Thursday, October 04, 2018

Why Virginia teachers are leaving the classroom: ‘We are already at bare bones’

RICHMOND, Va. -- On a warm summer night, Sarah Pedersen and Brad Mock sit in the living room of their Church Hill home playing with their 1-year-old daughter, Eleanor.

"You want to get a book, Eleanor?" Mock asked the rambunctious toddler. Eleanor's parents love watching her learn, but worry about what lies in the future.

"Having that little one has made it that much more of a passion for us educating," Mock explained.

The young couple have been educating students in Richmond Public Schools for nearly five years.

Mock teaches eighth grade civics and economics at Martin Luther King Junior Middle, while his wife teaches sixth and seventh grade social studies at Binford Middle School.

Both share a passion for their work, but admit teaching in the Commonwealth isn't easy.

"I love my job. I don't want to do anything else," Pedersen stated. "We are fiercely committed, but that commitment comes with sacrifices and challenges."

The Virginia Department of Education reported in 2016 that as many as 1,000 teaching positions remained vacant - and the problem persists.

Just weeks before the first day of classes in 2018 and RPS has 52 open teaching positions. There are 41 vacant teaching positions at Henrico Public Schools. Chesterfield Public Schools are currently searching for candidates to fill 39 positions. Hanover Public Schools reported they were full.

Why are Virginia teachers leaving the classroom in droves?

"They leave primarily because they don't feel supported in a city or a Commonwealth that doesn't compensate them properly," Pedersen explained. She frequently speaks with former colleagues who have left the teaching profession for a job in the private sector.

Virginia Education Association (VEA) President Jim Livingston explained that Virginia teachers are underpaid compared to others throughout the country.

"Right now, Virginia pays teachers $9,218 less than the national average salary for teachers. When you consider pay in constant dollars, average teacher pay has actually decreased 8.5 percent since the recession," Livingston said.

Livingston explained that educating the future generation is becoming a career that requires individuals to choose between their job and raising a family.

"There are numerous school divisions in our state where teachers can work for 20 years and still are paid less than $50,000—that’s a starting salary for many young people graduating from college and beginning their careers," he stated.

Pedersen explained often educators feel overworked - with the requirements that come with Standards of Learning tests, frequent meetings about data, and the expected duties of teaching.

Those requirements are more strict when schools are unaccredited. Both Mock and Pedersen teach at schools that were denied accreditation in 2017.

"Your teachers have to sit in endless professional development by the state that doesn’t really lead to students learning more, we have far more stringent requirements for our lesson plans, and we have meeting upon meeting on data," Pedersen explained.

Often educators come to a head with the decision whether or not to stay around their fifth year teaching.

"When Brad and I got married five years ago we expected to have a large family. After our daughter's one year we are concerned that perhaps we are raising an only child," Pedersen feared.

Dr. Jesse Senechal, interim director of the Metropolitan Educational Research Consortium with VCU's School of Education, wrote about the issue in his 2016 study, 'Understanding Teacher Morale.'

Superintendents from seven Central Virginia school districts asked him to interview instructors and administrators about how much they like or dislike their professions.

"You're pretty much always in a situation as a teacher where you have way more work to do than you can possibly do. So, you have to make decisions on what gets done," Senechal explained.

Senechal found when teachers feel overloaded and undervalued, they do their students a disservice.

"It leads to frustration, which leads them to lose hope in their profession and ultimately to leave," he stated.

When school systems lack enough teachers in the classroom to go around, those schools rely on substitutes or individuals not qualified to teach.

"We already at bare bones - at our best we are bare bones," Pedersen said. "If you're used to being in an underfunded situation you just start to think you deserve it."

RPS officials said they're working to fix the problem. Richmond Schools Chief of Staff Michelle Hudacsko said long-term substitutes will fill open positions to ensure a teacher is in the classroom on the first day of school.

More than 50 vacancies have been filled at RPS in the last two weeks and they hope to have more in place on September 4.

"Getting [teachers] here is part one. Part two is keeping them here and making sure they’re successful. A lot of that is making sure they have the right support, the right resources and the right leadership so they can be successful," RPS Superintendent Jason Kamras explained.

The school districts included in this report said they were confident they'd fill their open positions by the first day of classes.

Pedersen and Mock both said they're optimistic Kamras and his new administration are on the right path to creating better work environments for teachers.

Lawmakers are also working to make it easier to become a teacher in the Commonwealth.

The General Assembly approved legislation making various changes to teacher licensure requirements, according to the VEA. A new law makes it easier for individuals with provisional licenses to teach in the classroom while taking required courses.

The budget approved by the 2018 General Assembly and signed by Governor Northam also included $131 million for a three-percent pay raise for state-supported teachers and school support staff that will go into effective on July 1, 2019.


UK university bans CLAPPING at student union events so it doesn't trigger anxiety with undergraduates told to use 'jazz hands' instead

Students have been told to wave 'jazz hands' instead of clapping at a university union to avoid triggering anxiety problems.

Officers at the University of Manchester Students' Union argued that the loud noise of clapping and cheering can also trouble those with sensory issues.

A motion was put forward by the union's liberation and access officer Sara Khan to replace it with British Sign Language clapping, also known as 'jazz hands'.

The union decided to make the switch and to 'encourage student groups and societies to do the same, and to include BSL clapping as a part of inclusion training'.

The motion was passed last Thursday at the union's first meeting of the academic year, reported student newspaper The Mancunion.

But Channel 5 presenter Jeremy Vine tweeted a picture of First World War soldiers, saying: 'Glad some brave young souls decided to ignore the difficulties caused by sudden noises 100 years ago.'

The issue was discussed on ITV's Good Morning Britain today, with presenter Piers Morgan saying: '"If you're happy and you know it clap your hands" - that's going to have to go now, isn't it?

'If you're happy and you know it and you want to clap your hands, be careful - it may trigger anxiety. So, if you're happy, don't clap your hands, children.'

Another said: 'I suffer from anxiety and depression, the ability to clap and cheer causes euphoria that is crucial wellbeing! The world has gone crazy! Absolute tosh!'

But 'Ladykarma' said: 'My son has a sensory (processing) disorder which means all loud noises can set of anxiety or a melt down.

'Why should he have to miss out on receiving an award or miss out on an event because of his disabilities? Using silent clapping will help my son share in the same experiences.'

However Karen Garrett responded: 'I have a child with autism and I teach him to clap - and if you get them used to all noises they will process them and acclimatise to different sounds.'

And 'Penny' said: 'I suffer with anxiety but I find the clap ban ridiculous. You can't just change a well known tradition because of a minority.

'Dogs make me anxious but I'm not calling for all dogs to be killed in this world you can't ever please everyone so just go with the majority.'

Nicky Lidbetter, the chief executive of Anxiety UK, told MailOnline: 'Our experience is that noise is not necessarily a typical trigger of anxiety though it can be for some, e.g. those who have anxiety associated with autism.

'That said, we support any initiative, such as this which promote and support inclusivity.'

The National Union of Students first started using 'jazz hands' in 2015, when delegates at its women's conference were asked to stop clapping to avoid anxiety.

Speaking at the time, Nona Buckley-Irvine, the then general secretary at the London School of Economics union, said: 'I'm relatively new to this and it did feel odd at first.

'But once you've used jazz hands a couple of times it becomes a genuinely nice way to show solidarity with a point and it does add to creating a more inclusive atmosphere.' 


Australia: Five ways universities can advance free expression

If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear, George Orwell wrote in Animal Farm.

At a 1943 symposium, Univer­sity of Sydney professor of philosophy John Anderson spoke out against religion in the school curriculum. “Religious doctrines are a direct attack and assault on a child’s common sense,” he said. “If a child is forced to swallow doctrines of a religious nature, it will undermine his understanding of things in general.”

The learned members of the NSW Legislative Assembly condemned Anderson’s comments for undermining “the principles of the Constitution of the Christian state”. Not one member of the assembly spoke in Anderson’s support. The Legislative Council (parliament’s other house) passed its own motion asking the governing body of Sydney University to “define the limits” universities should place on the discussion of controversial matters. The world still awaits its response.

Anderson was unrepentant. His call for campus speakers to be “as blasphemous, obscene and seditious as they like” was strongly supported by students, sympathetic colleagues and a few univer­sity leaders.

Fast-forward to the present. The right to speak on campus remains as contentious as ever but the protagonists have reversed roles. Politicians now lament campus censorship while students — and even academics — are becoming increasingly intolerant. Convinced of their own fragility, today’s students believe exposure to challenging ideas can be harmful, even traumatic. Students demand to be “protected” from controversial speakers.

A poll of 3000 students in the US conducted by the Knight Foundation last year found 37 per cent believed it was acceptable to shout down speakers and 10 per cent thought using violence against speakers was sometimes acceptable. The Brookings Institution reports even larger numbers: 50 per cent of university students consider it acceptable to disrupt speakers by shouting, and 19 per cent condone the use of violence to silence those whose views they find objectionable.

One victim of student intolerance is sex therapist and columnist Bettina Arndt. Her heresy is to disagree with the conclusions of a report produced by the Australian Human Rights Commission, which claimed that 21 per cent of Australian university students were “sexually harassed” in a university setting.

Arndt pointed out that the commission’s definition of harassment included unwanted compliments, leering, staring and bad jokes. The number of respondents who reported being assaulted was 1.6 per cent (and some of those incidents took place on public transport, not at the university). The incidence of sexual assault on campus is lower than the rate of sexual assault in the general ­community.

Students at Melbourne’s La Trobe University invited Arndt to speak. At first, university administrators refused permission, claiming Arndt’s views did not “align with the values of the university and its campaign … against sexual violence on campus”. It seems that La Trobe has an “official position” on sexual assault. As a consequence, the university would rather have students, and the public, believe its campus was unsafe than let Arndt speak.

La Trobe relented when Arndt took her story to the press, but no one heard her speak. Protesters sil­enced her by shouting her down.

Her next talk, at Sydney University, simil­arly was shouted down and required mobilising police to protect her and the audience from aggressive protesters.

In the 1940s, Anderson urged his students to fight hard for free speech “without restrictions”. Today’s student activists are intent on achieving the exact opposite.

Expressing alarm at the censorious environment on our campuses, Human Rights Commis­sioner Ed Santow is encouraging universities to develop codes of conduct that protect robust debate.

Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan agrees, expressing support for the University of Chicago statement on principles of free expression, which commits universities to unfettered “debate and deliberation” even when “the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the university community to be offen­sive, unwise, immoral or wrongheaded”. The statement also forbids anyone from interfering with the freedom of others to “express views they reject or even loathe”. (That is, no shouting down speakers.) The Chicago statement has been adopted by dozens of American universities, but none in Australia.

Echoing Orwell, former High Court chief justice Robert French said this week that “offensive or hurtful” speech was the price we paid for liberty. He says universities erode their public standing and perhaps even face legislative intervention if they fail to defend free speech. French’s prediction is not just hypothetical. The US states of Arizona and North Carolina already have legislated speech codes for their universities and so has the University of Wisconsin board of regents.

Australian universities would avoid the erosion of their public standing and advance liberty by adopting five rules.

* Affirm the value of free speech.

* Forbid administrators from disinviting speakers.

* Discipline students or staff who try to silence speakers.

* Remain institutionally neutral on matters of public policy.

* Levy security charges on all speakers, not just those on one side of an issue.

It is fitting to end where we began. After being condemned by parliament, Anderson addressed students. His words are worth repeating: “There is no absolute right of free speech. It exists only so far as people are prepared to maintain it and fight for it.”

Universities owe it to the public to join the fray.


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