Category Archives: High-Needs Schools

The Truth About Teacher Salaries

I want to prepare you for an unfortunate inevitability:  One of these days you're going to read the last Radical post. 

It's not that I don't want to keep writing.  I love the intellectual community that we've gotten started here.  And it SURE isn't because I've run out of things to say. 


It's simply because one afternoon as I drive home listening to the local right-wing radio hack spouting the party line about "the exorbitant salaries" that teachers are paid, my head is going to explode. 


What makes me so frustrated is that 98% of the facts that he spews just aren't true.  He talks about the fully paid state pensions that we receive without ever mentioning that teachers contribute nearly half of the funds in our own retirement accounts.

He claims that teachers in North Carolina are treated better than other workers without ever mentioning the fact that we rank somewhere near 45th in teacher pay nationally. 

He argues that teachers need to "feel the pain that people in the private sector" are feeling without ever mentioning that we haven't seen an increase in our salaries in three years.


Now don't get me wrong:  I'm remarkably thankful just to have a job in such a difficult economy.  As I watch friends and family members struggle to just hold on to their positions in a sluggish corporate workplace, I realize that the stability that comes along with a career in the classroom is pretty darn rewarding.


And I get it.  The way that we pay teachers has got to change. 

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What can Educational Policymakers Learn from Amazonian Explorers?

Flush with cash at the turn of the 20th Century, the Royal Geographical Society was funding expeditions to some of the world’s final frontiers—including the Himalayas, Africa, the Arctic AND the Amazon. 

The stars in the Royal Geographical Universe were people like Ernest Shackleton, David Livingstone, Charles Darwin and Edmund Hillary—and with each new achievement, the Society cemented a well-deserved reputation for successful adventure and scholarship.

Look a little closer at the Society’s history, however, and you can find the story of an unmitigated disaster—a disaster that started with the Society’s concern for one of their quirkiest explorers, Percy Fawcett.

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Who DOES Love Public Education?

Blogger’s Warning:  This post ain’t full of rainbows and unicorns.  If you’re looking for a sunshine-and-candy-corn wrapped around an apples-and-hope kind of post, close your browser and walk away.


When Nancy Flanagan—one of my closest professional mentors and friends—asked me to take part in We Love Public Education day, a grassroots attempt to push back against the never-ending crush of negative rhetoric spun by the Oprahgandists of the world, my thoughts immediately turned to Maggie.

Maggie was a first year teacher in a high-poverty school outside of Atlanta a few years ago whose eyes were opened to the challenges of life after two short weeks in the classroom. 

As a part of a longer letter to her college mentor, she wrote:

I have learned that most kids do not go home to mom or dad and get help with homework–they go home to an empty house.

It's hard to understand how some of these students survive in the living conditions they were born into. Not that I didn't know it already… but I see how lucky I am to have had the "tooth fairy," "Santa Claus," stuffed animals, clean clothes, food, candy, tv, air conditioning, a clean bed, and parents always around.

Sometimes I get home and it's hard for me to get my mind off of my children and whether or not they are safe, being fed, etc.

While there is so much sadness in these children's lives, they are, for the most part, incredibly happy children (at school). We have our times where discipline must be enforced, but these children are so good at keeping their lives a secret… no one would ever guess that these children are living a silent war that begins at 2:15 everyday.

What Maggie—and most of the general public—didn’t realize is that there are thousands of teachers living the same silent war every day.

They are the dedicated professionals who commit themselves to working in high-needs communities because they care about giving every child—including those that our society is only-too-ready to throw away—a fighting chance to overcome the circumstances of their young lives.

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Read This: The Hidden Contract of Urban Schools

The Hidden Contract dominates decision-making in an urban school. In many schools, the implied contract between teacher and student is the following. You the teacher will agree to not challenge me, force me to work hard, embarrass me, or make me struggle, and I the student will not act out, disrupt the class, embarrass or challenge you in any way.

This same contract exists between Principal and Teacher as well. If you the teacher do not disrupt my day, excessively ask for students to be removed from your class, push at what should and should not be taught, then I the principal will support your decisions, evaluate you positively and leave you alone.

Essentially, between and among all parties; you leave me alone, and I’ll leave you alone.



Stumbled across this great Eric Juli piece the other day. You'll remember Juli as the urban school administrator who wrote a guest blog entry here on the Radical last weekend about the flawed nature of the "us v. them-ness" in our conversations about accountability.

This quote really left me thinking because as ashamed as I am to admit it, the hidden contract Juli's talking about has been in full force at different times and with different students in my classroom over the past 17 years.

Most of the time, that embarrasses me—I should ALWAYS do more for every child who walks in my door. But other times, I think that should embarrass those who are responsible for creating the conditions necessary for me to succeed.

Here's what I mean:  For the better part of my career, I've been completely overwhelmed by the range of abilities in my classrooms—-and I'm supposedly an accomplished teacher.

I'll have students who can't read sitting next to students that are reading far above grade level.  I'll also have students with severe learning disabilities who don't qualify for services in smaller classes or with educators trained to work with children who struggle academically. 

When I ask for help, I'm told that all I need to do is differentiate my instruction. 

"Craft tiered lessons," the learning experts say.  "Have several different activities for each concept that students of different ability levels can work through.  Create multiple versions of tests.  Design multiple ways for students to show you what they know.  Pay attention to their learning styles.  Play to their strengths.  You know what motivates kids.  Tap into those motivations in every lesson." 

But "crafting tiered lessons" and "creating multiple versions of tests" just ain't that easy. 

It requires a ton of time for planning and preparing several different sets of materials.  It requires time to collaborate with qualified colleagues who understand just what students who are struggling can do.  It requires time to collect and then to analyze data—most of the time using nothing more than three ring binders and sticky notes—-in order to figure out which kids in which periods need which lessons. 

Then, it requires assessing mastery on multiple sets of assessments and crafting new sets of tiered lessons for new units—-all while trying to answer email, attend parent conferences, implement new school initiatives, implement old school initatives, implement even older school initatives, work part time jobs, and be a dad all at the same time. 

A little professional development would help, but money for that has been hard to come by for years.  And digital solutions might could provide a few answers, too—-but technology budgets are limited and the time that it takes to develop online resources to provide academic challenge is just as overwhelming as the time that it takes to develop the tiered lessons that everyone's pushing me to make. 

Honestly, challenging every child at the appropriate level would take a super-human effort that I just can't afford to give.  I do the best that I can, but that "best" just ain't good enough in more cases than I'm comfortable to admit. 

Don't get me wrong:  I SHOULD be held accountable for working to meet the needs of every child.

But YOU—and that YOU includes EVERYONE outside of the public school classroom from parents to principals and policymakers—-should be held accountable for making that possible by ensuring that there are enough resources to actually do the job in my school.



Maybe Reading ISN’T Fun

A friend of mine who teaches in a high poverty school dropped me a really discouraging email today. 

She told me that a training specialist assigned to her school had dropped in to one of their faculty’s vertical articulation meetings to offer feedback on the school’s attempts to integrate annotation into their reading instruction. 

Her message was less than inspirational, though.  Here’s the most disturbing quote:

"I tell kids this is not fun…This is work, and most of the reading you’ll do in life will not be for fun."

My first reaction was to load up the digital bazooka and blaze this woman

Not only can annotating text be fun when teachers decide to tap into the social nature of today’s students and integrate  shared annotation tools like Diigo into their work—something I’ve written extensively about before—but what kind of failed thinking leads any teacher to tell kids that “most of the reading you’ll do in life will not be for fun.”

Then, I just plain felt bad for the woman. 

As a guy who is literally consumed by reading—I probably finish 60 books a year and damn near all of them are fun even when they are tied to my profession—I want everyone to feel the same rush that comes from getting lost in a new title for a few hours. 

More importantly, I want every student to know a teacher who loves reading more than most anything.  That modeling matters.

But then I started to think that maybe—just maybe—this woman might be right.  Maybe reading—especially in high-poverty schools—ISN’T fun.

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