February 13, 2015

Why I think Teachers for America is bad for West Virginia



West Virginia has a teaching shortage. As many as 700 teaching jobs are vacant. Why is this? For starters, West Virginia's teacher salaries are the 15th lowest in the nation. That doesn't sound so bad, until you compare it to our neighboring states: Maryland, for example, which is literally across the river from our West Virginia town, starts teachers at $43,000. Pennsylvania, forming our northern border, starts at $41,000. According to a recent survey, West Virginia is one of the "worst" states for teachers. The survey took into account factors such as salary, administrative support, and classroom size. To make things even less attractive to prospective teachers, WV counties pay for some of the education budget with a special levy that voters decide on every few years. When that levy fails, budgets are cut - drastically. Two years ago our county's levy failed, and immediately teachers started fleeing to the other side of the river. Thankfully it was reinstated last year. But it's an additional instability that teachers in other states may not face.


The West Virginia House of Delegates has approved a bill that would allow certain non-teachers to take over classrooms to make up for this shortage instead of addressing the problems that cause teachers look elsewhere for jobs. Their idea is to use Teach for America recruits instead of working to attract degreed, experienced teachers. TFA recruits are freshly graduated from college; but not with an education degree. I'm sure the Teach for America applicants are smart and well-meaning. They are told that they're doing a noble thing, abandoning, at least for 2 years, a future promising bonuses and a nice house in the suburbs to work with students who have grown up in the kind of poverty they may have never known in their own lives. However, they are not teachers. They haven't studied pedagogy, educational psychology, learned how to make lesson plans, deal with difficult students, etc. Compared to a real teacher who spends at least 4 years in college studying these topics as well as his or her teaching concentration, TFA recruits get 5 weeks of training. This 5 weeks of training includes "teaching" students during summer school. And who goes to summer school? That's right, kids, the neediest of them all, the ones who are already having problems, are being used to train a 22-year old how to teach. As content experts in their chosen fields, TFAers may have read every book in the library, solved the most complicated calculus problem in the world: but do they know how to teach someone else how to do that? TFA recruits are typically high-performing graduates of top schools, which is wonderful for them. But, how on earth are they supposed to relate to a kid from Southern West Virginia who's never been out of the county, whose only relationship with the rest of the world is through TV? How will they be received by the real teachers? Really? You're going to bring some young whippersnapper into a school where teachers have worked their entire careers? TFA's standard line is that they're offering something “better” than traditionally-trained teachers can provide. A bit elitist, no?


There is also the problem of continuity. TFAers pledge 2 year commitments to the schools; that's already not very long, but then many of them quit before the commitment is served. In fact, 5% quit before the 5 week training period is even over; depending on the school district, between 8-16% leave before the commitment is over.


It must be easy for an organization to say to a school board or a legislature, hey your schools are failing, let's blame it on the teachers and the learning environment, and hey we're going to provide you with these bright young things that just graduated from college! And guess what. When they burn out in two years, we'll get you some brand new ones!


Schools pay a recruiting fee to Teachers for America for each "teacher", on top of regular salary and benefits that any real teacher would receive. In Cleveland, this fee was $9,000. Why not just increase teacher salaries by whatever West Virginia was going to pay TFA? At least we know they'll be around for more than 2 years.


This move will only weaken the teachers' union with the threat of hiring non-teachers to fill teacher positions. And what's next on our knuckle-dragging legislative agenda, West Virginia? Right! A Right To Work bill!

Which leads me to my next concern.


I worry when schools have sponsors. OK, disclosure, our medical practice has purchased ads in school yearbooks, and donated to fundraisers for uniforms, and I suppose that makes our private company a sponsor of the schools. Of course, we never expect anything in return. I have to worry though when I see that Walmart is sponsoring Teach for America to the tune of $16.6 million in one year alone.. Aren't they union busters? Paying wages so low that their workers are the largest block of public assistance beneficiaries in the country? Why isn't Walmart spending money on its own employees, instead of an organization that trains someone to play a teacher? And if I were an organization that that says it wants to "help kids growing up in poverty beat the culture of low expectations that's not exactly the kind of association I'd want to have.


OK so maybe TFAs recruits aren't teaching poor kids to grow up to be robots trained to shut up and put in their 20 hours a day at Walmart and they'd better be happy about it. HOWEVER. Maybe TFA IS grooming their recruits to progress into more, shall we say, influential areas. Such as lobbying. Policy makers. Elected officials. That would be the mission of the Leadership for Educational Equity,, "the nonprofit organization that was launched in 2007 to inspire, train and support Teach For America alumni and corps members to pursue public leadership."


Now do you really want someone who 1) doesn't have an education degree 2) has maybe 2 years teaching experience 3) believes they are better at teaching than an experienced, trained public school teacher, making public education policy? Can you say: ALEC?

February 12, 2015

#WVlegislature

So it looks like the Chumps in Charleston are taking lessons from their similarly disillusioned, sexually repressed, chronically constipated older siblings in DC. Just keep wasting time on unconstitutional bills that will be vetoed. Instead of anything that will help the living, working, hanging-on-by-their teeth people. Like a prevailing wage. Or making drug companies more accountable for the horror of addiction -- oh but it's ok to save the poor bastard once he's overdosed. Wondering why young people are fleeing and actually do something about it...?. Yeah that works.



But here is something they would never do. Because, well. People would be getting high and shit. Also, most likely the money would be made by small, local businesses; not corporate beasts like Walmart and Dollar General. Right? 

February 9, 2015

Random Sunday thoughtstream.....

Restlessly trying to organize now the little drawers in my study. Finding credit cards I didn’t know I had, alarming sort of…. But then finding some gift cards, wondering if they’re still any good. So listening to this website, the one with the Nature sounds equalizer. It’s tuned in right now to whales, crickets, birds, and I think motorcycles? It’s soothing to imagine the bikers and the whales out there together somewhere. It’s evocative of something that I can’t quite grip. As in a dream. Speaking of which, I’ve been trying to be more conscious of my dreams lately, having realized I couldn’t really remember any at all lately. So the other night, I had a dream that I instantly remembered having had in the past. This dream always involves a really long bridge, kind of like the Bay Bridge, but longer and narrower, closer to the water. In the dream, it looks like a bridge in a driving simulation…animated. Of course, I have to drive over it and I am terrified. But I had someone drive me over it. I can never remember who it is. But then I have to return on the bridge and that person isn’t there anymore. I wake up before I have to drive over the bridge. Wow, so what is that all about? Facing death? Feeling alone? I dunno. I’m going to try to feel it more next time. It’s called Lucid Dreaming… was listening to a podcast about Lucid Dreaming. First of all, I love that phrase because Chris Davis’ band was the Lucid Dreamers. (I still can't believe Chris is gone; this will be the first Fairie Festival without him. He was the heartbeat of the Fest!) 

I learn so much from all these wonderful podcasts. I really love RadioLab, The Moth, of course This American Life, and both offshoots Invisibilia and Serial. But I'm trying other ones: I'm too lazy to link them all here but you can google them: Strangers, Death Sex and Money, Fugitive Waves.... good stuff is out there. I love listening to things, including all the books I "read" now. 


February 1, 2015

I find myself wishing

I find myself wishing lately.
I don't usually believe in wishing, I believe in doing.
I wish, that in their next lives, my mother and Dan can find each other much much sooner, and without much of the pain they both went through before finding each other in this life.*
I wish upon the stars in the belt of Orion: the Dad Star, Nancy Star, Daniel Star.
I wish my dog Max could live forever.
I wish sometimes the night would never end. The blackest nights.
I wish I hadn't forgotten my husband's jean jacket in a restaurant on the way to Pittsburgh long ago. I had embroidered intricate designs all over it. It was spectacular. For some reason I was wearing it, And for some reason, I forgot

* Also, they will have 5 kids just like before, but together

January 25, 2015

Whirlwind

I truly think we have the best work situation ever. Since we started our own office a year ago (after partnering with an extremely incompatible physician for 3 years), I feel like River Bend Family Medicine's gears are turning like a well-oiled machine. Sure, there are repairs that need to be made now and then, and tune-ups, some of them expensive, some of them mere tweaks, but it's the people we work with that really make a workplace either really great, or really terrible, isn't it? I wouldn't trade any of our staff for anything. They are all worth their weight in gold!

And so, a few months ago we were all talking about what we should do to celebrate the holidays. Last year, we hired a limo, drove to DC, had a spectacular lunch in Chinatown with the whole staff and their spouses, and then went to a hockey game. How do you top that? Well, what else? Disneyland? Nah.... most of us had been to Disneyworld. They wanted to go  to New York! So that's what we did. Friday evening, we all drove up to Middletown PA and got the Amtrak to Penn Station, the 5 of us, along with spouse or friend. Upon arrival, after spending 5 or so minutes refreshing, we all piled up the street to the action and lights of Times Square. None of our staff had ever been to NYC - this was a real treat seeing it through their eyes. I still get overwhelmed with the mile-high flashing lights, the crowds, the costumed (or lack thereof in the case of the Naked Cowboy!) characters, the symphony of food smells, the variety of accents and languages and this weekend was no exception. We spent most of the day yesterday on a tour bus -- a great way to see far flung parts of the city without having to get cabs, subways, etc, especially if you have good guides, which we did. We went to Liberty Island and saw the great Lady. "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free..." Those words still convey images of gray immigrants arriving thin and sick on overcrowded vessels, raising their arms up to the skies when they see her -- I still get tears in my eyes. The dinner at Bubba Gump's wouldn't be where I'd normally eat, but it was fun! The drinks were good, the food was adequate, and the service to our group was amazing. After doing burpees in Times Square, next on the agenda was The Jersey Boys. It really pays to have low expectations -- I was never a huge fan of Frankie Valli -- he was a bit before my time, music that my babysitter played and swooned over, "Big Girls Don't Cry" one of those songs my mom would playfully sing to me when I was acting like a baby -- but the show was wonderful.  I didn't know too much about him, and I always love a good back story, told well by the characters and the music itself. And this morning, we dragged our tired butts back to Penn Station, caught the train, and drove home from Middletown. We just got home, late Sunday afternoon, in the wake of what may be "the storm" of the season. I'm so satisfied with the way things went, but soooo tired! 

Ironically, a post that showed up on Facebook during the weekend was one regarding the jackass that owns Papa John's, the one where he is quoted as saying "if our business is successful and we achieve "excessive" profits, we are under no obligation to share with our employees." Well, duh. Of course you're not under any obligation. As long as you pay your employees on time, pay your taxes etc, that's all you "have" to do. But I wonder how many employees he's had for more than a year? I wonder how many employees would want to spend a weekend with him outside of the store? I wonder how many of his employees go the extra mile out of loyalty, or a sense that it's the right thing to do? I have a feeling that they probably run right out of the store as soon as they can, if only to get to their second job.

It really takes so little to have happy employees, if you are a happy employer. Show people respect, pay them at least what they're worth, have some fun, laugh, have ground rules. I can honestly say that if any of our "staff" didn't work for us, I'd be happy to have them as friends.






January 13, 2015

Darkening

Sitting in the dark study. Don't want to turn on the lights because Iggy Pop is sound asleep in his hammock. I leave this website on the computer for him at night. It allows you to mix nature sounds of your choice with some instrumental music (drums and flute, actually). Listening to birds singing and crickets chirping on a background of tribal drums suits me just fine this cold January night.
 Gotta wonder what kind of dreams a bearded dragon has....

Thinking about how "life is but a dream." What if it is? What if we wake up, and this is when we die? I've been listening to this podcast, the Psychedelic Salon, which includes a lot of recordings of Terrence McKenna lectures and discussions. I most recently listened to episode 429, "Leprechauns, Elves, or Dead Souls?" where he discussed the similar visions and messages people got when taking the drug DMT. There was a rumor that DMT is a chemical that washes through peoples' brains when they die, resulting in some of the wondrous descriptions from those having near-death experiences, but there's not much research showing this is true. But there are multitudes of experiences from people who, under the influence, experience visitations from blobs of light, elves, fairies, in whatever form, the visitors almost always are welcoming, and excited that you're there. This sounds highly entertaining.

I've figured dying must be a lot like being born. There you are, all snug in the womb, all your needs being taken care of. Even while within, people rub the outside of this belly home, and talk to you in soothing tones. Why come out? It's scary! But then, you're born, and people still take care of you, and then you grow up and take care of yourself. It seems perfectly natural. Assuming there is something after death, which I like to do, suppose the death is followed by something even more amazing -- although it might be scary at first.

I had planned on ranting about the fact that West Virginia will no longer be paying Medicare rates to health providers who see Medicaid patients. This was one of the wonderful things the ACA did through Medicaid expansion. Knowing that so many patients would qualify for Medicaid, states wanted to make sure they had providers to see them all, so expansion included bringing Medicaid payments to 100% of Medicare rates in 2013 and 2014. Now states have the option of continuing that, although not with the Federal funding they had before. West Virginia has opted to not continue this part of the expansion. Payments to providers will go down 26%. Meanwhile, rates in Maryland will continue to be paid on par with Medicare. Do you think West Virginia providers will be racing to take on more Medicaid patients?  At least commercial reimbursement to primary care is very nice in West Virginia, compared to close-by Pennsylvania and Maryland. Considering one in four -- yes 1/4-- of West Virginians are on Medicaid. Wouldn't you think you'd want to pay the state's providers a competitive rate? Sigh.

But now I'm tired. So, good night, Iggy! Good night birds. Good night Medicare. Good night Medicaid. Good night elves. Good night Terrence McKenna. Good night, night.

December 29, 2014

Iggy Pop

The girls at the office got me a bearded dragon for my birthday in October. I had a bearded dragon on my Wish List on Pinterest, but I didn't think seriously anyone would actually get me one! I had planned on going to this Reptile Show in York and checking them out, and then, possibly purchasing one from a breeder. But I got this little guy and he seems fine.

At first I was cautious around him. He didn't particularly like being handled, which I suppose I can't blame him for at all. I'm so big, and he's so little! When I got him, he was just 8.5" long; two months later now, he's 9.5". He didn't mind me holding him a little while. I enjoyed stroking his silky head and talking to him.

But soon we became a little more comfortable around each other. I was filling the sink up with warm water and trying to get him to soak, because he was shedding. I could hold him a little longer. He seemed to watch me from his "room" (tank) in the study while I worked and got excited when he saw me getting crickets or worms ready for him to eat. I felt more confident that I was doing all the "right" things: his room was nice and warm due to the lamps I kept on his room; he seemed to be eating alright; his poop and urate (his form of urine) seemed healthy. He ate crickets mostly. But then the Berkeley Springs Pet Supply ran out of crickets and I started feeding him these nasty big "super worms." I read all the cautions about them, how they can cause impaction, etc. but his digestion seemed to be handling it ok. (By the way, the people at that pet store are really great. They are knowledgeable and helpful.)

Then, right after Thanksgiving, he quit eating. I thought maybe his schedule with the petsitter had been a little different when we'd been away was the cause. His poop was irregular, and either very dry, or very runny. I don't mess around when I have issues with my animals. I had done a lot of research before I even got Iggy and figured he must be impacted from the super worms after all. I had purchased some phoenix worms since then, but he wasn't interested. I tried most everything I read: tried to get him to soak in warm water (fail), tried feeding him chicken baby food (fail), and made sure his room was warm enough. Still, it had been a week since he ate anything.

I called, and got a next-day appointment, at Kingsbrook Animal Hospital in Frederick. I packed him up in his tank. I wanted the vet to take a look at the setup and make sure it was good. Dr Cardella looked him over and agreed that he must be impacted. She gave him some IV fluids, and some supplements. She encouraged me to try the soaking again, and to really make sure his room was warm enough. I was also given a sample jar to mail in his poop to make sure he didn't have parasites, something I hadn't thought of. Stacey Levitt, the vet tech, was really wonderful too. It's so reassuring that help is only an hour away!

I left him alone most of the rest of the day - I figured he'd been stressed out enough from the 3 hour trip. The next day, I filled the sink up with some nice warm water, and offered him my hand to sit in. He sat there for the longest time he ever has, and the next thing I knew, there was a nice big poop in the water. Yay! I took him out and put him  back in his room with some greens. He had refused the supplement, even when I tried using the tiny syringe (I can't say I blame him -- it looked awful!). And before I knew it, he was chewing on a cilantro leaf.

Next day I put a phoenix worm in the tank and he ate it and "asked" for another one by clawing on the side of his tank. He was back to normal. His shed was complete and his skin looked bright and yellow. A healthy little guy! And more good news: his labwork came back negative for parasites.

I'll be writing about Iggy from time to time, in the hopes that other bearded dragon owners will find this and share their dragon stories with me. Iggy is an amusing little creature. I wonder sometimes what he thinks about us!