You know how “educational” trends come and go every few years, sparking massive levels of devotion, construction, and deconstruction? If you’re in Minnesota, the latest one down the pike is “Q-Comp“–Quality Compensation–one of Governor Pawlenty’s babies.

The basic idea is that if teachers will only work harder to raise test scores, the State will pay them a little bit extra and everyone’s happy.

Yeah, so that’s the idea.

My lack of enthusiasm would explain why, when it was first tossed out to districts, my own voted to not even look into it because it sounded like a bunch of hooey.  However, now it’s nearly necessary, and it will soon be mandatory, so this year we’re starting.  Perhaps you can feel my joy; or perhaps that’s only snark

I shouldn’t be so cynical; part of it makes sense. It does, indeed, promote more staff development time (mandates an hour a week, actually), that could be a great thing and exactly what’s needed for overworked, flying-solo teachers existing in little separate boxes. Of course, in our district that means showing up an hour early every Tuesday, but that’s okay. We need this time.  (The great news about these meetings is that it’s not, thank God, some touchy-feely encounter group, even if having to work on process more than outcomes right now is annoying. The only thing Dr. Laura and I have in common is that I, too, don’t want anyone to ask me how I feel about a topic–who truly cares, ugh–but I do like to be asked what I think about it. Relational, I’m NOT.)

However, what turns me off (and doesn’t surprise me in the least, as it’s coming from Minnesota’s Department of Education, which like in most states seems to be run mainly by people who’ve never taught, never met a spreadsheet they didn’t like, and who haven’t spoken to a child in fifty years) is the bureaucracy and nitpicking micromanaging. Ugh. I don’t want to work in the corporate world. I don’t want to be controlled by data. I don’t want to have meeting minutes taken and sent in to prove I’m freaking worthy of that extra $300 (or whatever it is–I honestly don’t know and don’t care) so they’re willing to pay for 36 hours of meetings outside my already long day.

Pretty soon, we’ll have to file a department form in triplicate to bring up a topic of discussion at any random faculty meeting.  Bullshit.

Our–and by this I mean our PLC (don’t even ask me, I couldn’t tell you the acronym) which is the group that meets every week, and will be observing each other and whatnot–current problem is that it seems MDE (see above re: bureaucratic idiocy) doesn’t think anything that happens in a school outside of reading, math, and science counts for diddly squat. We’re supposed to come up with SMART (no, I’m not kidding, and yes, laugh with me, please–stands for something else that boils down to measurable*) goals, but the only ones the state seems to want to approve are those based on raising test scores in the above three subjects.

Which is fine, if public schools didn’t have Phys Ed teachers.  And guidance counselors. And teachers of health, shop, and FACS.

My PLC has a Health/Phys Ed teacher and a guidance counselor; the latter doesn’t teach classes, and it’s as if her education, her bona fides, her contribution to the school’s climate and the growth of *people* (you know, the kids) is worthless in the eyes of the boneheads who came up with Q-Comp (T-Paw, you listening yet?!?).

Are we managing figures in Excel, or are we forming well-educated, capable human beings that can contribute to the world?

Yeah, I know.  Silly me and my John Dewey, Diane Ravitch sensibilities of education.  They’re not kids…they’re scores.

Color me terribly unimpressed.  I’d much rather the State keep their paltry 30 pieces of silver and let us actually do things that matter and include all of us.

Addendum (later same date): Just got this in the news.  Only one study, true, but it also reflects many other things I’ve been reading.  Sigh.  Will they ever learn?!?

* Anyone else notice that in the world, acronyms seem to usually start with a cute word and have the elements match that, instead of the other way around?  Annoys me to no end. Waaaay too cutesy.

Dear Mr. Governor

As an addendum to yesterday’s blog, a communication I sent to Governor Pawlenty, R-MN, this afternoon, via his website:

Dear Mr. Governor:

I’m writing to let you know that your continued vetoing of statewide health insurance for Minnesota’s teachers, and your general non-support for Minnesota teachers and education, is forcing me to choose between continuing to teach or putting my life at risk without health coverage.

I live in outstate Minnesota (Marshall), and I teach in a small district.  My health insurance currently costs me over $500/month (after my district’s contribution) for individual coverage.

I’ve recently married, and my husband is without insurance.  To put him on my policy, I would be paying $1230/month–out of pocket.

Before we ever saw a doctor.

Worse, our rates are going to increase in July by at least 20%.  I will be paying just under $1500/month for insurance for the two of us–and I only make $28,000 (2008 W-2) to begin with (and my husband makes less than $15,000 a year at the same district, without any benefits, as a paraprofessional).

We cannot live like this.  And I blame you.  We Minnesota teachers have tried, repeatedly, to pool our insurance resources, only to be thwarted by you and/or the Legislature time and again.  This past year’s veto was absolutely a kick in the teeth for each one of us.

We are already pooling through our local service cooperative, and I had to laugh, bitterly, at your recent call for all districts to pool for resources—you only call for that until it comes to statewide insurance.  That, you will not LET us pool!

My income will not increase for next year, but my insurance will—dramatically.  I have two college degrees and seven years experience as a teacher who regularly works ten-, twelve-, and fourteen-hour days.

I deserve to be able to keep my job and get health care and I shouldn’t have to choose between them.

Shame on you.

–Karla Olson
Marshall, MN

Right now, I’m unsure what to do.  I have pre-existing conditions that would make it impossible to find alternative insurance for me.  This also means I cannot go without coverage.


It’s a Good Day

Bad News: Our district, like every other one in the country, is facing cuts.  Whence they’ll come is yet to be decided, but we fortunately have administration that is willing to keep us updated, is trying to discuss, and, honestly, is making me feel like we are all in this together on one team.

Our Superintendent addressed us at our faculty meeting today and gave us a timeline of when decisions will be made, priorities, and a summary of what we’re hearing from the Governor (blech–Pawlenty has messed with education every chance he’s gotten) and the State Legislature.

We’re not as bad off as some districts, yet–we’re starting with a healthy fund balance–but, well, the next couple of years are not going to be pleasant.  Things are scary all over, in every field (except, perhaps, for bars and foreclosure attorneys), and I’m still employed, so I shouldn’t complain too loudly.

I’m frightened of the upcoming economic realities–no pay increase but my insurance will increase dramatically even without adding my husband.  However, we do need to insure us both, and right now, the monthly premiums would take the vast majority of my paycheck.  Vast.  Majority.  You heard me correctly.

Don’t know what we’ll do.

Good News: Just when things seem their darkest, however, something always comes along down the hallway at work to brighten things up.  Just as I’m questioning my career choice (well, just a little) based solely on the financial aspects, kids do amazing things to make me realize how lucky I am to be a teacher, how happy this job makes me.

Today is my birthday, and at my age, it’s not something I really expect anyone aside from my parents and husband to notice all that much.  However, during my prep period this morning, the seniors all strode in led by a colleague and friend (thanks, Shuckhart!), and surprised me by serenading me with “Happy Birthday.”  It was awesome.

All day long, students–some of whom I don’t even currently teach–waved and said, “Happy Birthday, Ms Olson!” or ducked in my room to say so.

My sophomores–taking a cue I missed–also sang to me.  (And this after I lectured them about their cohort’s behavior yesterday, even!)

An eighth-grader left me a chocolate heart on my desk (thanks, Cinthia!), and last night at Mock Trial practice?  Matt casually walked past my desk, deposited a So-Be Liz Blizz (my favorite indulgence, and one I’d paid him to pick up for me on his daily trek to the convenience store weeks earlier), and said as I was surprised and digging for a couple of bucks, “Nope…it’s a freebie.  Happy Birthday!”

I love these kids.  I really, really do.  I love, love, LOVE my job.  Even on bad days, it’s still more fun, and more satisfying, and more challenging than anything I’ve ever done.

Today was a good day.  Tomorrow?  I guess I’ll deal with that…tomorrow.

Edit:  Editing–was interrupted earlier.  Fixed stuff, added links.