The Hardest Job Everyone Thinks They Can Do


This piece was inspired by a heated discussion I had with a man who believes that teachers have an easy job. Please feel free to share it with others if you agree with the message.

I used to be a molecular biologist. I spent my days culturing viruses. Sometimes, my experiments would fail miserably, and I’d swear to myself in frustration. Acquaintances would ask how my work was going. I’d explain how I was having a difficult time cloning this one gene. I couldn’t seem to figure out the exact recipe to use for my cloning cocktail.

Acquaintances would sigh sympathetically. And they’d say, “I know you’ll figure it out. I have faith in you.”

And then, they’d tilt their heads in a show of respect for my skills….

Today, I’m a high school teacher. I spend my days culturing teenagers. Sometimes, my students get disruptive, and I swear to myself in frustration. Acquaintances ask me how my work is going. I explain how I’m having a difficult time with a certain kid. I can’t seem to get him to pay attention in class.

Acquaintances smirk knowingly. And they say, “well, have you tried making it fun for the kids? That’s how you get through to them, you know?”

And then, they explain to me how I should do my job….

I realize now how little respect teachers get. Teaching is the toughest job everyone who’s never done it thinks they can do. I admit, I was guilty of these delusions myself. When I decided to make the switch from “doing” science to “teaching” science, I found out that I had to go back to school to get a teaching credential.

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On the Outside Looking In: Teacher Training

Via Ed Week

In a way, what's most discouraging about the news from this National Council and associates is the continued emphasis on the relatively (in comparison to other countries) low standards of admission at some (many?) schools of education. The saddest thing is that the cause-and-effect here is so blurred, and the cycle it sets up so clear. We dis our teacher ed programs for being unselective, but there's a certain thing about selectivity: you can only select from the applicants you have. When a profession is regularly subjected to criticism, even humiliation, in the public forum, when a profession is demonstrably underpaid and offered increasingly lower levels of job security, how, then, I ask, is it going to attract all those top-flight applicants that NCTQ/USNWR would like to see in the pipeline? Simply put, as a society we're not going to inspire vast numbers of our top college students to enter the field of teaching until we've figured out a way to make teaching as attractive as financial services or engineering.

The voices, at least in the political and economic arenas, that seem to enjoy slagging teachers and the teaching profession are often enough the same ones that can't wait until we make college into a solidly specialized pre-vocational experience (leavened by football games and beer-pong, perhaps) aimed at producing the "innovators" and entrepreneurs that our society so urgently needs. I get the value in innovation and entrepreneurship, but don't we also need podiatrists, yoga instructors, graphic designers, social workers, farmers, philosophers--and teachers? Sure, we're all humbled by boy geniuses who make zillions with their software ideas while the rest of us toil for our daily bread, but we toilers are necessary as customers for their software and to keep the boy geniuses fed and healthy. (And isn't there an irony in that so many of the boy geniuses have tended to be college drop-outs?)

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What if Finland’s great teachers taught in U.S. schools?

Finland’s Pasi Sahlberg is one of the world’s leading experts on school reform and the author of the best-selling “Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn About Educational Change in Finland?” In this piece he writes about whether the emphasis that American school reformers put on “teacher effectiveness” is really the best approach to improving student achievement.

Many governments are under political and economic pressure to turn around their school systems for higher rankings in the international league tables. Education reforms often promise quick fixes within one political term. Canada, South Korea, Singapore and Finland are commonly used models for the nations that hope to improve teaching and learning in their schools. In search of a silver bullet, reformers now turn their eyes on teachers, believing that if only they could attract “the best and the brightest” into the teaching profession, the quality of education would improve.

“Teacher effectiveness” is a commonly used term that refers to how much student performance on standardized tests is determined by the teacher. This concept hence applies only to those teachers who teach subjects on which students are tested. Teacher effectiveness plays a particular role in education policies of nations where alternative pathways exist to the teaching profession.

In the United States, for example, there are more than 1,500 different teacher-preparation programs. The range in quality is wide. In Singapore and Finland only one academically rigorous teacher education program is available for those who desire to become teachers. Likewise, neither Canada nor South Korea has fast-track options into teaching, such as Teach for America or Teach First in Europe. Teacher quality in high-performing countries is a result of careful quality control at entry into teaching rather than measuring teacher effectiveness in service.

In recent years the “no excuses”’ argument has been particularly persistent in the education debate. There are those who argue that poverty is only an excuse not to insist that all schools should reach higher standards. Solution: better teachers. Then there are those who claim that schools and teachers alone cannot overcome the negative impact that poverty causes in many children’s learning in school. Solution: Elevate children out of poverty by other public policies.

For me the latter is right. In the United States today, 23 percent of children live in poor homes. In Finland, the same way to calculate child poverty would show that figure to be almost five times smaller. The United States ranked in the bottom four in the recent United Nations review on child well-being. Among 29 wealthy countries, the United States landed second from the last in child poverty and held a similarly poor position in “child life satisfaction.” Teachers alone, regardless of how effective they are, will not be able to overcome the challenges that poor children bring with them to schools everyday.

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3rd grade reading guarantee changes again

The Ohio House finally moved SB21 out of committee. SB21 is the bill that tries to fix many of the problems raised by the initial third grade reading guarantee legislation. The Committee made a number of changes, but according to the bill's Sponsor, Sen. Peggy Lehner, she expects the Senate will agree with those changes.

According to a Gongwer report, the amendments made by the House include:

The omnibus amendment would add a requirement that all teachers providing reading guarantee services have at least one year of teaching experience unless they meet at least one of the bill's criteria to provide services and is mentored by a teacher with at least one year of experience, according to a Legislative Service Commission comparison document.

It also specifies teachers who qualify to provide services by virtue of a reading endorsement on their license must also have passed the State Board of Education-required assessment for the endorsement only "as applicable."

The latest version eliminates from the list of acceptable reading guarantee qualifications teachers determined by ODE as an "effective reading instructor" and teachers who completed a program from a list of scientifically researched-based reading instruction options.

The amended bill instead adds to the list of acceptable qualifications to include teachers:

  • Rated "most effective" for reading instruction for the last two years based on assessments of student growth measures developed by a vendor approved by the state board.
  • Rated "above expected value-added" for reading for the two most recent years per criteria established by ODE.
  • Holding an educator license for teaching grades PreK-3 or 4-9 issued on or after July 1, 2017. The omnibus amendment requires all new applicants for educator licenses for those grades pass an exam aligned with reading competencies established by the state board.

The state board is required to adopt those competencies Jan. 31, 2014 under the bill, and must cover all reading credentials and training that include an understanding of phonemic awareness, phonics, appropriate use of assessment, appropriate instruction materials, among others.

Starting July 2014, alternative credential and training that qualify a teacher to instruct students identified by the reading guarantee would be aligned with the reading competencies, according to LSC.

Those teachers who do not meet the listed qualifications nor have one year teaching experience would be permitted to provide reading guarantee services if he or she holds an alternative credential or has successfully completed training using research-based reading instruction approved by ODE.

The omnibus amendment also puts in place ramifications for schools that fail to perform on reading aspects of the state report card. Schools would be required to submit improvement plans to ODE if they receive a D or F on the K-3 literacy progress measure and less than 60% of their students who took the third-grade English language arts assessment attained at least a proficient score, according to LSC. Submission of improvement plans would start in 2016.

A school could cease submitting an improvement plan if it receives a grade of C or better on the K-3 literacy measure or at least 60% of students taking the third-grade ELA exam scored proficient or better.

Other changes made in the omnibus amendment include:

  • An exemption from the reading guarantee for those limited English proficient students who have been enrolled in U.S. schools for fewer than three years and who have had less than three years instruction in an English as a second language program. Current law exempts those with fewer than two years.
  • Allowing schools unable to meet personnel requirements to request a staffing plan beyond the 2013-14 school year. Those submitting plans must also report on progress the school has made in meeting requirements of the law.
  • Requiring ODE to study diagnostic assessments for reading and writing in grades K-3 that might be considered for approval by the state board.

The LSC analysis if the changes can be seen in the following document, with the House changes contained in the right hand column.

SB21 As Reported by the House Education Committee

Education News for 03-26-2013

State Education News

  • Threat from February involved national security; 12-year-old charged (Chillicothe Gazette)
  • A threat that caused concern at Chillicothe Middle School in February also created alarm at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, the Gazette has learned…Read more...

  • Judge rules Strongsville City Schools to release public records to teachers' union (WBNS)
  • An appeals court judge is ordering the Strongsville City School District…Read more...

  • What Chardon shooter TJ Lane's life sentence in prison (WBNS)
  • If you were like most people and found yourself disgusted at TJ Lane's courtroom…Read more...

  • Board’s evaluation rates superintendent a five of possible nine (Youngstown Vindicator)
  • Despite improved test scores, the school board evaluated Superintendent Connie Hathorn’s performance at a 5 out of a possible 9, down two points from last year…Read more...

Local Education News

  • Chillicothe school board cuts 10.5 teaching positions (Chillicothe Gazette)
  • The Chillicothe City School District Board of Education on Monday approved a reduction in force that cuts 101/2 more teaching positions from a staff that has shrunk by 14 percent in the past several years…Read more...

  • Student admits posting ‘angry’ videos (Columbus Dispatch)
  • A former Gahanna-Lincoln High School student admitted yesterday to a misdemeanor delinquency charge of inducing panic by posting an online video that some classmates considered threatening…Read more...

  • Coleman issues ultimatum to school board (Columbus Dispatch)
  • Columbus Mayor Michael B. Coleman will not support any permanent successor to Superintendent Gene Harris whom the city school board hires by this summer, he said yesterday…Read more...

  • Author connects with students, standards (Marion Star)
  • Taft Elementary School teachers hope a brush with fame encourages students to become better readers and storytellers…Read more...

  • Perrysburg schools may purchase classroom units from Sylvania schools (Toledo Blade)
  • Perrysburg schools are moving forward with a plan to purchase five classroom portable units from Sylvania schools for a short-term fix to its overcrowding issues…Read more...


  • Panel could help curb child deaths (Columbus Dispatch)
  • Kaydence Lewinski, 5 months old, shaken and beaten to death; Angela Palmer, 4, burned to death; Brianna Blackmond, 23 months, beaten to death; Samuel and Solomon Simms, 6- year-old twins, strangled…Read more...

On Teacher Quality

Rhonda Johnson, a Columbus City Schools educator and President of CEA has a great letter published on the Reimagine Columbus Education website, that we wanted to share

Our goal as a community must be to have a competent, caring and high-quality teacher in every classroom. Why? Teacher quality is the most important school-based factor in a high- quality education.

To that end, we must invest in high-quality teaching and organize schools for success for all of our students. This trumps other investments, such as reduced class size, overall spending on education, and teacher financial incentives and salaries.

There are clear conditions that must be present to attract and retain high-quality teachers, especially in challenging schools.

Pre-service preparation through appropriate and rigorous experiences at the university, in collaboration with faculty and public school teachers, is crucial. Teacher preparation programs, state departments of education and school districts must engage in residency programs analogous to the residency model in schools of medicine.

School leadership matters . . . a lot. Principal behavior is the primary factor affecting a teacher’s decision to stay at or leave a particular school. In fact, leadership behavior is a stronger predictor of teacher retention than either student demographics or achievement.

Teaching and learning conditions — such as job-imbedded professional development, teaching assistants and administrative support— matter more than individual financial incentives. In partnership with communities, school districts must provide sufficient resources to get the job done — newer technologies, instructional equipment and supplies, and access to social and health services.

Schools must provide the opportunity for teachers to work collaboratively with peers who share the responsibility for every student’s success. Teachers must work with colleagues to analyze student work, plan lessons and build relationships with students and families.

Effective teachers are committed to creative teaching and inquiry learning. Teaching is about discovery, learning and awe, not minute-by-minute curriculum mandates, scripted instruction and testing.

Education policymakers and administrators would be well served by recognizing the complexity of the issue of teacher quality and adopting multiple measures along many dimensions to support existing teachers and to attract new, highly qualified teachers.

Research suggests that investing in teachers can make a difference in student achievement. To implement needed policies associated with staffing every classroom — even the most challenging ones — with high-quality teachers, substantial and targeted investments must first be made in teaching quality.