In the Classroom

Teacher scholarship bill passes committee but could leave current students out

PHOTO: Tajuana Cheshier/Chalkbeat TN

Michael Stottlemyer, an aspiring teacher from Anderson, seems like the perfect candidate for a proposed scholarship Republican leaders hope will help encourage more people to consider teaching.

He got good grades, graduated in the top 20 percent of his high school class and spent time doing community service and other activities in high school.

There’s just one problem: He’s already in college.

Stottlemyer, a junior studying math at IUPUI, wants to be a teacher, and he’s paying for his education by himself, he told members of the House Education Committee today. But because a program outlined in bill by House Speaker Brian Bosma would only apply to students graduating this year or later, Stottlemyer said he won’t be able to qualify.

“I would do anything to have the scholarship for my last two years and not have to worry about applying for another student loan,” Stottlemyer said. “I have personally met all of the requirements for this potential scholarship fund except for the requirement that I graduate (from high school) before June of 2016.”

Bosma, R-Indianapolis, authored House Bill 1002 to attract top students from across the state to a career in teaching. With some Indiana schools having problems hiring teachers in subjects such as math, science and special education, the bill would give students scholarships of up to $7,500 a year for four years of public or private college tuition at a state college in exchange for teaching for five years in Indiana schools. The bill passed the House Education Committee today 13-0.

Committee members were sympathetic to current college students like Stottlemyer, but they might not be able to help. Committee Chairman Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, said the state won’t have the funding for the scholarship until lawmakers approve a new budget next year.

Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, who voted in favor of the bill, said he was concerned current students will be left out and that too many Indiana classrooms will have to wait too long for a qualified teacher.

“This is a four-year fix,” Smith said. “What if someone is already in school and wants to switch to teaching? … The need is now.”

Bosma said he’d look for a way to support current teaching students. He might be able to amend the bill, he said, so that some older students like Stottlemyer could qualify for a one- or two-year scholarship once the program gets funding.

“We will pursue the issue about the existing students,” Bosma said. “If it looks like that could work timing-wise, we will bring an amendment.”

The bill received widespread support today from lawmakers and representatives from the Indiana State Teachers Association, private school organizations and other education advocacy groups. But some education advocates, such as Ashley Gibson from the group Stand for Children, said it should go further to make sure it helps the districts that need it the most.

Bosma’s bill has no provision saying the new teachers would have to teach in districts that are actually struggling to fill jobs. Typically, schools in rural and high-poverty urban areas have the hardest time finding qualified teachers.

“Stand would definitely support some sort of district trigger for teacher candidate recruitment needs,” Gibson told lawmakers.

The Speaker said changing the bill to steer scholarship recipients to certain areas isn’t necessary because the state has other programs to recruit minority teachers and attract teachers to hard-to-fill jobs.

“We do have programs for those other issues,” Bosma said.

The bill originally came from talks between Bosma and Indiana State Board of Education member Gordon Hendry, who proposed a similar idea last year. Hendry today said he supported the bill.

The goal would be to have the program begin next year with 200 students at a cost of about $1.5 million, Bosma said. When the program eventually grows to 800 students, the cost would be about $6 million per year. For the first four years, the state would pay about $15.2 million to support the scholarships.

“This is certainly no silver bullet,” Bosma said. “this is one of many, I think, good ideas to attract our best and brightest.”

The committee will pick up with hearings on two other bills that are designed to address teacher hiring as well as a chance to amend and vote on House Bill 1395, the ISTEP exam rescore bill, on Monday.

One bill lawmakers will finish hearing at Monday’s meeting, House Bill 1004, sponsored by Behning, would allow qualified teachers with licenses from other states transfer those licenses to Indiana if they meet certain GPA and testing requirements. The bill would also allow districts to give extra pay, without union permission, to teachers who take a position the district considers hard to fill.

The other bill, House Bill 1005, authored by Rep. Dale DeVon, R-Mishawaka, would give extra pay to teachers who are rated effective and agree to mentor peers. The bill would also make it possible for teachers in their first two years of work who are rated “ineffective” or “improvement necessary” to still qualify for salary raises.

How I Teach

Crazy contraptions, Chemistry Cat, and climbing stories: How this Colorado science teacher connects with kids

PHOTO: Courtesy of Shannon Wachowski
Shannon Wachowski, a science teacher at Platte Valley High School, holds a toothpick bridge as a her students look on.

Here, in a feature we call How I Teach, we ask educators who’ve been recognized for their work how they approach their jobs. You can see other pieces in this series here.

Shannon Wachowski once started a parent-teacher conference by sharing that she was concerned about the student’s lack of motivation. The boy’s mother quickly began adding criticisms of her own — alarming Wachowski enough that she started defending the teen.

It was then the student’s behavior began to make more sense to Wachowski, who teaches everything from ninth-grade earth science to college-level chemistry at Platte Valley High School in northeastern Colorado. She realized that school, not home, was the boy’s safe place.

Wachowski is one of 20 educators who were selected to serve on the state Commissioner’s Teacher Cabinet. The group provides input to officials at the Colorado Department of Education.

She talked to Chalkbeat about how she uses parent conferences and classwork to learn students’ stories, why making Rube Goldberg contraptions boosts kids’ confidence, and what happens when she raises her hand in the middle of class.

This interview has been condensed and lightly edited.

Why did you become a teacher?
Originally a practicing chemical engineer, I became a teacher because I wanted a more fulfilling career. I had tutored chemistry in college and really enjoyed it.

What does your classroom look like?
Because my students work in teams 90 percent of the time, my tables are arranged so that students can sit in groups of four. I wrote a grant last summer for standing desks so each two person desk raises up and down. They are convenient for labs or when students need a change of scenery. My walls contain student-made license plates (an activity I do on the first day of school) and other student work from class, including various Chemistry Cat memes!

Fill in the blank. I couldn’t teach without my ________. Why?
My heart. Initially I became a teacher because I loved my content. I soon realized however, that while content is important, developing relationships with students is paramount. No learning will happen if positive relationships are not established first. When I am frustrated with student behavior, I try to put myself in their place and respond in a caring and compassionate manner.

What is one of your favorite lessons to teach?
One of my favorite lessons is when my students build Rube Goldberg devices. It gets somewhat chaotic because they are working in teams and materials are everywhere, but every single student is engaged. In the end, they can apply what they know about energy to design a multi-step contraption. I have seen very low-confidence students excel at this activity, and it is very rewarding to see them experience success in a science class.

How do you get your class’s attention if students are talking or off task?
One strategy I’ve recently started using came from my experience leading professional development for other teachers. I will be somewhere in the middle of the room (usually not the front) and raise my hand. When students see me raise my hand, they will raise theirs and pause their conversation. Then other students see those students and raise their hand, etc. Once everyone is quiet, then I’ll make my announcement. Like all other strategies, I need to practice being consistent with it.

How do you get to know your students and build relationships with them? What questions do you ask or what actions do you take?
I always plan the first couple of days for “get to know you” activities. My students design their own paper license plates using whatever letters, numbers, or design they would like. They then have 30 seconds to talk about their license plates.
I noticed that in some of my more challenging classes I needed a way to better connect with my students. At the beginning of most class periods I share some sort of funny story about what happened to me the evening prior — for some reason, I am never short of these stories — or a picture of my dog, or my latest climbing adventure. Sharing this information does not take long and eventually, students will ask if I have a story to share if I haven’t done so in a while. This also leads to them sharing stories with me, and finding that we may have more in common than we think.

Tell us about a memorable time-good or bad-when contact with a student’s family changed your perspective or approach.
At parent-teacher conferences one year I had a parent come in with their student. This student was not the most motivated individual — not disrespectful, just did not seem to want to do anything with his time. As I was explaining this to his parent, the parent started talking very negatively to and about the student, so much so that I found myself trying to defend the student and bring up positive qualities about his character. This interaction helped me to understand some of the student’s behavior in class, as well as realize that for some students, school is their safe place. There are often lots of reasons for a student’s behavior that I may not be aware of, which is why it is important to get to know each student and their situation as best as possible.

What are you reading for enjoyment?
When I have time outside of school, one of the things I enjoy doing is throwing pottery. I am currently reading “Science for Potters” by Linda Bloomfield. It combines my love of science and art into one book.

What is the best advice you ever received?
Since I teach a variety of levels, I often have one class that challenges my classroom management skills. This can be frustrating as I am the type of person that would like to achieve perfection in every circumstance. When I have a discipline issue in my class, I often see it as a personal failure. My husband often reminds me that “You can’t control other people’s behavior, you can only control your response to it.”

behind the music

‘We just wanted to help the movement’: Meet the NYC teacher whose students wrote a #NeverAgain anthem

PHOTO: Kyle Fackrell

Among the many creative displays of protest that stood out during Wednesday’s national student protest against gun violence was an original song by Staten Island students: “The truth: We need change.”

The song, uploaded to YouTube Wednesday morning, features John W. Lavelle Preparatory Charter School students in a soaring anti-gun counterpoint, led by seniors Jerramiah Jean-Baptiste and Aeva Soler.

“Don’t run away from the truth,” Soler sings during one exchange. “If we don’t act now, what should we do?”

Jean-Baptiste picks up where she leaves off: “We need change in this time of doom. It shouldn’t be the case that we’re losing lives too soon. I shouldn’t feel afraid inside my school. We need change.”

We checked in with Kyle Fackrell, Lavelle Prep’s longtime music teacher, who has worked with Jean-Baptiste, Soler, and their classmates for nearly five years, since their introductory eighth-grade music class. Here’s what he told us about the song, his students, and their ambitions.

How the song came to be: “I knew that my students were very passionate about this subject. When I learned about the walkout coming up and that it would be coming up soon, I was aware of these students and their songwriting abilities, and I suggested the idea of writing a song. They really just ran with it.”

What the process was like: “We’ve worked together a lot and have made a lot of music together. When I proposed this idea it was like clockwork. It was really exciting to see how fast Jerramiah could come up with the ideas.”

On the students’ goals: “We just wanted to help the movement. I was having that conversation with my students today, should the song get the success we hope it gets, that would be great, but really want we to maintain our genuine interest in making a difference with the song. I’m just supporting them.”

What the reaction has been: “It’s been very positive. … Everyone who hears the song is blown away. It really is thanks to the talent of the young students that I’m blessed to be helping them develop.”

On what motivates his students: “None of them were coming at it from knowing people who were in a shooting. They’re just very aware and intelligent students. I think the point that the students in Florida are making is that a lot of people underestimate kids and youth, and I think these students are also underestimated — about how much they are aware of what’s going on in the world, and that they should have a say.”