lighten the load

More planning, less paperwork ahead for Memphis teachers under switch to new curriculums

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Superintendent Dorsey Hopson greets a third-grade teacher on the first day of school at Bruce Elementary School in Memphis.

Reacting to complaints, the Shelby County Schools administration will lift a few tasks from teachers to help them make the transition to new curriculums that more closely align lessons with Tennessee’s new math and English standards.

The changes, which Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said came from a meeting last week with teacher leaders, include more planning time, less paperwork and more professional development focused on modeling lessons.

“It’s very clear to me now that we simply have not done the best job possible supporting you and equipping you to be successful in this instructional shift,” Hopson said in an email to teachers. “We have to do better, and I’ve made it a personal priority to ensure that we are.”

Since the instructional shift, Hopson has challenged teachers to get on board with steep changes to curriculum to boost lagging test scores. Teachers have said it’s not just the shift but what they see as unnecessary busy work on top of it.

“They’re telling me, ‘how could people who used to teach not understand how to give me this in a different way that won’t create more work for me?’ ” said school board member Teresa Jones to Hopson and members of his cabinet last week. “It’s not that they don’t want to shift, it’s that they feel like the administration is asking them to shift in the most difficult way possible.”

In the email, Hopson promised teachers:

  • Collaborative planning support should take place in professional learning coach meetings
  • Remove the weekly lesson planning template from Eureka (the math curriculum) and Expeditionary Learning (the English curriculum). Teachers will still be required to annotate.
  • Dedicate at least one faculty meeting per month to content lesson planning.
  • Provide model lessons implemented by other teachers and offer more variety of professional development sessions to accommodate teacher schedules, including live and virtual sessions at multiple times.
  • Provide example lesson plans for high school end of course test subjects beginning in the second quarter
  • Provide weekly meaning-based guide for teachers in grades 9-12
  • Exclude administrator feedback on instructional planning guides from the district’s online tracker for professional development.
  • He and Chief of Schools Sharon Griffin would communicate more regularly to clarify and reinforce expectations and next steps.
  • Hold biweekly collaboration sessions among district leaders, teachers and union representatives

Tikeila Rucker, president of the United Education Association of Shelby County, attended the teacher meeting last week and praised Hopson for his efforts.

“This is a huge win for teachers and the UEA,” she said. “We appreciate Superintendent Hopson and his team for showing us they are listening through their actions.”

Below is the full text of Hopson’s email:

time for kids

New York City agrees to provide paid family leave to teachers

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman
The United Federation of Teachers and city officials announced a new paid parental leave policy.

New York City will begin providing paid family leave to teachers, officials announced today, a victory for the United Federation of Teachers.

The city will pay full salary to birth, foster, adoptive, and surrogate parents for six weeks — covering about 120,000 union members. Combined with sick time, birth mothers will now be able to take 12 to 14 weeks of leave starting in September. The city estimates 4,000 parents annually will benefit.

The new policy is expected to cost the city $51 million. To help cover that cost, the city and the union agreed to extend their current contract for an additional two-and-a-half months past its expiration in November.

“It’s a fundamental matter of fairness to make sure that people have this opportunity,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The decision follows heavy pressure from the teacher’s union, which has campaigned for a more generous policy for teachers since the city extended six weeks of fully paid time off to its non-union workforce in 2016, covering about 20,000 managerial employees. Paid leave had become a rare point of contention between the mayor and powerful teachers union — with the union president accusing the administration of sexism during a City Council hearing. 

“All we asked for was to be treated fairly when members of our own union bring children into their families,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said Wednesday. “That wrong has finally been righted.”

The new policy also comes as the UFT braces for a Supreme Court ruling that could take a big bite out of the union’s ability to collect dues. Securing a victory on paid family leave could help demonstrate the union’s utility at a time when retaining members could become increasingly difficult.

Educators who work for the Department of Education, the city’s largest agency, previously had to use accrued sick days after having a baby — and that policy applied only to birth mothers, not educators who become parents through adoption or surrogacy.

The city has contended that the issue would be addressed during negotiations for the UFT contract. But Mulgrew has bristled at that, saying at a hearing in April that leave was “being used completely as a bargaining chip against our union.” The UFT’s membership is 77 percent female.

Top city officials have previously hinted that they planned to come up with a family leave policy, even if they have been reluctant to share details about what it could look like. “Obviously we’re not going to negotiate in public,” Carranza said last month. But, he added, “I will be very supportive of anything that helps [teachers].”

The battle for paid family leave was re-ignited by an online petition started by two Brooklyn teachers that had more than 80,000 signatures in the fall. After the teachers brought attention to the issue, the union took up the cause, sending out an “action alert” to members in November.

“We’ve chosen to dedicate our lives to helping children, so the irony is glaring that we don’t get any support when we’re having our own,” said Emily James, a Brooklyn high school teacher who was behind the viral petition. 

Even as strides in family leave have been made elsewhere, union officials said teachers were being left behind. New York state, for example, passed a mandatory paid leave policy that covered private employees as of 2018.

Taking leave under the old policy created hardship for parents. Mothers had to use sick days if they wanted paid time off after giving birth. But teachers earn only one sick day per school month worked: To save up for an eight-week leave, a teacher would have to work about four years without taking a sick day.

If a woman hasn’t accrued enough days, she can “borrow” days that she hasn’t accrued yet, up to 20 days. But if she or her children actually get sick, any days beyond the 20 must be taken unpaid. And borrowed sick days have to be repaid if the teacher leaves the education department.

This story will be updated as more details become available.

Future of Teaching

Five award-winning teachers talk recharging over the summer

PHOTO: Fitzgerald Crame
Fitzgerald Crame celebrates his 2017 Golden Apple Award with his students

As Chicagoland students rejoice at the end of school, teachers also approach the summer with excitement – to be able to relax and recuperate from a busy school year.

Chalkbeat talked with five recipients of the Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching to hear about what they do over the summer to recharge for next school year.

The award is granted by the Golden Apple Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting school leaders and teachers. It honors outstanding pre-K-third-grade teachers in the Chicago area, granting recipients a paid spring sabbatical at Northwestern University, in which they can take any course they choose, and also lifetime membership at the Golden Apple Academy of Educators, in which they mentor prospective teachers and help shape education reform efforts in Illinois and nationally.

PHOTO: Meghan Dolan

Meghan Dolan

“Third grade is a benchmark here in Chicago Public Schools, so there’s a lot of pressure put on students to pass. And that pressure we take on as teachers.

“In the summer, sometimes [to recharge] it’s just getting enough sleep, because during the school year, I stay late at work and I come home and I do work. So, [I am] just doing nothing and sitting and watching a TV show – and actually watching it. Even right now, I’m writing notes to my students as I’m watching TV.

“I feel like my mind is freer and, like, when I’m at Target, I’m not like, ‘I need this for my classroom,’ but I can just go to Target and be like ‘oh, I need this just for me.’

“[During the school year,] you work so long, you work at school and then you come home and work and also on the weekends. Just being able to tell myself, ‘hey it’s OK to take a break.’”

Meghan Dolan just finished her 15th year of teaching. She’s a third-grade teacher at Palmer Elementary School in North Mayfair, and she co-teaches reading and math. She previously taught second grade and K-3 special education in Dubuque, Iowa, and Ferguson, Missouri. She was awarded the Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2018.

PHOTO: Fitzgerald Crame

Fitzgerald Crame

“This year was a special year because I was participating in the Golden Apple sabbatical. I got to take any class that I wanted at Northwestern University, and one of the classes that I took was a photography class. For the rest of summer, I will continue to take photos.

“I have a philosophy that students should see the world through different lenses and appreciate the wonder that’s around them. Working through this photography class, it forced me to do the same for myself. Through the lens of my camera, I had to manipulate the aperture and shutter speed and all that to see the world differently. It just reaffirmed my ideas that there’s still wonder in the world. I didn’t have to go anywhere, I just had to change the angle of the lens to see the different light, and that just simple idea helped refresh me.

“I noticed as I took this photography class that I had always taken photos of my daughters and used a selective focus so that the background would blur out and the subject would come forward. But I forced myself to use a deeper focus so everything in my photos was sharp focus, and that made me appreciate the surroundings and appreciate every little detail.

“As I progressed through the class, I took a photo of a mural and my wife walked in front it. She was a little blurred out but the picture was still just so much more interesting with her in it, and then I realized the importance of the characters within the settings, not just the settings themselves. The characters – that’s what I was so interested in. It reminded me that no matter where you turn your lens, no matter what you take a picture of, that person is living this incredibly vibrant life with their own settings and their own backgrounds and their own stories.

PHOTO: Fitzgerald Crame
Fitzgerald Crame’s photo of his wife in front of a mural

“And that reminds me as a teacher that every one of the 31 students that are sitting in front of me is the focus of their own photo, or the protagonist of their own story. It helped me appreciate them as characters within their own settings. It’s something that drives the teachers. Like, guess what? They’re living a life as vibrant as the one that I’m living and they come with all these traits that I have to understand better.

“It’s seeing the world through fresh eyes.”

Fitzgerald Crame has been teaching for 22 years. He has taught fourth grade at Edison Regional Gifted Center in Chicago in Albany Park for six years, focusing on STEM and project based learning. He was awarded the Golden Apple for Excellence for Teaching in 2017, and he was honored as a Symmetra Classroom Hero in 2018.

PHOTO: Lisa Buchholz

Lisa Buchholz

“Teaching is like two jobs, almost. Your day job is your time with your kids and your night jobs are your planning and preparing. There’s only so many hours in the day, so in the summer, because I don’t have to be teaching kids, I can just fully focus on planning.

“I’m such a nerd.  I have an ongoing folder of ideas for class projects or activities that last all year long. I bring this folder home and read through the ideas I’ve collected so that I can add a new one for the next school year.

“This summer, I’m very excited to begin an ‘integrating notebook.’ I’m a fan of integrating concepts between subjects because this can help make content more relevant for students. This school year, I kept notes all over the place about times I integrated content.  [For example,] while reading a ‘Fly Guy’ book by Ted Arnold to the class, I realized I could tie it into the engineering design process and review the steps in that process as I was actually reading that book for a character study. Sometimes integrating is planned and sometimes you just seize the moment. That’s the beauty of the elementary model where one teacher teaches the same kids for all subjects. We can do that kind of integrating.

“Even while out and relaxing with my family, I’m like a mad scientist and have to keep a notebook with me at all times because family activities give me great ideas for classroom activities.”

Lisa Buchholz has taught for 27 years. She’s a first-grade teacher at Abraham Lincoln Elementary School in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. She first starting teaching preschool while in college, and since graduating, she’s taught in the same district. She’s taught first, second, and third grades, having spent the most time teaching first grade. She was awarded the Golden Apple Award for Teaching in Excellence in 2018.

PHOTO: Daneal Silvers

Daneal Silvers

“It’s reaching out in both ways – spending time as a mom and a Chicagoan, and then also I’m reaching out as a teacher.

“I have two younger kids and as a teacher, there’s not as much time to be a parent or to be a chaperone and spend that kind of day time with the kids, like how a lot of other parents can. So in the summer I spend a lot of time with them – taking them to the park, going swimming with them.

“Also, every summer, I get to work meeting my new group of kindergartners. I reach out to my new families through surveys, orientation, and one-on-one interviews.  At Edison [Regional Gifted Center], we welcome 28 new families into kindergarten from all over the city. Since these families are not all coming from the same neighborhood, it’s essential to build a sense of community at school right from the first moment.

“In this way, my teaching feels cyclical rather than linear, because there isn’t a clear end, so I don’t always feel I need to refresh or recharge, but just move into the next part of the cycle.”

Daneal Silvers has been an early elementary (kindergarten and first grade) teacher for 10 years. She also teaches at Edison Regional Gifted Center. Her early-childhood curriculum emphasizes exploration of the concepts of peacefulness, empathy, grit and growth mindset. She was awarded the Golden Apple Award for Teaching for Excellence in 2018.

PHOTO: Carrie Garrett

Carrie Garrett

“I have a group of teaching friends and colleagues and get together at a friend’s house that has a pool and we just spend the time talking about the year, talking about memories. Those conversations, when they revolve around school, definitely help me reflect on what I’m doing and what else I need to be doing to be a better teacher. And, being in the sun and the pool helps too.

“There are times in my school year when I feel very defeated, and I feel like nothing I’m doing is effective. The thing about teaching is that any day it could be anything. Sometimes I do get frustrated with a mandated curriculum or mandated assessment that I have to give. Other times the frustration comes when you have a student that you have to advocate for and everything that you bring to the table and you know would be best sometimes isn’t necessarily the path that they choose for the child. There are processes that need to take place before the child can get the help that they need and it’s frustrating from the teacher perspective because the process can be very lengthy and time-consuming.

“That’s why my time at the pool with my girlfriends is so valuable to me – the connection that you have with the teachers that you work with or just teachers in general is so powerful, because when I do feel lost and frustrated, and I don’t know if I can teach any longer, just being able to voice your feeling and your frustration to a fellow teaching partner really helps you talk things out and get you back up on your feet.

“That’s the teaching process. You’re going to get knocked down, and hopefully you can stand back up, take one step at a time, push right through. And then the magic happens, and you were wondering why you ever thought why you couldn’t do it.

“When I first began teaching, I didn’t take the small successes, I was always looking for the big things. Now, teaching for as long as I’ve had, I know that there are a lot of things during the school year that can weigh you down. Sometimes you really just need to think, ‘did I do something that made a difference in at least one of my students’ lives today?’ Then in the summer,  you look back on that and you see so much growth.

“You sit back and think, ‘wow this whole time I thought we weren’t going very far very fast, but look at where we ended up.’”

Carrie Garrett just finished her fourth year of teaching first grade at Lynne Thigpen Elementary School in Joliet, Illinois. Before that, she was a reading specialist, a fourth-grade teacher and a fifth-grade teacher. She was awarded the Golden Apple Award for Excellence for Teaching in 2018.