Carnival of Homeschooling

March Madness is the theme of the Carnival of Homeschooling, which is hosted by Corn and Oil .

Laurie Bluedorn writes about homeschool burnout at Trivium Pursuit.

‘No excuses’ schools try to cut teacher stress

“No excuses” charter schools hire young idealists, work them very hard and expect many to burn out and leave after a few years.  That’s the old model, writes Sara Neufeld in The Atlantic. Some charters are providing more support and shorter work hours to keep young teachers on the job.

James Cavanagh is 22 years old, fresh out of the University of Delaware. With his degree in elementary education, he could have gotten a job anywhere—and he chose to teach at one of the most demanding public schools in America.

His college buddies were hired at schools with mid-afternoon dismissals and two and a half months of summer vacation. For not much more pay, Cavanagh worked nearly all of August and this fall is putting in 12-hour days, plus attending graduate school.

In exchange, he gets to be a part of one of the nation’s top charter schools, North Star Academy in Newark, where poor, minority students routinely outperform their peers in wealthier ZIP codes on standardized tests. And he’s getting extensive support designed to make him both effective and eager to stick around.

He gets to school by 6:15 am and usually goes home at 6:30 pm when the building shuts down. On Monday nights and Saturdays, he takes graduate education classes.

However, when another fifth-grade math teacher returns from maternity leave this month, Cavanagh “will go from teaching three 1.5-hour classes a day to one class and spend the other periods working with students individually and in small groups,” writes Neufeld. North Star tries to give new teachers a lighter schedule. 

YES Prep, a network of 13 high-performing charters in Houston, doesn’t have a long school year, she writes. Instead, students get a chance to attend “the types of summer camps, wilderness expeditions and international travel opportunities enjoyed by their middle class peers.”

Ascend charters in Brooklyn have cut the academic day by 45 minutes, to eight hours, while giving teachers a raise. “Middle school students stay for homework help from local college students, followed by enrichment activities such as karate, dance and African drumming that are typically led by community members and partner organizations so teachers can go home,” writes Neufeld.

Parents make the best teachers

Parents make the best teachers, writes Sara Mosle in Slate Magazine.

Some charter schools hire young teachers who are willing to work long, grueling hours for low pay, reports the New York Times. Most leave after two or three years to be replaced by a new crop of young idealists.

Inexperience in the classroom isn’t the only problem with this model, writes Mosle. Young teachers lack experience as parents.

A Teach for America teacher in the program’s first year, Mosle taught for three years in New York City schools. “I was single, childless, and clueless about even the most basic aspects of child-rearing,” she recalls. “My students’ parents seemed like creatures from another planet.”

Nearly 20 years later, now a mother, she returned to the classroom to teach writing at Philip’s Academy Charter School in Newark.

. . . being a parent has made me a better teacher. While I still have a reformer’s high expectations for my students, I am more flexible about discipline, in part because I’d never want my daughter to be so docile she wouldn’t rock the boat. Now when parents approach me with worries or high hopes for the future, I have greater respect for their commingled love and fears. I also have a far stronger sense than I did at 25 that children’s lives . . . flow in waves of achievements and setbacks.

In 2002, Ryan Hill started TEAM Academy, the first KIPP charter school in Newark. He worked more than 100 hours a week “in a profession he regarded as less of a vocation than a crusade.”

At the time, he thought of his school like a Silicon Valley startup, which like all new ventures demanded insane hours. “We were a bunch of 25-year-olds,” he recalled in a conversation this spring. “We’d be there every day, including on Saturdays and Sundays. We’d have students at the school until 10 o’clock each night—kids who needed a place to do homework or whatever.” It was part of the school’s ethos and formula for success: longer days and a longer school year. Hill loved the job. “It was hard work, but it was also good work,” he said.

It was also unsustainable as teachers got older, married and started families just as “they were blossoming into full flower as educators.” Unwilling to lose his veteran teachers, Hill began to offer flexible hours to top teachers who’d become parents.

In Our School, I write about attending a staff meeting at a start-up charter school and realizing I was old enough to be the mother of every person in the room — and not the teen mother either. I was 49. I was the only parent in the room too, though the principal’s wife was pregnant.

Foundation opens its own charter school

After years of funding education causes, the Kauffman Foundation has opened its own charter school in Kansas City to serve an area with no high-performing schools, reports the Star.  The first class of 100 fifth graders start the day shortly after 7 am and leave at 5 pm — a nearly 10-hour day — unless they’re required to stay another hour for detention. Eventually, the school will educate 1,000 students in fifth through 12th grade.

With $10 million in startup funds, school leaders studied successful urban schools. They decided students needed more learning time and a strict homework regimen.

Longer breaks are built into the day. Longer planning periods for teachers. Students will have physical education every day. Holiday vacations will be longer.

But in the end, everyone will have to embrace the sentiments of teacher Sandy Gelrach, who said, “I want to be at a school where you stay as long as it takes.”

Teachers will take students’ calls about homeowork till 8 pm.

They’re going to burn out their teachers very quickly.  The kids too.


Why she quit teaching

Sarah Fine explains why she quit teaching after four years at a Washington, D.C. charter school. It starts with burnout.

I describe what it was like to teach students such as Shawna, a 10th-grader who could barely read and had resolved that the best way to deal with me was to curse me out under her breath. I describe spending weeks revising a curriculum proposal with my fellow teachers, only to find out that the administration had made a unilateral decision without looking at it. I describe how it became impossible to imagine keeping it up and still having energy for, say, a family.

The workload and workday got longer, while “more and more major decisions were made behind closed doors, and more and more teachers felt micromanaged rather than supported.”

The teaching itself was exhilarating but disheartening. There were triumphs: energetic seminar discussions, cross-class projects, a student-led poetry slam. This past year, my 10th-graders even knocked the DC-CAS reading test out of the water. Even so, I felt like a failure. Too many of my students showed only occasional signs of intellectual curiosity, despite my best efforts to engage them. Too many of them still would not or could not read. And far too many of them fell through the cracks. Of the 130 freshmen who entered the school in 2005, about 50 graduated this spring.

Furthermore, teachers get little respect, Fine writes. Teaching is seen as a nice profession for people without ambition.

She plans to travel, write and relax. I wonder what she’ll end up doing as her next career.

On Eduwonk, Maria Fenwick, also with four years’ experience, explains why she’s voting with her feet, leaving a troubled inner-city school.

The best way I can describe what happened over the course of four years is a gradual wearing down of my spirit. . . . I. Just. Couldn’t. Do. It. Any. More.  It was not a question of effort.  It was certainly not a question of efficacy.  It was, however, a perfect storm: change-resistant colleagues, a principal unable or unwilling to motivate and lead them.

. . . The most shocking thing to admit – even to myself- was that my own intrinsic motivation was not enough.  I did not have the energy, the passion, or the self-discipline to truly carry out the work of an excellent teacher each and every day.

Fenwick is not leaving teaching. She’s switching to a city school where she hopes to find supportive colleagues and a principal who knows how to lead.