Why So Many Teachers Quit

That’s the title of this LA Times Op-Ed. I purposely haven’t read it so that you can compare Rizga’s reasoning and mine.

Conventional wisdom is that teachers quit because of the modest compensation, but every teacher enters the profession knowing that.

I hypothesize a lot quit because they fail to master classroom management. Absent positive relationships, classroom life is a complete drag. Also, nothing is more stressful than never truly having students’ attention. And absent attention, respect is elusive. Absent mutual respect, joy is inconceivable. What do those who struggle most with classroom management have in common? They usually aren’t comfortable with their authority.

That’s not all. When some teachers conclude they can’t teach as creatively as they want due to over standardization, they leave.

Another variable is true for everyone at whatever their workplace and for everyone in life more generally, teachers want to be appreciated. Teaching is among the most challenging and selfless endeavors a person can undertake, but no teacher that I know is perfectly intrinsically motivated. New teachers can master classroom management and commit long hours to crafting the most creative lessons possible, but if no one—students, families, colleagues, administrators, the “public”—ever truly acknowledges their efforts and demonstrates a modicum of appreciation, their enthusiasm inevitably wanes.

I suspect a significant proportion of teachers quit because of some combination of these three things.

How to fix it? Empower those teachers in each school that are most skilled in the art of classroom management to mentor those just starting out. Refuse to teach to standardized tests. Continually repeat that teaching excellence takes many forms. Show and tell teachers that you appreciate their efforts.

Can You Will Yourself to be More Humble?

Friday I found myself in a day long diversity training workshop. The first of six days spread throughout the academic year.

It was a good experience only in the sense it made me much more empathetic towards teachers who routinely complain about ill-conceived professional development.

Organized in small groups of four, we were repeatedly given two minutes to discuss complex questions and topics that required paragraph-long responses. But since there was only time for a sentence or two, I mentally checked-out. On top of that, the facilitators didn’t provide an overview for the day which proved frustrating.

We did lots of activities, but too often the purposes of each weren’t clear enough. Even more confounding was the fact that the sum of the activities did not equal more than the individual parts.

The whole experience was repeatedly described as a “training”. “Training” works well when talking about labradoodles learning to stop at street corners, but when it comes to human beings and human diversity, it masks the subject’s inherent complexity. In frustration I wrote to myself, “I don’t want to be trained. I would like to be more aware, more understanding, more caring when it comes to colleague’s and students’ whose life experiences are markedly different than my own.”

My biggest problem was thinking I knew more about the subject than the facilitators because I’ve been teaching in culturally diverse settings for most of three decades, I’ve read extensively on multiculturalism, taught multicultural education courses several times, and published essays on the challenges and rewards of multiculturalism.

Of course I have a lot more to learn, but the facilitator’s assumptions about how adults learn made it nearly impossible for me to benefit from their efforts. In short, they seemed to think adults learn through small group activity after small group activity.

I would have liked to have learned more about diversity and equity through extended, open, and honest conversation with people different than myself. As in a graduate seminar. I don’t know whether my fellow participants felt similarly. Or whether you would have. Maybe I’m an outlier, in which case, never mind.

Education Apocalypse—Junior Achievement for Kindergarteners

I’ve shortened a recent email message I received and summarized the response you should have to each paragraph in bold.

In the fall of 2015 the “W” Housing Authority will be launching a new Children’s Savings Account Program that will serve students who live in the “X” Community. We will launch the program with a cohort of entering kindergarteners who attend “Y” Elementary School, which is located in the middle of “Y”, and a cohort of 6th grade students who attend neighboring “Z” Middle School. —cool

By way of brief background, Children’s Savings Accounts (CSA’s) are long-term asset-building accounts for children. These accounts can be opened for children as early as birth, and are often used to pay for students’ education after high school. You can find examples of CSA programs in cities across the country and CSA program models vary from school-based initiatives to citywide efforts funded through public-private partnerships. —cool

When students enroll in the elementary school stage of the CSA WHA will open a savings account in their name. WHA will then make an initial $50 deposit into the account. WHA will then match up to $400 per year that families deposit into their student’s account through the 5th grade. —cool

When students reach 6th grade the savings match stops. Instead of matching family’s savings, WHA will give students an opportunity to earn incentive payments by reaching certain goals. These goals may include earning a certain grade point average, maintaining a certain attendance record and participating in extracurricular activities. As students meet these goals, WHA will deposit up to $700 per year in their savings account until they graduate from high school.—wish extrinsic rewards weren’t necessary, but I’ll roll with it

When a student enrolls in a postsecondary program they can then use the money in their CSA to help pay for tuition and other related costs of attendance.—cool if we’re talking vocational education too

I am reaching out to you because as part of the CSA, WHA will offer students and their families an opportunity to participate in financial education classes. We have identified the Junior Achievement curriculum for use with our students and the staff at “Y” Elementary School has decided to try and imbed the JA program across all of their kindergarten classrooms in the spring of 2016.—what the hell, did you say kindergarten?

Quick turn to the electronic dictionary reveals that Junior Achievement “works with local businesses and organizations to deliver experiential programs on the topics of financial literacy, work readiness, and entrepreneurship to students in kindergarten through high school.

Anyone that wants kindergarteners learning about financial literacy, work readiness, and entrepreneurship should have their head and heart examined.

Is there a more convincing example that utilitarian purposes of schooling have trounced humanitarian ones? We’ve completely lost our minds. Heaven help us.

The Psychological Costs of Over Parenting

In a former life it seems now, my bethrothed and I watched our pre-teen daughter play a soccer double header. In the rain, temp in the mid 30’s fahrenheit, my down jacket losing the battle with the elements. More accurately and problematically, we watched her teammates play a double header. She saw a few token minutes of action. I wasn’t happy, but Mom was HOT. Desperately wanted to talk to the coach. I counseled not doing anything, and for once in our 28 year history, my advice proved wise.

Partly because it wasn’t as upsetting to her. More importantly, by not doing anything we created space for her teammates, who were also upset that she didn’t get more playing time, to rally around her. They worked it out. Hard feelings dissolved. She ended up a little more resilient, independent, ready for more consequential hardships to come.

A simple parenting story or as this excerpt from How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success by Julie Lythcott-Haims (via Slate) suggests, a key to positive, long-term mental health?

2015 US Open. . . Halftime Report

The handful of faithful PressingPausers are wondering when, if ever again, the humble blog will refresh. I may not have factored the Handful in enough when I recently agreed to assume more responsibilities at work. On top of that I planned an intensive course last week and taught it this week and right now I’m in the middle of a four-day volunteering stint at the US Open at Chambers Bay.

Which is what my golf-addled friends are most curious about. I’m on the Disabilities Access Committee. Thursday, beside the green at the brutally tough fifth hole*, I perfected the badass Secret Service agent look with sunglasses, earpiece, and radio. I decided talking into my sleeve would be overclubbing. It was uneventful because no able-bodied person dare sit in the designated handicapped section given my intimidating presence.

Friday, I spent an hour riding shotgun in another cart, and then when I had the lay of the land, drove disabled spectators in my own cart over most of the 1,000 acres (the course is 250).

Low point. Cruising behind the scene solo, no one around, who do I see walking alone along the road? The winner of the 1995 US Open who I happened to go to school with. So I say, “Coreeeey!” DOES NOT EVEN LOOK UP. Shit Corey, I used to watch you hit balls on the intramural field on the way to class back in the day! We nearly ate breakfast together in Rieber Hall! I celebrated your 5-wood like I had hit it myself! My depression only lasted about fifteen minutes.

High point. Who is that female commentator walking from the middle of the fairway right towards me?! Closer, closer, eye contact, smile. Thank you Natalie Gulbis** for helping me completely forget what’s his name. After texting some buddies about my Natalie Gulbis encounter, one wrote back to say surely she thought I was her grandfather. Not funny.

Also fun. As I drove back and forth by the practice range sometimes security would raise the ropes so that spectators and I would have to stop for . . . Rory Mac, Adam Scott, Colin Montgomerie.

Like the winner Sunday evening, I probably deserve a very large trophy for my uncanny ability to skillfully weave through masses of humanity on densely packed sidewalks while simultaneously spying every player walking  between tees and every threesome’s scoring signboard.

It turns out that Tom Chambers Bay as some funny radio hosts are calling it is not a great course for spectators. Watch on television, the ropes are much, much further back than normal, so much so it’s as if the players are all alone. Given the length and hilly nature of the course, and the super slippery fescue, spectators are retreating to the grandstands.

Down the stretch on Sunday I hope they let people into the fairways. So much for my darkhorse, Michael Putnam. Now, I will cheer the newest Masters Champion to go back-to-back.

Well, I better get to sleep. I’m back at it in thirteen hours.

* Turns out the fifth hole is the Byrnes family hole. My oldest brother works the fifth hole at Nicklaus’s Memorial tournament every year.

** To Steve Wood, rest assured I am on the lookout for HS, but alas, cannot report a sighting YET.

images

What We Get Wrong About Work and Retirement

A fair number of my friends are in their late 50’s to mid-60’s meaning they’re heading towards the exits at work. Some who’ve recently retired are struggling to adapt to life without work routines. They werent enamored with their work all the time, but it provided a predictable structure for their lives.

Meanwhile, we continually read about how wonderfull everyone’s “Third Act” is, whether traveling the world, volunteering, consulting, or starting new careers which shouldn’t count as retiring at all. Retiring is like investing, we only talk about the most positive examples, thus painting a misleading picture. The truth of the post-work matter is, many people don’t know what to do when they don’t have to do anything.

Yes, you’re right, this is a nice “first world” problem to have. Too many people can never afford to retire, but solving that problem is well beyond the reach of my pea-brain, so here I focus on those fortunate enough to soon pull the work plug.

Maybe the best way to think about the challenge is to consider the experience of a friend of mine in his late 40’s because I think his experience is fairly typical.

“Tom” works 60 hours a week, 49-50 weeks a year. In the limited non-work time he has, he watches reality t.v. and his kids play sports. Despite being friendly, he has few friends because he spends almost all of his time working. He assauges his guilt for working so much by spending all of his non-work time with his family. Consequently, he doesn’t have any independent interests or hobbies. In a few years his kids will be gone and he’ll wonder what to do with that little bit of non-work time. I hope I’m wrong, but I predict that In fifteen years, when he stops working, he’ll be completely lost.

Our typical way of thinking about work and retirement, work too much for several decades and then throw a switch and completely stop working, is seriously flawed. It’s unrealistic to expect anyone to succeed at reshaping their personal identity overnight.

My working friends who make time for their friends right now and love things like cycling, gardening, and traveling, will fair better than my friend who has decided to sacrifice personal interests on the alter of exceedingly long work weeks.

Of course, the closely related challenge is creating a lifestyle that doesn’t require decades of overwork. If Tom’s children decide to live more simply, like many Millenials seem to be, maybe they’ll strike a better work-life balance. One other important “dot” to connect is one’s wages. Obviously, the more specialized and sought after one’s skills are, they better they are compensated, meaning the fewer hours they HAVE to work.

Instead of throwing a retirement switch, more Baby Boomers are gently turning a dimmer switch, choosing to work half time for example. Gradually transitioning from the world of work to the world of non-obligatory work makes real sense. If you can afford it.