With the election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States and his nomination of Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education, those who wish to dismantle public education may now have the help of the federal government .

President Trump’s nomination of Betsy DeVos is a clear message that President Trump wants to privatize public education and create a free market approach for the education of American children.  Look at the track record of Ms. DeVos. According to a newspaper article by Kate Zernike, Ms DeVos once argued “ that Detroit Public schools should simply be shut down and the system turned over to charters, or the tax dollars given to parents in the form of vouchers to attend private schools.”

Those with the same political views as Ms. DeVos often argue that the reason they are attacking public education is because they care so much about protecting nonwhite children from receiving a poor public education. Yes, there are a few situations where some nonwhite families may be helped by receiving direct financial help, but in the overall studies of charter schools and vouchers, the research has shown that charter schools on average, perform more poorly than public schools. Also, according to Professor Ian Haney Lopez, “direct subsidies to parents facilitates white flight from public schools, crippling funding for public school systems and redirecting state money into private hands.”

When supporting corporate directed charter schools and the use of school vouchers, one is also supporting a new way to bring segregation into the education practices in our society, along with the message that public money should not be spent of social services, like public education. Professor Ian Haney Lopez even suggests that “a dog whistle” message is being sent by people with these same political views  (like DeVos) that white tax dollars are being spent and being wasted on nonwhite children; so fear government and trust the market place. Furthermore, according to Professor Lopez under the premise of helping inner city nonwhite students, is the “tactics of Clint Bolick, who in the 1990’s proposed using black children as fronts in efforts to defund public schools.”

Makes one wonder what message (dogwhistle?) Ms. DeVos was using when she had black children behind her during her confirmation hearings that were being shown nationwide.  Hmmmm?

So if Betsy DeVos is confirmed, watch the attack on public education and American democracy!

Just over thirty years ago, I was working at Marine World/Africa USA in the Land Animal and Education Departments. I spent most of my weekends sharing information with the public about conservation efforts in the afternoon and the mornings were spent cleaning enclosures. During the week I would go to public schools and speak about the incredible animals who were visiting with them that day as ambassadors. For a zoology graduate from UC Davis, this was a dream job! Alas, like many dreams reality woke me up and it was time for me to grow up and start a career. Besides, MW/AUSA was being forced to relocate and most of our jobs were eliminated. So what does a wildlife scientist do when all the animals have gone away? Well, to be honest I just found some other wild and exotic animals to work with--I became a teacher.
My first teaching assignment was thirty years ago. I was split between a high school biology program and two elementary schools working as a science specialist. The next year I moved to a neighboring district and began working in a junior high, teaching ninth grade biology and seventh grade life sciences. Shortly after that, the district reorganized into a middle school format and I got to be one of the first sixth grade science teachers. At that time there were no statewide standards and I was tasked with creating the curriculum. Amazing! As an educator, it was part of my responsibilities to actually write curriculum; not just use a publisher's pacing guide or some special task force's version of what students should know (in spite of the fact they had not been in a public classroom since their own high school graduation!). Now, as I move into my 30th year of teaching we are facing the Next Generation Science Standards (a national movement toward "improving" America's performance in math and science). And while I am still allowed to insert my own creativity and professional spin, for the most part it has been mandated what will be taught and in some case, how it shall be taught.
But really, what has thirty years as a public classroom science teacher done? I took a moment to reflect on the fact that as thirty years have gone fine, over 6500 students have entered my classroom. Teacher in Space, Christa McAuliffe (killed in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster) once said, "I touch the future... I teach." Wow! In thirty years, I have touched nearly 7000 lives and by the time I am scheduled to retire, that number could reach to close to 10,000. I am overwhelmed by the enormous responsibility of those lives. 

For some of these kids, differences were made. The former student who was bullied because of her acne, who often spent time after class to talk even if for a few moments, and is now a fashion model and YouTube celebrity (having created a make-up regime for her acne). Or the young woman who as she walked by me in a restaurant with a gleam of recognition, realized who I was and shared that she is now the CEO of her own start-up and that somehow my intervening during a crisis in middle school kept her going when she was thinking about suicide. Another is a budding politician. At least two have won Olympic gold medals. Many went on to college, have their own families now, some are teachers themselves, and unfortunately, a few have left us.
I remember being told once that students don't necessarily remember what you taught them, but they will always remember how you made them feel. As I go into my thirtieth year of teaching, I do so with the mindset that somewhere down the road, each child who enters my door will take something away. Haim Ginott: "I've come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It's my personal approach that creates the climate. It's my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child's life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized."
I recently read a blog by Sarah Blaine called The Teachers and it really struck a chord with me. In her blog, Ms. Blaine talks about how all of us have had experience of some sort in the educational system. During our time spent in school, we encountered dozens of teachers and as such, we know teachers. She goes on to state "We get teachers. We know what happens in classrooms, and we know what happens in classrooms, and we know what teachers do. We know which teachers are effective, we know which teachers left lasting impressions, we know which teachers changed our lives, and we know which teachers sucked."

Ms. Blaine hit the truth so clearly--we know teachers. And she speaks an even deeper truth when she says, "Teaching as a profession has no mystery. It has no mystique. It has no respect."

I have been teaching for nearly 30 years; most of those years spent in the San Ramon Valley Unified School District. Each year nearly 200 students have walked through my doors and into my classrooms on a daily basis. And while I am not a math teacher, if my calculations are correct that is possibly over 6000 lives I have touched. Over the years I have connected with some of those lives through social media and for the most part, those lives have turned out pretty darn good. I try to hold onto those lives and the moments that created them, but every now and then events take a turn and Ms. Blaine's blog becomes an all too true reality.

"We were students, and therefore we know teachers. We denigrate teachers. We criticize teachers. We can do better than teachers. After all: We do. They teach...We are wrong."

Ms. Blaine spent little over a year earning a masters degree in teaching and then spent a few more years after than teaching in a public school. In the body of her blog she shares her experiences. In the end, she confesses that she copped out and later went to law school. She ends her blog saying, "The problem with teaching as a profession is that every single adult citizen in this country thinks that they know what teachers do. And they don't. So they prescribe solutions, and they develop public policy, and they editorialize, and they politicize. And they don't listen to those who do know. Those who could teach. The teachers."

Need I say more?
San Ramon Valley educators are seeing red! SRVUSD as a district is getting more money for local use than in recent history. And the District is spending it. According to an email sent to over 3000 district employees from the superintendent back in December, the district expects to receive $25.3 million in new, ongoing LCFF (local control funding) and $16.44 million in one-time state revenue. But before settling on teacher salaries (with proposals on the table since June 2015), the district allocated $18.2 million in new expenditures.  The cost of providing a 1% salary increase for SRVEA is $1.33 million so the 6% on-schedule increase the teachers are requesting would cost the district almost $8 million. The district has no hesitation in spending monies on solar panels and technology but balks at spending money on its greatest resource--its teachers!

After teachers took to the streets to rally and speak their voice to the SRVUSD School Board, the district came back with an increase in their original offer of 4% on-schedule. But after going nearly ten years with less than a 1% average annual increase, the teachers just do not feel the love. A record amount of new monies coming into the district and yet the district does not feel it is a priority to restore teacher salaries. During the recession, San Ramon Valley educators accepted the fact that the district was not financially strong. Ironically, during that same time period the district's reserves grew! They actually received enough revenue to pad some of their savings all the while not providing any salary increase to their educators.

In her most recent district wide email about SRVEA negotiations, the superintendent stated that the district was actually offering a compensation increase of 10.44% that included a 5% on-schedule increase and 2% one-time payment. The district has the habit of publicizing statutory benefits such as health and welfare increases, retirement contributions, extra pay salary, and step/column increases. They include these benefits (the cost of doing business) as a way to inflate their "offer" to the teachers. It is a misleading and confusing practice. The truth behind these numbers is not every teacher receives step/column increases every year. For some teachers, the step/column increase is $2.00 while for others it can be $200.00 and yet many more will receive $0.00 in step/column. And until an educator retires, the retirement contribution is invisible. That benefit does not pay mortgages or feed families. 

According to SRVUSD Local Accountability Plan--their top priority is to attract and retain highly qualified educators. Maybe they need to start putting their wallet into action. Neighboring districts have approved 8% increases, 10% increases, and most recently in West Contra Costa County USD, a 12% increase over the next 11 months. Wonder if those teachers had to see red.

Ironically, San Ramon Valley Unified School District was featured in a KRON story about the massive teacher shortages.
I grew up in the State of California when we were in the top five for per pupil spending. I enjoyed learning in an open classroom environment and given the opportunity to experience a rich and diverse school culture. In elementary school, as part of the elective cycle, I learned how to take apart and put back together a motorcycle, falconry, and read the great classics. I got to play bass drum in the band which later turned into the glockenspiel in high school, then the French horn, and keyboards in jazz band. I was able to try out for and play any sport I desired. When it came time for selecting a college, I had so many options, and not because of my grades but because California provided funding for higher education. I went to UC Davis and when It came time to get my teaching credential, I entered the CSU system.

In the early-80's, I witnessed a shift in the way public education was funded primarily due to the passage of Proposition 13. The idea behind Prop 13 was attractive to home owners, but little did we know then what the fall out would be as corporations were able to maneuver the loopholes and funding for education started its downward spiral. We hit critical mass in the mid 2000's when the entire nation experienced an economic recession. But financial times have improved and we are on an upturn where many are able to have their buying power restored. Unfortunately, it is taking public schools a lot longer to catch up with other businesses and industry.

A top priority for districts needs to be attracting and retaining the best in the pool of credentialed educators. This demands competitive compensation along with attractive teaching and learning conditions. Districts must prioritize  teaching and learning. This must be reflected in district budgets. We need to stop the practice of negotiating for compensation after the school year has started and budgets are set; especially with budgets that do not factor in salary increases such as COLA (cost of living adjustment), but only consider statutory factors such as health and welfare benefits, retirement, and step/column increases. 

In a recent article (http://www.cta.org/educator) in the Educator, published by CTA, there was discussion about the cost of living where teachers work. The hard truth is it is very difficult for teachers to live in the areas where they work. And with more and more responsibilities encroaching on personal time, educators are feeling the hit. Where it was once reasonable to take on another job outside of teaching in order to make ends meet, many are finding it impossible because of the demands of Common Core, NGSS, RTI, and other programs/curriculum adopted by districts. We are seeing a time when teachers cannot even afford to retire: the inability to maintain any sort of 403b or 457 plan as they live paycheck to paycheck or risk having to sell their homes in order to finance retirement. There is no long term security.

And yet, honestly, compensation is far from the every-day mind of teachers. If asked, what do teachers make? Well, the best answer I ever heard is in the video clip:
In hearing what teachers honestly make, one would hope that districts would take it upon themselves and reward such commitment, passion, and dedication.

There is the need to reform how education is funded especially in our State which is now in the bottom percentage. Yes, it will take tax changes, ballot initiatives, and legislative action. But it will also take districts looking at what is their top priority. Our students are our most valuable asset. Each of them only gets one chance--there are no "do overs." Today is the only time these kids will be in my classroom and I have that one shot to help make a difference. 
Over the last few months I've been reading articles and Facebook posts, along with hearing media reports about teacher shortages. It is disappointing that as a profession, teaching is not on the top of the list of most college graduates. I confess, when I was nearing the end of my college experience and deciding which path I would take next, education was not my first choice.

I worked at Marine World/Africa USA in Redwood City and one of the programs I was involved in was the School Assembly Program. We would bring cheetahs, tiger cubs, opossums, snakes, and other exotic animals to schools as ambassadors, teaching students about wildlife conservation and the importance of these magnificent creatures. However, reality hit one day when Marine World/Africa USA was changing locations-- I needed a career that would sustain me into my retirement. And truth was, working as a middle school educator did not mean giving up working with wild and exotic animals; just middle school students are a bit more wild and slightly different type of exotic!

When I announced I was getting my teaching credential, my family could not be more thrilled. It was seen as an honorable profession and one that was respected. Even to this day, when I tell people I am a teacher, there is a level of admiration (some sympathy as well, but definitely admiration). Think about it-- what I do has a direct impact on the future of thousands. To quote Christa McAuliffe-- I touch the future. I teach.

A few years ago, I had the privilege to work on the CTA Teacher Evaluation Workgroup. Our first charge was to develop a document about teacher evaluations and how to make the evaluation process more meaningful. Next we worked on developing a foundation for professional development and teacher education programs. I worked directly with now CTA President, Eric Heins who headed this workgroup. To this day, this is one of my proudest contributions to the world of education. I recently came across this YouTube where CTA President Eric Heins talks about the teaching profession and our need to take back our profession:


 And thus it begins-- in just a few hours, I will be traveling to Bodega Bay for the SRVEA Executive Board retreat where we will look at the upcoming year and what it holds for our members. Many of us have spent the summer working for our colleagues. Several of us just spent a week at UCLA at CTA's Summer Institute, the largest collection of professional development instruction for educators in the entire State of California. We learned about bargaining, communication, tax fairness, as well as school finance and membership benefits.

Additionally, I’ve already written my own goals for how I want to level up this year in my classroom – most of them having to do with work flow. My lesson matrix for the year is complete and I am anxious to get started incorporating the Next Generation Science standards as we begin to integrate at the middle school level.

Meanwhile, I did spend some time with the dogs, taking care of household duties, and I can't forget that week in Oahu! Just seems like time flies especially the month of July!

And thus it begins, my 21st year in the District and my 29th year teaching. Even with all the planning and organizing, I believe the best days of teaching are usually not those you plan. As Victoria Davis says, "Great teachers find it amidst the cacophony of noise and the maelstrom of all that school can be." Great teachers are always in pursuit of learning and growing themselves.

There’s a great chapter in Dr. Henry Cloud’s book Necessary Endings about how to determine if you can work with someone and help them improve in their job or when you really need to let that person go and it has to do with that very thing.

The Wise: The wise person responds to correction. They take notes. They ask questions. They go out and work to improve.

The Foolish: The foolish person blames others and won’t even accept the criticism so they can begin to correct it.

I see this with my students too. Often the very best students are grappling with the few things they missed while some weaker students are just happy for the C without a glance to learn the things they missed so they can level up next time.

Pay attention to best practices. Take the time to reflect on what you wanted to teach, what you taught, and what your students actually learned. Respond and improve. I know this year will bring with it many challenges. I've got a lot to learn this year as do my students. Ready? We can do this! Let's go!


    Laura Finco is a Grade 8 Science educator at Stone Valley Middle School. When she is not in her classroom, Laura is either in Sacramento advocating for teachers' rights in order to protect our students or more casually, working with her golden retrievers in the agility ring

    The SRVEA blog is written by teachers for teachers. Anyone is invited to share their thoughts. If you would like to submit a blog post, please send it to SRVEA Communications.


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