What to Get Teachers This Holiday Season 

Tammy Berlin

The holiday shopping season is in full swing.  As you rush around selecting just the right gift for all the people in your life, don’t forget your teachers.  Whether you’re a principal, a district administrator, a legislator, a parent, or a student, here’s what you can get the teachers on your list.  

From Principals:  

  • Protect our time.  Yes, there may be a vacant sub position (or two, or three, or more), but we really need our planning period to prepare for our students.  Please do absolutely everything you can to find another way to cover those classes. Also, we need our time before and after school for the same reason, so please keep those faculty meetings to an absolute minimum.  We promise we’ll read your emails if you use them to communicate information that you would normally share in a faculty meeting. We’ll appreciate the extra time.  
  • Make us feel supported when we have to manage student behavior.  Trust that we’ve already tried every reasonable and necessary intervention before we ask for your help in dealing with that problematic student behavior, and know that if we’ve called on you for help it really is urgent.  The rest of our students are patiently waiting on your assistance, so that we can get back to teaching them.  
  • Involve us in collaborative decision-making.  We are the people who actually have to implement every local policy at our school, so it only makes sense to have a say in developing those policies.  Real collaborative decision making means that we are involved in every step of the decision making process, from identifying what problems our school needs to address, to considering and evaluating all of the possible solutions, and choosing the best solution for our school.  It does NOT mean imposing external mandates from the District on us or identifying problems and developing solutions by yourself, then asking us for our “feedback” on the decisions you’ve basically already made.  

From District Leadership:  

  • Please refrain from issuing top-down directives to our administrators.  We need local autonomy. We know every student by name and care for them as our own.  Please trust us to know what to do and how to make the best decisions for our schools.  
  • Give us the resources that we need.  Money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy books, art supplies, and everything else we need to make learning fun, engaging, and meaningful to our students.  Making sure that we have what we need to teach is the most important thing you can do to make JCPS better for us all.

From Legislators:  

  • We need a raise.  We work really hard, we spend our own money on our students, and we are highly trained professionals who deserve to be paid accordingly.  And don’t forget our support staff: classroom assistants, bus drivers, secretaries, janitors, and everyone else that makes school happen on a day to day basis.  Those folks are angels on earth, and we’d be lost without them.  
  • Protect our benefits.  For the work we do every day, our salaries are a real bargain.  Please make sure that our insurance and pensions are there to take care of us.  We just want to teach our kids. Please don’t make us come to Frankfort to fight for our benefits.  

From Parents:  

  • Thank you for allowing us to teach your children.  We love them almost as much as you do, and just like you, we only want the best for them.  We’re on the same team. Please trust and affirm our decisions, and on those occasions when we have to contact you about your child’s behavior, please be supportive and present a united front with us.  Your child’s academic efforts and behavior are both so much better when they see that we all have the same expectations.  

From Students:  

  • You’re the reason why we get up every morning and do what we do.  We care about you and want the absolute best future for you. All we want in return is for you to always give us your very best effort and cooperation.  

Go Away, Bevin

Emilie McKiernan Blanton

Matt Bevin is exactly who teachers have always said he was. He’s careless, disgusting, selfish, and hateful. When confronted with facts, he has clung to fantasy and half-truths. You are either completely in agreement with every word he says or you are against him. The Bevin years will go down as a dark time in Kentucky’s history. We thought the time had closed, but like the graceless monster that he is, he grasps for malevolent relevance. 

The pardons have been jarring and incomprehensible. The sheer volume of pardons made for a slow trickle of information released about the killers and rapists released. A woman beheaded and stuffed in a barrel. A child sexually assaulted so brutally, he almost died from internal injuries. More than one pardon excused the crime of infanticide. As opposition to Andy Beshear maligned him as a “baby killer,” Bevin was forgiving actual baby killers. People with money and connections to Bevin have their heinous crimes erased as the common folk of Kentucky are left reeling.

During the 2018 sickouts, Bevin accused teachers of causing the sexual assault of children. Standing outside the Capitol, Bevin declared “I guarantee you somewhere in Kentucky today, a child was sexually assaulted that was left at home because there was nobody there to watch them.” He clung to the notion that we had caused harm to children in this disgusting, traumatizing way. 

In an interview with Terry Meiners on WHAS840, Bevin stooped even lower. One pardon involved a man who repeatedly raped a young girl from ages 9 to 12. The survivor of his horrific crimes is now a 16 year old high school student. The criminal was supposed to serve a 23 year prison term and was instead released after 18 months. As her mother succinctly and tragically pointed out, he spent less time in prison than he spent raping her child. 

In the WHAS interview, Meiners asked about the child rapist and Bevin had to ask which one. He then went on to state, in a grotesque and graphic manner, that the girl had made the entire ordeal up. 

Matt Bevin has never hidden who he was. He has always been the brash, spiteful man some in our state are waking up to. His pardons in particular show a disdain and negligence for women and children. It is no wonder that he chose to aim at teachers, a profession dominated by women. He doesn’t think we are worthy of his time and he doesn’t care what happens to us.

We have a chance to move on and work together to create a brighter Kentucky. We have the opportunity to move past hateful rhetoric and work together to fix the mess Matt Bevin has made. Thousands of Kentuckians voted for Bevin in November. Thankfully more voted for Andy Beshear, a man who treats the women around him as equals and has put the children of Kentucky first every step of the way. It’s time for Bevin to step out of the spotlight and leave our commonwealth alone.

The Illusion of Scholarship Tax Credits

Don Bacon

In February 2019,  House Bill 205 was introduced in Kentucky, a bill which was written to establish scholarship tax credits.  If it were to become law, this would allow for donations to be provided to scholarship organizations which grant tuition assistance to families wishing for their students to attend private K-12 schools.  The donors to the scholarship organizations would receive a tax deduction from the state.

Scholarship tax credits and school choice are the jargon of private and charter school advocates.  Calling them scholarship tax credits is much more attractive than their actuality. Truthfully, they are a loophole around school voucher initiatives, which do not garner as much public support.  School choice is code for options to send fewer students to public school and for public dollars to go to private schools.  

Scholarship tax credits create a myriad of issues behind the facade of better options for parents and families.

The Support Education Excellence in Kentucky (SEEK) funding program uses a formula to calculate the amount of dollars each school district receives based on the number of students enrolled and in attendance.  Base SEEK funding provides $4,000 dollars per student, with extra funds for at-risk students. While this is the largest amount of money per student ever spent in Kentucky, it falls below previous levels when adjusted for inflation.  

If public schools were to receive less funding due to a significant number of students choosing to attend private schools using scholarships, difficult choices would have to be made on how public schools would continue.  These could be increases to student to teacher ratios, the discontinuing of some courses, and the reduction of support staff for a school. The written law necessities for a school do not always match with the reality of what each school needs.  Many schools are desperate for smaller class sizes and more mental health counselors, which would be nearly impossible to achieve with a smaller budget.  

The loss from SEEK funding would be compounded with the cuts education in Kentucky dealt with in 2018.  The Kentucky Teacher Internship Program, money for textbooks and instructional materials,, and funds for teacher professional development were all eliminated.  A large reason teachers protested HB 205 in February was because schools in Kentucky are already underfunded and a scholarship tax credit plan would exacerbate the problem.

Public school educators are aware of the diverse needs of learners and support creative educational solutions for all students.  Scholarship tax credits and school choice initiatives ignore the fact that public schools are for all students with every variety of educational need, background, and difference.  Our society should be cautious about giving up infrastructure in our communities. Scholarship tax credits rely on the benevolence of groups and individuals who would rather fund private institutions, which are not held publicly accountable, rather than public institutions which serve everyone.  

A Message for Our Members: We need your help to improve student behavior in JCPS

Tammy Berlin

A Message for Our Members:  We need your help to improve student behavior in JCPS 

During our October and November Rep Council meetings, we had in-depth conversations with our building reps about how student misbehavior is handled in JCPS schools.  These conversations, as well as the data from last May’s Student Discipline survey, have revealed that a significant number of JCTA members either a) have been directed by their administrators to write fewer or less severely worded student behavior referrals, or b) are under the impression that their administrators have been directed by their superiors to use whatever means necessary at their building level to reduce and eliminate the number of discipline referrals and subsequent suspensions.  This is a serious problem that destroys building climate, employee and student morale, and public trust in our District. JCTA needs your help to solve it.  

Know Your Rights

Article 7 of our contract talks about the responsibilities of employees and the District regarding student discipline.  Section A says that the employees and the District agree to “effectively carry out” the Student Support and Behavior Intervention Handbook (SSBIH) and the Student Bill of Rights as adopted by the District.  That means that you as a teacher have the responsibility of using adequate and appropriate classroom management techniques to maintain an environment conducive to learning.  In return, you have the right to expect that your building administrator will adhere to the administrator responsibilities in the SSBIH, including supporting you in implementing behavior interventions, accurately recording inappropriate student behavior and disciplinary responses following the protocols established in the SSBIH, and following procedures for student removals from the learning environment.  Furthermore, Article 7 states that the District “shall strive to provide a learning environment that is safe and free from interruptions by disruptive students”, and it specifically guarantees you the right to temporarily remove a disruptive student from the classroom. If your administrator is not following the provisions outlined in the SSBIH and the Student Bill of Rights you have the right to grieve. This right is guaranteed you in Section C of Article 7 of our contract.  

What to Do When a Directive Conflicts with Your Rights

Simply put, call your UniServ Director at the JCTA office at (502) 454-3400.

JCTA is your best source for resolving problems with the District and with your administrators. Although there are occasionally situations where a dispute with the District is a perpetual struggle, in most cases we can enforce the provisions of our contract, but only if you tell us when your rights are being violated and by whom.  If you’ve been directed to refrain from writing referrals or calling your school’s Student Response Team, if you’ve been directed to use less-severe language than indicated as appropriate by the SSBIH, if your administrator has not supported you in implementing behavior interventions, if they have not followed procedures for student removals from the learning environment, or if they are in general not supporting your efforts to maintain a classroom environment conducive to learning, you need to communicate that to your UniServ Director.  

Often your UniServ Director can solve the issue through normal communication channels, but occasionally it may be necessary to use the grievance process in the contract to resolve a dispute.  A grievance is a normal and necessary process through which the Association files a formal written complaint against the employer outlining specific ways in which the employer has failed to uphold their end of the contract.  It is a right afforded to you in our contract to ensure that your employer treats you fairly and follows the rules. Don’t be afraid to use this procedure when you need to in order to protect your rights.  

Can You Get in Trouble if You Ask JCTA to Help?

The short answer is NO.  In many cases, the Association can talk to the district about your school’s issues without using your name.  Your communications with JCTA are confidential and the Association will never use your name without your permission. 

If it is necessary to use your name, JCTA will only do so with your permission and our contract protects you from retaliation if you work through JCTA to resolve your problems.  Article 5 of our contract says, “Employees and administrators shall be treated in a professional manner at all times.” Article 9, which talks about disciplinary action against employees, protects you against being disciplined by your administrator unless there is just cause.  Just cause means that the District has to follow proper procedures in investigating whether or not you willingly violated a rule or regulation that you should have reasonably been expected to be aware of, and that employee discipline can only occur if there is substantial proof that you are guilty.  Just cause protections apply to every member who is tenured. 

For those who aren’t tenured yet, JCTA can often engage without using your name and any identifying information in discussions with the District.  When that is not possible, your UniServ Director can help you explore the options available to you and can often help find other ways to solve your problem.  For example, there may be tenured teachers with the same issue who are willing to take the lead on the issue. 

Because our contract assures you the right to expect that your administrator will fulfill their obligations to support you in maintaining a classroom environment that is safe and conducive to learning, and because the grievance procedure is the mechanism through which JCTA holds administrators accountable for following the rules, your administrator cannot discipline you or otherwise retaliate against you for exercising your contractual rights to seek help from the Association.  Most principals are responsive when UniServ Directors work through their channels at the District to solve problems like these, but in the few cases where they have not been, we have seen administrators reprimanded, reassigned, removed, and even retired for not upholding their end of the contract.  

Let’s Work Together to Improve Student Behavior

If teachers in your building are finding that administration is not supporting their efforts to manage student behavior as outlined in the SSBIH, call the JCTA office and explain the situation to your UniServ Director right away.  Your UniServ Director will guide you in the best way to protect your rights and hold your administrators accountable.  

Alternative School Blues and Lies

Kumar Rashad

Rodney is a false name for an actual student of mine or should I say a former student.  He had been placed at Breckinridge Metropolitan High School in the fall semester for a fight at another school in which a teacher intervened and was struck unintentionally by the two young men who were fighting.  Breckinridge Metropolitan High School or Breck Metro is an alternative school in the district whose majority population are students who have gotten into legal troubles.

When Rodney enters Breck Metro, he is told that if he is present 80% of the time (4 days a week), gets less than 10 referrals while he is in school, and makes no worse than 1 U in his subject grades, he will be allowed to return to a “regular” school.  

Rodney is a quiet gentleman but no one crosses him out of respect and most people like him.  He gets straight A’s the entire first semester. Rodney does not get one single referral and is well past the 80% attendance threshold.  He does everything right and has a golden smile that could carry him along way in this world.

He has every right to smile since he knows he will be getting out of Breck Metro after the winter break.  Why shouldn’t he? Every third Friday, Breck has an incentive party for those who have good attendance and behavior.  Rodney never missed one and is applauded by all of his teachers for his character and hard work.

The day before Christmas break, the principal calls him into the office.  I tell Rodney good luck in his future because I expect him to be in transition to his new school.  When Rodney returns to my class, he looks like his best friend died and his golden smile is now a frown.  When asked why, he tells me that the principal told him that the “Board” would not dismiss him from our school and he would have to finish the entire year at Breck. 

Rodney is heart-broken and I try to console him but I have no words because I can’t understand how a guy like Rodney is denied.  Who on the “Board” denied him?

Christmas break roles by and the first day of the Spring semester I am waiting for Rodney to come in my class so we can have one of those conversations we always have about music and life.  Unfortunately, Rodney does not show up to my class. Instead, he gets into a fight with another student who teases him about not being able to leave.

Rodney is suspended and after that event, I may have seen Rodney a total of 3 times since then.  He dropped out of school and contributes to the statistics that plague many of our Black males in public education.  I blame JCPS and especially the “Board” who consistently deny our black males the opportunity they deserve.

Renee Murphy in an article from the Courier Journal says that the alternative task force who is assigned to determine policies for alternative schools said that the task force did not address the entrance and exit requirements for students in alternative schools because the bulk of their work addressed issues that would indirectly affect the exit policies.  This is a load of garbage because the district should use all of its resources to help our students instead of using empty language and outdated policies to ruin the lives of our most vulnerable.  

I miss Rodney so much and have tried to reach out to him with no avail but it didn’t have to happen if we had a “Board” that cared about our kids and treated the vulnerable as if they were special.  All our kids want is love and my love for Rodney and others like him have made me hate what WE (JCPS and the “Board”) did to the many Rodneys that are in my school today. Stop lying to my kids JCPS.  That’s not racial equity. It’s simply cruelty and bullying. Put that in your Backpack!

The People's Inauguration

Emilie McKiernan Blanton

We remembered in November and educators were front and center at the Inauguration of Governor Andy Beshear and Lt Governor Jacqueline Coleman. Educators were granted access with special badges for the day as we led the Inaugural Parade and sat in special seats at the Inauguration. December 10th was truly the start of a new day in Kentucky.

After years of insults, attacks, and obfuscation, all Kentuckians were welcomed to join in the celebration as Andy took his oath of office. Being among the crowd of educators and supporters is a thrill I will never forget. My children spent months helping with the campaign and were able to spend time in Frankfort watching educators and Kentucky be celebrated by our chosen governor.

There was an extraordinary sense of camaraderie among the sea of red as we moved through the streets. There were hugs and cheers as we celebrated. Some of us have only known each other through social media posts and seeing each other in person was like old friends reuniting. It has been a long, hard-fought battle that has ignited a passion for activism across the state. In between events, educators were able to gather in the home of our union at the Kentucky Educators Association building. Educators from across the state shared food and laughs in between the parade and the Inauguration. In the home of our union, there was no rural-urban divide. We were all educators together celebrating a new day in Kentucky, regardless of our zipcode. 

It was stunning to be loud and proud as we celebrated in Frankfort instead of descending on Frankfort to fight. As we move into these four years with Andy Beshear at the helm of our state, we have to remember that we can always be loud and proud. We have found our voice and it’s important that we keep that voice. We worked so hard to help shape our democracy, but that fight doesn’t end when we win the election. The work is just now getting started. 

We have an amazing voice and advocate in our Capitol and it’s important that we follow his lead. We have to believe that Andy will do what is best for us and work to ensure that all students have an equitable, public education in our state. Andy and Jacqueline are the voices that we want to lead us and we need to give them the opportunity to move our state in the right direction.

We need to take the energy and enthusiasm we gained over the last few years and continue to work. We have to keep talking with elected officials. We have to keep talking to neighbors, family, and the public about the needs of our students and our profession. The connections we’ve made across the state during this fight will be invaluable. Regardless of where we live, we are all working for the future of Kentucky which sits in our classrooms. There has been a slow, deliberate attempt to dismantle public education. The fixes that we need to help our students won’t happen overnight, but it’s important that we continue to move in the right direction. That takes all of us staying engaged and informed as we work with our new governor. 

Compassion Fatigue: How can we help our students when we have trouble helping ourselves?

Will Tucker

As the class of 2010 prepares for its 10 years reunion, my mind turns to Wes. 
When he was a senior, he was prescribed several different medications to help with his ADHD and focus. Wes was a handful, often a bit neurotic, his brilliance turning the hamster wheel in his brain at 200 mph. The meds helped, but at the same time, he was also self-medicating with other things. When he came into class feeling groggy and worn down, I would express my worry, and he would always brush it off. “Tucker, I’m fine. I’m here to take over this world, and nothing is going to stop me.” 

He was, without a doubt, the smartest kid I’ve ever taught. He got a 1600 on the SAT, and a full ride to UVA. On a more personal level, he loved writing more than any young person I’ve met, and often stayed after school to discuss a book he was crafting. He loved world-building, and in some manner fancied playing god when it came to creative things. I had the privilege of teaching Wes three times, and each year our camaraderie grew as we discussed difficult books, the etymology of obscure French words, and politics from around the world.

I went to his graduation party and saw him a couple times that summer. He started wearing cowboy hats, and fancied himself to be Colonel Aureliano Buendia from Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, a persona that grew once he got to college. 

One afternoon the following spring he came by school for a visit and he told me everything that had happened in college. How he’d been forced out of the University of Virginia for various reasons. How he hoped to start again at U of L that fall. 

In some ways, he already seemed like a ghost. I missed the old Wes, the nerdy kid who taught himself German and loved Bob Dylan more than anything. 

When he died that December, just a week shy of his 21st birthday, I was shocked and devastated. 

But any loss is going to be hard. 

I have only recently become acquainted with the term “compassion fatigue”, something I think all of us in this profession are suffering from. 

We see poverty, violence, racial and cultural insensitivity, trauma, and issues with mental health, every single day in our classrooms. And yet, some members of the American public seem to think that we can solve these, and other social problems, while preparing our students for high-stakes testing, college, career, the rest of their lives. 

The pressure never lets up in a culture that is only focused on results, and our educational leaders seem to think that our resilience and grit will last, even when the ground beneath our feet is crumbling. We see how polarized our culture has become, we try to teach unity and compassion, but the world keeps invading, keeps us from being able to sleep at night as we worry that what we do will not make a difference in the long run. 

It should not be surprising then, that a Learning Policy Institute study on teacher burnout suggests that new teachers leave at a rate between 19 and 30 percent over their first five years of teaching. No School of Education can completely prepare someone new to the profession for the traumas they may face, especially one like losing a student to death. 

But perhaps schools can take steps to train teachers on recognizing the signs of issues like compassion fatigue.  Maybe if we spent more time on self-care, and less time worrying about potential state takeovers and test results, the entire climate of our schools would change.     

Some days it feels like there’s a bit of black cloud we’re trying to outrun. On others, it seems like the sadness and pressure are forgotten and things are normal again. Or as normal as a high school can be. 

The reality is that we don’t just let our kids run around the maze of our hearts for 175 days. We sometimes worry about them all evening. On the car ride home. In line for groceries, or standing at our son’s soccer game. 

I sometimes wonder if the public fully understands how much we care for our students. How we invest in their futures and await the fulfillment of potential. How we remember their names 10 years after they graduate, and how we like to tell stories over and over to our current students about all the funny things that a previous class did. 

We become the parental figures that so many of them don’t have. The crazy uncles and loving aunties. And even though I’ve become a father myself, my students will always be “my kids.”  

In this holiday season, I am grateful for the chance to teach. I am grateful for the laughter and the tears that come with each passing school year, for the happy memories that students and teachers alike treasure, and even for the pain of losing someone like Wes.  

So the next time you question the value of your work, or the importance of your life, think about a teacher that made a difference. One that meant the world to you. 

Chances are you meant the world to them, too.

MAP Testing is Disruptive – Part 2

Ryan Davis

Standardized testing proponents often minimize its impact by saying that it is just one data point. Such reasoning downplays the disruptiveness and influence that standardized data points have.  Not all points are weighted equally. And, in our current culture and system, standardized data points carry more weight than others. As such, data from MAP will ultimately receive disproportional attention and find elevated value in our system. 

Imagine a bedsheet stretched flat in the air with a person holding it taught at each corner.  If each person sets a foam ball near their corner of the sheet, we could see and examine all four foam balls independently.  We might even be able to tilt the sheet and roll them around, controlling their position and our view. Now, imagine someone sets a bowling ball in the middle of the sheet.  We will pull harder on the corners, but the weight of the bowling ball will inevitably cause a deepening sag that funnels everything toward it. This is MAP. One point, just like all the others.  But, its weight in our system collapses all other points toward it.  

On a more practical level, we know what this looks like and what it means for students.  The weight one standardized data point can lead lost time in electives or other content to remediate or “double up” in a tested area.  Even though data points like a student’s passion for music or need for art or science may out number, they cannot outweigh the influence of a standardized data point.  This also means time and pressure to analyze the standardized data point instead of discuss ways to inspire joy, authenticity, and relevance in our schools.  

This happens not just because people with power will have an interest in perpetuating MAP, but also because the nature of MAP is self-perpetuating.  First, the convenience and belied simplicity of numerical data elevates the attention it receives.  It is simply easier and quicker to ask what percentile a student is in than to engage in a deep conversation about whether a student is having meaningful and authentic experiences.  It is easier and quicker ask whether MAP scores are increasing than to determine whether students are growing in abilities like critical thinking or community building. 

Numbers are easy to put on a form.  Numbers are easy to compare – student to student, teacher to teacher, school to school (even when such comparisons aren’t statistically appropriate, helpful, or even aligned to our values).  A number gives the illusion that it has condensed complexity to simplicity. These conveniences will always have greater appeal to administrators and decision makers, themselves, crunched by time, over booked, and perhaps unprepared to converse in depth about certain contents or pedagogies.  In other words, MAP may only be one data point, but because of its accessibility those in power will tend to rely on it more frequently and heavily and (perhaps even unintentionally) elevate its importance.  

Moreover, the culture and climate of JCPS will give further weight to MAP.  Every object has a resonant frequency – its own internal vibrations and hums, the rhythms of its working.  If that resonate frequency is matched by an outside force, those subtle waves become amplified and can shake the whole system with increasing intensity.  Any larger district will tend toward box checking and bureaucracy as a way to manage it size. Additionally, JCPS is already, and albeit slowly, digging out of a culture of fear and compliance that began with previous administrations.  These current and historical realities mean that resonant frequency of compliance and power still hums deep and consistently in our system.  

The nature of MAP matches these frequencies perfectly, and so we will see the worst sides of it, and ourselves, amplified.  This likely means more loss of time chasing test scores. More arbitrary praise and attention focused on areas with high scores, thus more pressure to emulate instead of meet the needs of students.  More attention to test-prep instead of creating meaningful and vibrant experiences for students. We already see this happening. MAP is becoming a bigger focus of faculty meetings, PLCs meetings, walk-throughs, district level conversations, etc…  More plans to address perceived MAP deficiencies are being required. Use of MAP and MAP data is already identified as “non-negotiable” and identified in nine different “success criteria” indictors that are assessed during a district Collaborative Calibration Visit (CCV). 

Mostly importantly, MAP is not a data point derived from unobtrusive observation.  As other articles have detailed, MAP has harmful and disruptive effects on teaching and learning.  In other words, MAP is questionable in its value to begin with and as a top down requirement it will never be just one benign and passing data point on an equal playing field with all others.  We are just beginning to see MAP’s influence and importance increase. The foam balls slowly orbit the rim of funnel once the bowling ball is added. But, then their pace quickens as they near the center. 

 As long as, MAP testing is a top-down requirement it will have disproportionate power, influence, and importance. For assessments to be useful (and also not misused), they must be initiated at the classroom level.  This of course does not mean a group of teachers initiating a policy and practice that becomes a top down requirement. It mean that decisions about assessment of students are made by people who know them: their classroom teachers.  When assessments are initiated in classrooms, without pressure or policy, they have a greater chance of being meaningful to students.  

Educators are Back on Offense Again-Here’s What We Need To Consider When Calling the Plays

Maddie Shepard

Our world moves and changes faster than it ever has.  That change requires educators to think deeply about our responsibility to prepare our learners for that future.   Here are a few facts to consider when making fundamental decisions about education.

  • Sixty-five percent of children now entering primary school will hold jobs that currently don’t exist. (Source: World Economic Forum)
  • In an analysis of 25 common skill sets today, researchers found that between 2016 and 2030, demand for social and emotional skills will grow across all industries by 26% in the United States. (Source: McKinsey)
  • Demand for higher [order] skills, such as creativity, critical thinking, decision making, and complex information processing, will also grow through 2030—by 19% in the United States. The same research predicts the fastest rise in the need for advanced IT and programming skills, which could grow as much as 90% between 2016 and 2030. (Source: McKinsey)
  • Seventy-nine percent of executives agreed that the future of work will be based more on specific projects than roles. (Source: Accenture)

We know the future will look wildly different than our past.  If we look closely at our classrooms, we’re still preparing kids for the now long gone industrial age.  Many schools still operate on a rigid bell schedule, much like they did in the early 1900’s.  Many schools offer a singular track to success, even though we know our learners are vastly different and diverse.  Many learners lack any real decision making power over their learning.

General education hasn’t changed meaningfully since the Industrial Age.  But it must! We need to teach and assess what we value, and what the future demands.  We need to leave behind traditions and that do not serve this end. And finally, we need to stop playing defense on education policy, and start calling our own plays.

Educators are held hostage by an archaic “Accountability system” that is based on standardized test taking and the recall of arbitrary data that is readily available on any smartphone.  Consequently, many educators do not have the freedom to teach and provide feedback on what actually matters, or what our learners value. It may be easier to assess whether students can add and subtract two-digit numbers than whether they are effective collaborators, but our learners deserve a system based on what is important to asses, not just what is cheap and easy.  To be clear, I’m not saying the former skill is not important.  I am saying both are important, yet we only assess the former, to the disadvantage of our learners.

We need to uproot traditions that don’t serve our learners or our future.  We need to put learners at the center, and leverage our relationships and training to codesign a learning path alongside learners, affording them the agency and ownership they need to be engaged, and drive their own futures.  Letter grades that tell us almost nothing about a learner should be replaced with a competency based grading system, so learners can get feedback on where they are in their skill and concept development, and so educators know clearly the next steps each learner needs. 

Finally, we need to stop telling teachers to “do as I say and not as I do”.  We must afford pre-service and current teachers the ownership and agency in their own learning and professional growth we expect them to design for our learners.  Teachers need to experience decision making authority over their learning in order to craft experiences where young learners have agency.

With educators winning big in our governor’s race, we face an opportunity.  We have an open invitation to the education policy making table now that Governor-Elect Andy Beshear and educator and Lieutenant Governor-Elect Jacqueline Coleman are leading our state.  We can play offense now. We can craft the policies that open doors and remove limits. It will take innovation and courage to leave the “it’s the way we’ve always done it” narrative behind.  If Education doesn’t change with the times, our kids will be the ones left behind.

Understanding and Improving Difficult Student Behavior in JCPS

Tammy Berlin

Last spring JCTA’s elected leaders and staff met with Professional Representatives from different JCPS schools to talk about issues surrounding how student misbehavior is handled in our schools.  These Professional Representatives identified a number of issues that they thought were concerns that should be addressed with the District. They asked us to develop a survey to collect data from members about these issues in their schools, so that we would be able to share the information with the District and use it to inform our discussions about how to improve teaching and learning conditions in JCPS.  The data from that survey, which was collected during the months of May and June of 2019, is summarized here.  Read on for an overview of the data listed by topic.  

Most Teachers Feel Safe but Are Unsure What to Do When Assaulted

Although the vast majority of teachers (85%)  report feeling safe when they arrive at school in the mornings, assaults on teachers continue to be a problem.  Approximately one in three JCPS teachers report having been assaulted on the job at some time during their career.  Of those who have been assaulted, only 17% reported the assault. Of those who didn’t report their assault, nearly half indicated that they were unaware of the procedure for reporting the incident.  

Student Mental Health Is a Contributing Factor

Three-quarters of teachers who responded to the survey believe that there is a high degree of correlation between students’ mental health and their behavior at school.  80% of those who responded believe that JCPS does not provide sufficient mental health resources to address their students’ mental health needs.  

Teachers Would Like to See Administrators Take a Greater Role in Managing Student Behavior 

There appears to be a great deal of inconsistency across the district in how documented behavior referrals are handled from school to school and from administrator to administrator.  When asked to what degree they feel supported by their school administration when it comes to managing student misbehavior, teachers were pretty evenly split between those who felt supported and those who did not.   40% of those who responded to the survey report that they rarely or never receive documentation from their administrators in response to their referrals, while 43% report that they usually or always receive a documented response.  30% of respondents indicated that their administrators had suggested to them that they should write fewer behavior referrals and/or use less-severe wording on behavior referrals when their students misbehave; an additional 10% indicated that their administrators directed them to write fewer behavior referrals or use less-severe wording.  23% of respondents reported that they or another teacher in their building has been directed by administrators not to call the Student Response Team when students misbehave, and teachers cited a number of requirements that must be met before they are allowed to request the Student Response Team to intervene in a student misbehavior incident.  While these directives and changes to policy seem to have impacted the number of student suspensions reported by the District, 73% of the teachers who responded to our survey report that they have not experienced a reduction in the number of student misbehavior occurrences in their school that could or should lead to suspension.  

The teachers who responded to the survey seem to believe that school administrators and counselors can make a significant difference in student behavior.  70% report that principals being visible in the hallways has a positive impact on student behavior, and more than half believe that the amount of time that principals spend on meetings and paperwork responsibilities has a negative impact on overall student behavior in their building.  More than two-thirds believe that freeing up guidance counselors to spend more time counseling students would contribute to a significant improvement in student behavior.  

Staffing Issues Contribute to Student Misbehavior

The District is currently facing a substitute teacher shortage, causing there to be unfilled vacancies at schools, with some schools being difficult to staff on a regular or consistent basis.  62% of respondents to the survey believe that the substitute shortage correlates to increased student misbehavior.  

In instances involving an allegation of student abuse by a staff member, the District has a practice of removing and reassigning staff who has been implicated from their current assignment while the incident is being investigated.  These investigations sometimes take weeks or months to be completed, potentially leaving classes staffed by substitutes for an extended period of time. 42% of the people who responded to the survey reported that these reassignments have adversely affected employee morale and workload in their building.  

Restorative Practices

More than two-thirds of respondents who work at Restorative Practices schools believe that the program is not being implemented correctly and with fidelity by the District.  69% of those report receiving inadequate training in Restorative Practices.  

A Deeper Look at School Climate in Schools with Volatile  Student Behavior — Conversations with Teachers

Since we asked members to respond to JCTA’s Student Behavior Survey last spring, JCTA leadership has had a number of deep-dive conversations with members at several schools where student behavior has reached excessive levels of violence.  Our discussions with teachers at these schools have revealed a number of underlying problems that are allowing volatile student misbehavior to perpetuate throughout certain schools and creating a toxic learning and working environment. JCPS  will need to address these issues in order to improve teaching and learning climates in our schools and improve working conditions and morale.  

Schools lacking a functional behavior management plan

The teachers we’ve talked to at these buildings with a high incidence of student misbehavior overwhelmingly have a sense that there is not a functional behavior management plan at their school. Teachers often report that their staff has had cursory training on Positive Behavioral Supports and Interventions (PBIS) and /or Restorative Practices, but that the depth of training they have received has been insufficient for them to fully understand and implement these behavior management systems on a consistent basis in their school.

Training for these systems often consists of one or two days in August with no follow-up training as the year goes on. In addition, teachers at these schools indicate that as the year goes on, the level of student misbehavior becomes unmanageable, and it becomes untenable to actively try to implement the system. When this happens, teachers say that behavior management in their schools reverts to a system of teachers writing referrals and administrators trying to impose consequences in accordance with the infamous dot matrix from the Student Support and Behavior Intervention Handbook. It doesn’t take long for the number and frequency of behavior referrals to reach a critical mass where administrators and teachers can no longer keep up, and at that point, teachers say they feel like their building is out of control.

Students don’t receive sufficient support to change their behaviors, they don’t receive consequences for their misbehavior, teachers feel like they aren’t being supported as they try to maintain some semblance of order in their classrooms and their hallways, and I can only imagine that administrators must surely feel frustrated at conditions and climate in their buildings. To complicate matters, state and federal statute has imposed new requirements for ensuring that ECE students receive all of their instructional minutes and that managing their behavior does not interfere with their learning.  It’s a perfect storm that ruins the school’s learning climate, destroys morale, and pits students, teachers, administrators, and even parents against each other.

Not enough mental health workers in schools

Teachers we’ve talked to indicate that while their schools do have some designated mental health professionals assigned to their building, the amount of support that is available to their schools isn’t enough to manage student needs on a day to day basis, let alone when student behavior becomes volatile. Across the board, teachers at these schools have told us that they need more mental health professionals in their buildings.

Data collection is getting in the way of managing student behavior

Every teacher knows that it’s not possible to teach until student behavior is under control and the classroom environment is calm and conducive to learning.  At our building visits this fall, many members have told us that data collection for the purpose of preparing students for high stakes standardized testing takes precedence over everything else in their school.  Administrators, counselors, and even department leads are urged to spend time doing walkthroughs on classrooms, filling out checklists to determine which teachers are posting their learning objectives daily, whether the classes are on track for their common assessments, and even where the teacher is standing in the room.  Teachers report that the agendas for their Professional Learning Community (PLC) time have been monopolized by their principals for the purpose of data collection and preparing common assessments. Some middle school teachers tell us that they no longer have common planning time with their teams, which prevents them from having opportunities to discuss students that they have in common.   

Student misbehavior correlates to a high student to teacher ratio and understaffing

Across the board, our teachers at schools with a high incidence of volatile student behavior cite class size as the most significant contributing factor to student misbehavior.  While most JCPS high schools have relatively small classes in their honors and advance program classes, general level classes tend to be larger, with many of these classes approaching the class cap of 31.  Unfilled vacancies, whether teacher openings or substitute openings, are another factor that causes increases to class size. Teachers report that when there are unfilled substitute vacancies, it is often necessary for them to accept extra students into their classes or for them to cover another teacher’s class.  Both of these scenarios cause teachers to be put in charge of students they don’t know and with whom they haven’t had an opportunity to build trust.  

Managing Volatile Student Behavior:  What Should We Do Now?  

Here are some thoughts on what I think JCPS should do to improve teaching and learning conditions at schools with the most challenging student behaviors.  

Get back to basics with Maslow’s hierarchy

Teachers can’t teach and students can’t learn until our classrooms and our common spaces are safe environments.  Don’t make the mistake of thinking that more rigorous instruction or more frequent interventions will solve the problem of student misbehavior.  Until our schools are safe places for staff to work and for students to learn, concerns about school accountability and student test scores need to be secondary.  Administration from the top down needs to make student behavior and school safety it’s number one priority until every school and every classroom have a climate that is conducive to student success and learning.  This is a problem that will only be solved by intensive and strategic use of resources, and the District needs to act quickly and decisively to make these changes.   

We NEED smaller class sizes

Thirty-one students in any class are too many for a teacher to build a trusting relationship with each student and give them the one-on-one attention they need and deserve.  High schools with particularly challenging student behavior should have no more than 20 to 22 students in a class; elementary schools with widespread difficult behaviors should have no more than 18 to 20.  Smaller class sizes decrease the student to adult ratio in the school and deter volatile behavior between students. JCPS should leverage the next student assignment plan to decrease enrollment in schools with excessive student violence in order to create smaller class sizes where students can learn and thrive.  

In addition, the District must find ways to make sure that there are no unstaffed sub positions in these schools which regularly have unstaffed vacancies.  This may require offering a pay differential to qualified and experienced subs who are willing to accept jobs at these schools, hiring additional permanent subs in hard to staff buildings, or hiring floating teachers to fill in as needed in unstaffed positions.   

All hands on deck

Along with hiring the staff necessary to create smaller class sizes, JCPS needs to be more strategic about how they use their existing human resources.  The District should relieve school administrators of some of their data collection responsibilities and walk through quotas in order to free up principals and counselors to spend more time working directly with students.  

The District should create student behavior crisis teams to assist in buildings where student misbehavior has reached extreme or violent levels.  JCPS currently has established procedures for mobilizing crisis teams of mental health care staff to schools when school administrators request them in response to traumatic situations such as the death of a student or staff member. Students and staff who feel like they need to talk to a mental health professional can avail themselves of the crisis team on an as-needed and voluntary basis while the team is at their school.  JCPS should replicate and adapt its crisis team model to provide timely support to schools that are experiencing a high level of volatile student behavior incidents. These teams should include staff with expertise in student behavior management and de-escalation techniques, as well as mental healthcare providers. These behavior support teams should be available to be deployed to assist building administrators in managing volatile behavior in hallways and common areas, to assist with administrative and paperwork duties related to student behavior referrals, and to work with students one-on-one on an as-needed basis as directed by the principal.  

JCPS must increase mental health services at schools with high levels of student misbehavior incidents.  JCTA members at schools with some of the most difficult student behaviors have overwhelmingly told us that, while their schools do have some designated mental health professionals assigned to their building, the amount of support that is available to their schools isn’t enough to manage student needs on a day to day basis, let alone when student behavior becomes volatile.   The District needs to strategically target schools with high levels of student trauma for increased access to mental health services.  

Each building needs an individualized and collaboratively developed behavior management plan

Just like master teachers involve their students in establishing and teaching class rules at the beginning of the year, every JCPS school should be developing its own individualized student behavior management plan in collaboration with students, staff, and other stakeholders as part of its Comprehensive School Improvement Plan.  These plans may draw on but should not be limited to elements of the District-approved models, Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) and Restorative Practices (RP). Whatever the school’s behavior management system may be, it is absolutely crucial that it be developed through a collaborative process between administration, staff, students, and families in order to ensure that it has the full support and buy-in of every member of the school community.  When everyone knows what the expectations are and how the plan is supposed to work, it is much easier to maintain order and a positive climate.

Collaboratively developing a school-wide plan is only half the battle, though.  Schools have to be prepared to implement the plan with fidelity. Each school’s behavior management plan should be adequately staffed with necessary security teams, behavior interventionists, home to school coordinators, and other resources as needed.  JCPS must assure that every school is able to access adequate, appropriate professional development for their staff to make sure that they have the skills they need to manage difficult student behaviors according to their plan, and there must be regular opportunities throughout the year for staff to collaborate specifically on student behavior.  

Closing thoughts

When extreme student behaviors like the ones we’ve seen recently make the news, it’s really easy to make broad generalizations or try to point fingers and place blame.  If you read the comment section on any article about students or teachers being assaulted at school or on the bus, you’ll see people blame parents, teachers, the school system, society in general, and they especially find fault with students.  I just want to take this opportunity to remind everyone that a career in public education is a calling. Those of us who work in public schools do it because we love students and are passionate about helping them grow and thrive. We’re trained to understand children, their developmental stages, their needs, and how they think.  We know what they need in order to learn, and we know what to do to manage their behavior when their behavior isn’t good. If we as a society are going to be serious about improving schools, we need to listen to the only people who know every student by name. As teachers, we know our children’s strengths, their weaknesses, their ambitions, and their passions.  We care for them. We know what to do, and we know how to make this better, but we need support. We need administrators to give us the time and the autonomy to do what we know how to do, to teach the way that we know is best for our students. We need the District to allow schools to develop behavior plans that work for their students and give them the resources they need to implement them.  We need policy makers to realize that students can’t learn if we don’t value them as people first, and stop looking at them as data points in the big scheme of the accountability system. Listen to us when we tell you what’s wrong, and do what we ask of you to fix it. We can’t continue approaching this as a problem of academic rigor. These are human beings we’re dealing with. We have to make this right for them.