Category Archives: education

Dear Teacher

Another broken child walked into a school and committed mass murder.

Another broken child lots of teachers had tried to reach.

And tomorrow we will face classrooms full of kids, some of whom are also broken. And we will still try to reach them. We will still pray for the miraculous moment a connection is made and the most awful of the most awful won’t happen, and we won’t ever know how close the most awful was.

We’ll walk into school tomorrow and look around and reevaluate our shelter in place plans and talk to each other about those plans. We’ll probably debate gun control and teaching the vote and what that looks like.

But we’ll also do our jobs and make those connections with kids.

Some of whom are broken.

Prayers for us all and prayers for all our kids.

Our hearts are breaking as we go through this again.


Teach the Vote: Save Our Public Schools

When I first started teaching one of the best teachers I’ve ever known told me something that has proven to be true in ways I never imagined.

When I said I didn’t like to “be political” she said teaching would always be political and that there were forces at work trying to destroy the public school system because they wanted to raid the funding.

I didn’t believe her in 1994, but by ‘99 I saw she was right. Back then it was Pearson and the high cost of testing and curriculum for the tests and retests. I still didn’t understand the full truth of what she saw.

I didn’t understand that banks were starting for-profit charters and moving into states while pulling funding from schools. I didn’t know hedge-fund operators were donating huge amounts to politicians to change the rules. I sure didn’t expect the state to give billions to private investors while cutting funding to our state teacher pension and insurance fund. I didn’t realize then that the push to make public education teaching a drive-through profession was because without a large,vocal group of seasoned public educators, politicians could raid funds all day long and few would know or care.

Flash forward to two decades later.

What that teacher underestimated was how apathy toward voting in the education profession made it easy for politicians to do the billionaires’ bidding, leaving school districts struggling while for-profit charters flourish with no or little oversight.

So here we are. On Feb. 20 early voting starts for the Texas primaries that will be held March 6.

Teachers must stand up and say no more.

We must vote for our students and our schools. We must vote for ourselves and our futures. We must vote for our retirees.

This election is a battle in the war on public education. It’s not about party. It’s bigger than that.

If you want to know how to fight back, a good place to start is the Texans for Public Education site. There’s a list on the site of the public education friendly candidates running for office.

Public education is a bedrock of our democracy. It levels the playing field for all students when it is allowed to.

And when career educators—not just teachers but our staffs, counselors and admin as well— work their full thirty years or more, public schools are stronger.

Both traditions are under attack.

Voting can change that.

The teacher who told me teaching is political was right. We can’t afford to ignore that truth. If we do, our students suffer and our profession will cease to exist.

Lockdown Lesson

There was NOT an active shooter on my campus today, thank God.


I got to teach media lessons in real time today while in the midst of two lockdowns that lasted a total of about three hours. Lockdown one was during my class with my students. Lots of rumors flying to which I could say “document your source” calmly. The second lockdown, called when kids were in the hall passing to their next class, ended with me having a roomful of students, most of whom I didn’t know. They were freaked out and I was trying to be calm and help them be calm and quiet too. When the rumors started flying I asked if they were getting that news directly from the source or from someone who got it from someone who maybe got it from someone they said was the source. One thing’s for sure: phones have changed everything.

Fortunately, the person allegedly responsible for the phoned in threats that caused both lockdowns has been caught.

Today stunk. I was there because of deadline. I’m glad I was there because the kids needed me. We didn’t meet deadline. Only the editor came in after school, and I understand. Sometimes there are bigger things in life than deadline.

In 24 years of teaching this was only my second time to be in a situation like this for more than an hour or two. The first situation was with a bomb threat at Rider. We were outside for hours. It was lunchtime, and the kids were great even though they were hungry. The bomb squad from the base was there, superintendents came out, the local news showed up. That was almost a party. The second lockdown today was the opposite of that. The fear I saw on kids’ faces today was the worst thing I’ve experienced in teaching. It was worse than watching the second plane hit on 9-11 with a room of my kids. It was worse because of the news yesterday and last week and the week before and the week before that. That second lockdown terrified the kids at first. It terrified them enough they were silent for 60 minutes. It terrified them enough that they did exactly what I told them to do, no questions asked, even though most of them didn’t know me.

It’s not okay.

It’s not okay that we as a nation just shake our heads and say we wish there was something we could do, but we can’t.

There was NOT an active shooter on my campus today, thank God.

We need to find a way to make that the last fear of kids on lockdown instead of the first.

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.

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. ❤️


I couldn’t read when we moved to Minnesota from Arkansas. Back then we were in groups by color. I was the only one in the red group. My teacher Mrs. Tagee didn’t leave me in that group. She worked with me until I could read with everyone else. 

In fourth grade my teacher Mrs. Baumgardner gave me my first big book: Little Women. I loved that book so much. I finished it at my grandma’s while waiting to move into our new house in Burkburnett, TX.

In Burk, my fifth grade teacher, Mr. Novak, told me I had a gift with words. My sixth grade social studies teacher realized I could make straight 100s in class but my penmanship was awful, so she helped me there. My eighth grade English teacher taught me how to write a research paper, and I used those lessons all the way through my MA in English. My ninth and tenth grade math teacher told me my problem with math was fear, and even though it took a few more years for me to get it, Mr. Brown’s explanation made all the difference in the world. My journalism adviser, Mrs. Anne Gillespie, changed my world. She’s why I am a journalism adviser today and have been for the last 23 years. My junior English teacher, Mrs. Bo, helped literature come to life and demanded I up my writing game to make good grades in her class. 

Most of us went to public school. Most of us had great public school experiences. Public schools have been under attack for decades, and most of those atracks have been about something other than education. Public schools can be miracle workers, but they cannot be blamed for all the social ills of this world. They cannot be blamed for poverty and the educational woes that come lockstep with it. They cannot be blamed for the fact that politicians haven’t figured out how to fund them properly.

I loved school. I still love school. I hope we as a nation refuse to let bankers and politicians destroy our public school system.

#ProudProductOfPublicSchools #ProudPublicSchoolTeacher

Tag, You’re It #Betsy DeVos

Dear Mrs. DeVos,

We have a system in this country, and you’ve been confirmed as Secretary of Education because of how that system works. People voted for the president and their senators, and today, that means you now hold a position of great power in our country despite the overwhelming majority of people who asked their senators to vote no. That’s not how our system works, though, so you’re it.

It was obvious during the confirmation hearing that you hadn’t done your homework, Mrs. DeVos. That although you’ve spent years degrading public school systems and championing choice, you really did not know the essential foundations upon which public schools are built. You did not understand school law, nor did you understand basic educational practices. 

You no longer have the option to skip the homework, take the test and let the failing grade stand. A failing grade for you is disasterous for us. So hit the books. We need you to be good.

Now your real work starts. Important work. Essential work. Work that has absolutely nothing to do with your personal bank accounts and everything to do with one of the foundations of this country.

Your job is political, but it is more than that.

Years ago one of my favorite superintendents explained that he knew his strengths and made sure to surround himself with assistants who could shore up his weaknesses. I hope you will do this. Spend time with public school educators: administrators and teachers. Spend time in schools: failing schools and excelling schools. Look beyond test scores because test scores are a tiny portion of what we do.

You’ve had weeks since that disasterous confirmation hearing. Hopefully you’ve utilized that time effectively. 

Different points of view can lead to great successes. I hope we see that from you. Don’t let us down, Mrs. DeVos. Prove us wrong. Prove you are up to the job.


Mary Beth Lee

Public School Teacher

An Open Letter to United States Senators

Dear Republican Senators,

I implore you to think about the real damage going on in the US right now. Then I implore you to think about how that damage will implode the public school system if Betsy DeVos is approved as Secretary of Education. 

I’ve read your explanations. That she wrote you and assured you she will not move forward on her decades of public school destruction. But nothing she said in her confirmation hearings gave proof to those answers. 

DeVos is uniquely unqualified to be Secretary of Education. Uniquely unqualified in that she has no public school experience and has dedicated her life to dismantling public school systems. Surely, surely there is a strong Republican candidate with real public school experience. 

While I understand education at these levels is politics, this nominee is more than a political front. She is a shouted message that teachers are bad and public schools destructive. 

Again, I implore you, listen to the overwhelming calls, messages, tweets and emails from your constituents. There is a reason most people are against this nomination, and that reason has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with our children.

Approving DeVos as Secretary of Education will have severe consequences for educators and students. Vote no. 


Mary Beth Lee 

Support Your Public Schools

She lived in a car with her mother, until her mother OD’d. She sat next to a student whose parents owned a private airplane.

He slept on friends’ couches all senior year. He sat next to a girl whose dad commanded troops in Iraq.

She was a single mom trying to make ends meet. She sat next to a girl whose parents had come to the US to start a new life. They sat next to a foreign exchange student from the Republic of Georgia. They all attended class with three debutants, two kids who lived in the projects, a teacher’s kid and a doctor’s child.

All of them, regardless of background, learned. 

That’s public school, and the strength of public school is essential to our communities, states and the nation.

Today Governor Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick presided over the kick off to “choice” week. There they embraced and championed the idea that tax dollars should be used for private education and that charter schools could somehow fix what ails public schools.

Abbott and Patrick are wrong. That did not stop them from firing the shots that could destroy a system so essential to our democracy.

The best way to guarantee strong public schools is to vote for politicians who believe in strong public schools. Abbott used to, Patrick never did.

Neither of these men faced election this year. 

To contact Gov. Greg Abbott and tell him you support strong public schools not choice, click here.

To contact Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to say the same thing, click here.

To be clear, support for vouchers, tax credits or any other means of privatizing public school will kill the public school. Don’t let that happen.

And the next time Texas elections roll around, remember these men have every intention of destroying a true public school system. We can’t ignore this. 

A Moment Part 2 UGH

The minute you blog about an awesome day, a Rockstar Teacher Moment, a classroom v-i-c-t-o-r-y, you can guaran-darn-tee the next day will be hell.


It started with Pizza Hut. Or maybe it started with not getting enough sleep last night and noticing a bunch of sleepy heads who wanted to be on their phones in first period. Or maybe it started with The Question (props to Crane on that one).


My kids were tired this morning. I was too. Plus I’m trying this whole bonding thing: enter Pizza Hut. (The whole thing was recorded so this is probably on YouTube somewhere and maybe not exactly as I remember).

So, yeah. Pizza Hut.

“Stand up, stand up, stand up!” I said grapevining across the back of the classroom where I have to stand to teach since giant monitors block their eyes from me if I stand up front.

“Nooooo.” “Ugh.” Various other complaints and the passive aggressive ignore Mrs.Lee continue playing game on computer. 

Five of 30 totally in it, standing, ready to do whatever comes next.

“Oh come on you guys! This will be fun! I promise!” Me, looking at a class of kids who want me to just keep showing a PowerPoint so they can check out while looking like they’re totally into photo composition rules.


“Stand up!”

The sudden dawning realization that I’m not backing off this one. Three refusals still. Whatever.

(Aside: I have no idea where this whole idea of mine came from. One minute I was bored to tears. The next, Pizza Hut.)

“Okay.  You’ve gotta do this,” show drawing a square in the air; “this,” show chicken wings; and “this,” show McDonald’s arches in the air.

Interest alights. I’m suddenly hungry.

One kid in the back, or actually now front, “Hey Miss, how is this relevant?”

The. Question.

The class looks toward me expecting I’m not sure what exactly. I mean this is J class and we’re drawing boxes, doing the chicken dance and mimicking McDonald’s arches. 

It’s a good question. How is this relevant? It’s a question I should always, always have the answer to in my classroom.

And I do. But first, “Just follow along. I promise I’ll tell you how after.”

Then, “I’m gonna do it first then y’all do it too.” 

And I start the song with motions my daughter brought home from camp one summer.

“Pizza Hut, Pizza Hut, Kentucky Fried Chicken and a Pizza Hut.

“Join in!”

We sing. No. Three of us sing, most do the motions, the three abstainers look at us like we’re crazy.


The same response.

“One last time.”

The crowd at the back has joined the abstainers, but the ones along for the ride are laughing. And then it’s over and most collapse to their seats like I’d asked them to start marathon practice or something.

And then I explain the relevance. 

“It’s fun. And groups that are silly together bond.”

They groan and tell me I’m wrong. 

But they’re never going to forget Pizza Hut, KFC or McDonald’s, I bet. And maybe they’ll remember photo composition too.

The rest of the story, and my real moment of almost failure (not the song and silliness, surprise!):

One of the kids I look at as a leader was an abstainer. I kept her after and said, “Ya know, I really need you to participate. When you don’t, others won’t.”

And she reminded me she has extreme back problems and neck problems and they had flared up today. 

I knew about those issues, but I forgot.

And then I justified: “next time just shout it out so the kids know WHY you’re sitting.” instead of “oh my gosh! I forgot.”


Bright side: yearbook loved it. And they did Maw-Hu-Saw-Sin today.

Tomorrow is Chicken Butt. The perfect journalism movie.

Because staffs that have fun together and are silly together are stronger. It’s relevant.