Sunday, November 23, 2008

BKHS votes no to performance pay pilot.

Being that it's my first year in a union, I'm still trying to figure out how I feel about many of the professional issues on my hands. Two weeks ago, we had a meeting where we needed to take a union vote about whether or not to participate in a pilot program that would line our pockets if our school passes its performance report card (read: based on Regents test scores). What would I do with $3,000 in my classroom? A lot. But I didn't want to jump on that overloaded bandwagon without considering what this means beyond a bonus. At what cost? Where is the money for this program coming from? Is this the beginning of performance and merit-based pay in the NYC public schools?

So, I took a step back and listened to some of my colleagues weigh the pros and cons. I don't agree with high stakes testing being the be-all-end-all definition of a student's success. I also don't like the divide-and-conquer methodology that I foresee happening within a school if teachers are being paid different levels based on student performance. I think about how money can change friendships, and also working relationships. The students who need the most assistance with reading, writing, and thinking skills will not get the best teachers, because they will most likely be teaching the honors students. I don't disagree with incentivizing teachers who do good work, but standardized tests were not meant to measure a teacher's ability, only what a student knows at a snapshot in time... and they do this insufficiently. Why should funding be tied to these scores?

We seriously debated this vote for quite some time, and are currently the only school offered to be in the program who voted no. We are saying, with this vote, that we are philosophically and pedagogically opposed to merit-based pay. We learned that the money for this program is being drawn from public funding, we were very concerned about the allocation of public funds for this pilot. We would like to have meaningful, holistic assessments of our progress as educators, and of our students' work, in the interest of learning how to refine our practice, not in the interest of being paid for it.

I'll say it again: BK was the only school offered this program who declined the money, which really concerns me.

It feels amazing to be working at a school where my colleagues are concerned about vision, about in-the-long-run. It also feels great to have a community where we want to discuss these issues and decide collectively how they affect us. It can get lonely in the classroom sometimes, so it's incredible to be a part of a place like this.


Saturday, November 8, 2008

yes! i have some advice!

i feel very confident this afternoon, as i devulge this small secret. sometimes i wonder, when writing, if any of my trials and tribulations are helping other people. but this will. we'll call this one: documentation.

background: in new york, we have external evaluators who come visit twice a year for the School Quality Review (SQR). when they enter our classrooms, we are to have our unit plan and lesson plans in a folder ready for them, and a binder with unit overviews, lessons, worksheets, student work. so that means at our department meeting this week, we were reviewing binders.

now, we did an e-portfolio at u of m, which was amazing for portability and ability to share our work, but i have to say, i am obsessed with paper documentation. i love clear plastic sleeves that go into binders and preserve my work, and my students' revisions of my ideas. they work and i realize what i could've done better. i try to improve it each time.

so, my advice to you is this: alongside your e-portfolio, save copies of your work. photocopy student work, start now! put it in a big box until you are ready to sort it. one rainy day, raid an office supply store near you for binders, clear sleeves, dividers, markers and your big box o' work. make sure you have a resume, teaching philosophy, model lessons and accomplishments you're proud of within your teaching career. bring this binder around with you to job interviews. many school districts in the country require you to keep your work, record your practice, in this way. if you can talk about it and show examples, you make an impression.

video is wonderful, but i do not have the luxury this year. however, i can control how i'm represented on paper, i know how to highlight and sell myself. having a colorful, aesthetically pleasing portfolio chock full of what i believe about teaching and how it's worked, this is better than a photo album (though my kids' photos are all over it!). it's great documentation and it's also organizing yourself for the next time you teach a unit. you'll always revise and change things, but you have a foundation to build from.

yay! my first piece of advice to new teachers! i feel weathered already. happy fall day to you.