Monthly Archives: March 2012

Lesson Learned: 1 Kid, iMovie, Google and a Transformation

Today was one of the best days of my teaching career. It’s like God screamed, “Girl, I put you in the classroom for a reason.”
I have a special needs child in one of my classes. This child is amazing and wonderful and all year we’ve worked on him learning how to log into the computer and how to make videos. The videos he totally figured out. He can use a handy cam to shoot the video, upload it to the computer and use iMovie to make his own projects. Or he can use photo booth to make music videos of him lip synching and dancing.
If I ask him to remind me of something, he will every time. But he has the hardest time associating letters and words. So, every day, when he comes to class, we walk him through how to start his music on groove shark. He loves Justin Bieber. All of the kids help him out, never complaining. They love him. The end.
Today, class started and he said, “Mrs. lee, Mrs. lee. Come here and let me show you.”
I was going through 90 pages of yearbook proofs and thinking how stressful my job is, so I didn’t have the best frame of mind when I headed to his desk.
But then he started Firefox, opened Google and showed how he’d learned to search for yahoo and start his own music on yahoo music. When his videos were blocked, he browsed to yahooligans on his own to find his music.
Every kids in the class cheered, clapped, gave him high 5s. We almost broke out in a dance party.
It was one of the greatest moments of my teaching career.
It reminded me that what we do in the classroom every day is so very important. That we don’t even know when we’re making a difference. It reminded me that I love my job and moments like these make the 90-page deadlines worth it.

Plans for Spring Break

Almost every time I visit DD at Starbucks these perfect supermodel impersonator German or Italian mothers with several small children who look like they jumped off the pages of an Osh Kosh b’Gosh ad are in line with friends. For some reason I think that image stuck in my brain when I said my niece and nephew could spend the night one day this week.

MAN, kids are hard work! I have no idea how the above mentioned women look like a million bucks while raising children.
By the time Ella and Alan left, I was worn out. It’s going to take 48 hours to recover from a 24-hour visit.
But you know what? We had a blast. And all those Spring Break plans that didn’t happen because I chose Auntie Time instead? I’m cool with that.

Killing the Profession, One Teacher At a Time

How has the current test driven culture helped public education? The only data driven results I see supporting a test as a solution to our education ills are results gathered and disseminated by testing companies and those with interests in testing companies. Average SAT scores have remained somewhat steady since the 70s. Professors across the board say our students are more unprepared for college than they’ve ever been and business leaders say we need students who understand how to problem solve, work collaboratively and think outside the box. I don’t know when you went to school, but I graduated in the 80s. I didn’t take honor classes. I took the required curriculum, graduated somewhere in the middle of my class and went to my local university, where I started my freshman year with bad grades due to poor decisions but learned through trial and error how to make the grade. I am a successful, productive member of society. I graduated with others who went on to be nuclear engineers, Peace Corps volunteers, CPAs, Cadillac driving Mary Kay Directors. NONE of them took and passed state and federal mandated tests to become successful. Come to think of it, neither did any of the leaders in the US who happened to make their way through public education before tests took over in 1998.

I wrote the above on Facebook today. I’m so tired of hearing how the US has a failing education system, and the test is the only way to see that failure and correct it.
I’m all for using best practices in the classroom: vertical and horizontal alignment, project based learning, portfolios, scaffolding, the list goes on and on and on. Instead of spending so many billions on tests, perhaps public school systems would be better served training teachers to excel on their fields. I learned more from watching master teachers like Sheila Curlin, Anne Patterson, David Knight, Lori Oglesbee and Bobby Hawthorne at work in the classroom than I ever learned from a textbook or a canned lesson courtesy of a textbook supplier. I get more from honest student feedback on evaluations than I do from the 1 or 2-day observation from my admin. Aside: My administration team rocks. They are the BEST ever, but those evaluations aren’t all that helpful. I enjoy their visits to my classroom because I like to hear their thoughts on my lessons. What would be more helpful: visits from master teachers and novice teachers in my school, and then time for us to share observations from those visits.
My district’s Leadership Academy challenged me to be a better teacher, inspired me to do more in the classroom, gave me tons of tools to use on more than teaching to a test.

Back to my original Facebook post: I went to school in the time before the test. To hear a test is the only way to keep teachers accountable is a slap in my teachers’ faces. I remember four teachers from high school who didn’t do much to challenge me in the classroom. A test wouldn’t have fixed that. What I remember more are the amazing teachers who left a lasting legacy at Burkburnett High School. If I had grown up in the testing world, I’m not sure I’d remember those teachers because I’m not sure they would have lasted in the classroom.

The Only Wrong Answer: Silence

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. –Martin Luther King Jr.

I never expected my Plea From a Teacher letter to go viral. I blog about education issues all the time. I even helped lead a local Save Texas Schools rally last year. The fact that so many people (around 3000 that I know of after less than 48 hours) have read the post and shared it by retweeting, posting on Facebook, commenting here on the blog or privately, gives me hope that we can change the direction of education today.
If you’re in Texas, the Save Texas Schools rally is in Austin March 24 from 11-2:30 at the capitol. You should be there and make your voices heard. We can’t wait for the Texas Legislature to be in session to get involved in the dialogue. We need to be out there now. If you’re not in Texas, get involved in your state.
Also, teachers, make sure you’re talking to parents. Parents are as frustrated as we are. AND don’t believe for a minute this is a teachers vs administrators issue. Trust me when I say administrators at all levels are as frustrated by the state of public education as classroom teachers are.
Current educators need to be the driving force of education reform. NOT business owners, not testing companies, not media pundits. We cannot sit silently while children suffer and school systems collapse. We must be vocal about change. The world has changed and education has changed along with it. Change isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Finally, remember, tests aren’t evil. Tests are simply supposed to be tools to measure data. When tests drive everything about education, that’s a problem. Check out this link for more on that. Be prepared to be stunned by how we ended up with this test-centered public education atmosphere. I certainly was. Now more than ever I know it’s time to speak up.
Thank you.

Follow me on twitter @marybethleeybnp

A Plea From a Teacher

Dear Texas State Legislators, Governor Perry, SBEC members and TEA officials,

My name is Mary Beth Lee, and I’m an 18-year public education veteran. From the time I was 15, I’ve never wanted to do anything but teach. I love teaching. I love to watch my students engaged in real learning, in problem solving, in learning the tricks to time management. I love watching the light bulb moment when they “get” a new concept. I love how they’ll try and try and try something, failing miserably time and again, until they get it right.

I love the excitement of a job well done and presenting lessons and integrating technology into my classroom. I love the idea of collaborating with fellow educators to make my school the best it can be and providing life-long learning opportunities inside and outside the classroom for my students.

But I’m not writing this letter as a form of praise for a job well-done.

I’m writing because I’m furious. I’m furious at the expense of tests, and I don’t just mean dollars and cents. I spent an hour watching a slide show on how to give a test this week. How to create a seating chart, how to show time, how to actively monitor a classroom. Later this week I attended a session explaining what exactly my students will be required to do to pass this test, and I discovered the answer is take everything you’ve ever learned about successful writing… and toss it out the window.

In the 18 years I’ve been teaching I’ve watched the testing companies take over the education world. They drive our curriculum, they set the bar, they make billions of dollars off the idea of education reform. And yet, for all their billions, and the bars they’ve supposedly raised, there have been no measurable gains in true academic achievement. In fact, Fortune 500 companies and universities across the country complain that we’ve raised a generation of kids with AMAZING self-esteems, who can’t problem solve, think creatively or write in a way that effectively communicates their thoughts. We’ve raised a generation who can bubble in test answers like none other, but when they’re given an assignment without step-by-step instructions, they freak out.

The other day a friend told me her 4th grade niece cried all night the night before her test last year. She was terrified of failing. I’m sure her teacher cried all night, too.

I don’t understand. I’m all for real education reform. I’m all for saying let’s encourage schools to set up systems for student success and academic achievement. I’m all for measuring data and collaboration. But these tests we spend billions on have done nothing good for education.

I went to school in the era before the test. I had my fair share of lousy teachers, but more often than not, my teachers were dedicated professionals intent on seeing me succeed in the classroom. The test has changed NOTHING. We still have lousy teachers who need to be counseled into new professions, but most of us are constantly seeking to do better, be better, inspire our students to academic achievement.

I realize the testing companies love to tell you how we’re behind the curve when it comes to education. That’s hogwash.

No other country educates every student, no matter what, for free. Quite honestly, I’d put our top students against any other country’s top students any day of the week. No other country says if you’re willing to work hard you can do anything regardless of your mental starting point. No other country can boast the numbers of people we see on a daily basis who’ve built million and billion dollar corporate empires from the ground up. Our spirit of entrepreneurship and our commitment to democracy have always been building blocks of this nation, and that was the case before tests ruled education.

My fear: tests will kill that spirit and commitment because both of those require the ability to problem solve, think critically and embrace creativity.

YOU have the power to change this.

Educators do not.

Please, I’m begging you, do something about this. Don’t let our children continue to suffer the mindless monotony of bubbled in answer documents and No. 2 pencils. Put tests back where they should be: tools to measure but not the be all end all of our public education system.



Mary Beth Lee

Rider Journalism

Scholastic J

It’s a different kind of work today. One I’m excited about. I have no idea what the future holds. I only know that I have something important to share. So often people look at journalism as a career, a vocation, something to be trained in. The end.
But it’s not the end. For while that’s true, journalism is so much more.
It’s the protector of the constitution. Without a strong free press, the US will cease to exist. It’s an amazing time and a frightening time right now.
Everything is changing so fast. iDevices have made citizen journalism a norm. Paper is ceasing to be the medium of choice for news, there’s no such thing as privacy and people post all sorts of wonders and horrors online.
At the same time we see testing companies and defense contractors buy politicians. Creative thought and the ability to question the answers have been stripped from k-12 schools across the nation, and that lack of freedom is creeping its way onto college campuses…the 6th circuit showed that last month, and the SPLC can show case after case of infringement of rights at the university level.
Years ago, when we were in college, my husband called this limiting of freedoms “foot in the door” in a speech he made about parental advisory stickers on albums.
That was in 1989.
Back then we would have never dreamed an entire political party would take a stand against birth control paid by insurance. We would have scoffed at the idea of The Patriot Act or a judicial ruling that allowed the US to hold someone indefinitely without filing charges over the chance that they might be a terrorist.
Now more than ever journalists must do their jobs. They must be the protectors of the constitution. They must be of the people, for the people.
If not, I’m afraid of where we’re headed.