Alternative Method of Taxation

 

Tanner is an AP Micro/Macro student who is interested in taking economic concepts beyond what we do in class and extending them in new and unusual ways. 

He recently approached me with the idea of eliminating direct taxes, and instead explicitly using a decrease in the purchasing power of money as a way to harvest revenue for governmental use. 

I asked a mathematics educator (Mike Schmidt) to sit in with me while Tanner explained his ideas. I recorded the discussion and here it is. I think we all agree that at best we are in the idea/brainstorm phase throughout the discussion, and yet it could serve to help others think about innovative ways to improve our economic system. 

 

Trying To Teach Through A Walkout

Today is Tuesday, May 1, 2018. The educator walkout that started last Thursday has persisted, and will also be happening tomorrow (Wednesday May 2). Educators are seeking smaller class sizes, better equipment and higher salaries. This is not a communist movement, and we are not interested in legalizing marijuana. 

As the Advanced Placement Examinations approach, I know that students are getting nervous. They want to succeed in passing the exam and earn high marks in the process. I thought that I would be able to mitigate the effect of the walkout by meeting with students. The idea was to be on campus and allow students to come in and work at their own pace. I have a small file cabinet filled with test materials (many released AP questions that have to remain secure and should not leave the room). 

My classes use a program of personalized learning in which students are allowed to study their mistakes on a primary summative exam, correct their thinking and then “show me they know the material” by taking another exam with similar but distinct questions. I also have students work through a series of practice tests to help them prepare for their AP exams. 

Students frequently show up to work on campus, even when we are not dealing with something as extraordinary as this walkout. I am not aware of a single problem involving our students, whose focus while on campus during these times is to learn. I know that many students have been on campus during the walkout, and no harm has befallen our dilapidated infrastructure. 

However, District Office managers (1010) with help from the security guards who did not walk out in support of educators cut short my effort to help students continue work on their understanding of economics in spite of the walkout. 

Today, as I have done twice previously during the walkout, and many other times before the walkout began, I opened gates and doors so that students could enter the building. Without telling me, a security guard re-locked the gates and doors. When I asked the responsible security guard what he was doing, at first he ignored me. Then, when I called out to him a third time, with contempt, he said,  “I am just doing my job.” The sad fact is that he was pleased to be locking students out and preventing them from learning. 

I should note that my effort was being provided to students at no cost to students and without violating the spirit of the walkout. I was not there as an employee. I was there as an advocate for, and an educator of my students. I was not trying to minimize the effect of the walkout, except to help make sure my students were confident in their ability to take upcoming rigorous, external exams. 

Nevertheless, TUSD saw fit to stop these meetings from happening. For those students who were able to attend these learning sessions, the sessions were outstanding. I saw students who wanted to be there, and we all had a good time while at the same time we deepened our knowledge of economics. 

I am disappointed and angry with an administrative decision made miles away from where good things were happening that gave power to ignorance and fear, and stripped me and fellow educators of the ability to be there for students when they could really use the help. 

I see that on tonight’s TUSD Board Agenda there is an item about how TUSD can respect educators. Here is my advice to our Board: How about giving us the tools that we need, assigning us a reasonable, pedagogically defensible number of students to educate, and then getting out of our way and letting us teach? 

The best question I ever heard an administrator ask was, “What do you need?” I have never heard that from 1010. Instead, I hear nothing but mandates and orders from people I have never met, that often make little or no sense, especially when coupled with large class sizes and poor equipment bestowed upon us educators. 

This educator-led grass-roots walkout we are experiencing is primarily directed at state leadership that has failed for too long in recognizing the financial needs of students, families and educators. But let us not forget the role that our local school districts have played in this. 

I predict that Round Two of the fight for a positive learning environment will be against the school districts that allowed the state to ignore our needs for so long, and, at least from what I saw today, encourage passive aggression toward our students and us educators. 

Those students willing to show up and learn on days when they do not have to be there should be rewarded for their commitment to their learning. Instead, we turn them away. This is a sad day. 

I hope that our leaders will restore education in Arizona to its proper place, and remove the impediments that get in our way as we strive to do our best. 

The Voice of an Educator; Why Educators Should Earn More

There are many misunderstandings about what it means to be an educator. I love my job as a high school Economics teacher. I switched from being an attorney in Prescott for fourteen years to become an educator. Every educator has a different set of challenges, here are mine. 

First, I work hard. I average over sixty hours of work per week, and that is conservative. I arrive at around 6:15 AM and I typically leave around 5:00 PM. During that time, I am constantly working. I manage to pee three times a day. During lunch I have students in my classroom. I have a worthwhile after-school club called Unity Club in which students volunteer to help tutor students who may need the help. 

I am there for my students. Most days, in order to be ready for class, and to grade whatever assignments need grading, I am up at 3:00 AM. I am usually asleep before 7:30 PM. 

I have been working this hard for the last three years. In fact, I am spending more time on my job this year than I have the previous two. If you ask most educators what they could use more of, most would say time. 

The main reason for this use of my time is my class sizes are increasing. My average class size is now 33.1 students, with two classes of 35 students. Through a strange circumstance, I am teaching six classes this semester. That means I am responsible for 199 students, not counting extracurricular clubs, and student instructors. 

I provide all of my own technology. I use a hot spot on my phone, I use my own computer, iPad, and iPhone. I use my own projector after finding three separate district-provided projectors unacceptable. I pay for my own computer applications and for my online subscriptions. I provide my own lecture desk and chair, again because equipment supplied by the district is unacceptably poor quality. All of the posters, markers, lined paper, and many other small items are also provided at my expense. 

For the past couple of summers, I am typically either taking a professional development course, or helping teach such a course. I am also working on my Master’s Degree in Economic Education and Entrepreneurship. Last summer and this summer, I spent less than a week where I was not in class. During most of those days (and even when I have class), I am working on planning for the upcoming year. There are changes that have to made to slide decks, assignments, exams, and various lessons and simulations. 

For those who argue that teachers are paid enough, I can point to the above facts and say that I am NOT earning enough money for my time. If I divide my salary by the number of hours that I work (figuring 60 hours per week), I am grossing somewhere around $16/hour (about 65¢ per student per day). Unfortunately that does not take into account the thousands of dollars that I spend on my classroom, or the taxes that I pay on that amount. In reality, my pay is too close to minimum wage. 

I know that my efforts are achieving results based on how my students perform on the Advanced Placement examinations. For the past two years, my students have earned an average of slightly more than 4.3 out of 5 on both Microeconomics and Macroeconomics, and over a 90% pass rate. 

My teaching job is harder than my job as an attorney. While I was an attorney in Prescott, I tried many cases, and represented many clients. Yet serving as an educator is even harder. I would welcome any of our Arizona legislators or our Governor to shadow me for a day or two. Perhaps they will have a new appreciation for how much educators contribute to the well-being of Arizona children and their families. 

Educators need more than increased pay. We need smaller class sizes and better technology too. We need more support staff (including site administrators). Perhaps I can write about the need for smaller class sizes, more support staff and better technology in subsequent posts. 

Meeting with students to discuss class improvements

 

Education is about relationships. As we get close to the end of the year, I asked four of my students to give me feedback about the course. I tried to get a healthy cross-section of my students while at the same time inviting students who have expressed an interest in the quality of the class. 

Cole, a student who was invited but unable to attend, got this venture moving by sending me a link to an article about virtual reality. However, we both agree that the article is about much more than “just” virtual reality. It talks about personalized learning, mastery-based learning, and experiential learning

In preparation for the meeting, I outlined my thoughts. Here is my outline, prepared using Mindnode 5, one of my favorite Mac Apps. 

I think that the way my AP Economics class is structured definitely moves students toward these three ways of learning. As we learn unit content, students are exposed to a wide variety of material and learning opportunties. Sometimes class time is dedicated to simulations. Sometimes we are working on problems in class. We may practice graphing and talking about how to solve problems. Often, I am lecturing, more often than not with interactivity as part of the lectures. 

We get through this first stage of learning, and we all take the unit exam together (made up of AP multiple choice questions and AP free response questions). After that, we definitely transition toward personalized learning with an emphasis on mastery. I permit students to retake the exam whenever they want (usually with a “drop-dead date” for retakes near the end of the semester). They are also permitted to review their exams (in class), before and after school and during our conference period, (usually held a couple of times a week), and look at questions they missed, correct them, and re-check answers. I even encourage students who have taken the course to act as tutors for those who are struggling, and that has worked. The end result is a personalized learning plan designed to propel the student toward mastery.

Three of the four students that I invited to critique my teaching/course infrastructure decisions accepted my invitation to talk with me. Lauren (a junior who is taking the course), Luz (a senior and my student instructor who took the class last year) and Reia (a sophomore who is taking the course now) did end up talking with me. Unfortunately, Cole was unable to attend the meeting. 

I am embedding a recording of my conversation with students. These are all amazing students who are thoughtful in their responses. I really enjoyed the process.  I did have a "technical difficulty" toward the end of the conversation, so the final minute or so is not recorded. 

Highlights of our conversation include the following:

  1. I definitely forgot to bring donuts and bagels to the meeting, and I owe them for that mistake. 
  2. I hold students responsible for taking whatever notes they think are necessary to aid in their learning. I recommend Cornell Notes and talk about them with a story about how they got me through law school, but ultimately students decide what works for them. 
  3. I need better slides for my slide decks. Better means more color and more images. 
  4. I need to offer students a wide range of problems, including multiple choice. 
  5. Students learn how to learn through this process of moving from class learning to personalized learning. 
  6. Piazza, coupled with Padlet, are appreciated by students. 
  7. Students really appreciate simulations, but are asking for current events. 
  8. Although using the Harkness Method would be great, we have too many students in our classes to take advantage of this wonderful teaching tool.
  9. Students appreciate not having homework but are not making smart choices about class time. 
  10. Students have a difference of opinion about cell phone use. Luz thinks phone use is appropriate. Lauren thinks phone use is too common. Reia invokes Hobbes, arguing that students are inherently bad, and they need a Leviathan to keep them in check. 
  11. Students like using apps like Pear Deck
  12. There was difficulty with Varsity Economics and the experiential learning opportunities offered there. Is there room for the extracurricular activities offered through Varsity Economics? Luz highlights that students really are competitive. Reia asks about just focusing on Econ Challenge. 

It was a great honor to have this meeting with three amazing students. I came away with an appreciation of their thoughtfulness and a handful of valuable insights to help make my course even more accessible for my students. 

 

Why I am walking out on April 26

 
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As an Arizona Advanced Placement Economics educator, having taught since 2004, I have decided to walk out on Thursday April 26. Here is why, ranked.

  1. My average class size is  33.1 students per class. I have taught classes as small as eight, and as large as 36. Optimal class sizes are somewhere around 16 students. Increasing my pay will not alleviate my number one problem with education in Arizona. This many students in one room is bad for education. It does not promote learning, in fact it diminishes potential learning opportunities. As a result of so many students, I am easily spending 60+ hours per week working. Those who would argue that teachers have it easy because they have summers off just do not get it. 
  2. The infrastructure provided to me is insufficient. As a result of trying most of the technology offered to me by my district, I have opted instead to use my own technology. I have my own computer, iPad, iPhone, projector, cables, teaching desk and chair, student whiteboards, even markers. I am using my own supplies (and labor) to keep student desks disinfected and clean. I supply clean water to my classroom and am currently buying approximately 25 gallons of water per week. 
  3. My pay is insufficient. I have a Bachelor's Degree, a Juris Doctor and I am working on my Master's Degree now. My base contract for next year, including 301 money, is $40,900. It is exactly the same as this year. 

I have worked as an educator since January, 2004. Before that I was an attorney. I have worked in eight different schools on four different continents. I have taught extremely large classes, extremely small classes, and virtually every social studies class one can think of. I have taught students as young as seven, and having taught other educators, I can say that I have taught students in their seventies.

During these past three years, I have served as an Arizona educator. I now teach exceptionally gifted students (many of whom qualify for free and reduced lunch and are minorities) in a basement classroom with no windows. I have taught Flinn Scholars, Questbridge recipients, and students who graduate from the United States' most elite universities. 

I love my job. I love helping students become thoughtful citizens, ready to solve problems facing us. What I cannot stand is that my love for what I do is being taken advantage of by Arizona's leadership so that corporations doing business here can pay lower taxes. This short-term thinking is robbing the rest of us of far too many opportunities. 

Increased pay will not be enough for me. I want to work in a classroom with a reasonable number of students, where appropriate infrastructure is provided by my employer, and I can be paid fairly for the hard work that I do. I want to be able to look students in the eye and say that we have given them all of the tools they need to succeed in meeting my expectations for them. I expect nothing less, and in every other place I have worked, I have received those things.

Because up until now our state leadership has heard neither me nor my colleagues, I will walk out on Thursday. Perhaps this will help these leaders open their eyes and ears to the plight facing educators and students, and encourage them to fund a better learning environment for next year's students. 

I am not walking out ON my students. I am walking out FOR my students.