Mar 18, 2011

How are last in, first out policies impacting families?

This is what LIFO means to one mom and her two children from Seattle.
Jessica Markowitz, sophomore at Garfield High School
Reflecting on Teacher Quality - I Need My Great Teachers
I love to learn and I get excited about going to school, especially if my teachers are engaging and welcoming. 
I attend a very large public high school and the teachers range from excellent to very poor. For example, my chemistry teacher this year gives me the hope and inspiration to continue trying on the complicated material I have a hard time grasping. She is available during lunch, afterschool, even through email. I became determined to succeed because of her. Somehow she even managed to get me to enjoy the subject! 
Most of my teachers this year are great, but I also know the frustration of being eager to explore new subjects and my excitement goes away due to a teacher who just doesn’t really want to be there. For example, one of my teachers was even unaware when I missed class, which told me it basically didn’t matter who I was or what I had to offer. This is why students disengage from school. We need to be noticed and heard. 
I have attended both private and public schools. The main difference between the two is that if students don’t think a teacher is good for the students, they actually have a say in the matter in a private school. It’s important for the customer to have their say, and it’s interesting to me that when a teacher is ineffective in a public school, kids are stuck with that teacher no matter what. I have felt what a difference one teacher can make, and if I lose my good teachers this year while another teacher gets to stay in a lay-off, it will take away any excitement about returning to school. 
Josh Markowitz, senior at Garfield High School
Giving Students a Political Voice – We Can Do Something to Save our Best Teachers
Politics is of my many hobbies and passions, and I joined the Legislative Youth Advisory Council (LYAC) in Seattle to express these feelings. LYAC, or the Legislative Youth Advisory Council, is the formal youth representation of Washington State with 22 members serving 2-year terms. 
Last month I helped coordinate the council’s biggest day of the year, Action Day, bringing youth together to talk to members of Washington’s State legislature. We had surveyed students’ opinions on a variety of issues, collecting and analyzing the data to determine what was most important to us as a group. This year students were most interested in health, dropout prevention and the state budget, and I organized the trip to our capital city, Olympia, to represent students and make sure the legislature knew what we thought.
The Youth Ambassadors also had the opportunity to testify in front of LYAC and explain the issues at hand for youth in Seattle. One bill that was of great importance to the Youth Ambassadors was Senate Bill 5399 (SB 5399). SB 5399 discusses the decision-making behind which teachers leave. The bill proposed a much-needed new evaluation system for teachers, and though it was not passed the first time, they are working on revisions and we are hopeful for change. 
This would change from the previous system that protected teachers with seniority. It’s important to us because we know first hand how important our best teachers are, and how negative the experience is of having a poor teacher. We feel strongly that we need to articulate the critical need for qualified teachers that can inspire and connect with students.
Students should know that with all the budgets being cut, there are things they can do to make sure the bills they believe in, and that will influence their lives, are passed. If you organize, your voice does matter. Students should educate themselves on the issues and become active so legislators hear and act on that voice.
Lori Markowitz, mother of Jessica and Josh
As parents, one of our biggest fears is the quality of education our children will be provided. My husband and I struggled with the decision about whether to send our children to public or private school. We felt strongly about sending our children to public school but questioned the quality. We heard many wonderful things about Garfield and loved the idea that it was less than a mile from our home. Many other parents raved about the school especially since it had many excellent teachers. 
My feelings now are mixed, as I have learned that my feeling at any time is all about the teachers my children get that year. A school can be aesthetically beautiful and located in a ”nice“ neighborhood, but this is not necessarily a recipe for success. 
Of course there are many factors that play into a student’s success, but children are so greatly impacted by their teachers that it can make or break their chances for success. I’m convinced teachers rate number one on the list, and it would be devastating to lose them to any policy that doesn’t recognize that.
I experienced this first-hand with my son. When Josh entered the fourth grade, he was not particularly interested in school—until he met his new teacher. She made everything interesting, connecting with all kids in the classroom. Josh landed with one more teacher of that caliber in the seventh grade, but when he started high school, it became hit or miss. 
The students discussed often the teachers they liked and disliked, and why. Some of the teachers that had been in the classroom for twenty years or more had lost their drive and passion for teaching, but when a teacher who had experience kept their spark alive students clamored to get into that teacher’s classes.
During my son’s sophomore year in high school we experienced our first real encounter with teacher seniority. Josh was not very interested in writing, but his new Language Arts teacher changed that. She was innovative, clever and most importantly to him, she was someone he could relate to and he felt heard. She got the class excited about reading classic novels and writing short stories, and word got out a new great teacher had joined the school. Everyone wanted to be in her class.
Things were going well until it came time to cut some of the teachers, and the most junior ones were first on the list. Josh was very upset. Josh finally had a Language Arts teacher he loved, but she was going to be fired, while some mediocre and even a few awful teachers were allowed to keep their jobs. 
It made no sense. Why not evaluate a teacher based on their performance in the classroom? As a parent I can say it’s already hard enough to get kids excited about learning in a subject they don’t enjoy, so when it happens we need to treasure that teacher irrespective of their seniority.
In this case Josh’s teacher was fired and she decided to give up teaching in order to find more stable work.
How tragic! My vote would be to make sure we cherish and keep excellent teachers in the classroom despite seniority status or the letters behind their name. It’s all about teachers connecting and enhancing students love of learning. I realize I am not the only parent who has had to see my son lose one of the best teachers he has ever had. Let’s make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else.

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