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Contract should help new teachers become great teachers

The contract resulting from the strike tries to balance high, enforced expectations with support.

On Tuesday, the teachers of Chicago voted on the new contract that has been the focus of so much debate both in the city and nationally.  As a future teacher who will look for a job in CPS at the end of the year, I felt a tension between opposing desires during the negotiations. 

On one hand, I wanted to be in the classroom, providing students with the opportunity to learn.   On the other hand, I recognized that a strike was a powerful tool to increase resources for public education.   My students need great teachers, and the strike made me wonder - what do I need to be that great teacher?

The amount of blame I saw leveled at teachers during the strike discussions was terrifying for someone about to enter the profession.   Like our students, the teachers of Chicago feel the effects of unemployment, violence, urban depopulation, and poverty on a daily basis.  Did the responsibility of solving social inequality really fall squarely on my shoulders, as a future teacher?  Such a burden would be unbearable - which may explain why 33% of Chicago teachers leave after only one year.

I have learned in my training that a teacher must maintain high expectations of her students, regardless of their circumstances.   Likewise, I want our district to hold high expectations of me as a teacher, and hold me accountable to those expectations.  But there is another crucial lesson of my student teaching: high expectations alone are not enough.  You can't expect your students to reach great heights without a ladder.  Demanding high achievement without offering support simply leads to stress, frustration, and despair.

Many Chicago teachers are feeling that stress and frustration right now, and many flee the profession before they have the chance to become expert teachers.  I want to stay in the profession for my entire career, and have sought support to make the path more sustainable.  This includes coaching, mentoring, and other professional development from the Knowles Science Teaching Foundation and from my credential program.  But this kind of support is rare and currently unavailable to most teachers.

Our compromise contract holds some promising features.  The union fought to limit the portion of teacher evaluations based on standardized tests, as these have been shown to give greatly varying results even when examining a single teacher from year to year.  As anyone else who has received a bad grade on a paper or test with no explanation should understand, explicit feedback is more useful than an unqualified ranking.  

The compromise is an evaluation system that includes value-added scores from standardized tests, along with evaluations based on student surveys and comprehensive feedback on the teachers' performance in the classroom.  I think this system will encourage me to grow as a professional and strengthen my ability to help students learn, rather than spend my time trying to outwit a test.

(Editor’s note: In the compromise, student surveys will be piloted next year. The student surveys will only be incorporated into formal evaluations the following year upon approval by a majority of a committee of CPS and union representatives.) 

The contract resulting from the strike also tries to balance high, enforced expectations with support. The limits on class sizes were retained and additional money has been committed to reduce class sizes.  This means that I will be able to know my students and give them individualized feedback.  What's more, improved working conditions for school support staff mean that I will have more time to focus on instruction instead of trying to be a social worker for my most troubled students.  

Just as my students must put time and effort into learning their subjects, teaching is a profession that can only be learned and mastered with time and practice.  I hope that the compromise contract will give me, and other new recruits, the opportunity to stay in classes for years to come.

Ivy McDaniel is completing her teaching credential in the Urban Teacher Education Program at the University of Chicago.

8 comments

northside teacher wrote 1 year 46 weeks ago

CPS Evaluations scare me here is the math!!

Please let me preface with I am glad you want to teach at CPS. You sound like a great teacher. Sometimes new teachers are better than the older ones. That is not my point. I just feel I have a little more experience with the “reality” of CPS and the lack of planning and compassion that exists from Clark street to the classroom!

I am sorry I don't share in your enthusiasm. The part that scares me about the new contract is the Evaluation Process and how it affects several key parts of a teacher’s career. Much of this is dictated by PERA and Sb7 but CPS was INSTRUMENTAL in its
passage. So they are not just "Following State Law".Take a look at the law
and how it puts added burdens on teachers who already deal with the burden of crime and poverty. I am a 15 years into this job at CPS and I never felt so scared. I work at a descent northside school and my principal is a nice lady but.........

Here are my concerns.
1-two needs improvements can lead to an unsatisfactory (you can get
out of this trap if you "improve" but I feel like once that spiral starts
your principal can get you out)
2-In layoff situations Needs Improvement Status teachers are not put
into the rehire pool
3-According to state law tow unsatisfactory can literally get you
"debarred from teaching"

4-In layoff situations you are one of the first to go. If you have a lot
of Nontenured teachers you will be a little safer. However, Unsatisfactory
are first to go.

5-As we all know non renewed teachers are not treat well in the education
community.

One might argue, well we need to get rid of low performing teachers. Of course I agree
with this assumption.

But lets look at how easy it is to fall into this Needs Improvement category, I will try to explain from the information I have received. The score is from 100 to 400 Unsatisfactory is from 100-219 Needs Improvement is 220-284 Proficient is 285-339 and Excellent is 340 to 400
I believe the contract will make our ratings based on 70% Princiapal Evaluation and30% Value Added. Ok that said

A teacher, according to Danielson (the author of the teacher rubric) it is almost impossible for a teacher to get the 4(excellent rating). So getting a 3/4 is not out of the realm of a normal teacher. SO lets take a look!

The breakdown is:
280 Principal Evaluation
120 Value Added

Assuming you got 3/4 on your charlotte Danielson portion of your evaluation you will have lost
70 points (25% of 280) on your overall score. This will leave you with 330 points. This will push you already into the Proficient Category. Now the Value Added portion. I don’t quite understand it. However, I am guessing if it is based on a "curve" the chances of getting a 4/4 are almost impossible. Lets say you got 3/4 on value added portion of your testing. That's another 25% loss or a loss of 30 points. This will push you down to 300 points. As you can see a descent teacher is already teetering on the edge of disaster. If your value added was for some reason 2/4. That would be a loss of 60 points. This would put you at (330-60) 270 points. Oula you are a Needs Improvement Teacher.
If the next year you lose a few points in the evaluation, you are by contract a "Unsatisfactory teacher".

Please take my calculations with a grain of salt. I am not a journalist or a researcher. However, this is what my calculation are showing In summary:

Getting rated by a principal as a Solid Proficient teacher and having a bad year of Value Added class, will put you in the path to Unsatisfactory, loss of Layoff Pool Privileges.

For this reason I voted NO....Again, much is due to state law...but my NO was my last stand against the attack on teachers.

Anonymous wrote 1 year 46 weeks ago

sorry--this is not true as you think it my dear

'The limits on class sizes were retained and additional money has been committed to reduce class sizes. ' Our school have 9 classrooms now with 33 students each--so, there is a committee--there was a committee in the last contract. These too large class throughout the city stay the same. (Take a look at UC Lab classizes) With all the testing you have to do, you will have very little time to get to know your students indivudually--other than your test score. But since you are in a favored program from UC--(look what UC did for mayor Daley,) they will help you as they help their own charter schools with the massives time and money they have.

Anonymous wrote 1 year 46 weeks ago

hmmm

This almost seems like rahm wrote this. I have 34 kids in my room. I have about 5 troubled kids who spend maybe 30 min a week with the social worker if she has time. This teacher is being lied to. Teachers fought from keeping the floor from falling through. I hope she will not get a political hack for a principal.

Ivy McDaniel wrote 1 year 46 weeks ago

Author's Respone

Hello, and thank you for your comments,

I just wanted to clarify that I am aware of (though perhaps don't yet feel deeply) the harsh realities of teaching in CPS. The op-ed is intended to highlight some of the successes of the strike, while also arguing that improved working conditions for teachers can benefit instruction, since it helps keep good teachers in the classroom. I also hoped to communicate that while accountability is a good thing, it needs to come with good intentions and support.

I understand that the contract was not wholly satisfying, nor will everything in the contract be realized. And teaching conditions in Chicago are certainly not a walk in the park. But I do see elements in the contract that will help teachers be treated like professionals, and that is the direction I believe we should be going in.

northside wrote 1 year 46 weeks ago

to author

Think of the New contract as the Geneva convention. Some principals will honor it fully. Some will use it as a token effort others will ignore and abuse it. I think its best you work at cps first to see the reality before you can make a comment. Papers dont change tyrants.

Voice of CPS Experience wrote 1 year 46 weeks ago

Sad But True

The one reality that will smack you square in the face when you step in front of your first class as a full-fledged teacher is that it is you and the kids. You have to be able to deliver content or skills to them. You have to connect with them or you will be lost. There are many ways to do that, but they don't come from universities or teacher-training programs. They come from experience and your creative ability.

You will be hampered by the insane paperwork and meaningless accountability mandated by the Central Office by people who have no connection with the teaching/learning situation.

You will be blessed if you get a good principal or at the very least a fair principal. Be warned: there are principals out there who are petty dictators and they hold in their E3 hands your career. It sounds scary and it is. You should start immediately protecting your future by managing your money well and knowing everything there is to know about your contract and your rights.

Good luck.

Anonymous wrote 1 year 46 weeks ago

Read the Article

It seems like a lot of these comments are not actually engaging with the article. I didn't read McDaniel as arguing Rahm's case, but rather as highlighting some challenges that teachers face and explaining how the contract, which the teachers agreed to, was successful in some respects. It maintained a limit on class sizes, for instance. I don't think McDaniel is arguing that the current limit on class sizes is desirable, but just that having that limit is a lot better than not having one.

Anonymous wrote 42 weeks 2 days ago

SUCKS FOR YOU

If you don't have anything nice to say, then don't say it. Simple. Fortunately, this teacher did get a job at a great high school in Chicago. I would know because she is MY teacher & she's a great teacher. Haha. ;)

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