Category Archives: education

Save the Public School: VOTE

There is a villain in the Oklahoma teacher walk out, and his name is Harold Hamm. Honestly. Mary Fallin is his partner in villainy.

For the last two decades the American public has watched while states led by radical conservatives cut taxes on corporations and destroyed public services while doing so. The experiment has led to massive cuts to education, healthcare, mental health facilities, special needs services and more while the income gap has gutted much of the middle class.

I knew this, and still I was shocked to read that Hamm, the 28th richest man in the US and one of the world’s top 100 richest men lobbied the OK lege against a tax hike.

Giant corporate tax cuts supposedly work like this: giant rich companies led by billionaires pay low, low taxes or no taxes, hire tons of people and pour money into local public services.

But it hasn’t worked like that. Instead companies like Hamm’s have grown bigger and richer while those giant corporate tax cuts have led to crisis after crisis. And current far right Republican leaders continue to cut and cut and cut.

It hasn’t always been this way, I don’t think. But it’s where we are now, and it’s our fault. We keep allowing culture wars to control our votes and we keep these people who are decimating our public schools in office.

People, there is only one way to fix this problem. Vote the current leadership out. Show up at the polls in November and tell the Harold Hamm’s and Mary Fallin’s we are done with their nonsense.

Texas: this is OK focused, but listen up. We are headed in the same direction courtesy of Abbott and awful DP. Our power rests in our vote. Don’t let this continue. Vote them out of office.

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The Pilfering of Public Education

Another reason to vote for pro-public education politicians:

The pilfering of public education continues. Next week starts testing, where we will do what the state makes us do even though we know these tests don’t measure what testing companies and politicians and charter schools focused on test scores and the bankers that make big bucks off those charters say they measure. These are endurance tests where focus and the ability to sit for long periods of time will be rewarded even though those two things don’t tell us much about the future success of a student. These endurance grades will be applied to districts and schools this year. Next fall we’ll see the new crop of A-F grades. Schools filled with children who can sit, read, bubble and write for FIVE straight hours will earn an A grade. Good for them.

I’m not anti-test, but I am anti this monster our politicians have created.

A few years ago a new student joined my class in mid-October. She was confused about the focus on tests, the practice tests, the streamlined lessons built to the test, the classes for those who’d failed the test. Where she lived, no one ever talked about the test until the week before and then you took a two-hour test on a computer and went on with your day. She thought Texas was crazy. She’s right.

But schools have to do what the state tells them they must. So we will do this. Our testing coordinators have planned and organized and worked to make the process as painless as possible. We’ve been trained to actively monitor, read directions and say “I can’t answer that. Just do the best you can.” Administers are ready to walk through buildings monitoring constantly. The hall assistants have their Fitbits ready to count the steps. I think some of ours did 10 miles last year.

We will do this and we will make sure our kids know they are more than a test score. The testing company will earn its $70-$90 million they’ve been paid for this test year. And we will lobby the lege to change this nonsense. And it will go on and on and on UNTIL we vote for politicians who listen to educators.

The World is Changing

When I was in college, I had to take speech to graduate. I HATED talking in front of people, but as my professor told me, if I wanted a degree, I had to do it.

I survived.

Today I’m a workshop speaker, I’ve spoken at school board meetings, I’ve given speeches at rallies, I’ve presided over meetings. All of that still makes me nervous. I’m not sure any of those public speaking moments would have ever happened if Dr. Dencil Taylor hadn’t told me I had no choice but to speak in front of my class. EVEN though I told him I’d get sick. He was heartless.

Actually what he was was a master educator who believed more in me than I believed in myself.

Today speech class is no longer part of the required curriculum in Texas colleges. The lege decided it wasn’t necessary. EVEN though public speaking ability is one of the skills business leaders say is absolutely essential to success.

Recently I read about a university that is cutting liberal arts majors. On further investigation I found this is a common theme in higher education. The reason given over and over again: it’s tough to get a job with a liberal arts degree.

The world is changing, and not for the better, if a degree that encourages you to think and read and write can’t translate to a job.

The world is changing, and not for the better, if we only look at education in terms of vocation.

I was alarmed when students said they didn’t want to take high school journalism because they didn’t want to be journalists. I mean, let’s be real, high school IS NOT ONLY about what you’re going to do later in life. And it shouldn’t be. Shoot in all likelihood students will change their major more than once in college if they go to college. They’ll definitely go down different career paths regardless of whether or not they get a degree.

There is absolutely NOTHING wrong with vocational education, but for us to make all educational decisions through that limited lens is a huge mistake.

And that mistake is the same mistake universities that choose to discontinue liberal arts degrees are making.

The world is changing. Training for a vocation is not enough. Students need to be able to think critically and problem solve and write and analyze data and think some more and work in collaborative groups and think some more. They need to learn how to be flexible and understand the difference between fact and opinion, and they need to understand the power of propaganda. And they definitely need to know the past because it serves as a lesson, a warning, a road map to our future.

Yes, we need vocational education. But vocational education is not all we need.

Liberal arts subjects help us navigate that changing world. Removing them from the curriculum is the wrong answer to a real issue.

The world is changing. Absolutely.

Taking a Break

When we finished the yearbook Thursday night, I posted a year in review of pictures showing the editor from summer camp to the very last layout submission on our Facebook page. It was beautiful and fun and reminded me of all that’s good about social media.

On Easter I liked a memory photo of President Obama and the former First Lady reading Where the Wild Things Are to children. It was beautiful and funny and reminded me of all that’s good about social media.

And then I read the comments.

I sat there at my mother-in-law’s house reading one racist awful thing after another, getting angrier by the minute.

Then I posted a news story and that same anger reverberated through me as I thought about OK teachers making such a small paycheck and retirees making a pittance after insurance. Then I started researching healthcare and medical costs in the US and posted and someone said “Thanks Obama” and my head nearly exploded because yeah, it really sucks that insurance has to cover pre-existing conditions and can’t cap our care and states that expanded Medicaid have decent healthcare for decent prices but big pharma and insurance are definitely going to bankrupt any of us who happen to fall ill…..and I realized…..

Social media is killing me.

I didn’t take my blood pressure, but I felt it skyrocket.

I like debate. I love the people I debate with. I have had lots of friends who have different political persuasions, and in the past it was fun to disagree.

But…

Not now.

Now I’m angry.

Or I’m bored and I start checking out what’s going on and an hour later I’m laughing at a video of some little kid I don’t know instead of talking to the people I do know.

Or I’m checking out twitter to see what the political pundits are saying.

Or I’m saying amen to Collier because awful Dan Patrick IS killing public education and people who vote for him are voting me out of a job and voting kids who aren’t independently wealthy out of quality education.

Or…

The list goes on and on and on and on.

Social media is infinite. It’s amazing because of its reach and the connections we make. It’s awful for the same reason.

So as I sat there realizing how worked up I was over something that had been debated to death, as I said “people are so stupid!” I looked in the mirror and saw me.

And I deleted the social media apps off my phone.

My goal is a week.

I should do more.

We’ll see what happens.

March For Our Lives

A first this week. A disturbing first.

I woke up terrified after a school shooting nightmare.

It feels stupid to even write those words. A nightmare. Big deal, MB. Not real. Deadline brain causing chaos. Do some meditation and let that nonsense go.

Except

It felt so real. And awful.

Again, nightmare. Not real. Ridiculous when seen in the shadows of the thousands of kids and teachers who haven’t had the luxury of waking up to escape that awful reality.

In the midst of my nightmare, I processed that for me it wasn’t real. I don’t understand the science of dreams, but I was able to tell myself to wake up so the nightmare would stop.

After, I lay there in my bed staring at the ceiling with that awful sense of dread coupled with the knowledge that it was all a dream so the emotions weren’t real.

But they are real.

They’re real because it seems like every day there’s a new story, a new horror, a new nightmare that won’t stop because as a nation we refuse to say enough.

But that’s changing.

I’m working today so I can’t join the March For Our Lives. But I’m there with the marchers. My voice is loud, my voice is clear.

We don’t want to take away the second amendment, but enough is enough.

It’s time for common sense gun regulation.

No more assault-style weapons owned by the general populace. We don’t need weapons of war in our gun safes because they’re fun to shoot. And you’re not going to take on the entire US military with your personal stash of guns and ammunition.

We need to end the days where an 18 year old can walk into a gun store and buy assault style weapons and hundreds of rounds of ammunition and then shoot people in a school, a church, a mall, a movie theater.

I’m not a gun expert, but I am a teacher, and enough is enough.

Today thousands will March For Our Lives.

It’s time.

Enough is enough.

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.

But…

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. ❤️