When I was in the third grade, my teacher, Mrs. Hixon told me I should ‘write more.’ I thought she meant that the assignment I turned in wasn’t long enough. What she meant was she liked my writing. She introduced me to the concept of writing because I wanted to rather than for an assignment. Teachers are among the most important people on the planet. A good teacher can change a kid’s life.
In Tacoma, teachers are currently working without a contract. They voted 77.2% to strike. They needed 80% to approve the strike. In a little under two weeks, they vote again. Personally, the idea that your average reality show contestant makes more money than your average teacher bothers me. I could go on about my feelings on teachers and what we should and shouldn’t do for them. But I thought maybe instead, it might be a good idea to simply ask a Tacoma Teacher.
Delonna Halliday is a teacher at Grant Elementary School. My son went there a few years ago. (Full disclosure: I’ve known Delonna for twenty years and she’s a good friend.) This week I asked her if she’d take time out of what is probably the busiest part of her year and participate in 5 Question Friday. I’m glad she was able to do so. Okay, students, here’s Mrs. Halliday.
1. What’s your teaching background?
I decided to teach after spending a year in China teaching in a public high school. I discovered that I loved teaching and that I might actually have a knack for it. I came back to the US, earned my Master’s and teaching cert and started at Grant a little over 6 years ago. Since, I earned National Board Certification in Visual Arts.
If you ask my mom, she’d mention that I’m a 4th generation teacher. I grew up in a house that valued education in many different forms. I was always teaching my brothers all sorts of random things. I taught one of my brothers all the parts of their hand when they were in first grade. I’m not sure what the teacher did when he came in with that information. Of course, I also convinced that same brother he was made out of spare parts.
2. What information did you use to determine your vote?
This is a sticky issue in so many ways for me. First, I don’t like the idea of striking. I think it is unfair to place the burden these negotiations on the students. On the other hand, I voted for my union leadership and know enough of the people on the bargaining team to believe them.
My concern is the proposed evaluation system. I’m interested in reforming the current seniority-based system with something with more criteria. I want the criteria to be measurable and objective. The District’s proposal is very subjective. One of the criteria is based on positive family communications. How would they determine that? I know I have a lot of family support from my students’ families, and I wonder if there are phone calls I don’t know of that came to the principal at some point.
I just want facts. Instead, I feel like I have to wade through propaganda from both sides. I don’t want pathos, I want facts.
3. What do you think is the biggest challenge of teaching in public schools these days?
The biggest challenge? Oh dear, there are so many challenges.
I happen to like a good challenge.
I’ll give you my answer for today, and if you ask me tomorrow, I will most likely have a different answer.
There is so much pressure to get those high test scores. Meanwhile, I have students in 4th grade who read at 2nd grade level. That means they can’t read the math book. Let’s say I have a student who needs help in math. In our LAP program (with a fabulous teacher), students cannot be pulled during our math time nor reading (because we can’t interrupt our 90-minute reading block), so that means they will miss Science, Art, Social Studies or Writing. What do I have that student miss? Do I keep them in recess (my planning time) to make up the time? I want those kids out playing and making those important social discoveries.
How do I do what is right for these kids?
It would be so easy to say that the answer is more money. Money is objective and identifiable. People expect a return on investment. You can follow and trace money. I’m not sure it is so simple. There are plenty of examples of money being tossed onto an educational problem only to have it back-fire.
4. What is the biggest misconception people have about teachers?
That all we teach is math, science, reading, social studies and writing (or other curricular areas). I teach students how to create strong friendship and how to get out of bad friendships. I teach them to say “Thank you” and push in their chairs. I teach them to greet people with a polite handshake and smile. I teach them to compliment each other. There is the unwritten curriculum of responsibility and that deep love of learning. I want my students to be as passionate and as thirsty for knowledge as I am. I need time in my day to do that, and I need encouragement from families to continue.
If you want another misconception: I do not have an easy schedule. I work from 8am and rarely leave school before 5pm. I work at home after my kids are in bed until about 10pm most nights. I easily spend an extra 3 hours a day outside of my contract hours. When invited by families, I attend football games, religious services, soccer games and tons of school events because I want to encourage my students to be well-rounded and model life-long learning. Those summers? I direct a kids camp and teach classes. I also spend a few weeks packing and unpacking my room. Then, there are files to read on my students so I can prepare for the next year. Sure, I can stop doing those things, but those are things that help enable me to relate to my students and be a more effective teacher for them.
5. What can people do to help teachers educate children?
Be the parent your child wants you to be. You are the parent, not their friend. They have chosen their friends: they get you as a parent. It isn’t easy being a parent and there are resources out there if you want ideas. Choose your battles wisely and be consistent. The expectations you set at home continue into the type of respect we will get at school. I can spend energy on managing students behavior and/or I can spend it on fun creative lessons for the entire class. Some days, I can’t do both as well as I wish.
Read to them. After dinner sit at the table and everyone work until all the homework and reading is done for the night. Show them you think their education is important. Invest time into demonstrating this to them.
Let them learn in a caring environment. The person holding the pencil is doing the learning. Learn these lines, “Suzy, I am more than happy to help you work on your assignment. I help kids who are polite to me.” OK, not those exact lines because that might feel too fake, but help them only when you are not in the middle of a power struggle. You want to cultivate a love of learning. They’ll figure out the associative property of addition at some point if you can keep learning a positive experience.
Tell your teachers you appreciate them. You are busy, and teachers understand that. A simple note from the student and the family goes a long way. Again, this models the value of education to the student. I keep a notebook of my favorites.
You might not agree with everything the teacher does, but talking bad about them only creates divisiveness. If you have an issue with an adult, talk to the adult and leave the student out of it.
I could go on this for hours. I send home a booklet for families in my class full of ideas. I’ve probably covered enough screen space here.
I want to thank Delonna Halliday for taking the time and being part of 5 Question Friday.
As always, if you think you or someone you know would want to participate in 5 Question Friday, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org