The Hidden Education Crisis and a Missed Opportunity for Arizona to Improve

This blog struck a chord with my fellow educators on Facebook and Twitter.  There were stories of 56 absences from a first grader and of high schoolers getting signed out for lunch and not coming back for the rest of the day.  There were feelings of anger at districts and administration for placing blame on teachers and not doing more to help.  There was anger directed at parents for contributing to the problem and not being held accountable.  There was a call for social workers and truancy officers.

The Arizona Department of Education missed a big opportunity to help solve this crisis in our ESSA state plan.  It is my hope that our new Superintendent of Public Instruction will put some low-cost, research-based, easy-to-implement strategies in place through the state plan.  Read more on the Educators for Higher Standards blog.

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Trust, but Verify

The Arizona Legislative session began this week.  The Governor’s budget comes out today.  Read my latest blog on Stories from School to hear my philosophy on how to deal with policymakers this year.

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The Other Opportunity Cost of Teaching

This blog post is a raw one…so raw I wrote the bulk of it a year ago and tabled it because it felt like I was too close to the situation.  It was ready to reveal itself after some editing (thanks, Don), time and distance.

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Since this is my own space, I’ll share some extra detail.  Last year was a particularly difficult year in (then) eighteen years of classroom teaching.

The needs of the vast majority of my 90 students were so intense, I was utterly overwhelmed.  Their reading levels were multiple grade levels below where they should be, they had no willingness to engage in respectful communication with each other or with their peers, and many of them needed serious help for their many ACEs, far beyond what can be expected of a classroom teacher.  I struggled with basic classroom management as if I were a beginning teacher, not a veteran.  Every day was a challenge and I searched high and low for each tiny spark of a bright light.

My student teacher, a long-time decorated military veteran, quit one day, explaining to me in tears that fighting in a combat zone was easier than teaching at my school (I did eventually convince him to stay but it took all my powers of persuasion and the reminder of his proximity to graduation).

Over the months, my stress level soared and took its toll on my body.  I suffered a total physical breakdown that rendered me unable to walk for a week.  My mental health deteriorated until eventually I learned to cope by becoming absent and detached – burnout.

Today, I pass those students on the playground each day as I walk this year’s crop of students to lunch.  At the beginning of the year, I would see them and immediately my heart would race, my muscles clench, and I would feel nauseous.  Over time, the feelings lessened.  Guilt overtook as students came up for hugs and hellos and I begin to realize how far I removed myself from them.  Was it self-preservation? A mild form of PTSD?Trauma?  I don’t know but I’m glad I came out the other side.  This year has been like a gift…a fresh start.

Read the full post on the Stories from School site here.

 

 

A Student of My Students First

I recently reflected on the importance of knowing my students well after a dreaded conversation with my principal.

I’m reading Raquel Rios’s Teacher Agency for Equity: A Framework for Conscientious Engagement.  The book has caused me to question ways in which we attempt to build equity in education.  But no matter what I ponder, I know nothing is accomplished without relationships.  Rios said, “Teaching and learning is an act of truth and authenticity in relationships is required for it to work. It is ritualistic and ceremonial at times but it is also organic and improvised. It is a skill and also an art, it is a science and an act of faith” (p.5). Building relationships with students are all those things.  Read the blog on the Stories from School blog here.

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After that, read Susan Collin’s blog about the difficulty of learning names as an elementary specialist here.

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HELPING STUDENTS ACCESS COMPLEX TEXTS IN ALIGNED LESSONS

I struggle with the lack of aligned curricular resources to meet our students’ needs in reading, particularly our struggling readers. And engaging pre-teens in a text that is more than 200 years old is always a unique challenge!  Here’s how I help my students access complex text, like the Preamble, by adding access points for all students.  Check out my strategies on the Educators for Higher Standards blog here.

 

History Has Its Eyes on You

If you know me in real life, you know I have a *bit* of an obsession with the musical Hamilton.  As in, I regularly perform a one-woman show while driving around the city of Surprise, I’ve seen it live twice (so far) and the call and response in my classroom is: Me: “The code word is Rochambeau, dig me?”  Students: “Rochambeau!”  Me: “You have your orders, now go, man, go!”

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If you’re #Hamfam, you might get it.  If not, I might seem a little off to you, but the combination of history and musical theater just really gets me every time I hear it (which is often).

My friend and fellow NBCT, Susan Collins, find inspiration in the lessons from the Founding Fathers and share part one of a two-part blog post on the Stories from School blog here.

 

Guest Blog: Teachers Can Move, Too!

Today on the blog, I welcome Kristin Cox.  I was lucky to meet Kristin through my district’s National Board Candidate Support classes and work with Kristin as a candidate.  I love talking about teaching (teacher nerd alert!) but there is something truly magical about talking with Kristin about her students.  I’m proud to know this #amAZingNBCT and that she has thoughts to share on the important issue of teacher certification.

I recently read an article titled “Here’s a low-cost strategy that could help address teacher shortages” that discussed one solution to the teacher shortage in some states is greater certification reciprocity. I said, “YES! That! Exactly that!” The article brought to the surface all of the residual feelings I have about pursuing certification across state lines when I moved to Texas in 2006 and moved back to Arizona in 2013: excitement about starting something new, fear about my ability to actually be able to certify and frustration with the process.

 

Although I had nine years of experience as a special education teacher, when I moved to Texas I had to start from scratch for certification.  I submitted everything for a “review of credentials” but Texas doesn’t have reciprocity with Arizona so I had to test in Texas. And each test required a fee. I had to take both Pedagogy & Professional Responsibilities and Special Education.  

Silly me thought I would stay in Texas forever so I let my Arizona certification lapse.  But life changes and in 2013 I wanted to move back home. I flew to Phoenix and stood in the Arizona Department of Education office. I showed them all of my paperwork from Texas and Arizona and they informed me that I would have to start over.   So with 16 years of experience and current Texas certification I had to take Elementary Education I: English Language Arts, Social Studies and Elementary Education II: Mathematics, Science, Unified Arts as well as Special Education.  On top of that, the special education licensing requirements had changed, so I had to gather additional documentation for proof that I had taught students with severe and multiple disabilities in order to re-certify in that specialized area, even though I had been fully certified when I taught it my first two years in Arizona.

 

I began to speak to others about my passion for this issue and one person brought up the objection that Arizona is already bleeding teachers and making licensure easier across state lines would mean losing more teachers to bordering, states while allowing teachers to continue to live in their Arizona communities.   But this has been happening for years already. When I taught in Bullhead City in 2005-06 teachers were leaving to teach across the river because Clark County schools (Vegas and Laughlin) paid so much better, it was worth the hassle of re-certifying.

 

Another teacher brought up the fact that there are different rules for different states.  While this is true, good teaching is good teaching! The tests I took were not about state rules, they were about what test was preferred by which state.  The testing content was comparable and after teaching nine years and then sixteen years they were not difficult for me. Just a hoop, a very pricey hoop.

 

I would like us to consider this as one solution, reciprocity for National Board Certified Teachers.  Contact the State School Board and inform them that this could be a path for accomplished teachers to come to our state.  National Board Certification is a voluntary advanced professional certification for PreK-12 educators which identifies teaching excellence through a performance based, peer-reviewed assessment.  To be eligible to pursue certification you must possess a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution, have completed three years of successful teaching, and hold a valid state teaching license for those three years of teaching.  There are already National Board Certified Teachers in every state. These teachers are recognized as experts and should not have to jump through expensive hoops to be able to provide accomplished teaching in other states.  Our student population is highly mobile, shouldn’t we as teachers be allowed to move also?

 

Bio:

Kristin Cox is a National Board Certified (ENS-ECYA) Special Education Teacher with more than 20 years of experience working with children with disabilities in a variety of settings including self-contained classrooms, resource, inclusion, Deaf Education, itinerant and ECI birth to 3 programs.  Kristin earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Special Education from Northern Arizona University and her Master’s Degree in Deaf Education from the University of Arizona. She currently teaches medically fragile students in 3-8 grades who use Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC) devices for communication and academics.

 

Hello, World!

I’ve been busy knee-deep in testing season and preparing for my proposal defense, but my heart has been lifted by my Arizona teacher and parent community coming together to advocate for our students through the #redfored movement.  Please read my latest blog post on Stories From School here.

Revising Results-Based Funding

Hello there!  You may have been wondering why the long wait between my posts…I blame my doctoral program.  However, I have been regularly blogging on the Stories from School Arizona site.  Check out my latest blog with thoughts on what is wrong with Arizona’s current results-based funding formula and what better policy would be here.