newspaper and grunted at me that we all couldn’t be President. Well, I decided I was skipping this Algebra Crap but I didn’t give up because I moved from his class to this wonderful teacher who taught me Geometry ( an advanced math class with the Older students) and the joy of finite answers using formulas that used real numbers that did exist and how Geometry explained our world with shapes and depth and height and cubes curves circumference! Which in turn led to a Love of Chemistry and Biology (but not physics because xy and z reappeared and brought their other alphabetical friends who needed their imaginary infinite problems too!) I learned I wasn’t stupid when it came to math I just had a brain that understands facts and finite figures instead of limitless imaginary possibilities.

    Now read what I just said there at the end. I LEARNED I WASNT STUPID WHEN IT CAME TO MATH, I JUST HAD A BRAIN THAT UNDERSTANDS FACTS AND FINITE FIGURES INSTEAD OF LIMITLESS IMAGINARY POSSIBILITIES! We are not all the same, we are all unique and the result of our lives from the day we were born and began to explore this world and life itself. When we reveled in our individuality and our own accomplishments and successes. So why are we trying to shove our children into the same mold as each and every child according to testing results, and what others want them to be. No Child Left Behind….they have been drug kicking and screaming into a world they have no choice over they have no voice to be heard and they are all told they must all reach certain levels of knowledge at the exact same time. Okay how well is that working out for us? They are TIRED OF BEING TESTED TO DEATH AND BEING TOLD TO CONFORM! They know they won’t be failed there are no repercussions for their individual decision to not study and explore nature and take care of siblings parents grandparents with the breakdown of the family unit and part of their life here with these expectations and part over there with no expectations or over there having parental responsibility over children that aren’t theirs they didn’t choose to have but are raising because that is what they had hoped someone would do for them or maybe their grandparents did for them until they became too old to be able to raise yet another family when they should be enjoying the fruits of their labors while young. Or maybe they have never been made to take that “C” home on a report card because they can redo the assignment or test until they master it enough to pass. How many jobs do you know that will let you redo something until you get it right with no repercussions and no lesson learned that you must always try and do your best because hey they could and would make you repeat the grade level as many times as it took! Or that when you went home with that bad grade or your teacher called and said you were disrespectful and your attitude was affecting your grade and there were ACTUAL CONSEQUENCES AT HOME AND AT SCHOOL AND YOU KNEW IT WAS NO ONE ELSES FAULT BUT YOUR OWN AND WE WERE HELD ACCOUNTABLE FOR OUR ACTIONS OUR GRADES AND WE LEARNED RESPECT HAD TO BE EARNED BY US AND WAS TO BE GIVEN TO OUR ELDERS!

    When those we educated give us the respect we deserve and bow to the possibility we can handle all the areas of education and the advances in technology and science and the future is shining with so many possibilities and change. After all they are so smart, educated, knowledgeable and wise as well as so successful because they had so many great teachers and even that one that mean horrible bad teacher had such an effect on them that they say I will show him/her! I may not be President but I will make my own impact on this world and I will leave a legacy behind me either positive or negative depending on the role I am forced to take in that students life, and who knows…..maybe, just maybe, one of my students Will Be The President Of The United States!

    I guess it boils down to the old saying ” either lead or follow it makes no difference to me as long as you get the heck out of my way” and let me do my job that I chose and education I excelled in because of my choice for my Profession and still educate myself to keep up with this exciting ride into the future and all the new technology and inventions that are so amazing. Allow me to do what I trained for, allow me to guide the younger generations to love education and knowledge the way I do so that maybe just maybe I may one day be able to say I raised and taught my legacy, my mark on this world and I even made sure I helped enough to love education enough to want to be the next generation of Professional Educators!

    Sincerely,
    A Teacher Of Future Presidents And Future Educators to Teach the next Presidents

  3. Our school works on facts as well as conceptual math. We have some of the most talented teachers in the world. I believe we need to concentrate on student growth which can be done and has been done in good schools even with standardized tests. There will always be some form of formative and summative testing. The standards will raise on the tests soon and our teachers and students will knock it out of the park. They rock

  4. Nothing is going to get better until Texas legislation start enforcing its own laws about classroom disruption. The disruptive students must go. Ask the average teacher, especially in an urban district 80-90% character education. The state needs to spend money to treat the mentally sick students. They need help! We pay millions for student failure. Wow! If a thing is not working why keep investing in the same manner. I need a job with the state or a district to help these issues around. Teachers need help!
    MW

  5. You cannot teach every child the same way and have them all be successful. Some children can do math problems, even complicated ones, in their heads and making them show their work or do crazy, complicated strategies is unfair and turns them off to math. For those students, you can teach the process and they will make the conceptual connections on their own. For other kids, the processes work initially and they learn their math facts, but they fail later on because they never understood the concept. For those kids, it is important to teach them the concepts because they are not making the connection on their own. Often, that can be done by playing with numbers and letting them draw conclusions about the connections they see. Other times, the processes need to be made visual. In the end, for things to work the way they should, teachers need to know their students and they need to be allowed to teach them without undue interference. One size does not fit all. Also, it would be nice to have people on the Board of Education that understand what is developmentally appropriate for young minds and what can be taught (and taught well) in the time we have. The problem in many cases is that there is a lack of time to teach with depth and context so that learning is meaningful and usable, which is what is required for it to be properly internalized.

  6. I own a small retail store. Whenever a child is present when something is purchased with cash; I expect the child to tell me how much change is due. I write the problem on a piece of paper and give it to them. With very few exceptions they cannot.

    I wait and eventually the adult with the child takes over and shows the child how to get the answer. Some are surprised that their child is unable to do a simple subtraction problem. Others say they have no clue what their child is doing.

    A few years ago I volunteered for a program called “Homework Helpers.” Students were brought to us at a local mall for help. I helped with math.

    I worked with a 4th grade girl whose mother said she was having problems with multiplication. She could do 1 through 6, but got lost after that. I spoke with the girl, she seemed intelligent and eager to learn.

    She knew 5 x 9 was 45, but didn’t know what 9 x 5 was. I did this several times with different combinations. Then had her use small disks to see the problem. Count 45 disks; break them into 9 piles; break them into 5 piles. We did this over and over until she smiled and said “they are the same!”

    That was the breakthrough. Then I asked her about division. She said she wasn’t allowed to do division. So, I taught her how to division using simple Algebra.

    When her mother came back I told her in private that her daughter was very intelligent and a joy to work with. She was doing multiplication and division. Mom looked at me and said, you don’t understand; I’ve been told that my daughter is unable to learn this, she is in special ed! We went back to her daughter and she answered every problem her mother gave her.

    I told her that I started working with her daughter without having been told that she was unable to learn. I formed my impression of her based on our conversation and nothing else. I have my own way of teaching and probably spent more “quality” time with her than some of her teachers. I got lucky and reached her.

    As a teacher I have no problem with specific goals and expectations. My problem is with rigid rules and processes forced on me that may or may not work; so some professor or group can sell their new system and make money.

    Give teachers the tools they need and reasonable goals to meet or exceed. Then get out of their way! As long as their students are learning, enjoying their time in school and meeting standards; how the teacher accomplishes this should be up to him or her.

    • Thank you so much for sharing your story. I am so happy to hear that you are volunteering with such an important program; however, I’m happier that you are finding ways to help kids conquer academic hurdles.

  7. I am thankful for the positive comments. I don’t understand the anti-union swipes. I never thought I needed a union because I’m a good teacher. I left one district and willingly took a huge pay loss. I have a masters degree, constantly have to take more courses and pay for them to keep my teaching certificate valid. At my current pay, my family of 5 would qualify for assistance if my husband was unable to contribute financially. My 3 kids would qualify for free or reduced lunch. My union is needed in this day of anti-teacher. I know unions aren’t perfect, education can be improved, and we can all contribute to helping the children today. Wanting job security and fair evaluations, along with reasonable pay aren’t villan-like union wishes.

  8. I am a third grade teacher, in my ninth year. It’s a second career for me; I am middle aged and was taught via the traditional methods cited above. I agree with almost all the comments and points made except one big one: I do NOT believe the Common Core is the problem. The CC is simply a set of rigorous standards set at a national level, which is not unreasonable. Almost all the countries we keep lagging behind have national standards; why shouldn’t all kids be learning the same basics? Each state has the right to change/add on/ ameliorate the CC to a certain percentage to account for local/state history, preferences etc. I teach in Massachusetts, and the CC was based largely on the very rigorous standards of this trend-setting state.

    In my opinion, the problem lies with all the very rigid “reform.” To say that teachers must all be the same, follow scripted curricula, and never think outside the box is just plain wrong and short-sighted. I am fortunate to teach in a place that still values and permits the expertise of individual teachers. Yes, teachers need training and need to stay in touch with new ideas and developments. But education’s pendulum swings wildly, and the new powers that be, who have little to no experience in the trenches, advocate throwing the baby out with the bath water. Good teaching means using what works, being open to new ideas, and adjusting your instruction for the needs of all students. Give me the CC, or any set of reasonable and rigorous standards. Give me the materials I need, and a reasonable class size. Then let me teach. You will see results.

  9. You are correct – the problem is not the 99.9% of the good teachers – it is Teachers Unions and Greed – as well as Federal Over-reach. It does my heart good to see mainstream parents identifying that there is a problem. It tells me there is hope left. If we allowed our teachers to teach at a local level without State and Federal interference we would be just fine !

    I have been combating Common Core for some time now and have found the root cause to be Progressivism.

    Congrats on your award by the way. Have you considered thanking “The twerker Girl” ? Maybe send her a Full Length Dress or something. Better yet – Emily Posts Miss Manners seems fitting.

    http://nomomrniceguy.wordpress.com/2014/01/02/common-core-vs-the-republic/

    • I’m not sure I’m ready to label it as “progressivism,” but I would definitely label it as a huge mistake.

      As for Ms. Cyrus, I do have to give her credit for launching my career. As an extra bonus, I was able to get attention and make a little money without taking my clothes off! Unfortunately, she and I won’t be meeting for coffee anytime soon. 🙂

  10. Once upon a time, I taught children to read. I used the Dolch or Fry words and completed the process myself working with each student for a few minutes a week. I had taught for many years, so since I had a small class I individualized my program. My assistant principal came to me thrilled. The principal wanted to know what I was doing special in my classroom to make such gains in student reading ability! When I told him, he said, well I cannot tell her that…. 🙁 No, she wants to hear what you are doing with our new reading program and how IT is making a difference. I said, well, then, I guess you will need to make something up. You see, I went outside the box, and going outside the box is no longer encouraged by teachers. Nope, they are supposed to follow the program.

  11. I am in the middle of studying to become a teacher and I wanted to thank you for this. Learning how to teach my students differently than the way I know has been a huge struggle for me and several of my peers in the college of education at my school. Thank you for this. I know I’m not there yet, but one day, I will need to come back to this post to remember that there are people out there who really do support teachers.

    • Jon,

      Thank YOU for working with our children. The only reason I have the stance I do is because teachers have opened up to me and have not recited the NEA or Common Core talking points. (My kids’ teachers could not be that honest with me, but my teacher friends can spill their guts.)

      I know y’all can’t speak out on this stuff for fear of retribution, and I hope this blog tells parents the things you’re dying to say.

  12. you know I was talking to my sister… who is a teacher… and she was talking about a study she read where they tested kids cognitive skills before they went into school… obviously so young it wasn’t a hard test but just understand and the ability to think for themselves… they all scored high… within a few years of school the scores had dropped and continue to drop… there is something wrong with the education system… they don’t allow kids to think for themselves… they don’t want kids to come up with their own answers or to just think outside the box… that’s why little kids can be so creating and full of wonder but as adults we struggle to imagine more than what has been set right in front of us… and it really doesn’t prepare us to well for college either… when I first showed up it felt weird to be able to discuss something… to able to disagree with my teacher… I remember almost failing an english class in high school… not because I wasn’t a good writer… I’ve always made A’s in english and it’s the degree I’m working towards now… but because the teacher didn’t agree with the stance I was taking in my essays… how is that good education…

    and it may not all be the teachers faults though I’ve experience and heard enough about bad ones… but even going back to the old ways isn’t the answer either… we need an open forum… one where kids learn and can grow and aren’t stifled by the structures we’re putting up around them… the old ways include kids sitting in a row being lectured too… being put behind a barrier when they misbehave and which of course keeps them from seeing anything and hinders their learning further… it makes teachers have to teach everyone on the same level and leaving the ones that are behind further behind and the ones that are far outdistancing the others to get bored and oft times act out because of that boredom… change isn’t bad… sometimes people just don’t want to learn the new things… my sister talks about that… teachers that just refuse to learn the new curriculum because they just don’t want to put in the effort… not all the new stuff does work but a lot of it has and has been proven to help if the teachers are willing to give it their all and then some… it is a hard career choice… a lot harder than some realize… some just don’t want to do what it takes to reach every single kid that comes to them… some just want to stand there and lecture and not even care if half the class isn’t getting it…

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