Thursday, September 13, 2012

Chicago Teacher Strike

Being a blog about education, I thought I would share this great article about the Chicago teachers going on strike.  For those of you, here in Connecticut, many of these same problems occur right here in our state.  I think that it is important to view both sides of the story.  Below is an article written by a Chicago teacher, Bobby-Renee Oommen.

For Friends Who Have Been Asking About Why CPS Teachers Are On Strike.

by Bobby-Renee Oommen on Tuesday, September 11, 2012 at 1:33am ·
Let me begin by stating what the OVERWHELMING MAJORITY of my coworkers agree with:
  1. There should be a streamlined process to get rid of genuinely bad teachers.
  2. A longer school day is a GOOD thing (provided some of the issues below have been addressed)
  3. Salary issues have (for the most part) been dealt with.
  4. We are forfeiting our pay, standing outside, and protesting systemic INJUSTICE in Chicago public education- why must urban students be given LESS than their suburban counterparts???
Here are some of the issues (that I deal with on a DAILY basis) that need to be resolved:

1. We need class size reductions: Last year I had 35 8th grade students in a single classroom. This year, I have 33 students and we’re only 4 days into the school year. It is exceptionally difficult to effectively teach when there is such a large class size. In addition, last year I had 2 students who did not speak ANY English, and 4 students who had just come into the country- making the job of teaching that much more difficult. And finally, because I can control a classroom, I am consistently given the students with behavioral problems. Smaller class sizes are a better learning environment for students.

2. We need money for appropriate services for our students:
* My school of 1200 students has ONE school nurse who is only on-site 2 or 3 days per week.
* My school of 1200 students has TWO counselors.
* My school of 1200 students has TWO social workers.
* In general, schools need counselors, social workers, nurses, and other support personnel. 93% of students attending my school come from families living below the poverty line. 32% currently require language services. Simply stated, the support services for the wide range of care these students require are not available.

3. We need Professional Development: EVERY skilled profession allows for its professionals to be continually trained. In fact, the highest performing countries in the world extensively train their teachers throughout the year. CPS increased our school year by TAKING AWAY our days for professional development. We have 5 days of development for the ENTIRE SCHOOL YEAR….and those days have already been used. CPS required that all of those days be used the week before school started. Our teachers were not trained in anything related to our daily teaching practice. We were just informed about the new evaluation system.

4. Address the other REAL issues that must come along with school reform: POVERTY does not just affect one’s material resources, but vastly affects his/her spiritual, emotional, and mental health. If you are not consistently around people who are at/below the poverty line, you have no idea how this affects a person. My school has 93% of students receiving free lunch (a primary indicator of poverty). Parents/families need support systems. Kids need counseling services.

5. Re-evaluate the purpose of standardized testing: Standardized tests can provide some useful information, but should they be a determinant of teacher performance? How does one account for the innumerable variables? Also, creating a culture of over-testing students and heavily weighting standardized tests adversely affects curriculum development and the learning experience.

6. A more well thought out evaluation plan. CPS wants to evaluate teachers on three factors and eventually the following weight system:
a. 50% from Principal Evaluation- Principals received an ONLINE training to try to identify good teaching. That essentially still leaves their evaluations to a large amount of subjective opinion. Why not have the principal go into the class with a trainer from the city, score a teacher, and then identify and talk about discrepancies to account for subjectivity?

b. 40% from Scores on TWO tests:
Test #1: Growth on the MAP test.
Test #2: A performance test that is to be given in November and May. CPS told us last week that the homeroom teacher will grade one of the tests that they will use to then determine our pay. Does that make any sense?
As mentioned previously, there are too many variables that affect a student’s performance on standardized tests. Last year, 3 of my students had their parents incarcerated. Does that not affect a child? Most of my students come from single-parent homes. Does that not affect testing? I had a student last year who thought she was pregnant and a student who was pregnant the year prior to that. Surely, these factors affect test scores.

Let’s try to extend this to the corporate world: Imagine that 40% of your pay would be determined by the performance of your subordinates on a task given to them during ONE hour of ONE day. Forget the rest of the gains/knowledge/contributions you’ve seen them make in your daily interactions with them. Your pay comes down to their performance at one point in time. Oh, let’s also make it unbearably hot in the room they’re testing in. =)

c. 10% on STUDENT feedback- My pay will be determined by the opinions of my students…13 and 14 year olds. Need I say more?

7. Money to pay for more specialized teachers- Not a single teacher I know is against increasing the school day. However, we must be given money to hire specialized teachers. I grew up having gym and Spanish class EVERYDAY. My students get ONE special class PER DAY: Gym twice per week, and Spanish 3 times per week. The newly added time has come with NO funding or resources. I want my students to have a similar educational experience as a suburban student. In addition, the Mayor has said that the longer school day will provide foreign language and art instruction. This is the FIRST year that Spanish has been offered. They will not receive art instruction this year (Art has not been offered in over 3 years).

Mayor Emanuel says he just wants to get students to the starting line. Placing them in schools longer without anything to do with the extra time is not what teachers would say is placing them at the starting line. The students, teachers, and community need resources, specialized teachers, and an intelligent plan for the use of that newly allocated time. Without the funding and resources, the time can easily amount to nothing more than babysitting.

We understand that this is a real inconvenience for parents. We are parents ourselves. However, if these issues are properly addressed and resolved, it could make a difference for generations of students to come. At the very least, we're hoping it will get us started on the road to repairing an incredibly unjust, ineffective, and broken system.

Those are the issues I have. CPS teachers feel free to add. Others, let me know if you have any questions. =)

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Cool Educational Products

Every year the school shopping items get more impressive.  This year is no exception.  From the jumbo erasers to the Lego pencil sharpeners - things are interesting. I was pleasantly shocked to see school items at Old Navy.  They had tin lunch boxes (priced around $5), which I thought was interesting. Very retro! The coolest item was a Lego pencil sharpener I found in the front of the store near the registers while I waited in line. 

Thought I'd share some great coupon codes for school supplies and other neat school ideas. 
Check out great savings on school supplies and use the coupon code below to save big on pencils, paints, etc.
10% Off Back-To-School Products

Use Code: B2SWDSS

Valid Now through September 14, 2012


The other store that was featuring some cool (I checked with tweens and teenagers) school items were Barnes and Noble.  They have these huge erasors with the words - "FOR BIG MISTAKES" on them or other jumbo erasors in the shape of owls, ice cream cones, and more that were approximately the same size as my smartphone.  They also had these neat packs of 5 small highlighters that are scented for only 3.95. The bookmarker pens are a neat idea to have bc you have a pen and a bookmark in one school supply.  The Barnes and Noble that I was at had bookmarker pens with butterflies, days of the week and in primary colors.

Officemax has some great promotions going on and always have a great selection of school supplies including binders and folders.  For Officemax deals check out the links below.

FREE Pencil Case & Snack Tote with $100 purchase.  Code: BTSDEAL
09/02/12 - 09/08/12

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Books About Starting School

I meant to get this posted a few weeks ago but life has been busy. Besides being a mother of three, managing a household and running a company, I am also a writer. So I apologize that I didn’t get this posted sooner but I wanted to make sure that I got my favorite children's books about starting school posted.

 My Favorite Children's Books about Starting School

1. Amanda's First Day of School written and illustrated by Joan Elizabeth Goodman

2. We Like Kindergarten by Clara Cassidy illustrated by Eloise Wilkin

3. Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready For Kindergarten by Joseph Slate illustrated by Ashley Wolff

4. The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn illustrated by Ruth E. Harper and Nancy M. Leak

5. First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg illustrated by Judith Dufour Love

6. First Day of School by Mercer Mayer


I'm pretty sure that every kindergarten classroom has the book "Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten" by Joseph Slate illustrated by Ashley Wolff. If you are unfamiliar with the book, it is an adorable tale about how the teacher sets up her classroom while the kids each prepare for their first day as well. The words rhyme and each letter is represented by an animal. (Adam the alligator, Brenda the beaver, etc.)


Two classics that my parents read to me when I went to Kindergarten (yes I still have them), both by Little Golden Books are: "Amanda's First Day of School" by Joan Elizabeth Goodman; and "We Like Kindergarten" by Clara Cassidy illustrated by Eloise Wilkin. These books are still fantastic today! My daughter was nervous about starting kindergarten tonight. After reading these two books she calmed down. Amanda in "Amanda's First Day of School" is scared when her mom goes to leave but she soon makes friends and learns that kindergarten is a lot of fun. Carol in "We Like Kindergarten" does many of the same things that my daughter knows she will be doing in her class (ie. hang up her coat, paint, read, etc.) and then goes home to be the "teacher" to her little sister, pets and teddy. This comforted my daughter because she saw that other kids are having the same emotions as her and it showed her that she will learn another role to pretend play at home with her little sister.  (Thanks Mom and Dad)


The Kissing Hand was given to my daughter by one of her aunts. (Thank you Auntie Christy!) To be honest, I had never heard of it until she gave it to my daughter, but it has become one of our household favorites. It is about a little raccoon that doesn't want to go to school. He wants to stay home with his mom. His mom kisses the inside of his left hand and tells him to hold it to his cheek to feel her love. A very sweet story. My daughter was begging to stay home with me, so I grabbed this book and she giggled when I read the words and said, "Look he says what I said."


First Day Jitters is an adorable story about how everyone is encouraging this person to start at a new school and that she'll make new friends. You finally see at the end that it is the teacher that is new and anxious about starting at a new school. A very cute lesson for kids to learn that they aren’t the only one’s nervous on a first day.


I have to say that I adore anything by Mercer Mayer. The wording is always right on and the pictures are entertaining yet not overwhelming.

Please feel free to comment on your favorite children's book about school.

On a side note, I just want to say – Good luck to all the kids starting school and to all the teachers that teach them.  May you all have a fantastic school year!  To all the parents that have to say Good Bye to their babies walking into kindergarten – Be proud and teach them to walk with their heads held high.