Finnish Youth

Schools in Finland are not compulsory after 9th grade. Today I visited Helsinge Gymnasium, a secondary school on the outskirts of Helsinki. The school building was nondescript, then teachers and principal were friendly and put up cheerfully with 15 of us trudging through their classrooms and cafeteria.

I talked with students who were relaxed and self confident. They liked school, and saw it as something that their parents thought was important. They  were fluent in English, Swedish, Finnish and sometimes Spanish.  Amazing!

Between classes a young man named Anton asked me about President Obama.  He knew quite a bit about our country.  Students here don’t have high stakes testing or unreasonable goals in schools.  They are nurtured to be autonomous, respectful and thoughtful. The schools exude these expectations coming together to support the needs of children in many ways.

At lunch some students joked with me about the food: potatoes and cabbage.  Bad!  But I asked them to help me understand Finnish issues.  They both said that alcohol, teenage drinking was a big problem. They felt compelled to drink and they felt as if that was true throughout the society.  Animated and candid,their words carried a truth that I was grateful to hear and sad to acknowledge that our

Finland Schools

I’m Finland visiting schools with a delegation from Delaware and all over the United States. See my other blog at Finland Blogs.

So today I was in a computer classroom and talked to three boys who were supposed to be looking up careers.  Instead, i noticed they were on Facebook and on a website that had some profanity. The teacher didn’t see.  They spook very good Englilooked posed if I could take their pictures. They were happy to pose for me.  I asked ifthey were supposed to be on Facebook.  They smiled and said no, but retorted, “We are badassed!”

I so got it!  These were kids just like my kids in,my classroom, sometimes off task, sometimesirreverent, and just so real. I felt right at home.

Ed Reform – Is Anyone Listening to Teachers?

I am stunned by the amount of energy that goes into thinking and talking about school reform. In my world, reform is simple yet simply illusive. Teachers (especially Language Arts – ME! and Math)  need to get services to students who are not passing the state tests AND who are failing classes. We need to design lessons that meet the needs of all and offer support to those who are not making it. Simple. But that’s not happening. Why?

Top down reform. Teachers told they are part of the process but really just given collaborative lip service.  Not placing value on classroom wisdom.  Decision makers, purse-string holders, are not listening or if they are listening then they just don’t get it.

Confounding issues that are really simple.  What I see:  no clear rules to link the support help with the students.

For example, students who score 1 or 2 on the DCAS should

  • attend extended day school sessions – mandatory
  • attend exploratory classes that teach basic skills – mandatory
  • do homework and be held accountable – mandatory
  • involve parents and enlist their help
  • be excluded from any other after school activities until their scores increase to a minimum 3
  • be recognized for small successes
  • be encouraged by the entire school community

Why isn’t this happening? This is the time to make the tough decisions, put our money where it is useful and get it right!

Race to the Top with Benefits!

  Just trying to help out. That was my motive to sign up for the workshops to develop alternate student assessments.

Maybe a little curious too-I wanted to see more of what was going on in Delaware, the cutting edge of the nation’s reform movement. True, I am in a classroom every day, but that’s like being in a foxhole in the war against educational mediocrity! Sometimes no light shines down here.  Volunteering to work on new assessments would get me to the table of reform.   I wanted to be a part of that conversation.

The Race to the Top is by and large about what we teachers do in our classrooms every day. It isn’t often that I get to talk with other Language Arts teachers from around the state to discuss our methods and our concerns.

We were invited by the Delaware Department of Education to design assessments that would help to determine student growth. My team of 8th grade LA teachers worked on writing that related to a science article. During the four day workshop we exchanged so much information and it really changed my thinking about my classroom practice.

This was a professional development opportunity that was relevant and valuable. Teachers together creating tests based on our own students’ writing samples, having intense conversations about the nature of writing, and taking away from the table a sense of propriety – we will own this test.

Too bad for the teachers who did or could not participate. I heard that some school districts actually prohibited their teachers from signing up!  They missed a valuable lesson. The perennial struggle to improve education now has a face and a place.  We came away so much better because of  the time we were given for face to face deliberation, collaboration, and shared wisdom.


Notes from the Floor – NEA Chicago

Follow me on Twitter  @dianealbanese

Check out the DSEA website and Facebook for more…

Learning so much!

  1. Teachers care about their profession!
  2. Teachers can organize and stand tall in the face of oppressive legislators and laws.
  3. We are united
  4. Many teachers devote all their time to helping insure that we get a fair deal.
  5. We are more similar than different.

On the floor of the NEA 2011 Chicago convention. I’m a newbie and I am excited to be here. So many saavy people! So much excitement. But for the first  time in a long time I feel as if our cause and the cause of educating America’s children, will be heard above the for-profit and privatization message. WE ARE THE ONES who care about kids, all kids and we are having debate on how to influence policy, expenditures, and direction in this coutry.


Just too much! I am so tired and yet I blog.

ISTE 2011 was all that and more. I cannot express how invigorating it is to be with that many people who CARE about students and technology. My favorite thing was being able to just talk to people. Everywhere. At the bus stop, in line, at dinner, in the sessions, getting coffee, at the lounges, in the exposition hall, at the student showcases and posters. Just so much conversation and ideas. Processing it all is JUST TOO MUCH right now.

One thing I just despised – no really – the no-show Steven Covey show. Principles? He didn’t have the decency to show up at this conference. The showed us a BORING video of his talking bald head.  What were the folks at ISTE thinking, have him address all of us like the GREAT WIZARD of IT??? It was a blemish on an otherwise good conference experience.

Philadelphia cooperated right down to the cheesesteaks.  Great ambiance this city. Loved the history and the people.

I didn’t get to meet Sue Waters – my Edublog guru. Then I tweeted and found out she was not here! She just skyped herself into a session and then vanished. Oh well. Illusive and mysterious she shall remain to me.  Still, I adore her and the Edublog group. THANKS EDUBLOG!

I’m off to the even bigger conference, the NEA in Chicago. Leaving my techie nerd side here in Philly and cloaking myself in my fierce political advocate cape.  SuperTeacher onward!

Remarkable Collaboration

My one goal in coming to ISTE in Philadelphia was to connect my classroom with a classroom far away to share writings and reflection of my students. I was so lucky!  In a Tweet, I asked for help and got a Tweet back from an ISTE conference attendee from Australia who had a 7th grade class that would fit with my needs. We hashed out details over a quick lunch today, and it looks like we are well on our way to collaborating with our students to share projects, ideas and stories. I am so psyched!

The pix is my new friend Mr. Paul, a teacher in Perth, Australia. We both have classrooms with plenty of computers and students who are eager to reach out globally.  This could be the start of something BIG!

ISTE 2011 Planting Seeds

I can only think that these incredible opportunities at ISTE are like so many seeds being sown in my brain.  Teachers need this: a chance to come up close to people and ideas that are fresh, different and eventually effective.

The last ISTE that I attended was two years ago in Washington. I took back enough inspiration to fuel the authoring of an on-line course for Delaware teachers. Don’t tell me Face to Face conferences are passe’!  They are necessary as long as we are social and human!

Headed to ISTE – Philadelphia

I meant to read blogs and tweet comments, but as life and some beach time have gotten in my way, I find myself barely able to throw things in my suitcase and head out to  Philadelphia for the ISTE Conference tomorrow.

I’ve been to ISTE before so I know what to expect, and I know that the possibilities are endless  – face it – ISTE always rocks my teacher world. I am amazed at how much is “out there” and how much I don’t know.

So let me go find my chargers and pack up my stuff. See you tomorrow!

Benefits and Pensions for Teachers

Governor Markell is committed to “getting something done” with the rising cost of health care for state workers this year. He is urging lawmakers to approve of a plan that cuts the state cost of employees’ benefits by $100 million over five years.  He suggested possible changes to the basic free health insurance, prescription drug plan, decrease of benefits, raising eligible retirement age, eliminating early retirement, changing the number of years of service required to get a pension and requiring employee contributions for all earnings.

Teachers and support staff need to pay attention!  Teachers’ salaries and benefits have always been a political football that is bantered about in the budget process but paraprofessionals have salaries that are at the poverty level.  The state’s benefits and pension packages are the main reasons that so many qualified paras stay on the job. Markell’s proposal is preposterous!  To cut paraprofessional benefits is to tip a sinking ship.

The teachers’ union, Delaware State Education Association, is saying that everything is up for discussion. Nothing is sacred. Pensions, benefits, co-pay and health care – it’s all there on the table. DSEA will debate and discuss the options with Markell. So the dance begins. Teacher compensation is once more on the table. Two years ago it was teacher salaries now our benefits and maybe even our pensions are on the chopping block.

I realize that these are troubled financial times and that the governor and state legislature must balance the budget but I can’t help but think that something is way out of whack here. Teachers are among the state’s most educated workers. We have an intricate pay scale that increases as our education and experience grow. We work our contract hours and most of us work beyond that to implement the most recent educational initiatives and quite frankly, just to keep up with the latest demands.

I often stay late at school to grade papers. Some teachers come in early every day to write lesson plans and to prepare for the day. Other teachers take papers home, work on the computer, and put in far more than an eight hour work day.  Teachers dedicate themselves to the job but mostly teachers dedicate themselves to their students. It’s personal.

We are counting on a stable and reliable salary and benefits. That’s what is expected and that is what is fair!

Why not look at raising taxes on the wealthiest people in the state?  At $80,000 our state income tax levels out. That means that the wealthiest in Delaware pay no more taxes than the people who earn $80,000 or below.  Why not look at equalizing the pain of budget cuts and spreading it throughout the system? Why not look at efficiency of running our schools?  Cut down on the spending! Eliminate some of the administrative positions! Reduce administrative salaries and reduce the number of people who occupy those positions. Teachers are necessary but multiple, highly paid administrators in each school district are not.

Finally, have a conversation with the health care industry to reduce costs to the state. There is so much that can be done that would allow us to have good health care without compromising our pensions or our salary.  Governor Markell, just think it through, do your homework, and come up with some viable alternatives.