Some call me "Flem"

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I'm a passionate, purpose-driven, public school teacher! Period.

Friday, August 15, 2014

My letter to a state rep


Dear Rep Roebuck,
The school funding crisis is beyond out of control and tragic. Students died last year. A school police officer suffered a heart attack in school after breaking up a fight. He died. Another faculty member was jumped and hospitalized. Yet they propose to cut additional services and are constantly asking for teachers to give up money to save the district despite the fact that we didn't contribute to its financial ruin.

PLEASE keep fighting for us!

Also, PA's version of Value Added Measures, VAM, or PVAAS, that needs to be thrown out! They want to make teachers more accountable, but are totally stripping us of what we need to be as effective as we possibly can. It's not right, it's not fair and there needs to be an immediate cessation of such an ill-conceived, illogical, unfair, and insidious law.

I'm an elementary school teacher at John B. Kelly Elementary School. I'm committed to teaching,  to learning, and to the realistic, not idealistic, notion that our kids can have the best educational experiences that our schools have the potential energy to provide but a lack of a kinetic, consistent,  and equitable distribution of funds and resources to do what we all love!

There's so much more that I can say and I would love to have the opportunity to sit and meet with you and discuss the issues and real solutions!

Yours truly,
Stephen R. Flemming

Thursday, August 14, 2014

I'm finally included...or am I?

"Earlier today, we heard the beginning of the preamble to the Constitution of the United States, "We, the people." It is a very eloquent beginning. But when the document was completed on the seventeenth of September 1787, I was not included in that "We, the people." I felt somehow for many years that George Washington and Alexander Hamilton just left me out by mistake. But through the process of amendment, interpretation, and court decision, I have finally been included in "We, the people.""

These are the words of, then, Representative Barbara Jordan out of Texas, who, I should point out, was the first black male or female to represent Texas in Congress.

How poignant and appropriate her words are today, especially given the unrest resulting from the recent slaughter of unarmed blacks by police (against Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Ezell Ford) and by gun-toting vigilantes (against Trayvon Martin and Renisha McBride).

It seems like our inclusion is being tested by events like these, proposed voting laws, and often separate and unequal public school funding and resource quantities.

"We, the people" huh?
Yup.

Children's innocence

"Daddy I want to ride the bike."
"OK baby, maybe when we get home."
"His bike," as she points to a teenage boy riding his bike across the street."

{Insert a smile and a slight chuckle here}

This kind of stuff just makes you temporarily forget all of the insanity and foolishness all around us, if only for a moment.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Suburban Station Music...again

Waiting for the train at Suburban Station, listening to young students from one of OUR public schools skillfully play the violin and cello! I asked them where they attend school. SHOUT OUT TO Creative and Performing Arts High School (CAPA)!!!!!

I've blogged and tweeted about this before,  but it's good to see young black talent showcasing their talents on an informal, yet prestigious platform. SEPTA's Suburban Station is a hubbub of middle and upper class, well-to-do foot traffic. It's the center point of SEPTA's regional rail trains' center city stations.

For those unfamiliar with our regional rail system, this system of trains transports passengers to and from Center City Philadelphia to and from Delaware,  New Jersey and to and from Philadelphia's wealthy neighboring counties.

Keep up the good work!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Inappropriate People

That fact that I have to read tweets, books, blogs, articles, editorials; attending rallies, marches, and protests for a few years now in opposition to education reform and school closings and in support of school funding in a nutshell, really grinds my gears!! I shouldn't *have* to do this!

As a teacher, I live it! Oops, I meant to say I LOVE it, but the "i" is next to the "o" and I'm getting used to a new Samsung Galaxy with no key pad. But "live" is just as appropriate.

I digress.

As a teacher I LOVE what I do! This was what I always wanted to do. It's what I started doing well before my adolescent years as a kid with my younger siblings. Even as a child in a crib, my parents tell the story of a little boy teaching his younger brother the ABCs.

So when I read and listen to the ludicrous arguments of individuals like Michelle Rhee,  Bill Gates, Governors Christie and Corbett, Dr. Steve Perry, and too many others, I become incensed! Locally, we have our fair share of debaters!

These are inappropriate people with money, political influence, and the love of national media! Except Corbett, but I digress again.

Flem, 'whatchu mean' by inappropriate people? I mean those who may on the surface have the best of intentions, but go about it all wrong. I say on the surface because, deep down they very well may not have well meaning intentions. I'm tending to believe the latter, but my mom is a huge proponent of giving people the benTifit of da doubt {in my Madea voice}.

I mean the organizations and political agendas they founded or represent.
They're inappropriate because their actions screw up children's lives and the communities from which they come. They shutter schools and refuse to appropriate the necessary funds for quality educational experiences, especially in highly impoverished areas.

They're inappropriate because their actions result in relegation real teaching to test prepping.

They're inappropriate because they set their mouths against the very people for whom anyone who can read, write, calculate, and even come up with the worst of educational policies, should be thankful.

We are teachers. We are countless other education and social service professionals. We are skilled professionals in the art and science of teaching and learning and all the myriad other tentacles that are natural extensions.

Back off!!!!

The Problems with Non-Seniority-Based Layoffs

PennCan tweeted out an OpEd piece arguing for non-seniority based teacher layoffs, if and when layoffs are necessary in a school district. ~~> http://www.pennlive.com/opinion/2014/08/want_to_retain_our_best_teache.html

I understand their position. I really do. I'm not so much of a hot-head for public schools, public school students, public school teachers, public school funding, etc. that I cannot at least listen to the arguments of those with whom I disagree. So yes, I understand their point, but I disagree.

As they point out, teacher-layoffs are unfortunate no matter what, but using seniority is by far the most objective way to do it, if it must be done.

The problem with performance-based layoffs in this culture of ed-reform is that they're based on unfounded assumptions. Here are 7 assumptions that performance-based layoffs are based on:
1.  All principals are fair and objective
2.  All principals know what good teaching and learning looks like
3.  Principals don't set teachers up to fail
4.  Principals have extended themselves as true instructional leaders to assist teachers who may be struggling (assuming they themselves are teachers indeed and know how to help struggling teachers)
5.  New teachers are all effective teachers
6.  Teachers with length of years are ineffective
7.  Principals won't ever force teachers out with whom they've had a falling out (speaks to that fair and objective assumption)

I think I should pause here to point out that not all principals are power-tripping, only-2-years-in-the-classroom-then-turned-academic-coach-and-now-principal, out-to-get-and-punish-the-teachers antagonists. There are some great principals out there!!

I should also point out that new teachers need time to develop and become the phenomenal teachers they aspire to be. They are energetic, young, and fresh out of the box and most certainly have a place among the faculty of a school. I believe the best schools are schools that have a healthy mix of new and experienced teachers who collaborate well for the good of the student body and overall climate of the building!

In this education reform era edu-philanthropists, many politicians, and other reformies don't believe that one needs to be an educator to be in school and district leadership positions (Broad Academy selects their participants "from within and outside the K-12 education--emphasis mine--http://www.broadcenter.org/academy/about/academy-at-a-glance).

Nor do they necessarily believe that one needs to be an educator to be in the classroom....ahem...Teach for America (http://www.teachforamerica.org/why-teach-for-america/who-we-look-for).  Because of the prominence of non-educators in positions of leadership and because not all principals are fair, objective, and are true instructional leaders who extend themselves to be an asset to all teacher, principals should not be given blanket and Broad powers (pun intended) to hire, fire, and recommend for layoff and why performance should not be the primary factor for teacher layoffs, if and when they must occur.

The reformies would argue that test scores take out the subjectivity from such decisions. Base educational decisions of test scores and other Value Added Measures. Put a number to it! Wait! You mean the test scores that come from kids who may not have wanted to take the test and filled in anything just to be done with it? Or the score of a kid whose parent didn't come home last night?  Maybe they mean the test score of a kid who had to stay up all night in the hospital because his kid brother got shot the night before and was made to come to school and test his pain away? Perhaps the scores of a kid who had to hustle to bring in some extra bread (the slang and literal meanings) for the family because his mother had to work a double last night and that's barely enough? Those scores? I'm paranoid and an alarmist you say? Have you seen the news recently in Philadelphia and Chicago?

Seniority-based layoffs are objective. Such decisions leave no room for cronyism, nepotism, or punish-the-outspoken-kick-against-the-pricks-type of teacher! We shouldn't even be discussing teacher layoffs when class sizes are larger than they ought to be and when we could use every available teacher we can get our hands on. But if they must occur, seniority, for the reasons mentioned (and others), is the way to go!