ENOUGH IS ENOUGH #SAVETXSCHOOLS, Vote

Dear Texas Educators,

In March 2011 several thousand people gathered to protest the huge cuts to education. Wendy Davis fought for us then and lost. Will we fight for her now so she can win?

In March 2011 several thousand people gathered to protest the huge cuts to education. Wendy Davis fought for us then and lost. Will we fight for her now so she can win?

Maybe you don’t remember a different time. A time when we had enough full-time teachers in a department to teach classes effectively without feeling overwhelmed. A time when curriculum was built around learning instead of testing. A time when entire districts would have laughed at the idea of YEARS WITHOUT WRITING as part of the scheduled day (hello fifth grade, hello eighth grade).

Maybe you don’t remember those days, but I do.

I also remember 2011, the year a tough job got way more difficult.

(From my Facebook post earlier tonight) Dan Patrick said the $5.4 billion cuts to Texas public education he helped spearhead in 2011 didn’t kill anyone. I have no idea if he’s right, but I feel sure the stress teachers have been under since 2011 trying to do what we’ve always done with fewer people and more demands translates to shorter life expectancy. If you’re a rich white guy just hanging out making deals with your buddies to make their lives more lucrative, you probably aren’t hurting much from those cuts. If you’re a teacher voting for that guy, I hope you know why.

If you’re a teacher who hasn’t voted yet or wonders if they’ll even bother, stop it right now and go vote TOMORROW. If you’re in Wichita Falls, you can vote at Home Depot or Sikes Senter. (And we wonder why our kids can’t spell!)

Obviously, I voted for Davis and Van de Putte because I believe the Perry administration along with Abbott and Patrick have done their best to destroy public education in Texas, Texas public school teachers and OUR CHILDREN. Between the ridiculous testing requirements and the budget cuts, we are truly at an impasse.

Get educated on the issues–the REAL ISSUES not those stupid Patrick commercials where he claims to be pro teacher which is the funniest thing I’ve heard all year–AND VOTE. Because if you don’t, when you get another prep next year or a pay raise that’s barely visible because of insurance adjustments or you’re sitting in a class with a kid who’s crying because they think they have no chance of graduating because they can’t pass the 5-hour ELA test, you can look in the mirror and say you’re to blame.

I know you’re tired. I know you feel powerless. If you don’t vote you ARE powerless. If you do, if we all do, we will have a voice.

In 2011 I marched with thousand of others in the Save Texas Schools rally in Austin and I helped organize the local rally here, and everywhere I went I heard teachers say, enough is enough.

It’s time to prove it.

There’s only one way to truly Save our Schools.

Vote.

Dear September Self,

SeptOk, I guess we could even say August self, but August is different. August is the giddy, sparkly, shiny new year self, and she regularly lives in the world of make believe, Disneyfied education where everything is beautiful and wonderful and people sing songs about the greatness of teachers. September is the real world, smack against a wall, what the heck was I thinking, it would be easier to work-at-Walmart-Target-ToysRUs-Cheddars-ElChicos-TheMallEvenThoughYouHateShopping. So listen up September self. Teaching is hard. It’s always been hard. It’s a sucker punch to the gut hard. And it’s a heck of a lot harder now than it was back in the days of teaching six of eight or five of six. So yeah. Eat right, sleep, take your vitamins, walk, find something to binge on Netflix, buy the tequila and margarita mix and suck it up.

DO NOT plan on writing…or creating much of anything really because you’re going to come home and want to bury your head in the sand, a romance novel, a bowl of homemade chocolate mousse. Wednesdays will suck. Bad. So bad you might think about investing in the complete Sopranos collection because violence is good on Wednesdays.

BUT

September passes. Round about the 24th of the month you start to feel like you know what you’re doing…sort of. By the last weekend, you’re excited about the year again.

And the kids…the kids are great. They’re probably having the same problem with Wednesdays, so don’t plan tests or deadlines on Wednesdays.

Take a deep breath and know September passes. <3

Sincerely,

Your 2014 late September Self

Dear Educators

time-thiefDo what’s right by your students but protect your time. Burnout runs rampant in this business because what we do is a calling. But we deserve and need lives outside the classroom. School is a job and people will take what you give. If you have a great administrator, and thank God I do (best ever, retiring, I want to cry), they’ll tell you or at least hint that you’re doing too much. That doesn’t always happen, though. So you need to tell yourself.

Remember you are a professional. And you deserve to be compensated for your time. That doesn’t mean you won’t work hours before and after school for free. It doesn’t mean you won’t spend money on your classroom and for your kids. But don’t go broke for your school. Not monetarily, physically or emotionally. And choose those free hours. Don’t let them be chosen for you.

Educate yourself, study best practices, don’t drink the Kool-Aid just because someone presents it as the Next Best Thing. Trust your gut. Practice your craft. Have fun. Teach the topic, not the test. It won’t be easy, but you owe it to your kids.

Fight for what you believe in. Fight for your kids. Fight for your fellow teachers.

If there’s a problem, talk to the person who can fix it instead of getting caught up in a perpetual gripe session with people who sympathize but can’t really do anything about it. If you’re afraid to talk to that person, get over the fear. If you can’t, remember you choose to stay. You control you.

And since you do, since you must, always remember,

Protect Your Time.

You can’t get it back. <3

**********

I’ve been going through my blog tagging entries. This is what I wish I could tell myself. It isn’t original. I can’t tell you how many educators said these things to me on bus trips to UIL Meets, in district meetings, at Leadership Cohort, in offices, in the teacher’s lounge. The people who told me this were absolutely right. Looking back with regret for the time you missed with people you love sucks. You don’t want to go there. Promise.

 

 

An Experiment

foodFood is not my enemy.

I feel like I’ve probably blogged those words at some point in the past. Since I’ve been blogging for the last nine years and I’ve battled weight my whole life, it’s a pretty good bet I have.

I’m trying something different.

The good thing about Atkins is I could lose weight while working ridiculous hours without exercise.

The bad thing about Atkins is I could lose weight without exercise AND when I broke, it was bad.

So

I need to heal.

Because where food is concerned, where weight is concerned, where the body is concerned, I am broken.

Food is not my enemy.

High fructose corn syrup is an enemy for all people. And processed sugar has been proven to be harmful to the body.

But food, in general, is not the enemy.

It is not something to be battled.

That mentality leads to me losing.

Food is not my enemy.

 

 

And here we are again

sugarI will go to the Y, I will go to the Y, I will go to the Y…

There are a million twelve things I could write about, like the BATs and Arne Duncan or the amazing marriage seminar we attended last weekend or the whole gas tax thing that was ONLY ON THE DAILY SHOW instead of the real news, or that dude from Amazon who wrote the Pitchforks article and was on NewsHour this week or the fact that I wrote 5k words Tuesday or my love for the new Scooby Doo and the band Enigma. I could write about any of those.

Instead I will write about the thing I write about often on these pages.

I will go to the Y.

And then I will try to forget my love of all things sugar.

Because those things are going to kill me if I don’t stop the insanity of the yo-yo dieter life.

One day maybe I’ll post about how I conquered my addiction. One day.

I keep thinking there’s a way I can learn to live with sugar. That we can be friends. And for a day or two or a week or a month sugar plays nice.

And then everything changes.

Done whining.

I will go to the Y. And I’ll get past this.

Ugh.

 

What a week

marybethlee:

I was in a negative funk when I stumbled on this post from August 2005. This is why I teach. I needed the reminder.

Originally posted on A Writer's Life:

I still don’t quite understand my beginning classes. One even begged me NOT to do a fun activity with them. I let them choose. In the end, it worked better because I wasn’t killing myself trying to get them engaged in the learning process, and they did learn the information, it was just so boring. I can’t stand boring. It drives me crazy.
But they didn’t look bored, which was a new thing. I need to go to a different learning styles class again. Maybe I’ll discover some great new tricks.

I got into teaching because I wanted to advise publications. My high school journalism experience was amazing. I never really wanted to work for magazines, newspapers or the other stuff my kids talk about. I just wanted to advise. And I love it. Along the way I learned to love teaching English too. I’m thankful I don’t have to…

View original 1,060 more words

The End Is Near

marybethlee:

It’s been nine years since I wrote this post. Hard to believe. Funny how for a couple years, I pushed reading again. And then I stopped. Funny how I was freaked out over the 7-period, three prep day and what it meant. HA! I had no idea. This year’s 8-period day, five prep day is going to be challenging, but I’m going to remember this post. Reading is essential to a quality education.

Originally posted on A Writer's Life:

The end is near.
For eleven years I’ve been lucky enough to walk into a classroom and love my job. Even on bad days when my students are whiny, my staff misses deadlines and teenagers drive me berserk, in the back of my mind I know I’m lucky.
How many people love what they do?
I sometimes forget how much I love what I do.
This year’s been trying to say the least. A new schedule made it seem like I was on deadline all the time. Writing was something I dreamed about and played at but never really did much of. Over night my biological on time switched to off. In the olden days (read: last year), I could stay up and write from 10-2. It was marvelous the way the muse hit and words poured from my fingers onto the keyboard and across the screen. I’d click my…

View original 518 more words

Generation Homelander: Something Needs to Change!

homelandersHomelanders.

That’s what this generation of students is known as. That was the big lesson I learned at yearbook camp this summer.

They’ve never lived without security cameras everywhere. They’ve never known life without a cell phone. Their parents know where they are at all times. Their lives are orchestrated with calendars, every hour planned. Instead of play, they take classes. Even their time at the park is scheduled with play dates. They fear being alone and believe absolutely that evil is out there, and could strike at any minute in school, at the mall, at the movies, while they’re out for a morning run.

They grew up in the US after 9-11. After everything changed. And in an effort to keep them safe, I wonder if we’re not actually making the world a more dangerous place.

One common denominator I’ve heard time and again in discussions with other educators this summer is how many teenagers are on anti-anxiety meds. I’ve taught relaxation techniques to students for years. We can do the 13th floor like nobody’s business and Pilates deep breathing is a must. But this is different. This anxiety can’t be visualized or breathed away.

When we bought my daughter her first cell phone, I was excited. I remembered being a teenager AND I remembered the whole “we’re staying the night with… switcheroo.” With the cell phone that was over. Sort of. With today’s cell phones parents can just look at the GPS to see where their kids are. And they do. Constantly.

A couple of my former foreign exchange students recently posted pictures of their summer European trip. They’re not 18 yet, but they were traveling across the world without a guide or chaperone, just having fun, making memories, learning. When I saw the photos, I was shocked at first. I had a hard time letting my 18-yr-old daughter drive to Dallas. No way would she have gone on holiday around Europe without a parent present. No way. I’ve seen the movie Taken, complete fiction. I’ve watched the Natalee Holloway story again and again on the news, awful truth.

9-11 changed everything. We knew it when it happened, but I don’t think we truly understood. I hope we can change this overarching feeling that the world is evil, that the “bad people, terrorists, killers,” are out to get us. I hope we can find a way to give our kids time to breathe.

We have to. Our kids need a chance to have a new name. Something closer to Generation X and Y. Homelanders can’t be our future. It just can’t.

*******

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Angel Eyes,Angel Eyes 6 The Guardian Book 3 released this week. Yay! And Dead Girl Walking, The Guardian Book 1 is free for the last day. Get your kindle copy now. The DGW audio book will be out soon! I can’t wait to share it with y’all. You Will Love It! <3

 

 

Kill Them With Kindness

DelTacoGrumpy old Walter came in every day, and every day he ordered the same thing. Del Nachos no tomatoes. He never smiled. Never said think you. Just placed his order, waited for us to call his name and then carried his tray to a table facing outside the store to eat.

Walter didn’t know our names–we didn’t think–but we knew his because calling orders by name was a must.

I loved working at Del Taco, but I Did Not Love grumpy old Walter. I also did not love little kids that made big messes. Or people who came in one minute before close and ordered the whole menu. Or wiping my eyes after chopping jalapenos. Good God that hurt.

Sorry, got sidetracked. Back to Walter…and the kids…and those last minute people out to ruin life as we know it.

Before you could work for Del Taco, you had to train. And training was serious business. You had modules to study and tests to take, and our bosses were intense about those training sessions. To this day I can tell you the history of Del Taco. I can also tell you Del Taco took customer service seriously. Those lessons I learned about kill them with kindness have been life savers over the years. But MAN they were hard to follow through on. At least they were until one day after about six months of Del Nachos with no tomatoes.

Walter shuffled when he walked. And he had silver hair and deep set wrinkles like Walter Matthau in Grumpy Old Men. And he really liked those Del Nachos.

For some reason I set out to make Walter smile. Maybe my friends and I had a bet or something, I’m not sure. I just know I decided to do everything in my power to get him to like me. Pretty soon all of us were doing it.

Walker would walk in and we’d greet him like an old friend. “Walter!” And then we’d yell back “Del Nachos no tomatoes.”

Then that six month day of reckoning.

A mom with multiple children made a mess around the table next to where Walter sat. And by mess, I mean HOLY FREAKING COW, KIDS, did you eat anything or reenact nuclear war?

So I had the sweeper out on the floor when Walter came in and we all yelled Walter like he was our very best friend. By this time Walter had softened a bit. He still didn’t smile, though.

When his order I came up, I grabbed the tray and took it to him and made sure to tell him how happy we were to see him. To be honest it had kind of become true. Somehow in the effort to trick him into smiling, he’d become a character in the daily life at Del Taco. A character I’d miss if he skipped.

Walter took the tray and Then. He. Spoke. He said thank you.

It was incredible.

It was just the start.

Because once Walter started talking, he didn’t stop.

He explained

Why he came to Del Taco every day.

And ordered Del Nachos.

Without tomatoes.

Turned out Walter liked tomatoes. But his wife didn’t. So they ordered their nachos to share, and he sacrificed the tomatoes for her. And when she died, it was like this one thing would bring her back. If only for a moment.

And then he said thank you again. Because every day he came in and we greeted him with smiles even though he knew sometimes he could be surly.

Walter taught me a lot about life that day.

I use Walter in my classes pretty often to tell kids they never know whose life they’re impacting. I was lucky Walter told me. People don’t always tell you, but rest assured, every person you meet could be a Walter. <3

*******

If you haven’t signed up for my newsletter, you can here. I send one a month at the most, so no spam.

Angel Eyes, The Guardian Book 3 released this week. Yay! And Dead Girl Walking, The Guardian Book 1 is free for one more day. Get your kindle copy now.

 

 

 

 

Dear Texas State Politicians

inkSince you dedicated your life, or at least a few years, to public servanthood, I have to believe you don’t want to kill the public schools. If you go visit them, especially those with high at-risk populations, you’ll find those schools struggling to survive.

I know when you pass laws, even unfunded mandates, you want the best for Texas students. Before you pass those laws, I’d like to propose a novel concept: talk to teachers. LOTS of teachers. Teachers from all levels in all stages of their careers. Don’t take the word of for-profit companies as law. They’re not in it for the kids. They’re in it for the almighty dollar. So, please, before you listen to them, remember their agenda.

And while we’re talking about for-profit companies and agendas, I’d like you to really think about the for-profit charters setting up shop in Texas. Are they truly serving our students, or are they raking in dollars and cents at the expense of most students attending? I realize all charters are not created equal, but I bet those turning a profit aren’t in it for the kids. Just look at the data from across the country and you’ll see this to be true time and time again.

When something isn’t working, set about fixing it. I know you were hoodwinked into believing our schools weren’t working. I know you’ve committed billions to fixing the “problem.” For your investment professors state-wide say students are less prepared for college than they were before testing began and our SAT scores have stayed the same. The one area data proves the test has actually helped is in lowering the achievement gap for our minority students. That is a fantastic result. I’d like to believe teachers would have worked toward that goal without the money lost to testing.

I know you can make changes based on real data. I know because this year we didn’t give 15 STAAR tests.

But we did give two language arts tests that were far too long. Especially for struggling learners. Try sitting still for close to six hours (or longer if you include lunch). You’ll understand what I mean. In fact, I encourage you to spend two days taking the English 1 and 2 STAAR tests in a classroom, in a desk. Some of the students taking the test are bigger than you, so that shouldn’t be a problem. Maybe you could split your time. Take the test one day and administer the test the next. Experience testing from a student and a testing administrator perspective. That might help you make an informed decision.

That said, other than its length, the ELA STAARs are solid tests in some ways. They measure objectives students need to master before graduating, unlike the tests that came before.

Which leads me to another issue. Right now we have a system that revolves around the test. Teachers are measured by test scores, schools are measured by test scores, school districts are measured by test scores. The test scores reign supreme, and because of that, we have a serious problem in our schools. We have whole years where students aren’t taught subjects because they’re not tested in those academic areas that year. I know that’s ludicrous, but you have set up a system that revolves around the test, and this is the end result. It’s bad for our schools, our teachers and our kids.

Please talk to teachers. We do have the answers. They’re not easy, though. They’re far more difficult than bubbling answer documents and writing 26-line essays. Once again, I realize you never set out to destroy the public school system, but that’s where we are if something doesn’t change.

I appreciate your time.

Mary Beth Lee