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DIY mentoring at an Oakland middle school

Ryan Hansen and his mentor, Alex Thibeault

Word on the street is that it’s hard to repeat the eighth grade in OUSD, even if your report card is loaded with Ds and Fs. (Remember the retention memo? I’m checking on the exact numbers.)

But teachers at Edna Brewer Middle School have long worried about kids who — because of their bad grades – don’t participate in the eighth-grade promotion ceremony at the end of the year. Not only do they miss out on a rite of passage, but they leave middle school on a trajectory of failure.

This year, history teacher Julie Greenfield and some of her colleagues decided to do something about it. They identified 75 kids with GPAs below a 2.0 and recruited 34 mentors to work with them, one-on-one, for at least an hour a week. All of the mentors are on Edna Brewer’s staff. More than 60 percent of the teachers signed up.

The Promotion for All mentoring sessions started in February, and already 31 students have brought up their grades. I asked some of those kids about why that is, and heard the same thing, over and over: They felt more confident and motivated in their classes because they knew someone was paying close attention (and helping them get organized) – someone who knew they were capable of succeeding.

Could it be that simple?

Greenfield noted that this is just one of several “intervention” programs at the school, but that the staff wanted to try something different. It costs next to nothing — well, other than a teacher or staff member’s valuable time and energy, which is not to be underestimated. Next year, they might expand the program to include mentors from the community.

Do you know of any other mentoring programs that were started and run by school staff? Is this something that would help students at your school?

We’ll have a story about it this week, so stay tuned.

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • TheTruthHurts

    Thanks for this story Katy. Both for demonstrating how some staff go well beyond the call of duty and demonstrating how showing kids you can and that someone believes in their future can have an impact.

    A few Bs from Ds is not a lifetime of success, but it’s a good start.

  • Cranky Teacher

    Yep, this kind of stuff works. That’s really the benefit of “small learning communities” — adults can focus on fewer students more intensively.

  • Nextset

    Anything that ties the students to the adult world is good.

    The thought of involving adults outside the school staff is interesting. How difficult is it to overcome such things as the fingerprinting requirement, etc? Is it true that all school staff and volunteers must be fingerprinted – and at whose cost? Is there any anticipated conflict with the parent(s) in placing a student with a mentor? To some extent this sounds like a Big Brother program.

    Those I know who volunteered for that did not report a good experience. The (class) gap between the parties was reportedly just too great. I chalkled it up to incompatible matches. I wonder to what extent that could be an issue when non-teachers are brought into the mix.

  • Oakland Teach

    We have a mentoring program at our school through Cal. All of our 3rd,4th, and 5th graders are matched with a college mentor for the semester. The Cal students get credits for doing it as well. The program is called SAGE Mentoring. Our students have really benefited from having a college role model.

  • Pepe

    Bravo, EB staff! Your dedication is admirable.

  • Oakland Educator

    Another example of how OUSD teachers do extra work for no pay and make a huge difference in the lives of their students, yet continue to be vilified for trying to get a raise after only a 1.75% increase in 8 years.

  • Cranky Teacher

    Haven’t you heard, Oakland Educator? We’re supposed to be grateful just to have a job in these tough times!

    Funny how the labor movement was born in much tougher times than these…

  • del

    Colleagues: This is not “extra work”—this is THE WORK. Touching a child’s life and making a positive impact in it is the reason that I hope we all got into this field. If not, leave.
    This program has “cousins” at many (most?) schools. They are generally ignored by the public, who never take the time to learn much about what goes on schools, the laws that govern them, or what educational research shows. However, we did not take this job to be validated by anything besides our students’ futures, and constant pointing to every positive thing as a reason not to be “vilified” strikes me, your colleague, as immature and unprofessional. I can only imagine how it strikes the public, and is akin to a student who says they shouldn’t be marked tardy because they did their homework.
    Of course I want a raise. And it does seem criminal how little pay many of us receive, but there is no reason we cannot live and teach with dignity. And to be honest, if this is our attitude about our profession, we ARE lucky to have a job.

  • Lucky

    Lighten up, Del. Oakland Educator is saying it’s extra work, but isn’t saying that he/she doesn’t do it all the time. Like many Oakland teachers, I’ve been working 50 plus and 60 plus hours a week for many years. I don’t like the long hours but I like doing a good job and influencing the students and their future.

    I know it’s often necessary to work “extra” in order to support the students as we want to, and I applaud the teachers at Brewer and elsewhere who make this commitment, but to say it’s not extra work in not honest. To say that every good teacher must be willing to do this, and more, and more, and now more, is to disrespect ourselves. That is no way to teach students self-respect. As a profession we need to stand up for their needs AND ours. Fortunately most of the public (at least the parents here) know many dedicated teachers and know that we deserve their support also.

  • ousd funemployed

    It sounds to me like great teachers who put in the extra time, and whose students achieve measurable success, should be paid more than those who do not. Wouldn’t this cause more teachers to work harder for their students?

    I hope the public understands that when the union fights against all forms of merit pay, they are working to reward the worst teachers at the expense of the best. When the system is set up that way, which teachers will leave and which will stick around?

    Stop paying for mediocrity. Implement a simple system for evaluating teachers and principals – even an imperfect one. Then shift money from the poorest performers to the best. Eventually, you’ll have more good teachers/principals and fewer disasters. This may cause the payrolls to jump, but it will also cause enrollment to skyrocket, so the money will be there.

    Teachers, if you want higher pay and more respect, invite and celebrate increased levels of accountability. And stop allowing those who feel differently to speak on your behalf. They are embarrassing you.

  • Harold

    How are you going to measure the Arts Teachers at Skyline? Will the next state standardized test, have a violin proficiency section? sight-singing? or will the students put down their no.2 pencils and bubble-sheets and pass a dance test?

  • Oakland Teacher

    Kudos to the teachers at EB who are helping their students to feel connected to an adult. If I was a teacher there and chose not to participate, would it make me “less of a teacher” or one of the “worst teachers”, meaning that I should receive less pay? In no other profession do we think that people should be working for free and chastise those who do not.

    I bring home about 1-2 hours of work daily in addition to working at least 7 1/2 hour at school (for which I am paid 6). I work in a school where the families/community do not support students in ways that show up on tests. Does that make me a “poor teacher?” How do I compare to a teacher in a school (who arrives and leaves with the bell and brings no work home) that has ample materials, many enrichment programs, additional support staff, multiple periods of prep weekly, and parents who take care of all copying, the bulletin board, work with their students at home daily, and in many cases have private tutors. Do those teachers deserve merit pay, while I do not?

    I choose to work where I do and I love my students. All teachers deserve higher pay. It is not okay for the district to have “swallowed up” the cost of living increases for the past 8(?) years that were given to them by the state for their employees. It is not okay for the district to have so many outside consultants and more administrators that other districts, all of whom are paid high salaries.

    Make a comparison: Do you think nurses who work in a dermatologist’s office, where (generally) no one ever dies should receive more pay than nurses who work in critical care or an ER, where patient death happens daily? If nurses were paid that way, how many nurses do you think would work in critical care? Just like many good nurses choose to work in more difficult jobs, many great teachers choose to work in difficult schools.

    To assume that either one of them is “mediocre” is asinine. I am fine with having fair evaluations by an impartial administrator, but don’t judge me by a single measure (like test scores) any more than you would judge a critical care nurse by patient mortality.

    Of course that is not to say their are not teachers who shouldn’t be teaching. I have seen them both as a parent and a teacher. But the level of hatred spewed at teachers is another reason that so many of them don’t last in the field, and I believe that stability and experience are two things that do help learning.

    BTW – there are many mediocre nurses as well (plus doctors, accountants, carpenters), but they are lucky in that the average person doesn’t consider themselves an “expert”, so keeps their mouth shut. I am also curious about the person who stated that “real professionals” don’t have unions. I guess you don’t consider nurses professionals either then…

  • Oakland Teacher

    oops – typo on “there/their” in second to last paragraph.

  • Katy Murphy

    I know a number of schools have some form of mentoring, but does anyone know of another school in which the teachers got together and decided to mentor some — or all — students in a structured way? Is this an idea worth replicating?

  • On The Fence

    Thanks for writing about this Katy. The Edna Brewer teaching staff is truly superb. While the article reflects the teachers’ outreach to a group of struggling students, let me also say that they spend just as much time and energy differentiating their instruction toward kids at the top and middle of the learning curve as well.

    To Oakland Teacher: Thank you for your very articulate posting (#12). I am not a teacher nor married to a teacher, but I could not agree with you more! The fact is, teachers deserve fair pay, COLAs, normal working hours, and respect as professionals. Yes, each person/teacher must ensure that they behave in a manner that earns that respect, however, in reading this blog I see how dismissive and disrespectful people are towards teachers in general, and PUBLIC teachers in particular. Furthermore, I am always surprised by: 1) the outrageously unrealistic expectations that people seem to have of teachers to single-handedly save the world, eradicate violence and poverty, for free around the clock, and 2) the resulting indignation that people have when the teacher has failed to accomplish this task over the past marking period! What gives?

  • Oakland Teacher

    Thank you to “On the Fence”. Thank you for renewing my faith that there are people who are not on the “trash teachers bandwagon”. Sometimes it feels like when I speak up for teachers, it only leads to further attacks. And yes, we expect the impossible from teachers. Today I got a new student: she is in elementary school, yet this is her 7th school. She is a non-reader in fifth grade. It is heartbreaking to see her academics, yet it will be my “fault” because she is not meeting the almighty benchmark or being proficient on the CST’s.

    The double whammy is that since she has moved around so much and has such poor attendance, she cannot even be considered for special ed, and she won’t be around long enough for any meaningful intervention. She is one of many students like this in Oakland in the schools considered by the “critics” as being full of mediocre teachers. Conversely, the hills schools have stable populations, with families who bought expensive homes just so their child could attend school there from K-5. Is it any wonder that there is an achievement gap?

    I just wish that people would stop turning every conversation about education to be about how awful teachers are: how they are not real professionals, how the economic climate means we should not even dare ask for a raise, how we should not belong to a union, or how we should volunteer additional hours on top of the many unpaid hours we already work. It is especially unfortunate when the original conversation was about something positive that EB teachers are involved in. I know the teachers there would not want to be held up as a hammer to slam their fellow teachers.

  • del

    Whoa, it’s not me who needs to lighten up! I think what EB teachers are doing is great. LIke I said, many of us do the same. I personally feel all of us should. But really, let’s review. We have a positive story about our colleagues, 5 positive posts, and then two people who immediately point to this as “evidence” that a raise is needed and make reference to labor issues, and Cranky makes a sarcastic post. Is this the behavior we model for the kids? Should it be?
    Again, as I stated, I’m upset about our pay. I was ’88, I was in ’96, and I am now. But no amount of whining, sarcasm, or tally of “unpaid hours” (which ARE in our contract” has ever helped us, nor will it. When people react negatively to negative posts, it is not teacher bashing.
    And I do not retract my claim that it is our work to influence lives, and it is naive to think that this can be measured in hours, or that some days won’t be long or short. Our job is to teach the kids, for that I am paid. If I don’t do it, there’s no “extra” involved.

  • Cranky Teacher

    “I think what EB teachers are doing is great. LIke I said, many of us do the same. I personally feel all of us should.”

    There’s the rub, huh? Is this a calling/mission/jihad, in the religious sense of the word, or just an important job? Del seems to imply it’s the former, the union says it’s the latter.

    Can it be a mission for one person and a job for another? Or does it have to be a mission for everybody?

    If a teacher REALLY cares about the children, should he offer to take a pay cut, say to hire more teachers to shrink class sizes?

    And if it is a mission, for what percentage of teachers is that sustainable?

    If it is a mission for teachers, is it also a mission for school custodians? Campus police? Outside consultants? HR personel? I know principals tend to work loooong hours, but not sure about the rest of the system besides classroom teachers, they tend to work the hours they’re paid.

    I’m on the fence — I want to keep it in perspective and make it a long, sustainable career. Yet I behave like it is a mission … and court burnout.

    Do I want your sympathy? No, I really don’t. I have career choices. But I do want to raise the question that whether it works for Del (a lifer) or for me (maybe, I’m still pretty new), it is clearly not working for enough teachers to make the system viable — not here or elsewhere.

    50% of teachers quit before their fifth year, nationwide. Higher in Oakland. Many of the ones who survive do so by “working-to-rule” — arriving on-time, leaving on-time. Standardized tests, minimial writing assessment, worksheets that can be stamped — and don’t change your curriculum year-to-year.

    Good for Del, sticking around through thick-and-thin. I know good teachers like that — they are sometimes a bit crazy, but they hold themselves to high standards year after year in a dysfunctional system and find reward in a job well done.

    But are there enough Dels to go around? The evidence is, no.

  • ousd funemployed

    1) These EB teachers deserve raises.
    2) Not all teachers in Oakland are doing a good job.
    3) There should be a mechanism for shifting money from the 2nd group to the 1st group.

    Why do so many people on this blog seem to think it is a good idea to treat everyone equally when some people are doing a better job/working harder than others? Wouldn’t that be like giving every student a “C” regardless of the quality of their work? “F” students would love that system, but “A” students would either find a school that was more fair or join the ranks of the lazy.

  • Gordon Danning

    Cranky Teacher: Why do we assume that there is a such a stark dichotomy between it being a mission, and a job? There is a right way to do a job, and a wrong way. There is a professional way, and an unprofessional way. For example, I do not see my job as a “mission,” yet I dont roll in at 8:14 like some teachers, and I don’t lock my classroom door at lunch, and I do meet with students on weekends. I was raised to do the best job possible, whether the job be a mission, or not. I don’t think it is too much to ask that ostensible adults do what the job requires of them, or to find another line of work.

  • J.R.

    Gordon,
    You said that so wonderfully, touche’. I have said it before and I will say it again, most teachers that I have seen are very good. Great teachers should be paid more than mediocre teachers, and much more than bad teachers.Students are different,but they are graded and given a QuME file, let’s do that for teachers.

  • Oakland Teacher

    Gordon, I have to disagree that to be a great teacher you need to have no boundaries, otherwise you are unprofessional. Again, why should that be when we don’t expect that of any other profession? Would you expect your doctor to chat with you any time you wished at home or label them as doing “less than their best”, or how about any attorney (ha-ha)? While I am thrilled when my children have extraordinary teachers, I am not judgmental of those who set more reasonable definitions of what their job entails. And maybe it is prejudicial, but I also believe that teachers should be allowed to have families of their own/a decent family life, and we need to “save” some of ourselves for that too! Becoming burned out means that we don’t last as teachers or are unhappy/unfulfilled in our personal lives. And just as in other professions, each one of us has the right to decide exactly how we are going to do our job (within the normal expectations and bargaining agreement). I see too many teachers end up not having children because they don’t earn enough money and don’t have enough time left over after “doing their job”. I feel sad that so many teachers have to choose.

    I don’t roll in at 8:14 either, but I have (hate) to admit that I have seen some really great teachers who do (at least in elementary school). I also have seen some mediocre teachers who work many hours and always have an open door policy (upper grades). I think when you use terms like the “best job possible”, you set standards that imply that teachers who do not choose your way should find another line of work. I have heard that you are an excellent teacher. I think I am as well. I do think that the expectations of our jobs can be unreasonable at times though, and we have a right to speak up about it without being labeled as “less than”, unprofessional, mediocre, or any of the other terms used on this blog.

  • Cranky Teacher

    Even though I find Gordon and Del rather holier-than-though, this is a good conversation and I appreciate the thoughtfulness of the responses.

    Some quick thoughts:

    “1) These EB teachers deserve raises.
    2) Not all teachers in Oakland are doing a good job.
    3) There should be a mechanism for shifting money from the 2nd group to the 1st group.”

    There is actually a pretty simple way to reward teachers who work extra hours at enrichment the district approves of: Overtime pay.

    For teachers, this is called “extended contract” pay and is a set $23.50. For veteran teachers, this is actually lower than their regular pay, leading to the crack I heard at a union meeting: “I don’t know another profession that pays half-time for overtime.”

    The bigger problem is that the extended contract are VERY rarely available or given out, in my experience. Sometimes the bureaucratic barrier to getting reimbursed discourages even claiming money you were promised.

    Personally, I have never received a dollar from extended contracts even for clearly district-friendly educational obligations, like doing WASC accreditation work. Nor I have I been reimbursed a stipend for coaching or for credit recovery programs at lunch and after-school.

    Could I be more aggressive in being paid? Fight for it? Yes. Would it work? Sometimes. But I find it depressing and time-consuming to fight for scraps. What energy I have for that I put into trying to secure the resources I need for my class and extracurricular programs — both within the district and through grant-writing and the like, which, I might add, are not in my job description.

    “Students are different,but they are graded and given a QuME file, let’s do that for teachers.”

    Teachers DO have a folder full of evaluations. If those evals are spotty, infrequent and never acted upon — whose fault is that?

    I don’t believe Del and Gordon answer my challenge: If finding the balance between being a “professional” teacher, a martyr, or a drone is so straightforward, why is it so hard for OUSD teachers to find it? To last?

    Here’s a reality check: I have several times, and in two different districts, come upon teachers viewed as stellar sobbing in their rooms at the end of the day.

    Another one: A family friend who won teacher of the year for california and is a model teacher told me that after 30 years he still works 70-80 hour weeks.

    Last thought: If I didn’t have kids of my own, maybe I would be a lot less testy about people who say somebody is a bad teacher if they “roll in at 8:14″ — have you heard of something called being a single parent? Getting the kids to school in the morning?

  • J.R.

    “I think when you use terms like the “best job possible”, you set standards that imply that teachers who do not choose your way should find another line of work”.

    I think Gordon was trying to address those teachers who do their jobs based on the principle of electricity “they follow the path of least resistance” or to translate “they take the easy way out as much as possible”. Every parent knows teachers like these, and it isn’t just about coming late and leaving early. It might be about teachers who assign a lot of useless busy-work or watch movies that are not tied to the curriculum. I have seen teachers who should be going though math practice workbooks in class(the disposable write in kind)and these are barely written in and thus the lessons are not being re-enforced properly.
    I have witnessed some teachers who love to take their kids out for extra PE at the expense of instructional time.In the real world people are measured by what they do, or by what they don’t do, it’s a fact of life. Even people who live sheltered protected lives. Thankfully most teachers do a very hard job in an excellent and professional manner, they just need to treat the teachers who aren’t professional like scabs. Teachers would receive more respect from even their harshest critics if they would apply some pressure on these ne’er do well teachers.

  • TheTruthHurts

    “Teachers would receive more respect from even their harshest critics if they would apply some pressure on these ne’er do well teachers.”

    I think that is the point. Defending mediocrity is not going to ingratiate you to anyone or at least it shouldn’t. Most of us have had some great teachers, some good ones and some lousy ones. Guess what? We could tell the difference ourselves as early as 3rd grade. Every teacher won’t be great (no matter what the salary) and those with that expectation are fooling themselves. The point is that defending the poor teachers right to sustain poor teaching is, well, indefensible.

    We should be able to acknowledge that teaching (particularly in Oakland) can be a very difficult job, but we should also be able to have a standard for what we expect (all of us) from all teachers. When everyone in the building knows a teacher is not meeting that standard, there shouldn’t be a hue and cry when someone tries to do something about it.

  • J.R.

    Truth,
    Exactly, we must rid ourselves of this “culture of mediocrity”, for how can we bring out the best in our children unless we expect it of ourselves, first? We must lead by example(Admin,parents and teachers alike)good enough should not be good enough any more. I am glad to see that California standards are amongst the most stringent in the nation, even if it may seem that our kids grades are not so high(they are learning difficult material)in the long run our kids will reap the benefits of that. The really difficult variable in the education equation is “home life” which has maybe the biggest impact on the child’s education, and this is the hardest facet of children’s lives to deal with.

  • On The Fence

    My children’s orthodontist is fabulous, and has standard office hours. If there were a medical emergency, I am sure that she has a listed cell phone number. Outside of that, she is a professional and holds professional boundries which include regular business hours. She also commands an appropriate salary and bills for her time. I do not spend time belly aching that she is not willing to come early, stay late, or see my kids for free on her own time. I also do not argue that she should bill less because another orthodontist in town is known/thought to have a poor work ethic. If she chooses to work pro-bono for a cause of her choice, I commend her. It is not expected. This is my general attitude towards the professionals in my children’s lives. Why should teachers be treated differently?

  • J.R.

    Orthodontist’s work in the free market, private sector(their choice of hours, insurances taken, rate of pay)if people don’t like them for any reason(fee’s too high, hours inconvenient etc.(if they don’t please the customer) they go out of business. They don’t get guaranteed employment after hanging around for awhile. Teachers on the other hand, are all paid the same at certain points in their careers(time served basis)the great ones don’t get paid more than the mediocre ones, who don’t get any more than the bad ones. That sounds fair doesn’t it?

  • J.R.

    Fence,
    Oh yeah, and some of the very finest teachers that we have “get fired first” because they don’t have seniority! The criteria is not about who is good, but who has seniority, thats sounds like a good idea for the betterment of kids education doesn’t it? “You don’t have to be good Johnny, you just have to hang around awhile”, thats all.

  • TheTruthHurts

    @On the Fence, YOU ARE SO RIGHT!!!
    You said, “Why should teachers be treated differently?”

    I agree. Follow me here.

    If your orthodontist is great, how do you reward her? Compensation, loyalty, referrals? If she sucks, how do you deal with it? Take your money elsewhere, call the regulating body? Can’t do any of this with teachers except in charters of course.

    Say your orthodontist is the only game in town (a monopoly), what do you do then? Go without service, deal with whatever work hours she has, pay her whatever she demands. Until charters, the local public school has been a monopoly for low-to-moderate income parents and their children. They’ve accepted what they’ve gotten and we see the results on the evening news (no, schools are not solely responsible and no, this is not an individual teacher issue). In wealthy neighborhoods, the public school is not a monopoly because parents have real options – and exercise them if necessary.

    You said, “I do not spend time belly aching that she is not willing to come early, stay late, or see my kids for free on her own time.” That’s right, you don’t because you’re happy with the service. What if you weren’t – would you belly ache then? Probably not, you’d just leave. I’m sure that’s happened to an orthodontist or two – maybe her competitors. Tried doing that with a teacher, a school, a district??? Not the same, huh?

    You said, “I also do not argue that she should bill less because another orthodontist in town is known/thought to have a poor work ethic.” I agree, but what if her salary was limited by the poor performer? What if you had no choice and got the orthodontist assigned to you??? What if your orthodontist was viewed as a used car salesman because of the bad apples in the profession? Should she care? Should she do something about it? Should the orthodontists association?

    BOTTOM LINE: It would be interesting if a teacher were a standalone professional like many orthodontists, lawyers, accountants, car mechanics. That would certainly change the dynamic. I’m not advocating for this, but it sure would be interesting.

    Instead public school teachers are mostly tenured employees of a monopolistic organization who don’t represent themselves as individuals at all, but are by law represented by an organization that negotiates on their behalf. If not for both the monopoly and the tenure, teachers would be subject to the same challenges as say, an associate in an accounting or law firm. No performance, no job. No client satisfaction, no job. No results for the partners, no job. The firm would have to do this because without performance, they would have no client. See how that works???

    However, because of the monopoly, in most places customers get what they get and are POWERLESS to do anything about it. I’ve seen that in a few countries (and in the post office before Fedex/UPS/DHL).

    Because of the tenure, law and negotiated rules, even if “the firm” wants to address the issue, there are significant limits on what can be done.

    Who suffers? The firm??? Nope, they’re a monopoly (at least they were). The teacher??? Nope, job plus benefits for life in many cases. The customer/parent??? Not directly. Nope, someone more vulnerable than any of these groups – the kids. That’s the story of urban public education in most large cities – Large groups of well-meaning adults unable to make a significant dent in an intractable problem.

    Am I advocating for the privatization of education? Nope. Profit motive should not be the primary motivation in a public good. Instead, we should define the public good and measure EVERYTHING against that. Stop paying for failures and replicate successes. Hopefully, that process would allow some stingy taxpayers to come off some more funds when they believe they are not throwing good money after bad.

  • On The Fence

    OK, good points about the difference between private sector vs. public sector. I get it and they are appropriate given my analogy. However, that actually isn’t really my main point.

    I think where I differ is in my underlying belief that the great majority of teachers are hard working professionals and should be treated as such. There seems to be a presumption of laziness and poor performance over the entire group that seems really unfair and unnecessary. Perhaps that is because I have not come across a teacher who has not been diligent. I have experience in both private independent and public schools and I found the teachers to be comparable (many moved back and forth between systems during our family’s duration in private school). Yes, there are some teachers who have the reputation of excellence and are probably more skilled than others, but in general, I have found each teacher to reasonably teach and impart the necessary information to my children. There are teachers who were a great fit for my child but a poor fit for my neighbor’s kid and vice versa, such is the variability of life. I don’t really have a problem with a system that pays teachers the same salary, as I feel that professionals will largely behave as professionals, and do. This is the system for many professionals. I actually see many more problems with a system that attempts to grant merit pay, particularly in Oakland where there is such a disparity of outcomes based on factors outside the control of the individual teacher. I also see problems with a community that expects teachers to routinely work outside of their contracted hours for free. Really, I’d rather see the community asking questions about the distribution of funds to OUSD administration, and looking at whether OUSD administration is imparting the needed value to our schools.

  • http://www.writercoachconnection.org Robert Menzimer

    I’m not at all surprised to learn of both the willingness of what I’m sure is an already fully committed staff at Edna Brewer to go the extra mile with this individual mentoring, and of the effectiveness of this one-on-one attention. It’s been the cornerstone of the success over the past ten years of our WriterCoach Connection (WCC) program in the East Bay. Run by the nonprofit Community Alliance for Learning, WCC recruits and trains community volunteers to work one on one with students in class on their English writing assignments, to help develop the students’ writing and critical thinking skills.

    WCC coaches work with every student in a class or grade level, and each student gets from eight to ten (sometimes more) individual half-hour writing conferences throughout the school year. The results have been remarkable, with students and teachers alike overwhelmingly pronouncing the program very effective, and a wide range of metrics (writing achievement scores, rates of assignment turn-ins, the building of students’ confidence as writers, etc.) reflecting strong outcomes.

    After serving schools in Berkeley and Albany for almost a decade, two years ago the program finally made it to Oakland, where it is serving all 10th and 12th grade students at Media Academy, one of the Fremont Federation of Schools in the Fruitvale District. We have gotten a grant to plan further expansion of the program in Oakland and will be talking with the staff at Edna Brewer, as well as many other middle and high schools in Oakland, about replicating our success with students at Media Academy in other schools throughout the city.

    Full information about WriterCoach Connection is at http://www.writercoachconnection.org, and a good inside peek at the program is on our blog, at http://wcc.typepad.com/writercoach_connection/.

    The Oakland community’s determination to do something to help its public schools is evident in a wide range of initiatives throughout the city. Leveraging that spirit with individual attention to Oakland students is a crucial step in reaching the public education goals the community envisions.

    Robert Menzimer
    Executive Director
    Community Alliance for Learning
    PO Box 6098
    Albany, CA 94706
    510.528.5066
    http://www.writercoachconnection.org

  • http://www.writercoachconnection.org Kathy Kahn

    This is a quick response to No. 3, and sort of a followup to No. 32. (I’m board chair of WriterCoach Connection, and work with kids at Media Academy.) We’ve brought in a wide variety of volunteer coaches — an Oakland cop, a retired college president, some starving writers, some college students, some Coast Guard members — and have managed to deal with the fingerprinting, TB test, and other requirements. It can be done, really. More importantly, the class and race gaps (which aren’t always there, but often are) between coaches and students haven’t been at all the problem I feared. Partly this is due to good training of the volunteers. Mostly, it’s due to the fact that the kids respond simply to the volunteers’ commitment and concern for them. Yes, we often come from a different world. But when we sit down to work with a student on a piece of writing, it’s the joint effort that counts, far more than the backgrounds. Sounds naive, I know, but I’ve seen it happen.

  • Cranky Teacher

    WriterCoach Connection is cool — I used to do it before I was a teacher and it really works.

    As to rest of this conversation, I’ll just say two things:

    1. What is not being factored in by critics is that for almost EVERY teacher who exceeds mediocrity, at least in a district like this, they are going far and beyond the contract they signed. And there are not enough of those people to staff our schools.

    2. The district and school board OK every contract.

    Given that, it seems every parent who is upset with teacher quality should be picketing the school board meetings and the district HQ, demanding that a) the contract support GOOD teaching not mediocrity (hint: smaller classes and more paid prep time); and b) the district aggressively pursue adequate evaluation of all teachers so that the bad ones can be fired legally and the mediocre ones can be targeted for improvement.

    Oh, there’s no money for that? Ay, there’s the rub. So now, you can move those pickets to Sacramento and demand that public education remain a viable path to a middle-class life.

    Or, we can just change the child-labor laws and send these kids to work at Wal-Mart at 14…