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Why We Need Men Teachers

The U.S. Bureau of Labor reports that men are entering the teaching ranks in lower numbers than they were just five years ago.  The question is why.

Some experts argue that a major reason men are avoiding teaching is that it is no longer a highly respected profession.  A group of researchers and former elementary teachers in Vancouver last month for the American Education Research Association’s annual conference suggest that dwindling prestige and bias against men working with young children are the two main factors in men’s lower numbers.  

Of course, small numbers of men in preschool and elementary school are nothing new.  Men teachers make up only 2.3% of kindergarten
teachers, a drop of .4%.  Men currently make up 18.3% of elementary and middle school teachers, a drop of .8%.  At the high school level, 42% of teachers are men, down from 43.1% in 2007.

Researchers also suggest that the recession has contributed to men deciding not to enter the profession in light of layoffs and reductions in force, especially on the basis of last in, first out.  Growing educational debt for a career that is no longer secure might also be a contributing factor for both genders.

Maleteacher_1247146cHistorically speaking, as the prestige of a career drops, women are more likely to rise to the top positions.  In fact, even before the recession and teacher bashing as a national pastime, the percentage of women principals increased from 41 to 56% in elementary schools from 1994 to 2004 in elementary schools and from 14-26% in secondary schools during the same ten-year period.  Still, when you consider that men make up less than 20% of elementary teachers, they manage to make up 44% of elementary principalships.  Just 12 of the 50 largest school districts have women superintendents, according to the Kennedy School Review, and only 17 states have female education commissioners.  And there have been only two female U.S. secretaries of education.  So even with fewer men, gender equity in leadership positions hasn’t been reached.

The point of all of these statistics is not to once again point our the gender gap in education, but to note that kids need both men and women teachers and both men and women administrators. Beating up on the profession isn’t going to attract our best and brightest men or women.  Kids lose out when they don’t have the opportunity to see men as well as women read, write, ask questions, laugh, and be kind. The problem isn't just ours; the London Telegraph reports similar reductions in the number of male teachers.  Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, says,  “There's a danger that boys could grow up thinking that education is sissy. When it comes to reading, they might be offered what appeals to the female teachers whereas male teachers often have different interests in reading."  Whether you agree with Proffesor Smithers or not, it's clear that as we continue this downward spiral of poorly planned reform, fewer men entering the profession is just one more negative and unexpected side effect.

On another (but similar) note, a couple days ago I wrote about our national need to stop painting all of our schools as failures and to recognize that we do many things very well.  Let me give a shout-out today to Megg Barss and her fellow seniors at Goffstown High School in New Hampshire.  The students interviewed me as part of a documentary they are working on about whether today’s students have developed a sense of entitlement.  I’ll be interested in seeing the results of their work.


Charter Schools VS Our National Interest

Tingley-021 colorShe was one of those parents who were never happy.  She was in my office at least once a week to complain about one thing or another.  I worked hard to be courteous, polite, even, on a good day, patient.  Then one day, enough was enough.  When she threatened for the umpteenth time to go directly to the school board to complain about me, I only had one response: “Bring it on.”

Well, that’s where I am with would-be reformers with their blanket condemnations of all of our schools and their foolish ideas for improvement.

What set me off is Mitt Romney, who in an address to the Latino Coalition’s annual economic summit in Washington, D.C. last week labeled our U.S. educational system a failure.  Really, Governor Romney?  Really?

Are we talking about the same school system that educated millions of immigrants when they arrived on our shores in the early 20th century, unable to even speak the language?  Are we talking about the GI bill that allowed millions of veterans to return to school and make a decent living?  Are we talking about our sweeping land grant colleges that provide an education for millions of kids with no means to paying private college tuitions?  Or are we talking about the thousands of schools across the country that are providing our kids with not only the basics, but also enrichment, character education, technology, sports, guidance, and remediation?  A place to go after school and before school.  Breakfast and lunch that meet nutritional standards and may be offered for free or reduced prices.  Community colleges that are affordable.

Are there problems?  Yes.  Let’s take special education for example.  IDEA has never been fully funded, yet the incidence of kids with special needs has steadily increased.

The candidate has a plan. “I will expand school choice in an unprecedented way, “ he says, so that students will be able to carry with them IDEA allotments to other schools supposedly eager to accept them.  It seems doubtful to me that charter schools will be excited about accepting kids with who come with nurses, aides, special behavior plans, and time-out rooms, even when they bring an IDEA check with Schoolhouse them.  My guess is that those children will remain in their public schools while charters do what they already do:  deftly pick and choose whom they admit.

How about the problems we see in big city schools:  Immigrant populations, low income households, reduction of state and federal aid, crime, increases in special needs.  What’s the ready solution for those schools?

The presumed presidential candidate, who never spent a minute in anything like those schools, says that “too many of our kids are trapped in schools that are failing or that simply don’t meet their needs.”  “Too many” suggests there might be an acceptable number of kids to trap, but “doesn’t meet their needs” is a little more amorphous.  Only soccer is offered and not football?  Not enough AP exams? Textbooks and technology need to be current?  Or bathrooms and halls are unsafe?

Columnist E.J. Dionne, Jr. in a thoughtful opinion piece in last Sunday’s Washington Post, observes, “Romney is simply following the lead of Republicans in Congress who have abandoned American conservatism’s most attractive features:  prudence, caution, and a sense that change should be gradual.  But most important, conservatism used to care passionately about fostering community, and it no longer does.”

Early conservatives like Alexander Hamilton and Henry Clay, Dionne writes, believed that the federal government was responsible for the common good, which included support of public schooling. Dionne cites other conservative support for public programs throughout our history like Robert Taft’s federal support for housing, Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America” that involved a community working together, and even George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind legislation that focused on the role of public schools for the general good, rather than dismantling them and disbursing funds to privateers.

Dionne believes that this current iteration of conservatism perverts and diminishes what the philosophy once was by abandoning a concern for the general welfare and embracing individual success at the expense of the whole.  So I say, bring it on.  The strength of our country lies in a robust and ever improving national education system.  There is certainly room for all kinds of private educational endeavors, but our national energy must focus on improving the opportunities our public schools provide. When the pandering is over, we can focus once more on continuous growth of our schools as a national treasure.


Another Downside of Testing: Poorer Teachers in K-2?

New research suggests that a side effect of high stakes testing is that better teachers are assigned to upper elementary grades (3-6) and less effective teachers are assigned to the primary grades (K-2).   

In a new working paper presented by Duke University researchers Sarah C. Fuller and Helen F. Ladd and funded by the Calder Center, the researchers note that the results of their study are cause for concern.  Other recent studies indicate that children’s experiences in the primary grades are good indicators of later success including college attendance and earning power.  The paper was prepared for the March 2012 meeting of the Association for Education Finance and Policy in Boston. TestTeach

The researchers used data from North Carolina elementary schools and measured teacher quality by credentials including years of experience and teacher licensure test scores.  Fuller and Ladd note that North Carolina has invested heavily in early childhood education programs, but that the positive effects of these programs may dissipate when children enter the early elementary grades with less qualified teachers.

Looking at the data before high stakes testing, the researchers conclude that it is difficult to determine why teachers were assigned to various grade levels.  Teacher preference, teacher availability, hiring practices and principal preferences were all part of the assignment formula, but no clear conclusions can be drawn.  After high stakes testing, however, the researchers conclude that principals may strategically place stronger teachers in the upper grades where students are tested.

Review of research in both New York and Florida after the introduction of high stakes testing concurs with the results that Fuller and Ladd found in North Carolina.  In New York, researchers found that high ability fourth grade teachers stayed in fourth grade and new teachers hired to teach fourth grade tended to be highly qualified.  In Florida, researchers found principals explicitly describing moving ineffective teachers from grades with tests to grades without tests.

Fuller and Ladd certainly raise some disturbing points.  The question that remains unanswered for me, however, is how principals expect students to catch up in grades three and four after lower quality instruction in grades K-2.  More importantly, how does it happen that principals fail to recognize how important it is to have your best teachers in the early grades where learning habits, attitudes towards school, and READING INSTRUCTION are key?  Quality learning experiences in the primary grades would guarantee success on high stakes tests, but more importantly, they would improve a child’s chances to succeed in life. 

The entire paper (“School Based Accountability and the Distribution of Teacher Quality Among Grades in Elementary School”) is worth a look.  Another example of how high states testing drives instruction at the expense of kids’ education.  Oh, and by the way, third graders here in Virginia just finished two weeks – TWO WEEKS – of testing.  Two weeks of lost instructional time.









Principals: Act As If Your Child Is the Target

Tingley-021 colorA trio of third grade girls spent the last couple of weeks picking on a classmate until the child’s parents came in and spoke to the teacher.  Here’s what the teacher didn’t say:  “Kids will be kids.”  “It’s hard to see everything.” “Sometimes he brings it on himself.”

Instead, she took the complaint seriously and set out to correct the problem.

She met with each girl and talked to each parent. Each girl wrote a letter of apology to the student and to his parents.  The teacher didn’t threaten or bully the girls herself, but she made it clear she wouldn’t tolerate that kind of behavior in her classroom. 

Perhaps I was especially struck by the teacher’s assertive actions because I had just seen Bully – it finally came to a theater near me as they say. I was prepared for the sadness and for the pain that bullied kids and their families go through.  But I have to tell you, I was completely unprepared for the fury I felt as I watched various school officials patronize parents, ignore their pleas to protect their children, and pretend that bullying is just a part of daily life in school – so get over it.

At the middle school, maybe the toughest part of any kid’s education, the assistant principal is clueless and condescending.  It was tough enough to watch her cajole a boy into shaking hands with another boy who had been bullying him with impunity.  What left me talking out loud in the theatre, however, was her callous treatment of a boy’s humble parents who come to see her about the harassment of their child on the bus.  Like a slick used car salesman, the principal tries to sell the parents a line about how she’s ridden that very bus and the kids were “angels.”  No kidding.  She’ll look into it, she promises them, but hey, take a look at the pictures of my new grandchild! Principals_reasons

Later a hard eyed woman assigned to handle discipline problems listens while the boy perpetually targeted by bullies softly and diffidently accuses her of not doing anything.  “How do you know I didn’t do anything?” she retorts.  “I talked to him and he stopped [sitting on the boy’s head on the bus].”

“Yeah, but now he does other things,” the boy responds.  The woman sighs as if this is such a big burden for HER to deal with. (Eventually the filmmakers had to stop filming on the bus and intervene, telling the parents how badly their child was being treated.)

From these two school officials to the superintendent who insists that bullying is not a problem in her district– at least not more than anywhere else – it’s clear that the adults in schools who could actually do something about bullying choose to ignore it.  Even when a child in her district commits suicide as a result of bullying, the superintendent stands by her assessment that it’s just part of life in school.

In my own career in education I’ve heard school officials give parents the same runaround when it comes to bullying.  Kids will be kids.  It’s just part of growing up.  He didn’t really mean it.  We can’t see everything.  He sometimes brings it on himself. 

I can feel my blood pressure rise as I write this.  It’s all nonsense.

Every kid has the right to go to school in a safe environment.  Adults can do something if they choose to.  They can educate kids about bullying and make sure they know that there are consequences to bullying behavior – and then follow through.  I am positive that if the grandchild of the assistant middle school principal in the film were being bullied, there would be hell to pay. 

So hats off to the third grade teacher in real life who understands that part of her job is to make sure that kids respect one another.  If it’s ignored in elementary school, bullying flourishes in middle and high school.  Principals need to act as if it’s their personal child that’s the target.


Administrators Are Supposed to Supervise Teachers

Every time I hear about irresponsible teacher behavior in the classroom, my first thought is, “What was he/she thinking?”

My second thought is, “That behavior certainly doesn’t do the profession any favors.  Thanks a lot.”

My third thought is this: “The only way stuff like this happens is if the teacher is pretty sure no administrator is going to pop in on her classroom just to see what’s going on any given day.”

This time it’s a high school science teacher at Zepherhills High School near Tampa Bay, Florida.  According to the Tampa Bay Times, Laurie Bailey-Cutkomp, 47, decided to show the Pixar movie “Up” the Friday before the April spring break and the Monday after spring break because she thought attendance might be low.  So even though the movie has nothing to do with the subject she’s paid to teach, she wasted two days of instruction, supporting the absent students’ claims that “we’re not doing anything anyway.” But that wasn’t actually the problem.

Cone of shameIn the movie, the dog has to wear a large plastic collar used to keep dogs from licking themselves after surgery.  In the movie it’s called “the cone of shame.”  Ms. Bailey-Cutkomp wanted to “redirect” behavior among some of her ninth graders, so she thought putting dog collars like this on at least 8 of her students over a two-day period in April was a great idea.

Of course, when her principal came in and saw the collars … oh, wait!  That never happened.  School officials discovered the problem when students took pictures of kids wearing the collars and published them on Facebook.  The teacher stopped making kids wear the collar when she learned that a mother had complained about it on Facebook.  So it turns out that no administrator ever had to leave his or her office to find out what was happening in Bailey-Curkomp’s classroom.

The superintendent is recommending that Bailey-Cutkomp be fired, and she will meet with the School Board at a date to be announced.  In a letter to the teacher, the superintendent wrote, “You said that you intended for the collar to be ‘innovative’ and ‘related to real world situations,’ but that did not work.” 

I have to wonder if Bailey-Cutkomp’s principal received a similar letter from the superintendent asking how a teacher could show movies for a couple of days and make kids wear dog collars and we learn about it on FACEBOOK?  Supervision isn’t just visiting the classroom a couple times a year for the dog and pony show, folks.  It’s being in the halls, dropping into classrooms, and making sure that everyone knows you spend a lot of time being out and about. 

Bailey-Cutkomp may lose her job and maybe she should.  Board member Steve Luikart, a retired high school assistant principal, said eventually the district would have learned about the incident because “Students talk. Parents make phone calls. The photographs just made it a little quicker.”

Imagine how quick it would have been if her principal had dropped in during his/her daily trek around the school.  


Hijinks and Bullying

Tingley-021 color-1I’ve forgotten more than I remember about high school.  I remember friends, teachers, dances, football games, prom, talking on the phone for hours, parties, plays, broken hearts, saying goodbye.  

I don’t remember leading a pack of friends to hold down another kid who struggled and cried while I cut off his blond hair.  I don’t remember it because I never did it.  If I had, the memory would have stayed with me for the rest of my life as it did for six of the seven students who were involved in this incident almost 50 years ago.  The seventh, Mitt Romney, the leader of the group, says he doesn’t remember it.

Romney admits to “hijinks” and “pranks” as a student in prep school.  At my large public high school we didn’t use the word “hijinks,” but if we did, it would probably be defined as painting the statue on the lawn of our rival high school in our school colors.  A “prank” might have been coughing every time the math teacher said, “Howlever” instead of “however.” What Romney did as a senior in high school was neither of these.  It was bullying, plain and simple. It-Gets-Better-Logo

Here’s the thing, before I get accused of rampant partisanship.  Everybody has done something stupid, even shameful as a youngster.  People change and they mature.  But the candidate’s characterizing this particular incident as “hijinks” that he can’t remember adds little to our schools’ initiatives to eradicate bullying.  It would have taken courage, but admitting to the action, calling it what it was, and urging people to work hard so that things like this don’t happen in schools would have shown real leadership.  Instead, Romney issued a weak apology -- “if there’s anything I said that was offensive to someone, I certainly am sorry for that ….”

Writing in the New Jersey Star Ledger, Carly Rothman sums it up this way:  “In September 2010, after a spate of suicides by young victims of bullying, columnist Dan Savage started the “It Gets Better Project,” which uses user-created videos to let young LGBT people know that no matter what challenges they encounter as teens, they can find happiness and acceptance at some point in adulthood.”

Rothman adds, “Today Mitt Romney sent those same kids a less helpful message:  that the students bullying them without consequences today will still be evading responsibility when they are powerful adults.”



Change You Can Believe In: Title IX

No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.

                                                                                                Title IX, June 23, 1972

For women who finished college before Title IX, the legislation was a game changer, allowing the next generation of women access to a lot of things they didn’t have access to  -- not just sports, but college, scholarships, teamwork, careers.  Our daughters would now have the same opportunities as our sons.  They wouldn’t have to play half-court basketball or pretend lummi sticks or scooter boards were sports equipment.  They wouldn’t have to play on the crappy fields, shower in substandard facilities, or wear hand-me-down uniforms.  They weren’t limited to intramurals instead of interscholastic sports.   They weren’t too fragile or too emotional for competition.  Change like this doesn’t happen overnight, but 40 years later the world is filled with opportunities for young women that were denied their grandmothers and to some extent, their mothers.

Brandy chastainThe cover story of this week’s Sports Illustrated celebrates the 40th birthday of Title IX.  A running timeline shows the landmark legal challenges to the legislation, and the story is filled with examples of what Title IX has meant not only to women’s sports, but to women’s progress in general. Research suggests, for example, that Title IX was a factor in the increased number of women who work full-time, many of them in jobs that used to be reserved for men.  Research also suggests significant social benefits for girls who play sports.  For example:

Girls who play sports in high school are more likely to do well in science classes than girls who don’t.

Girls who play team sports are likely to increase their level of self-esteem.

Girls who play high school sports are more likely to finish college than girls who don’t.

Girls who play high school sports are less likely to use drugs or become pregnant than girls who don’t.

Girls who play sports are less likely to become obese than girls who don’t.

As we look back over 40 years, the challenges to full implementation of Title IX were formidable. Some of them were the result of simple stubbornness and protection of turf; others were the result of sincere confusion about how best to equalize programs between girls and boys.  I sat on the board of our local college as we wrestled with how to fully implement Title IX, and it wasn’t easy even among people committed to the principle.  Some schools and colleges still aren’t fully there.

But it’s hard to argue with the enormous gains women have made thanks to Title IX.  My granddaughters in elementary school would find it hard to believe that there were no sports opportunities for me in high school or college.  That’s fine. Just 10 years after Title IX my daughter played soccer on a team of both boys and girls.  They were losing at half time and the frustrated coach said to the team, “You’re playing like a bunch of girls!”  My daughter said to him calmly, “No, Coach, we’re not that good.”



What’s on YOUR Walls?

Tingley-021 color-1You can tell a lot about a school or a classroom by what you find on the walls.

Last week I visited a local elementary school that felt warm and welcoming as soon as I walked in the door.  Kids’ work is everywhere.  Artwork, stories, and math solutions are posted in the halls, in the cafeteria, and on the classroom walls. Science projects are displayed on tables. In the main office hang a dozen or so framed pictures produced by kids.  “Welcome parents and visitors!” says the big sign by the front door.  “Please stop in our main office before going to classrooms.” It’s an entirely different tone from the usual “Visitors must report to the main office.”

On the other end of the continuum is the classroom of a math teacher I once supervised that had all the warmth of a bus station or an unfinished basement. The walls were completely bare; only office notices were tacked haphazardly to a small bulletin board. On the teacher’s desk were no personal items, not even a note pad, let alone family pictures, yet he’d taught all day in that same room for over 10 years. As it turned out, the room accurately reflected his attitude towards his work:  it was a job, not a profession.

School-walls3Exhibiting kids’ authentic work acknowledges them as partners in learning says Alfie Kohn, who put together a chart called, “What to Look for in a Classroom.”  The chart is divided into two columns:  “Good Signs” and “Possible Reasons to Worry.” While the good signs include kids’ work, reasons to worry include performance charts and lists of rules.  Thankfully, most schools have abandoned the practice of posting kids’ grades, although I still see in some classrooms lists of kids’ names and checks for the number of books they’ve read or math quizzes they’ve passed. 

Some schools allow kids to paint the walls with their own designs or illustrations.  While this idea might leave some administrators aghast, others embrace the idea, buy the paint, and let the kids become muralists.  In one school I allowed the biology students to paint a sea filled with fish and other sea animals (including Sponge Bob) in a stairwell. The library club’s mural depicted some of their favorite characters from literature on the walls near the library.  Each senior class painted the same wall every year with its own design; during the summer the wall was painted over and the next year’s class started fresh.

The walls can talk, and they tell students, faculty, parents, and visitors about your school’s culture -- what it values and celebrates.  Kohn is right; when kids’ work is displayed, they take pride in accomplishment.  It feels like it’s their school, and it is.







To Preread or Not to Preread

“What’s being played out in front of us is a war for the soul of English/language arts.”

Wow!  What are we talking about here?  Book burnings?  Censorship?  Shutting down English/language arts instruction?

Hardly.  It turns out that Alan L. Sitomer, California’s teacher of the year in 2007, was commenting on whether the Common Core standards forbid prereading activities.

Prereading-bookIn a nutshell, the latest raging debate among educators is over how much preparation students need before actually tackling a text on their own.  Those who defend the Common Core standards believe that prereading can shift the focus of instruction from the text itself to other activities somewhat related to the text.  Those who staunchly defend prereading see the activities as levelers and conduits to give students without experience access to the text itself. 

As usual, it’s another fake dichotomy that educators love to set up.

Anyone with any classroom experience can tell you that every successful teacher has a giant bag of strategies that she can choose from depending on the students and the material.  Sometimes it’s best to prepare students for what they’re about to read.  Sometimes it’s best to let kids tackle the reading cold and then come back with real questions.

Still, in general the prereading approach needs to be revised.  I’ve heard second graders complain that by the time they’ve gone over the characters and reviewed all the chapter titles and predicted what the book was about they weren’t too interested in actually reading it.  Teachers sometimes focus too little on the text itself and too much on peripheral activities supposedly designed so that students can “relate” to the text.  Instead of asking,  “Why were Jem, Dill, and Scout so fascinated by Boo Radley?” they ask,  “What would you have done if Boo Radley carved a doll that looked like you?”  Teachers sell kids short when they think they can’t read, understand, and even thoroughly enjoy a book about something they have never actually experienced – Into Thin Air, for example.  Besides, kids, it’s really not all about you.

I am a reader who never reads the preface until I finish the book.  That’s when I care what it says and hope that it adds to my understanding of the text.  I know kids like that. 

But there are other kids who need some help – scaffolding, as they say.  Like the kid who was assigned Drums Along the Mohawk in paperback – no prereading.  As he finished each page, he ripped it out and threw it away.  Maybe he could have used a little help.

In the end, we want kids to be able to read and understand text by themselves.  We’re trying to develop independent readers.  Reading is no different from all of the other skills we want kids to be able to pursue independently.  We start out with lots of help, and then we slowly withdraw as they are able to handle it themselves. 











Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Practical Leadership are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.