Category Archives: education

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.

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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. ❤️

#ProudProductOfPublicSchools

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.

Sincerely,

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. 

Sincerely,

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.

Nah.

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).

Rewind.

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.

Nah. 

“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.

“Faster.”

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.”

Ugh.

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.

A Moment

In my classes we’re always talking about capturing moments. Today I had an epiphany.

It started yesterday at in-service when Dr. Cupp told us about the Five Blessings and how they can impact our kids. 

Today was the first day with kids after break. I originally planned a big lesson because we’ve got work to get done. But yesterday I scrapped that.

Sometimes I do a goal setting lesson. Today I decided to make it a dream lesson and to try to help the kids feel connected.

I knew it would work in yearbook, but photo is a different monster. The kids in photo didn’t sign up for what they’ve done this semester. They didn’t know the amount of work they’d be doing for yearbook. At times about half the class has been resistant since Thanksgiving. I almost let the fear of their resistance let me back out of a powerful lesson.

The lesson is certainly not new, and I totally stole bits and pieces of it over the years.

I had the kids grab a piece of blank colored paper and write their name at the top then tape the paper to their backs. Then I had them use markers and write nice things about each other.

I worried someone would be mean or someone would opt out. Once that starts it’s a tidal wave of whiny. But I still did the activity.

When they were done one of kids said “What do we do with this now?”

I said it was up to him. He could throw it out during passing period or keep it. It was completely up to him.

The kids spent several minutes reading their signs and thanking each other before we transitioned to the next activity: the I Want list. That list is powerful. I’ve always loved sharing the power of writing your I Wants down with kids. Often they’ll freak out stressing over the paper until I tell them the list is for them NOT me.

Today at the end of class I watched three kids throw the blank paper with compliments away. But before the end of class I watched several kids fold their papers up and put them away. 

Day one. No deadlines, no regular lesson plan, but today a class of kids felt good about themselves. And today this teacher learned to go with her gut and not let fear keep her from trying. 

 

New Kid 

Because I’m a new teacher this year I get to do all those great new teacher in-service trainings.

In 1994 it was Total Quality Schools. 

Anyone who knows me can tell you I drink the Kool-Aid. Any time the latest, greatest program comes out, I jump on board.

Actually for the last several years that’s not exactly true. Now I want to see the research that proves something works, and I want to see a system in place with consistent teacher feedback to work through the program and discuss what’s working, what isn’t, and how it can be fixed if it isn’t working. 

Back in 94 I actually liked much of what we learned in TQS. Those key concepts are still seen in great schools.

Today as a new teacher once more I made the trek down 287 to attend Sheltered Instruction for ESL training in Saginaw.

Teachers, if you haven’t done this training, do it! It is incredible. Our EMS ISD trainer, I can’t remember her name–but she’s leading training next week too so I’ll get it, taught the day-long session perfectly. She modeled how we should teach, not just for ESL, but for all of our students. 

I do a lot of the things I saw today, but nowhere near enough. I thought I’d put the sage on the stage away years ago. Nope. I’m still talking way too much.

This training touched my heart. It made me see how tough some of our kids have it. I hadn’t really thought about how some of our English speaking children from poverty come to us with such limited vocabulary they’re in the same boat as traditional ESL kids. This training inspired me to do more. This training served as a kick in the backside that maybe I’d let myself skid by without improving my craft for a couple years. That’s a dangerous place to be as a teacher.

I’m looking forward to this year as much as I am terrified of what’s ahead. All I’ve ever known is WFISD. Rider was my only professional job. I LOVED my job. I think I still will. Attending training helped curb some of the fear. 😊

living room pictures all packed

Senior Pictures

Did you get your senior picture taken? Did you make your senior appointment? Don’t forget the senior deadline. Get your picture done. According to my records you have not had your senior picture taken. Hey guys, help me out. Here’s a list of seniors not pictured. Can you tell the kids in your classes to get their pictures made? Okay, Lifetouch will be on campus on THIS DATE to take your last minute senior pictures. 

Hello. This is Mary Beth Lee. According to my records your senior has not yet had their photo taken for the yearbook. Lifetouch will be on campus on THIS DATE to take all last minute senior photos. This is the LAST chance for your senior to be photographed for the yearbook.

Notes (168 of them last year) delivered in class the week before final chance photos. Appointments required. Appointments made. 

Library set up. Pictures taken. 

Yearbook day: I’m not in the senior section!! Did you get your picture taken? Well, I did, in January. I called you, sent you notes, made your teachers harass you, the counselors called you down AND I made announcements the entire time Lifetiuch was here for last chance photos in OCTOBER. You’re right. You’re not in the senior section.
My introduction to my new school came courtesy of senior pictures. EM-S ISD uses a company called Glamour Craft, and they were on campus this week taking senior pictures. My new admin wanted me in the building just in case I was needed. I wasn’t, and that’s probably a good thing.

Monday was tough. I started unpacking my boxes and setting up shop in the new digs. It doesn’t feel like home yet. Brian and I stayed at the Venetian once. It was the swankiest place I’ve ever been. We had a butler and a doorbell. But we were still happy when we got home to the old house. That’s what Monday felt like. My new school is like the Venetian. But I have to find a way to make IT home.

I grew up in black and gold. I chose to swap the black with purple.

When I finished unpacking Monday, I sat at the computer and said What the heck have you done, Mary Beth?

After a few tears, I shook the bad feelings off and reminded myself I always hate school before the kids get there. Then I made a list of things I needed, because lists make me happy.

A bookcase was at the top of the list. Walmart to the rescue. $15.96 for a Mainstay 3-shelf bookcase. Sign me up.

People who know me understand the hilarity that was about to ensue. When it comes to mechanical issues, I’m pretty sure I have a learning disability. The book case instructions were photos. No words. YouTube took care of that. Two videos later (random guy:awesome, Target, your video is foreign language to people like me who don’t speak assembly required!), I tackled the project. 

Step 1: go find a screw driver because I left my years of tool collecting in the old newsroom.

Step 2: arrange everything and make sure the pictures match.

Step 3: use the hammer

Steps 5-9: suck it up and get over being afraid of doing it wrong. Do the work.

Step 10: unpack the books and put them in alpha order in the new shelf.

And with those books, a whole lot of joy.

Because words are my business and books are my first friends and sharing books with my students makes me so happy. 

That bookcase changed everything as far as attitude goes. 

I’ve taken a huge leap and change is crazy scary, but I’m still me, and my new kids will be my kids just like my old kids are still my kids. And this year is going to be hard, so hard, but hard isn’t bad. 

I’ll always bleed black and gold. But adding a little purple to the mix is a good thing. 


*I’m missing so many books. I think I lost a box somewhere. 

*putting old staff photos up on the shelf helped.

*a screw lock or something like that fell off the case. I threw it away because the case seemed fine without it. I hope the case is still standing when I make it back to the newsroom next week.

*standing there and letting fear stop you from moving forward is always the wrong answer.