Year 24: A new year in a turbulent time

This is one of my favorite times of the year. The blank slate, fresh start, new beginning of a school year.
But the white supremacist march in Charlottesville and the death of a counter protestor and two law enforcement officers eclipsed all my normal joy.
Seeing those angry people holding Nazi flags, Confederate flags and other symbols of hate while they shouted hateful words including Nazi slogans hurt my heart. Seeing so many of those faces and thinking they're not that much older than the children in my classroom hurt even more.
All day I've felt this darkness, this pain, this awful pollution of the soul.
And then as I sat down to write this, something shifted.
I'm a teacher. A public school teacher. The public school is everything that stands against hate. The public school is a place where playing fields are leveled, where cultural differences are embraced, where kids of all races and religions and genders work together constantly. It wasn't always so, but the world changed, thank God.
The angry hate we saw in Virginia this weekend was loud. It was awful. But those people lost a long time ago, and the public school helped make that happen.
So here I am, sad but hopeful, sure beyond doubt that my job, my mission, is more important than ever.

Together Again

A million years ago Sandra Scheller allowed me to observe her journalism classes at Rider High School when I was an MSU student. After four years she let me take over the Rider newspaper after I was hired as an English teacher.when I left Rider last year Sandra took the newspaper back after 22 years. Now we’re at Gloria Shields Workshop together. Life is so awesome. 

Yearbook Day

I want the yearbooks I advise to make kids happy. I hope when they look at the book they see their school and think, wow, my school is so cool! I want people who don’t go to my school to look at the book and think, wow, I wish I went to that school. And I want the book to be pretty. 

When the book comes out, I hope it looks like the process of making it was effortless.  (Hahahahaha.)

And, I’m not gonna lie, I hope people say they love the book.

All of the above is me. The kids on staff want to world to love their hard work. They want kudos too.

Which is why for years, ever since adviser Lori Oglesbee shared her yearbook day letter at a workshop, I’ve done the same.

The letter says something along the lines of: yay yearbook! Then: all the facts about distribution. Then:  to teachers, in the same way you wouldn’t criticize an athlete for a bad play or a theatre kid for a flubbed line, please do not hurt the kids by complaining about the book to them and please come see me if there are real issues that need to be addressed. 

I warn the kids to be ready. Love your work. Be proud. You did an amazing job. You took all these pages that were completely blank and turned them into this beautiful work of art. But there will be mistakes because this is a printed product produced on a deadline and you and I are human. Mistakes are part of the process. And mistakes or complaints will be a constant in your day when we release the book. Love the book anyway. And come up with some great ways to handle the minor complaints: oh man, I am so sorry! Wait. We only have 12 people on staff next year. You should fit yearbook in your schedule and we won’t have that problem! Or oh wow! Yeah. You have 100s in all your classes too, right? No? But it’s the same thing. Our mistakes are just published. Or just a simple I am so sorry meant for real. On the big things I tell the kids to bring the kid with the issue to me. 

We do respond now though. But always in a way that hopefully stays fun. Negativity is a snowball. Little things grow and grow and before you know it one person’s little problem has become an entire group’s avalanche of awful. Add in social media and you’ve got a mess sometimes. 

And all of that is so important for the kids to learn and experience. 

Thick skin is something you have to acquire through trial by fire. Once you’ve got it, it serves you well for life. 

So yesterday was yearbook day 19 for me, and it was beautiful. And it was also tough. But more than anything, it was a huge part of the learning experience. 

Yay yearbook!


The photos are from when the staff saw their book for the first time. They were so happy. That’s the moment that makes advising the best!

The kid who knows too little

The girl drove me crazy.

She always called me over, always wanted me to hold her hand and walk her through what to do. She’s in a huge class of students who…keep me on my toes. And she wanted my attention 100%.

The thing is she has a great eye, and she’s super creative, and she seems to be a good student. Except in my class. 

In my class she lost 30 photos. In my class she didn’t follow the step by step instructions printed on the sheet in front of her. In my class she wanted my every moment and that just wasn’t possible.

Frustration set in, on both our parts.

Until the middle of second six weeks when she asked a new question. So how do I make a new PowerPoint again? And the girl sitting next to her added, “What is an attachment?” And the one next to her said, “I never really used email before.”

And just like that I realized for weeks I’d been speaking a foreign language to these kids. And the “Mrs. Lee, Mrs. Lee, Mrs. Lee,” girl was actually the brave one willing to ask the questions.

It took three class periods, but in the end they knew what to do, and now when they walk in the classroom, they do amazing work. We lost weeks because I let my frustration get in the way of finding the positive and I didn’t bother talking to and with them to see if I could understand what the heck was wrong.

Ugh.

Something to remember for next year.

Yes, you should be a teacher

Mrs. Lee, I’m thinking about being a teacher, but I just don’t know. What do you think?
My former students ask me this question pretty often. My answer has not changed even though education has.
Yes. Yes, you should be a teacher. No other job is as rewarding as awe-inspiring, as beautiful and life affirming as teaching.

Yes, teaching has changed, and yes, everything is more test centric. Despite that, teaching is still an incredible job.

Yes, kids curse and question authority and their phones will drive you crazy. Kids always cursed and questioned authority. It’s different now for a lot of reasons, but that’s not just an education issue. And the phones are crazy, but walk into any restaurant and look around. It’s the same everywhere, and it’s certainly not just the kids. We get to be part of teaching society how to use those phones successfully instead of letting them control our lives.
Yes, teaching hurts sometimes. When your kids lose parents or grandparents or get kicked out or live in a hotel or come to school dirty and hungry or get involved in the slippery slope of drugs and alcohol or go through bad breakups or fail their STAARs or get criticized and ridiculed for work they were proud of or wreck their cars or drop out–GOD, that last one hurts so bad–you bet it hurts. And that’s why you will be an amazing and wonderful teacher. Because it does hurt you and you will do everything in your power to help your kids through the tough stuff. 

Yes, politicians who are beholden to banks and other special interests will make you crazy. Yes, the politics of teaching can drag you down if you don’t let it energize you. Yes, you will sacrifice sleep and money and health. And still, yes, you should teach.
Unless, the only reason you’re thinking about teaching is the decent starting salary. Because if that’s it, no, no, no, no. You don’t want to teach for the money, I promise. 
Teaching is hard physically and emotionally. It takes everything you’ve got to do it well, and there will be days you suck it up in the classroom, and those days can have terrible consequences if you’re not immediately aware. You will go home Fridays and crash. You will spend hours (and sometimes $$$) on lessons that fall flat. You will lay sleepless in bed staring at the ceiling worrying about a kid in your class, you will ask for unspoken prayer requests for kids going through struggles that seem impossible.
You will gain weight if you are not extremely careful or blessed with great metabolism or someone who works out constantly. You will work sick and miss moments with your family. You will sit through meetings wondering why on earth they didn’t just send an email or read emails wondering why on earth they didn’t have a meeting. You’ll go through great new concept after great new concept after great new concept discarding the one that came before for the new until your head is spinning and you can’t remember what you’re supposed to be doing.
And still, you should be a teacher.
Because yes, there is heartache and frustration, but there is so much more. You are changing the world, lighting a light, showing the way, challenging and enlightening and loving kids to success. And honestly, there is no better job in the world.

If you feel like maybe you want to teach, try and see. Give yourself three years to discover if the classroom is your calling. If it’s not, that’s okay too. You’ll still look back on your time with kids as an educational experience. If it is your calling, you have found an amazing life journey and the best job in the world. ❤️

Happy Mother’s Day

Happy Mother’s Day to the woman who taught me visits with Grandma were the best vacations, Young and the Restless is timeless, kissing on a bridge was not “making love,” there’s an art to walking in high heels, knowing if you’re a winter or a summer matters, the birds and the bees talk using the dust on the dashboard could be traumatic and hilarious, dance parties make everything better when you’re a little kid, shorts can be too short, sunscreen matters, koolaid and popsicles make hot summer days amazing, the best stories are the ones you make yourself, Writer’s Digest is a thing, Silhouette Romances are the best, kissing the man you love on the couch in front of your kids is a good thing, Mary Kay makeovers are the best, roses roses smells delicious but it’s brutal on those with allergies, matching Mother’s Day dresses can be a blessing and a curse, there’s a way to hold your mouth just so to get that perfect curling iron curl, the feathered hair haircut is perfectly achieved by putting hair in a ponytail and snip, great legs are genetic (wah!), great nails are too (yay!!!), chocolate fixes everything (wah!), fresh tomatoes-onion-cucumber does too (yay!), power through when you mess up singing, practice so the mess ups aren’t constant, it’s worth it to wake up early to see a royal wedding, reading is fundamental, recipes matter, “don’t make me stop this car” strikes fear in the heart of all kids even when they’re not in a car, and a whole bunch of other stuff. ❤️ Love you Mom.  MB

I’m a democrat. Here’s why.

Someone said the democrats have lost their identity. Maybe that’s true. Maybe on a national level there is an identity crisis, but there’s not one for me. 

I’m a democrat because:

Strong public education is a bedrock of democracy.

Women’s rights are human rights.

Bathroom bills are attacks on all people not just the transgender community.

I should not be afraid to be sick because an illness would destroy me financially, even though I have insurance.

The income gap is growing and it will destroy us. Corporate executives are earning record salaries while more people employed full time are on food stamps and living in section 8 housing. This is not okay.

I’m a deeply religious person, but I firmly believe in the first amendment. Separation of church and state is essential to democracy.

The first amendment is not only about protecting Christianity.

Pro-life is not pro-life. It’s an oversimplification of a multifaceted issue. When abortion is outlawed it does not stop abortion. It moves abortion to back alley butchers. This has been seen throughout the ages.

The mortality rate of poor pregnant women in this nation is staggering. Cutting Planned Parenthood funding makes this problem worse. 

A free market system does not work for all areas of life. Profit cannot be the driving force for everything because profit does not care about the lives damaged for gain.

Super PACs are killing us.

It is our responsibility to address the vast issues of poverty, and government assistance is necessary to help with those issues. It’s all fine and good to say communities and individuals should fix these problems, but that doesn’t happen on a regular basis. It leaves assistance up to fate. Not cool if fate doesn’t smile on you. Not cool as in people die in our streets because we purposefully let them.

Politicians don’t belong in our bedrooms unless we invite them.

Politicians don’t belong in our uteruses unless we’ve given birth to them or unless they also happen to be our OB/GYN.

Immigration reform is absolutely necessary, but that doesn’t mean mass deportations and fear.

People matter.

No, all people are not equal, and we need to work on that.

The “good old days” were only good if you were white and male, rich helped.

Climate Change is real. And yes, some of it is natural, but mankind has contributed greatly.

Science is a thing and it matters.

Facts matter. The environment matters. Protecting our water matters. 

Peace matters.
Republicans can look at this list and say they agree with some of the points. That’s all fine and good, but the Republican Party is at war with all the points mentioned. They’ve let themselves be overtaken by belief in the almighty dollar above all else, disguising that belief with fake Jesus; not real Jesus, but the political Jesus who’s white, blonde and wears an R on his sleeve.
This list is not complete, but it’s a start.

How We Can Really Make America Great Again

I’m not a politician. I’m a teacher who thought I was a fiscally conservative socially liberal republican until nine years ago when I realized there’s a name for that: democrat. And then I learned I wasn’t really fiscally conservative at all. Keep that in mind while reading.

1. The Walton Factor matters. When I was a little kid I LOVED to watch The Waltons. When they would go to town and all the uppity city folks would look down their noses at Grandpa and Pa and Jim Bob and John Boy and Elizabeth, it always made me so mad. But it usually worked out all right for the Waltons, and those uppity city folks learned a lesson or two.

Democrats need to learn how to be more Walton and less city folk. People need to feel like they can sit down and have a coffee with them and believe they understand the problems with a healthcare law where a huge chunk of their paycheck is going to premiums. They need to hear real solutions and not just that the other side is crazy. They need to be able to tell the difference between a progressive and conservative and understand why that matters. It’s not enough to be upset that the Trump budget cuts Meals on Wheels and PBS. It’s not enough to complain that republican Steve King makes awful racist statements and is encouraged to speak his mind. It’s not enough to say abortion is a tough topic and you can be against it, but outlawing it will never end it. All of those are democratic answers I’ve heard this week.

None of those are enough.

People need to feel like democrats running for office could be their friends or members of their church small groups or their neighbors. An awful lot of the time democrats sound smart and say all the right things, but they feel out of touch with middle class reality. Their speeches are all perfect, their sound bites are spot on, but in real life, they seem apart from the regular people. That has to change.

2. More people need to actually go to the polls. Thank you for showing that, Samantha Bee. Actually I heard this time and again when I worked the phones for Wendy Davis. Since her gubernatorial campaign, that fact hasn’t changed. A lot of people are complaining about the status quo, but they aren’t going to the polls. Some who are protesting current policies aren’t going to the polls. We have a terrible percentage of people who actually go vote. That has to change.

There are certainly more keys to more Dems in office, but these two are essential.

Another fight to save Texas teachers

I’m sick to my stomach at what I see happening in my state government right now. It’s not a surprise: our governor made it clear he wants this outcome, our lieutenant governor is so anti-teacher it makes me cringe to even hear him speak. Half the educators I know voted for these guys because the R beside their names even though they’ve made it clear they’re at war with the public school system and teachers.
When I started teaching, I knew I’d never get rich doing it. God put me on this earth to teach, though. I knew it from my first moment in the classroom.

When I first started teaching, I didn’t really understand how the Teacher Retirememt System worked. I saw the contribution on my pay stubs, but I didn’t really comprehend why TRS existed and how it worked.
Then Enron happened.
Long story short a lot of people lost everything with bad investments in Enron. TRS was invested, but the people who run the pension diversify, so TRS survived and even thrived. After that, I learned a little about how TRS works.
Basically: current teachers pay into TRS. The state contributes a small percentage (a number they’ve decreased). When teachers retire they get a set pension for life or they can take a lump sum.
TRS is one of the top performing pensions in the nation. It’s one of the things Texas teachers know they can depend on.
Now republicans have put forward SB 1751. A bill that if passed will move our guaranteed pensions–and state employee pensions–to the market driven 401k system. A system that has been proven to work great for the wealthy while account managers make major bank on fees AND proven to be totally unsustainable for the regular middle class worker to live comfortably in retirement. 
Most teachers are just part of the regular middle class. I certainly am.
I’ve saved my entire career and even put money in my own retirement plan on top of TRS, but TRS is my lifeline. It has to be. I won’t ever get social security because Texas won’t allow me to draw both even if I work enough quarters outside of the school system to qualify. 
Most teachers I know work more than one job. I know when I retire I will have to work somewhere still, that my retirement alone won’t be enough. BUT it is a guaranteed income. And the 401k system some republicans want to move us to is only a guaranteed income for the banks and money managers in charge. If SB 1751 passes, public employees in Texas are screwed. The whole system only works if we all pay our fair share while working, and right now it works well. SB 1751 is ridiculous.
I do have hope. If people make it clear they do not support SB 1751, if they call their legislators, maybe we can swing the tide against this awful bill. I know my local state rep. is very pro-public education and goes against his party regularly. My local senator on the other hand…I don’t know. She’s never written me back.

Texans, I’m asking you to please call your legislators and tell them you do not support SB1751. It’s an anti-teacher bill and it will hurt us terribly. I’m also begging you to research candidates before the next election. We won’t keep winning these fights to save public schools and public school teachers if we keep voting in anti-public school candidates.

Tired, Can’t Afford to be Sick

I’m kind of tired hearing the words that people need to be responsible for their own healthcare costs from those who don’t pay for healthcare.I’m kind of tired of looking at my husband, a healthy 50+-year-old man who has to pay over $400 a month for a $10k deductible non-ACA insurance policy. Non-ACA because only a handful of docs in our hometown accepted the ACA coverage. But the ACA policy was only a few dollars cheaper anyway.

I’m tired of paying $100 for the “free” annual wellness exams.

I’m tired of hearing health care is a “personal responsibility” not a right as a citizen.

I heard a former republican governor of Utah–Mike Leavitt–say all nations know that when their citizens are paying this much of their income on healthcare, they must make changes or their nation is at risk. I’m tired of politicians ignoring this fact.

I’m tired of hearing about how bad a public healthcare policy that insures more for less is a catastrophe for insurance companies while insurance agency leaders rake in record profits and citizens go broke.

I’m tired of hearing how if people got rid of their iPhones and maybe worked a few extra hours they could pay for their insurance. It just shows how completely disconnected Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) is and I hope his constituents remind him of that when they next go to the polls. I just want to scream, dude, if someone’s already working 72 hours a week or more and healthcare is breaking them, how the heck are they supposed to do more and WHY should they be phoneless because you don’t want to help fix the problem?! How about you quit with all the big business tax cuts? Oh wait…how much was the bank bailout again? $700 billion. And you think the problem is Johnny has an iPhone? 

I’m tired of the politicization of something that shouldn’t be political. 

ACA didn’t fix the problems, but thank GOD, it made the attempt. The new republican answer leaves people of poverty in deeper poverty while rewarding the rich once a-freaking-gain.

I’m tired of hearing people who don’t pay for healthcare complain about politics of personal responsibility. 

I’m tired. Thank God I’m not sick because I can’t afford to be sick anymore. And the republican “repeal and replace” will make things even worse.